"Care for the Body"
1 Corinthians 12:4-26
(Delivered Sunday, October 17, 1999 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture is taken from the New King James Version.)
Pastor Greg is on vacation this week, so we are pleased to present this "golden oldie" sermon, first delivered October 17, 1999 at Bethany Bible Church.
The Bible uses several different metaphors to describe the Church; and in the use of each metaphor, we're being told something significant about the Church's true nature. We're told something of the Savior's deep love for, and future exaltation of His Church when it's called "His Bride" (Eph. 5:23-32; 2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 21:9). When the Church is called "a spiritual house" composed of "living stones", we're being told something about its strong foundation (Eph. 2:19-20, 1 Cor. 3:11), and its ongoing construction as a living temple for Christ (1 Pet. 2:4-10). When referred to as a "flock" and as "sheep", we're being told something of the Church's ongoing intimacy with and dependency on its chief Shepherd (Luke 12:32; John 10:1-10; 1 Pet. 2:25; Heb. 13:20-21), and of its need to have under-shepherds lead it and care for it in His name (John 21:15-17; Eph. 4:11; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). The Church being referred to as a "grape-branch" stresses the absolute necessity of its connection to Christ "the Vine" for its life and fruitfulness (John 15:1-11).
This morning, we'll be looking at one of the richest and most wonderful metaphors that the Bible uses to describe the Church -- a Body.
Just as is true of all the other metaphors that the Bible uses to describe the Church, this one is meant to stress something of its essential nature. When the Bible calls the Church "the Body of Christ", what's being stressed is the nature of the Church as something living and growing. What's being taught to us is the importance of the participation and cooperation of each individual believer as a member, with all other believers, of the same "body". What's being urged upon us is that each individual believer make sure that he or she is "holding fast to the head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God" (Col. 2:19).
This morning, I'd like to ask that we look together at 1 Corinthians 12 -- one of the most descriptive passages in the Bible regarding the Church as the Body of Christ. And as we look together at what it says regarding principles that the Body of Christ is to operate under, my prayer is that, as individual believers, we'll be encouraged and exhorted to dedicate ourselves to the service of one another as members of the same Body.
* * * * * * * * * *
Paul's reason for writing to the Corinthians was to help deal with their problems. The congregation in Corinth had many serious problems. The church had allowed itself to become so influenced by paganistic cultural forces that it had begun to accommodating itself to the sinful practices around them. The leaders were tolerating gross sin in the midst of the church family. The fellowship of believers was degenerating into factions and divisions. Christians were dragging one another to court. And among these many problems, one of the areas that Paul sought to deal with was their abuse of spiritual gifts. He wrote three whole chapters on the subject in this letter alone.
The Corinthian church was a church of genuine believers who had been gifted by the Holy Spirit for ministry to one another; but the problem was that they were abusing these gifts. For one thing, they were seeking to glorify themselves with them rather than using them to serve one another. For another thing, they were measuring themselves in terms of their own giftedness -- looking down their noses at others who weren't gifted as they supposed that they were. For yet another, they were trying to exercise these gifts with the same sort of uncontrolled abandon that characterized the idol worshippers that filled the pagan temples all around them. In fact, their carelessness in this area was degenerating to some very wicked extremes. Paul begins this section by telling them,
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant: You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:1-3).
Paul is calling the Corinthians to maturity in their use of spiritual gifts. And maturity, in this case, meant that they were to begin to use their gifts to serve one another and help one another grow in Christ-likeness. And, in teaching them how to do this, Paul makes use of the metaphor of the Church as a Body -- pointing out the same principles that are true of any living body -- to show them how they were see themselves in respect to one another.
They were to see themselves as members together of the same Body; and they were to use their gifts to the betterment of the whole Body -- and not for the betterment of themselves. Their personal involvement with and care for one another in the Church was demanded by the principles the Body operates under.
It's those principles of natural, normal, healthy 'body-life' that I'd like for us to focus in on. What are they?
1. ANIMATION (vv. 4-6).
The first principle of body-life that we find in this passage is that all the individual parts of a body share a common principle of life.
Think about it. Your arm doesn't have a different principle of life flowing through it than the leg. The liver doesn't have a life of its own separate from the stomach. One single principle of life gives life to all the individual parts.
This is true also of the Church. Paul says, "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all."
There's a wonderful progression in these words. There are "gifts" that the Holy Spirit gives to the various members of the Body. These differing gifts are expressed in differing "ministries" or acts of service. And the expression of these differing ministries results in different "activities" or "effects" or "operations" or "workings". Various gifts lead to various ministries, which lead to various results.
But even though there's a difference between the various gifts and ministries and activities, there's a single principle of life behind these differences. The Holy Spirit distributes the different gifts, the Lord Jesus presides the different ministries, and God the Father works "all in all" through the different effects. The Triune Godhead is over it all.
As we look at one another in the Church, all we usually see are the differences. But may God help us to see that behind those differences is a single principle of life -- the life of the Triune God. Paul was able to say, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). All of us who are in Christ can say the same thing about our selves and about each other. The principle of animation means that we're unified by the fact that we share one single principle of life together as members together of the same Body. Jesus lives His life in and through me -- and He lives it in and through you too.
2. DESIGN (7-11).
A second principle of body-life that Paul points to is that each part is uniquely equipped and arranged to serve the needs of the others.
Again, consider your own body. There's a marvelous design to it. Each part is uniquely equipped and arranged in your body in such a way as to meet the needs of other parts.
And again, this is true for the Church, the Body of Christ. One principle of life is at work in all the parts, Paul asserts, "but the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills."
It would be tempting to get side-tracked for a moment and allow ourselves to be caught up in the controversy over what is precisely meant by these different gifts, and which of them are valid for today. But let's not do so. Instead, just look for a moment at the gifts that Paul mentions, and take careful note of the way these gifts moderate one another. "The word of wisdom" is moderated by "the word of knowledge". God gives one believer the insight into the meaning of His word, and He gives to another the insight into how to apply it. The gifts of "faith" and of "discerning of spirits" -- properly put to use -- moderate the gifts of "healing", "miracles" and "prophecy" -- and visa versa. The gift of "different kinds of tongues" is moderated by "the interpretation of tongues", so that what is said is also made to be understood.
Any one of these gifts exercised in isolation from the others would either fail to be useful, or could easily be taken to harmful extremes. But the wonderful wisdom of God is shown in the perfect way these gifts contribute what is needed to each other. There's a beautiful symmetry to it. Paul tells us why this is so: first, the Holy Spirit wisely distributes them throughout the Body just as "He wills" or "determines"; and second, He does so specifically "for the profit" of all.
When you consider your place in the Church, the Body of Christ, you should recognize that the Spirit of God has designed you uniquely, and given you particular gifts, and positioned you in the Body where He wants you to be, so that you can meet the needs of others in the Body. And likewise, He has uniquely designed other believers, uniquely gifted them, and uniquely positioned them in the Body to meet your needs as well.
3. UNITY (12-13).
A third principle that Paul points to is that a diversity of parts are joined together to form one body. When we consider our own physical structure, we see a set of various "members" -- marvelously designed organs and limbs. But we don't think of it all as a tightly organized composition of individual bodies. We rightly think of all these marvelous parts joined together as constituting one whole body.
And the same, again, is true for the Body of Christ. Paul goes on to say, "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. 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."
Paul says that "we were all baptized into one body"; and in saying this, He isn't speaking of water baptism. What he's speaking of here is the work of the Spirit of God in regenerating us, and causing us to become "identified", as it were, with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. As Paul wrote in Romans 6:3-4; "... Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." Or as he says in Colossians 2:11-14;
In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (Col. 2:11-14).
That work of "baptizing" us into Christ is a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. He needs only to "baptize" us into Christ but once; and from then on, we are "baptized into one body". But His work in our lives doesn't end there. The Spirit of God not only "baptizes" us into the life of Christ, but He also sustains and refreshes that life from day to day. We not only "live in the Spirit", but we are also to "walk in the Spirit" (Gal. 5:25). We're not only saved "through the washing of regeneration", but we're also through the "renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5). And so, Paul says that we have not only been "baptized into one body" by the Spirit, but that we also "have all been made to drink into one Spirit."
Now what's Paul's point in all this? He's telling us that we've been joined, as individual body parts, into one body by the unifying ministry of the Holy Spirit. If any one of us is a member of the Body of Christ, it was because the Holy Spirit first "baptized" us into Christ; and then continually sustains us -- moment by moment, day by day -- in the life of Christ. It makes no difference where we came from -- ethnically, that is, whether Jew or Greek; or socially, that is, whether rich or poor. We are unique, individual members joined together into one Body of Christ by the ministry of the one Holy Spirit.
4. VARIETY (14-19).
That unity is important when we consider the next point, which has to do with the variety within the Body of Christ. We're "united" in the Body, you see; but we're not "uniform."
Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers and urged them to work hard to protect the unity they enjoy in Christ. They weren't commanded to create that unity, however -- but simply to protect it. It had already been created for them. He told them to endeavor
. . . to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all (Eph. 4:3-7).
As you can see, we already enjoy a wonderful God-given basis for unity together. But Paul then stressed the variety we enjoy within this unity;
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore He says [quoting from Psalm 68:18], "When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men." . . . And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ . . . (vv. 7-8, 11-13).
And so, Paul expresses a fourth principle of body-life that he wants us to understand; the principle of "variety"; that the body requires a distinction in the operation of its parts in order to function. Paul went on to tell the Corinthian believers; "For in fact the body is not one member but many."
Paul expresses this idea with a sense of humor. "If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,' is it therefore not of the body? 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? If the whole body were not an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be?"
Does that passage make you chuckle like it does me? The picture it paints for us of a whole body being just one big ear or nose is silly. When we consider one another in the Body of Christ, we need to understand that the variety we see -- even the differences between us that we don't always seem to appreciate -- is, in reality, God's wonderful design for His body.
Consider that there are some of us who do very well in up-front, "teachy", "speaky", people-oriented, "spot-light" sort of ministries; and that there are others of us who do very well in hands-on, task-oriented, supportive, behind-the-scenes, "fix-it" sort of ministries. It would be awful if we were all just either one or the other. And it doesn't do any good for the up-fronters to get frustrated with the behind-the-sceners because they aren't able to talk clearly and think on their feet with them; nor does it do any good for the fixer-upers to get frustrated with the creative folks for not being as organized or handy as they are. God never intended for us to all be the same thing. He designed the Body to only work well when there's a distinction in the operation of the different body parts. So instead of getting frustrated with each other, let's learn to appreciate those differences, and see how they provide what we need from each other.
Also consider how important it is that we learn not to be frustrated with ourselves because we're not what other members of the Body are. It's sad when people think that, just because they're not what others are, they're not valuable to the Body. It's sad because, in the end, they hold back or withdraw; and in so doing, they rob the rest of the Body of what God meant for them to give to it.
We need to learn to have an attitude of contentment with what God made us to be for the Body of Christ -- and with what He made others to be as well.
5. INTERDEPENDENCY (20-22).
The next principle is related to the idea of the necessary distinctions in the body. Each part of the body needs the others in order to function. Paul goes on to say, "But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 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.' No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary."
Again, this creates a ridiculous picture for us; doesn't it? Imagine our head deciding that it's far too intellectual to have any further need of our dirty ol' feets' ministry. Well; our head can rest in one spot and think all the great thoughts it wants to; but how far would it get without the feet? Or Imagine our eyes' deciding that they're far too perceptive and visionary to have any further need for the hands to minister to them. The eyes can look around all they want, but nothing would ever get done; would it?
In the same way, God designed the Body of Christ with an interdependency between the parts. That means that they are so connected and joined together by Him that they can't do what they do without each other's help. All the parts are necessary. As someone once said, "In the Body of Christ, there is no appendix."
Paul said, in Ephesians 4:15-16 that we're to grow up together . . .
in all things into Him who is the head -- Christ -- from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love (Eph. 4:15-16).
"Joints" in our bodies are the points of contact between two distinct parts. It's where they get together and do their work for each other. God intended that the different members of the Body of Christ be in contact with each other, and give to each one what the other needs through "what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share". This "joint contact" is the means God has ordained by which we all grow together in Christ.
You and I should, before God, ask ourselves this: "Am I allowing myself to be involved in the lives of other people in the church so that I can have enough contact with them for them to minister to me and I to them? Or am I making it a practice in my church life to be a 'dislocated joint?'"
6. NURTURE (23-25).
A sixth principle that Paul draws from body-life is that all the parts must care for each other.
Each one of you have come today with your whole, complete body. Some parts have been decorated and prepared for public viewing. But not all parts are appropriate for public viewing. Let's be frank; you don't put everything on display.
But just because we have parts of our bodies that are frail, or aren't appropriate to be seen, that doesn't mean that those parts are any less a part of the body or deserve any less care. In fact, our experience with those parts of our body is quite the opposite. If the truth were told, we usually spend more time caring for the parts that aren't seen than we do the parts that are. Likewise, Paul writes, "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, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another."
In the body of Christ, there are those whose gift to the body is their ability to meet needs. And then, there are others whose gift to the body IS their need. Paul once wrote to the Philippians to thank them for sending a financial gift to him to help him out in his need while in prison. He wrote back to tell them how grateful he was, "Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God" (Phil. 4:16-18).
7. IDENTITY (26).
A final principle is that all the parts share equally in honor.
Imagine a famous photographer being given the Pulitzer Prize. Wouldn't it be rather silly if the award was specifically given only to his right eye and his left index finger -- since they did most of the work? Or how about a famous scientist being applauded and recognized only for the left hemisphere of his brain?
Or think of it the other way. If a man drops a heavy rock on his left foot, it isn't just his left foot that screams out in pain. Or if he hits his thumb with a hammer, his thumb doesn't dance around in pain all alone -- but his whole body gets into the act.
Similarly, Paul says, "And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it."
* * * * * * * * * *
Someone once pointed out that Jesus has had two bodies on earth. Body #1 was born in Jerusalem, died, was raised, and has no ascended to the Father in heaven. But He has not left us without leaving a body behind. That's Body #2 -- the Church. We are the arms, the legs, the feet, the hands, the lips and the heart of Jesus to this world and to one another.
As His Body on earth, let's learn to honor and esteem one another as we should. And let's give ourselves faithfully over to our Head to be used by Him.
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