As Paul reached out to find a simile to adequately describe the church of Jesus Christ, the one he came back to time and time again was the comparison between the church and a body. In Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and Colossians Paul makes over 30 references to the body of Christ.
How do you see yourself in relation to this church? By "church" I'm talking about the local assembly of Berean Bible Church. The analogy of the "body" applies to two definitions of the church. Yes, it does refer to the church universal. That is the great all encompassing group of Christians throughout the world who call themselves by so many different names. However, I think that the local church also needs to be viewed as the body of Christ. Each local church is to function as the body of Christ. So, how do you see yourself in relation to this church? What body part are you?
Beginning in verse 12 of 1 Corinthians 12 Paul begins to talk about the unity of the body of Christ. Within the body of Christ there is great diversity and yet there is unity. To help us understand this, Paul uses the analogy of a human body. He stands before us a human body and draws lessons from it all through the rest of the chapter as to its parallel with the functioning of the Body of Christ.
The human body is an amazing organic creation of God. It is marvelously complex, yet unified. When the members of the human body do not function in harmony, it is due to disease. It is a sad sight to see a body that, because of disease, will not respond to it's head. For example, Muscular dystrophy is a group of inherited diseases; gradual wasting away of certain limb and trunk muscles; marked by increasing limitation of normal motor activity. Cerebral palsy is a disorder in which muscular control and coordination are impaired, and speech and hearing problems and mental retardation may occur. Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic degenerative disease of the central nervous system in which patches of the myelin sheath around nerve fibers are lost. The cause is unknown. Symptoms include disturbances in vision, speech, balance, and coordination, as well as numbness and tremors.
When we do not function in unity as the body of Christ, we look like a human body with one of these diseases. Without unity, we are as productive for Christ as a human body is that has one of these diseases. In verse 12 Paul gives an illustration of unity using the human body:
1 Corinthians 12:12 (NKJV) For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.
There are many members to the body; there are arms, feet, eyes, lungs, and all these members make up one body. There are many different parts but only one body.
Notice the comparison, "For as"- "So also is Christ" - literally, "the Christ," i.e., the whole Christ, the head and the body. The head and body comprise one person, here called "the Christ." As such, the church (as body and head) is the corporate Christ, the composite Christ. It is more than a mere figure of speech to say that the church is the Body of Christ. We can no more separate Christ from His church than we can separate a body from its head.
This is an amazing statement here that we are part of Christ. That is what Paul is saying. We constitute the means by which Christ functions within the world, and it is very important that you hold that concept clearly in your mind if you want to understand how the church works. It is a body with many members, and yet it is only one body.
Christ is no longer in his earthly body; therefore, if he wants a task done within the world, he has to find a man to do it. If he wants a child taught, he has to find a teacher to teach him; if he wants a hurting person comforted, he has to find a person to comfort him. We, Christians, are literally the body of Christ, hands to do his work, feet to run his errands, a voice to speak for him. For an illustration of this solidarity look at:
Matthew 18:5-6 (NKJV) "Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. 6 "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
What ever you do to someone who believes in Christ you do to Christ. We are one with Christ. We became one with Christ by the baptism with the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:13 (NKJV) For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body; whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free; and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.
The baptism with the Holy Spirit is a positional work that takes place at salvation. The Holy Spirit places us into the body of Christ.
The Apostle goes on in the next few verses to make this crystal clear by explaining to us just how it works. Paul imagines parts of the human body talking to each other:
1 Corinthians 12:14-16 (NKJV) For in fact the body is not one member but many. 15 If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body?
Two wrong attitudes develop when we don't see the church as a body. Paul attempts to correct both attitudes in this section. Most likely you will find yourself having to deal with one of these attitudes.
The first wrong attitude is that of inferiority, or a feeling of insignificance. Paul deals with this attitude in verses 15-20. It is obvious in these verses that they are very discontented. Behind verses 15 & 16 you can hear the grumbling. They feel inferior. They were not prominent, and therefore, they were discontent, they felt insignificant.
Discontentment on the part of such a person is a very serious thing, because it will invariably lead to envy and strife. Paul is aware of this so he addresses himself to these members of the body. Paul tells them that he has some principles from body life that he wants to give to them. He tells them that in a body every member, no matter what its function, is a vital part of the body.
Paul says that if your foot should say, "Well I can't do all the things a hand does. It's so flexible, so versatile. It can grasp and lift a heavy object, or it can perform a delicate surgery. I just can't do what the hand can do, therefore, I really don't belong in this body," it would be ridiculous, wouldn't it? That does not make the foot any less a part of the body. The foot is deceiving itself. If the ear says, "Because I can't see like an eye, I am not part of the body," the ear is deceiving itself. It is part of the body.
The Apostle is saying that if you are a member of the church, the Body of Christ, and you say to yourself, "Well, because I can't stand up and preach or teach or lead a meeting, there is really nothing I can do in the Body of Christ," you are deceiving yourself. You have not changed reality any. You are still a part of the body. You have shut your eyes to truth. You need to open them to see the part God has given you.
I wonder how many people here this morning have said to themselves at one time, "I don't feel there is anything I can do in the church. I can't contribute to the work of the church because I don't have any abilities." I know that some of you feel that way. I can tell by your attendance. The fact that you come spasmodically says that you feel it doesn't matter if you are here or not, because you really feel you are of no value.
But it should be obvious that all members are part of the body. If you are a Christian, then you are part of the body. Now if you have chosen to identify with this local manifestation of the body of Christ, BBC, then you are part of BBC. Now you may not be an eye or a hand, but if you attend here, then you are part of BBC, a vital part. To function properly, the body needs ALL its members. Does this make sense to you? What if one of the member of your body took the day off?
This attitude is not one of humility, it is not humility to question God's word. It is a selfish, self-centered attitude that makes you feel that because you don't have a more prominent position that you are not needed. There are no insignificant members in the body. He goes on in verse 17 to say that every part of your body, no matter how insignificant or inferior it may seem, has a distinctive and important function to fulfill.
1 Corinthians 12:17 (NKJV) If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?
With the help of a ludicrous illustration, Paul drives home the point of unity and mutual dependence. The human body, which consists of many parts, can never be only an eye.
The human eye is a marvelous thing. it can distinguish shapes, distance, colors, light and dark. It feeds information to the brain. The eye is remarkable and beautiful. But let me ask you, "What good is it apart from a body?" None. In fact, if I held up a human eyeball detached from a body right now, you'd be grossed out. That isolated eye can't function at all by itself. You could preserve it in a lab, but for all purposes it's dead without a body.
Believers without fellowship are the same way. They're powerless to do what they were created to do. They're grotesque separated from the body. The fact is we need one another to both find and fulfill our God-given purpose. It can't be done in isolation.
Jean Nidetch, a 214 pound homemaker desperate to lose weight, went to the New York City Department of Health where she was given a diet devised by Dr. Norman Jolliffe. Two months later, discouraged about the 50 plus pounds still to go, she invited six overweight friends home to share the diet and talk about how to stay on it. Today, 28 years later, one million members attend 25,000 Weight Watcher's meetings in 24 countries every week. Jean discovered that people can do in community what they never could in isolation.
I've found that it's been involvement with other believers that has pushed me to do most things of significance. Vital connection with other believers empowers us to fulfill our potential.
When we take community seriously as a church and individuals, we get help in making it through this life. There's a shoulder to lean on, someone to help carry the burden, someone to turn us away from sin, if we allow it. This aspect of fellowship pans out in several ways.
There's power when we pray for one another. We can only pray for one another's needs when we know what they are. We'll only know what they are when we have deep and honest relationships with one another. That only happens if we commit ourselves to each other.
We lean on the prayers of other believers. Even Paul, the mighty preacher, asked church members to pray for him:
1 Thessalonians 5:25 (NKJV) Brethren, pray for us.
Likewise, he and the other leaders were committed to praying for the church members to be all they could be for God:
2 Corinthians 13:9 (NKJV) For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. And this also we pray, that you may be made complete.
In the same way, we're called to pray for one another's needs. As I said before, this only happens when we cultivate authentic relationships with other believers.
This one should be a given, but it's often overlooked in the church and assigned to professionals. Please understand that care is the responsibility and privilege of all members.
Becoming the first man to climb Mt. Everest proved to be a dangerous adventure for Sir Edmund Hillary. After scaling the mountain, Hillary lost his footing on the way down, but his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, held the line taut and kept Hillary from falling by digging his axe into the ice. Tenzing later refused special credit for saving Hillary's life by saying "Mountain climbers always help each other." (Today in the Word, MBI, October, 1991, p. 11)
That should be the attitude of members in the body of Christ. We should be able to say, "Christians always help each other." Encouragement:
Hebrews 10:25 (NKJV) not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
It wasn't like Scott Kregel to give up. He was a fighter, a dedicated athlete who spent hour after hour perfecting his free throw and jump shot during the hot summer months of 1987. But just before fall practice everything changed. A serious car accident left Scott in a coma for several days. When he awoke, a long rehabilitation process lay ahead. Like most patients with closed head injuries, Scott balked at doing the slow, tedious work that was required to get him back to normal-things such as stringing beads. What high school junior would enjoy that?
Tom Martin, Scott's basketball coach at the Christian school he attended, had an idea. Coach Martin told Scott that he would reserve a spot on the varsity for him if he would cooperate with his therapist and show progress in the tasks he was asked to do. And Tom's wife, Cindy, spent many hours with Scott, encouraging him to keep going. Within 2 months, Scott was riding off the basketball court on his teammates' shoulders. He had made nine straight free throws to clinch a triple-overtime league victory. It was a remarkable testimony of the power of encouragement.
The members of the church need each other. Each has received some ability and talent on which the others depend. Do you understand this?
Paul goes on to encourage them even further by saying that every member has their place by divine appointment:
1 Corinthians 12:18 (NKJV) But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.
Momentarily, he leaves the world of hypothetical illustrations and returns to reality. Godis the subject of this verse. The eye does not decide that it is going to see, God gives it that ability. The ear does not develop its own ability to hear, it was given that ability by God and placed on the side of the head to function in that position:
Exodus 4:11 (NKJV) So the LORD said to him, "Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the LORD?
The analogy is obvious to us. God has placed the members in the body as it has pleased Him. He is the one who gives us our abilities and positions. We are who we are and where we are by divine appointment. It is no accident that you are at Berean Bible Church. You are here by Divine appointment. And since you're here, you are part of this body, and as part of this body you need to do your part.
This is Paul's word of encouragement to those in the body with an attitude of inferiority. He is telling them that they have a distinctive part to fill as members of the body. And that that function is God ordained. There should be no discontentment as to where God has placed you or how he has ordained you to function:
1 Corinthians 12:19-20 (NKJV) And if they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.
I hope that is clear, because that should forever settle the question of feeling insignificant as part of the body. You cannot say to yourself, "There is no place for me," for there definitely is. The body of Christ needs every part.
There is another side of the issue. And beginning in verse 21 he addresses himself to those with an attitude of pride, an independent spirit. They were considering others of little value. So Paul gives them some principles of body life to rebuke their attitude of arrogance. The first principle is in verse 21, all members in the body are actually dependant upon other members:
1 Corinthians 12:21 (NKJV) And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."
The first individual says, "They don't need me;" another individual says, "I don't need them." Individualism is appealing because the natural man does not like depending on or obeying others. The philosophy that we are basically self-sufficient and do not need anyone else is the opposite of God's will for man. The well known line from Invictus- "I am the captain of my fate; I am the master of my soul"- expresses the heart of fallen man, his great desire is to be his own god.
In a body, the greater members are dependant upon the lesser members. The eye may be able to read theology, but it cannot get to the book without the rest of the body. It needs the hand, and the foot. This is a great principle to learn, because it makes us appreciative of those who are working with us in the ministry.
The picture that Paul draws portrays the absurdity of independence. The individual parts of the body all aid each other in the total functioning of the whole. There is no such thing as a free lance Christian. What happens to a member if you remove it from the body? It dies. The body can compensate for the members that don't function properly, but it will never function to its potential without every member doing their part.
I receive e-mail from all over the world from people who visit our web site and get our tapes. They often thank me for my teaching, but they would never be able to visit the web site if it weren't for all the people involved in making it happen. Those of you who give make it possible for me to study so I can teach. My mother edits the messages, then I send them to Ron Doyle, our webmaster in Harrisonburg, VA. He puts them on the Internet. People wouldn't get tapes if it weren't for our sound men, Gary and Tim, who record the messages. Then Cheryl makes labels, duplicates the tapes, and mails them out. That is how a body functions, it is dependant upon all the members.
I get a lot of thank you letters from people around the world, but without all the support people they would never hear what I have to say. Nursery workers, Sunday School teachers, ushers, musicians, set up crew, givers, encouragers, comforters - these are all a part of what makes this body function.
It is amazing that in many congregations people get the idea that they do not need the rest of the body; they can function on their own; they have their own abilities, their own ministry, and they can do things quite apart from others. They see themselves as pro golfers; golfers are by nature independent. A golf tournament is a struggle of independent egos pitted against each other. The golfers all rely on their own abilities to try to beat out the other man. That is the nature of golf. But the church is much more like a football game than a golf game. In football each one plays his own position but is dependant on the other team members. What happens when a quarterback thinks he doesn't need the other team members? He gets hurt! And he is very ineffective.
I am afraid many congregations become more like golfers, with everybody going out on their own and paying no attention to and not valuing what others are doing. In Paul's day, there was a well-known fable spoken by Menenius Agrippa (Livy, 2.32), in which the rest of the body thinks it is unfair that they have to work so hard to feed the stomach, which did nothing but enjoy what they gave it. When they stopped feeding it, however, the other parts became weak, and they realized that the stomach fed them all as well as itself. Paul teaches that just as each part in the body has its own specific function, so every Christian should realize that he is needed to take his place and make his contribution to the body of Christ. So Paul argues:
1 Corinthians 12:22-23 (NKJV) No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. 23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty,
He is still talking about our physical body. He says we must remember that the parts which seem to be weaker are actually indispensable. Paul is saying here that this is true in the Body of Christ. The members that seem weaker are indispensable.
1 Corinthians 12:24 (NKJV) but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it,
The alla "but" in the middle of verse 24 brings the argument back to God's sovereign purpose. By saying that God "has given greater honor to the part which lacks it," Paul seems to be saying that God has caused us to protect our unpresentable parts from exploitation by properly covering them. It is normal and natural for the body to look out for its weaker parts, to protect and care for them. This should also be true in the body of Christ. Instead of looking down on those who we think are weaker, we should be watching out for them:
1 Corinthians 12:25 (NKJV) that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.
When you begin to understand what the church is, as God sees it to be, this will be the result. You will begin to have the same care for one another:
1 Corinthians 12:26 (NKJV) And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
One of the biggest problems in some churches is that they just don't care about one another. We need to be there for each other, people. We need to care about one another. Some acts of care are easy - providing meals to a family after a baby is born, that's an easy one. Some are a little tougher - when someone has a terminal illness, being there for them and their family. Or when a couple is going through marriage struggles, how can we be of help then? We'd better figure it out.
Sometimes Christians act as if sin is contagious, and instead of trying to restore a brother or sister who has fallen in sin, we avoid them as if they had the plague. We may not amputate a wounded member of our church family, but if we don't administer first aid and just ignore it, in time it will die and fall off.
What happens when a part of your physical body gets hurt? If you hit your thumb with a hammer, what happens? Well actually several things happen all at once. Your mind registers pain, tears come to your eyes, you grab said thumb with your other hand, and you commence to jump up and down while words rush forth from your mouth; the nature of those words being entirely dependent on your present spiritual condition.
What happened? Even though it was just one very small, very insignificant part of your body that was hurt, many other parts of your body became involved in an attempt to lessen the pain. And so when one part of the body of Christ hurts, it is the responsibility, of each of us as additional parts of the same body, to help lessen the pain.
It may be hurt that comes with the death of a loved one, divorce, a lost job, your children or betrayal. It may be that they have given into temptation and need to be lovingly restored to the body. The responsibility lies not only with the pastors, or with the person next to you, it lies with you.
1 Corinthians 12:27 (NKJV) Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.
Paul reminded the Corinthians that individually and collectively they were Christ's very body, the church for whom he died. Every local church is a microcosm of the entire church, fully equipped to serve the Lord, to carry on the ministry he began. BBC is to be a local picture of the body of Christ. There is no place in the body for discontentment, or envy, or jealousy. And there is no place in the body for pride or arrogance. The sovereign God has given you the gift he wants you to have and placed you where he wants you to use it.
We here at BBC have all the members we need to serve the Lord effectively, but if those members don't work in harmony with the head or if they simply refuse to work, the body is crippled and frustrated. A man named Robert used to attend our church. Robert had Cerebral palsy - he had all his members, but they would not work, they would not carry out his will. His mind was fine but his body would not work with his mind. Because of this, he had to be in a motorized wheel chair. He had a pointer attached to his head to spell out words on a desk top board. Robert was very limited in what he could do. Many local churches are like Robert, they are very limited in what they can do, because the members will not submit to the will of the head, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you see yourself as a God ordained member of this local body? Are you functioning to your full capacity or are you crippling the body? May God help us all to see that every member is vital to the effective functioning of the body of Christ. And may we do our part, using the abilities and talents that God has given us, to build up the body of Christ.
|Continue the Series|