The Bible has its mysteries, but a Bible mystery is somewhat different to a crime mystery.  As theologian Alister McGrath points out in his book Mere Theology, crime mysteries are puzzles to solve, but a biblical mystery describes something of the “hidden depths of the Christian faith that stretches beyond the reach of reason.”  McGrath goes on to say, “Puzzles lead to logical answers; [biblical] mysteries often force us to stretch language to its limits in an attempt to describe a reality just too great to take in properly."

The Mystery of the Church: Christ and his Bride
One of the profound mysteries in the Bible, and indeed our Christian Life, is that of Christ and His church (Eph 5:32).  Language is inadequate to describe this mystery.  So, to help stretch our imagination and grasp something more of the value and importance of this “mystery”, the writers of the Bible uses many different word pictures to describe the church.  For example, in Ephesians 5:32 Paul describes marriage as a “mysterious” picture of Christ and His church.  I am astounded how God often brings two very different people together in marriage.  Yet as they work on their relationship and build a family together, their lives and the lives of others are enriched by their differences.  Similarly, as members of God’s church we are all one in Christ, yet each person has such wonderfully distinct giftings and personalities that can enrich us all as we share life together.

The Church as a City, Household, a Building, Salt and Light.
In Ephesians 4:19-22 Paul uses other images to describe the mystery of the church.  He pictures us as citizens of a city, members of a household, and parts of a building. In Matthew 5:13-14 we are described as light and salt who bring out the God colours and flavours in our world (see the Message Bible paraphrase for this verse). Each picture reveals something more of our common life together without fully revealing everything.  None fully or adequately describe the spiritual reality--because the church is much more than a family, a city, a building or salt and light.  It is a profound mystery with ‘hidden depth beyond the reach of reason.”

The Church as a Body – Unity and Diversity
One of the most frequently used pictures of the church in the Bible is that of a human body.  Christ is the head, and we are his arms, his legs, his hands, and his feet (see Ephesians 4:15-16, Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 10:7; 12:12-30).  What I love about this image is that it again captures the wonderful mystery of unity and diversity in the church.  There are many diverse members of the body of Christ with different gifts --yet we are all one in Christ.   All these different gifts and ministry expressions are given to us to enable each person to grow, mature and experience more of God’s fullness.  It is as we are built up and strengthened together in the body of Christ that we each discover the fullest potential of what it means to become fully alive like Christ (Ephesians 4:13 in the Message).

Making Effort to Keep the Unity of the Spirit
Strengthening a marriage, building a home, exercising our muscles and joints, and creating a community all takes effort.  That is why Paul says in Ephesian 4:3 “Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, there is one body and one spirit.”  But the effort is worth it.  God created us for community.  One hand cannot clap alone. So, what can each one of us do to strengthen our shared life together as a church in this season?

Our Shared Life Together
Over the coming months in our series called “Life Together” a range of speakers with different gifts and ministries will be speaking into our common life as a local church. There will be prophetic ministry, evangelistic ministry, teaching ministry, pastoral ministry and apostolic ministry.  Each message will focus on a different aspect of our common life together - Spirit life, Shared Life and Kingdom Life.   My prayer is that, as we experience this diversity of ministry, each one of use will discover more of the depths of the mystery of the body of Christ; and be enriched in ways that enable us to take another step to becoming fully alive together.

Discussion Questions
1. Share some of the ways the local church has enriched your life.
2. Which picture of the church speaks most to you in this time and season?
3. What does that picture reveal about the importance of the church and our shared life together?
4. What have been some of the impacts of the pandemic on our shared life together as a church – both positive and negative?
5. What can we do now as a Life Group to strengthen and build our shared life together?
6. What is one new thing you can do personally over the next few months to grow in our shared life together as CityLife Church?
7. Share communion together as a Life Group; and as you break bread and drink the cup, pray that you would continue to grow together as the body of Christ – one loaf, one body and one spirit in Christ through his blood.
8. Reflect on Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesians 3:14-21:  Personalise, adapt and pray this prayer for your Life Group, the ministry teams in which you serve and the CityLife congregation of which you are each such an important part.

[1] Alister McGrath, Mere Theology: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind (London: SPCK, 2010), 12.
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