Many parts, one body

Original Date: 
Sunday, September 4, 2016

1 Corinthians 12:12-31 Jump In!: Different Members, One Body

When Throat and Stomach Do Not Get Along
Last week, I mentioned that I went most of the month of August without preaching. I told you about one of the reasons I was gone, our vacation to Montana. Today, I need to talk about the other reason I was out: because I had surgery.

I’ve been finding it kind of hard to explain the surgery I had. It’s called a Nissen procedure. My problem was that I had severe acid reflux (heartburn) for the past decade or so. The point of the surgery was to tighten up the valve that connects my esophagus to my stomach, so that stomach acid couldn’t get up into my throat. It also involved repairing two hernias.

So, the surgery was minimally invasive, as far as abdominal surgeries go. It was done with the surgical robot at Spencer Hospital, which is pretty cool, and I didn’t have much pain from the incisions. But the struggle with my recovery has come with swallowing.

Judy Van Helden had the same surgery, and she told me that I had to look out for esophageal spasms. I sort of laughed her off the first week, when I was on an all liquid diet. But then I started to move on to more solid foods, and I knew what she was talking about. There are some times when I can just feel my throat closing off. I get the hiccups and then nothing else will go down. It feels like my throat and my stomach are not getting along.

It’s sort of ironic that I’m working through that on the week I’m preaching on 1 Corinthians 12. This is the part of the Bible where the Apostle Paul compares the church to a human body. He says that the church is made up of different members with different backgrounds and gifts and interests, just like the human body is made up of different parts with different functions and roles and abilities. And he says that the strength of the church comes from all these different members working together in the same way that the strength of the human body comes when all our different parts work together.

But what happens, Paul asks, if the different parts of our body stop getting along? What happens if the eye says to the hand, “I don’t need you”? What happens if the foot says: “I’m not important, because I’m not a hand”? The whole body suffers when the different parts stop working in cooperation. I feel like my throat and stomach are not currently on good speaking terms, and it is taking me a while to recover.

Well, in the same way, even though we have different backgrounds and gifts and abilities within the church, Paul wants us to see that we need each other. That we are stronger when our variety of gifts come together. In fact, that’s my big idea today: The strength of the church comes from its variety of members.

We are doing a quick two week sermon series in conjunction with our ministry fair. We’re challenging you all to jump in to different ministries in and around the church. And we’re looking at this chapter of the Bible that deals with spiritual gifts. And the thing for us to see is that even though we all have different gifts and interests, and none of us will serve in exactly the same way,
we are better when we are together. Our different gifts make up the strength of the church.

So, we’re going to go through 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 in five sections. And I’ve got a different slogan for each one.

One Body, Many Parts
First: Different is Good. We’re not all wired the same way. We’re not all good at the same thing. We don’t all fit into the same one-size-fits-all form of Christianity. And that’s O.K. Look with me at 1 Corinthians 12:12-14:

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

If you remember from last week, this section is all about Spiritual Gifts. Apparently there was controversy in the Corinthian church over which gifts were more important, and the value of one person’s service over against another’s. Paul reminded us that even though there are different kinds of gifts, they all come from the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. Different kinds of working, but the same God working all of them in everyone. (1 Cor. 12:4-6)

So now, Paul is continuing that discussion by introducing the analogy of the human body. The body is not made up of one part, but of many. In the same way, the members of a Church will have a variety of interests and passions and gifts and abilities—not everyone is going to fulfill the same role in the church, and that’s good.

And while this section is definitely about our different giftings, notice what Paul says about different backgrounds in verse 13: “whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free”. This means that there should be diversity within the church in terms of ethnicity, skin color, economic status, white collar and blue collar, and more. In other words, the Reformed Church is not just for—as it has historically been—blonde haired, blue eyed farmers with a “van” or “-ma” attached to their names. Our churches should reflect the diversity of the communities in which they are located.
But mainly, Paul is talking about recognizing the different gifts and interests of the people in the church. Look at verses 15-17:

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?

The problem in the church of Corinth was that some people were making some gifts more important than all the others. And they were implying that if some people didn’t have that gift, then there was something inferior about their faith. So some people were getting discouraged. They’d say: “Well, since I don’t have the gift of tongues, I guess I don’t count.” They’d say, “Because I’m artistic, but everybody else here is scholarly, there’s no place for me.”

We do this as churches sometimes. In some churches the vibe is that if you aren’t intellectually inclined--the kind of person who studies every bible passage in at least three translations plus the original Greek--then you aren’t quite up to snuff. In other churches the feeling is that you have to be very exuberant in worship—with clapping and hand raising and swaying from side to side—or you don’t fit in. Other churches give off the feeling that everybody should love to work with kids. Others that the gift to have is cooking—the ministry of potlucks. And so on.

But Paul uses this metaphor of the body to say something different. His argument is that different gifts in a church are good—because together they work to develop a healthier body. The foot plays a different role than the hand. The foot provides balance and holds us up, the hand grabs things. But ideally, a human body will have both. The ear doesn’t see like the eye does. But the ear can tell you when a train is coming before the eye ever sees it. Both are preferable for a fully-functioning body.

In the same way: just because you are more inclined to work in the kitchen than to sing, or would prefer greeting at the front door to leading a small group of kindergartners, does not make you any less a part of the church body. Different is good. We need a multitude of gifts and interests for the church to be its best.

God Knows What He is Doing
Which leads to the second slogan: You are here for a reason. God has arranged the parts in the body the way He wants them. And that means you have specific gifts, talents, and skills to offer to this church. Verses 18-20:

18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

This picks up on something we saw last week, from verse 11. The Spirit gives gifts to each one just as He determines. God is Sovereign in the way He has designed us. None of us are wired the way we are by accident.

The key phrase in verse 18 is “just as he wanted them to be.” Just as every part of the body has its specific gifts and purposes—fingernails are great for scratching itches, hair (if you’ve got it) helps keep your head warm, mouths are good for talking and eating—so each and every one of us has been placed in this church for a specific reason.

God has arranged each of us in His body with a certain mixture of gifts, temperaments and capabilities; and without each of us here offering the gifts and abilities we have to the good of the church—the church would be diminished.

I think this is one of the most profound things about this body metaphor. Paul’s argument here is that nobody in the church sits on the bench. Nobody is just along for the ride. Nobody is a spectator.

Instead, God has created and saved each and every one of us with a specific purpose in mind. He has a job for us to accomplish.

In Ephesians 2, where Paul explains that salvation is entirely by grace and not by works—that being a Christian is a gift of God and not something we earn—He concludes by saying that we are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance us to do.” (Eph. 2:10)

In other words—God has a specific ministry He wants us to be doing on his behalf. Different for all us, to be sure, but all meant to bring glory to Him. And for those of us who consider Hope Church to be our church, I believe the context in which most of us will be carrying out our specific purposes is in this church. We are here for a reason. You are here for a reason. Everybody has something to offer.

Equal Concern
Third slogan: I need you. You need me. The way God has designed the church is that we are meant to depend on one another to be the body. The notion of self-sufficiency in the Christian life is a myth. We need each other. Look at verses 21-26:

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

It would be a bad idea for parts of the body to start separating themselves from other parts of the body. Eyes can look at all kinds of excellent foods, but without hands they’re going to have a hard time getting anything tasty to the mouth. A head without feet is a pretty stationary thing.

In the same way, we need each other in the church. Those who have serving gifts need people who like to teach. Those who like to teach need those who have gifts of hospitality. Those who have gifts of hospitality are made better by those who have gifts of leadership. And so on.

Nobody should ever say: “Well, I’ve got all the gifts I need to be the perfect Christian; so I don’t need the church or any other Christians in my life.” You shouldn’t say that, because unless you are Jesus Himself, it ain’t true. And even Jesus chose to do life together with His disciples.

But keep in mind this is not pure pragmatism. The church is not like an athletic team where everybody has to perform to a certain standard or they get cut. They say that the average career for a player in the NFL is 3 and ½ years. Pro football is ruthless—if you get hurt, if your skills diminish, if somebody shows up who can do your job as well as you but do it cheaper—you’re done. The team is only interested in how you can help it. And if you can’t, you hit the street.

I don’t want to give the impression that the church sees you that way. I don’t want you to think that the church is only interested in how you can contribute here, and that if you aren’t performing up to a certain level then we have no use for you anymore. The church shouldn’t be like an NFL team.

That’s what I think Paul is getting at when he talks about the “less honorable” or “unpresentable” parts of the body here. He’s saying that within the church people who might otherwise be thought of us bringing little to the table need to be just as valued and honored as the so-called “stars”.

His point is that in the church every person is incredibly important to the fulfillment of God’s plan. Nobody is unimportant. And we need to see and call out that value in each other—whether our gifts are big and obvious or quiet and subtle.

The church is different. In the church we should have “equal concern for each other.” Nobody is worthless. Nobody is without gifts. We need each other. I need you. You need me.

Battleship or Cruise Liner?
Fourth slogan: There is a job for you. All of this connects to the ministry fair, of course. In our lobby today we have tables representing most of our ministries at Hope Church and opportunities for you to get more information on how to get involved. The idea is that you’ll be able to get a sense of what we do at Hope Church, and be able to find some places where you could plug in.

The point is, there is a job for you. So pick up your paddle and get involved. Don’t let church be just something you do; make it something you are. Jump in!

Here’s how Paul puts it, in verses 27-30:

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?

“You are the body of Christ.” “Each one of you is a part of it.” The point of the jobs he lists is that there is a job for everybody. Maybe not one of these jobs exactly, the list is given more as examples. The point of the questions at the end is that we don’t all have the same gift, but we do all have something to offer.

In a book called Doing Church as a Team a pastor from Hawaii named Wayne Cordeiro offers another metaphor for us. He talks about a day when he was given the opportunity to go on a short cruise with the USS Reuben James, a naval frigate that was stationed at Pearl Harbor. He writes:

After a thorough tour of the quarters and decks, I took my place by the captain as we pulled anchor and sailed into the deep blue with a crew of 800. At a safe distance from land, the gunnery detail fired a few rounds from the ship’s massive cannons. As every sailor scurried back and forth, I noticed something. Everyone knew exactly what his or her role was. Each person on that ship had a job, a function, a responsibility and a purpose for being there—everyone except me, that is. I was the only one tagging along for the ride.

In contrast, Cordeiro then writes about another cruise he took a few months later on a cruise ship. He says:

On deck, I noticed 400 lazy, sun-ripened human beings lounging around the pool with 40 uniform-clad workers scurrying around trying to keep them happy. (pages 44-45)
The question Cordeiro then asks is this: does the church look more like a battleship or a cruise liner? Is the church a place where a lot of people sit around expecting a few people to run around and meet their needs? Or is the church a highly efficient, battle ready outfit where everybody knows their job and is doing it to the best of their ability?

Cordeiro concludes:

You don’t find the strength of a church in the beauty of its building, the number of attendees or the size of its budget. A church is only as strong as the involvement of its members; and the more each person takes ownership in the ministry of the church, the stronger it becomes. Only when we realize that God has called every one of us with an equally divine imperative can the church at large and our individual congregations begin to reach their fullest potential. (p. 56)

The strength of the church comes from its variety of members. Just like the human body functions best when all the different parts do what they are gifted to do, so the church functions best when we all use our divine design for the common good.

All You Need is Love
Then, one more thing, the conclusion of the matter: Love is Indispensible. It’s important that we celebrate the gifts, but don’t forget the graces.

There is always the potential for controversy when it comes to gifts. Remember, the whole reason Paul is talking about this is because Spiritual Gifts were pulling the church in Corinth apart.
Sometimes people with big, visible gifts can get sort of arrogant. They are doing big, noticeable things for the kingdom of God. Others recognize their gifts and praise them for it. It can be heady stuff, and sometimes it leads to a big head.

At the same time, people with quieter, less flashy gifts can feel overlooked. They don’t get the same kind of attention others get, and it can feel like they don’t matter.

Still others might insist that everyone has to look the same. That we should all pursue the same sort of gifts, and be passionate about the same ways of serving in the church.

Sometimes gifts can pull a church apart. Like when my stomach and my throat aren’t getting along, it can hurt the whole body.

So Paul wraps up this discussion of Spiritual Gifts by pointing us to love. Here’s the final verse of chapter 12:

31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

Then Paul goes into one of the most often quoted and beautiful chapters of the Bible. 1 Corinthians 13. The Bible’s love chapter. We often read it at weddings, but it is important to remember that Paul first wrote it to tell us how to think about Spiritual Gifts. Here are the first three verses:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Spiritual gifts are important. Using you gifts and abilities for the glory of God and the good of the church is a part of God’s will for you. He’s put us all in this church for a reason, and He has a role for each one of us.

But we should never elevate the gifts above the grace of loving and caring for one another. We should never boast about how we serve the Lord at the expense of someone else, and we should never forget that every member is valuable to the health of the body.

Jump in! But jump in with love.