The Body of Christ, Part 2: How to be a BodyBuilder
[Text: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31] !Don’t read yet!
Last time we discussed the first part of chapter 12 from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. We talked about the fact that the church at Corinth was a vital, growing church but that they had a number of problems. One of those problems was the tendency to use the various gifts that God had given them in a manner that hurt other people and did nothing to bring glory to the gift giver creating an environment of discord and pain. I also said that all gifts, talents and abilities we have, come from God and therefore are all important, and that they must be used for the two-fold purpose of bringing glory to God and building up the body of Christ.
With these things in mind, this time will we continue with our look at the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth.
One bodyAlthough they were a growing and thriving church with a very important ministry to the people of Corinth, a city with a world renowned sinful life style, the Corinthian church was fractured. They were exalting people, setting them on a pedestal, they were claiming to have special giftings from God that, in essence, made them better than everyone else and they were misusing these gifts. People were getting hurt and out of concern a letter was sent to Paul to which Paul was responding
Paul compares the church to the human body in order to give us a clear mental image of what God intended for his people.
In vs. 13 Paul quickly dispenses with any notion of nationality or race when it comes to the body of Christ. It is interesting to me that Paul starts out painting the picture of the church with such a broad brush. Was the church at Corinth in danger of making distinctions based on race and nationality? Or maybe the Holy Spirit thought it important to include, not because of the Corinthian church per say, but because of all the fellowships that would come after. Who knows. But we do know that God makes no such distinctions. It doesn’t matter if you are a Jew, a Russian, Korean, American, Chinese, Iraqi, or what have you.If you have been born again than you are a part of One Body. And conversely, if you have not been born again then you are not a part of that one body. In a day and age (both theirs and ours) where such distinctions are made and considered important, it may be hard to appreciate the import of Paul’s words. But there they are.No distinctions.
Paul goes on to refine this idea by pointing out that this body has many parts. We aren’t some sort of homogeneous entity. I said that there are no distinctions but what I mean is that there are no distinctions that would result from us being a part of different bodies. We are a part of one body. Not a Russian body or a Chinese body or an American body, but Christ’s body.
Yet within this body there are many parts. Parts that are to serve the purpose of promoting the whole. We are all special and important.
Here I do need to clarify something. Although I don’t believe that Paul’s goal was to prioritize gifts, especially not in the first half of this passage, he does make a distinction. Partly this was to combat the Corinthians attempts to give preference to, what Paul was to call, a lesser gift; the gift of tongues.It was also to, once again, emphasize an important theme found in scriptures; considering the needs of others higher than our own.There are two distinctions Paul makes.
1st. The vital vs. complementary. Some gifts and offices are vital to the church.That is, without them the church cannot exist for very long.These are mentioned in vs. 28:
And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers.
If we think about it for a few moments we can see why this is so.See Eph. 4:11-16.
Without these offices the church would be cut from its moorings and be driven by the wind and waves of false teachings. These people are used by God to raise his church into maturity, without which the infant never grows but dies from exposure to the dark and cold night of Satan’s lies and animosity towards the Father. I see these gifts and offices as the heart, liver and pancreas of the body.Organs that the body cannot survive without.
Some gifts are what I would call complementary. That is, they serve to complete and augment the body of Christ. Paul lists the following: miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.
Would the body of Christ survive without these? Yes. As a matter of fact, various fellowships never see one or more of these gifts their entire existence. But is the body better for them? Is something lacking when they are absent? Yes and yes! I look at these gifts as the arms, legs, eyes, kidneys, ears, etc. of the body. Can you live without an arm or leg? Yes. In fact, you can even live with no arms and legs. But your life will be impacted. You may be able to live without ever running because you have no legs, or never giving a hug because you have no arms, but it isn’t preferred. It isn’t something I would want, and I find it hard to believe anyone in that condition would claim that they don’t care.
2nd. Me vs. the Other. Paul consistently puts a premium on gifts and activities that placed others before ourselves. When Paul, in the last verse of this chapter, exhorts his readers to desire the greater gifts he is referring to gifts that could be used to build up the entire church.
1 Corinthians 13:4 says that [Love] does not seek its own. And it was with this principle in mind that Paul wrote “So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church” (1 Cor. 14:12). And also back in vs. 5 of the same chapter: “Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, [why?] for the building up of the church.”
In this way greater gifts refer to those that do the most good for the most people. This doesn’t mean Paul was against helping one person. Praying in tongues benefited only one person, the person doing the speaking, (unless it was interpreted), yet Paul wished everyone spoke in tongues. But if we are going to see the church grow stronger, bigger and more mature, we are going to have to desire those things that will accomplish this. We must desire the greater gifts.
The Suffering ChurchPaul is giving us a picture of the church (both at a universal as well as local level). But Paul writes a few things that I believe exemplify the perfect church. If a church were to look like this I believe it would be unstoppable, the hearts of communities would change, and it would be so attractive to the hurting masses that it would have difficulty knowing where to put all the people that would be breaking down their doors. Take a look with me at vs. 26:
And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it...
To me this says it all. Now I know that in any congregation there are people who are supremely empathetic. They just seem to always be in tune with the hurts of others and are there to help. Like superman, they seem to always arrive at the right place and at the right time. If this is you, then what I am going to say next doesn’t apply to you. You can take a nap if you like and I’ll wake you when I’m done.
The church at Corinth had come up with a interesting solution to those who were weak, hurting or otherwise not model Christians. vs. 21 says:
...the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again, the head to the feet, “I have no need of you”.
In this church were the pariah, the untouchables, the undesirables. I cannot be sure, but I am guessing Paul’s words were inspired by current events in the church and I am guessing it included the shunning of or otherwise treating these people as second class citizens.
The point of the above verse was to say we all need each other. Even those who are weak or who are really struggling are essential to the body of Christ. Now I am not talking about those who are blatantly sinning against God. That is a whole different case that Paul deals with in this same letter. Here I am talking about those who aren’t the superstars or star athletes of the world. The ones people have a tendency to ignore or want to ignore. See 2:26-31.
Someone once said, "The Christian army is unlike any other army in the world; it shoots its own wounded."
As an elder I get to see and hear all sorts of things mere mortals don’t get to. So let me say with a certain amount of experience, we aren’t so different than the church at Corinth. We have some of our own issues to work out. It is with this in mind that I offer a challenge to you, to all of us, today. When you see someone down, lift them up. When you see someone crying, cry with them. When you see someone in pain, hurt with them. When you see someone slipping away, throw them a rope. When you see someone being attacked, defend them. And by attack I don’t necessarily mean some uber spiritual attack like from Satan. I also mean being attacked by those in our own congregation. It was happening in the Corinthian church, and it happens in churches all over the world. And yes, it happens in our body here.
If someone comes to you and says, “Do you know what I heard about so and so...” Be rude and interrupt them and say, “Do you know that as fact? Have you gone to them?” If the answer is no then you have my permission to tell them to SHUT UP!
I had someone once share a story of a Russian battleship. I am not sure of all the details so this may be completely wrong, but the gist of the story was that a number of men had fallen overboard and were drowning. To save them members of the crew started jumping overboard. They were all drowning as a result, but men kept jumping. Eventually the officers had to hold the crew at gunpoint to keep them from following their shipmates overboard to a watery grave.
I can’t think of a better analogy of what a church should look like. Risking our lives for each member, even to the point of sacrificing our own lives.
The body is important to God. God wants us to build it up. Now it is true that some will just never get really involved. Coming here on Sunday is all they will ever manage. I totally understand that and sometimes it just can’t be helped. Others will get involved and really try to make a difference. They won’t get involved to manipulate or control, but to build up and bring glory to God using whatever gifts and talents they have.
Others will try to tear down through division, manipulation, gossip, unjust criticism and such. To these I have a word of warning: 1 Cor. 3:16-17 says:
Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.
Some people who use this verse to prove we shouldn’t be smoking or getting tattoos or what have you. I’m not going to discuss those things here, but I will say that these verse say nothing about our bodies. Let me read to you from the New Living Translation which says it much clearer:
Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
The “temple” here is the church. It is an ominous warning. If you wish to help build up the body of Christ, wonderful! If you don’t and you just want to sit there, that’s alright to. But if you want to stand in the way of God’s work, look out. God never makes idle threats.
It is very easy for people within the body, either through misinformation, the interference of, perhaps well intentioned, people or any number of other reasons to feel they are not important or unwanted. That anything they have to offer is not good enough to make much of a difference. Last week I gave you some homework. I mentioned that there was, in scripture, an account of two people who were used by God in mighty ways and yet they had gifts and talents that were, what we may think, as being mundane. They weren’t prophets, apostles, preachers, pastors, healers, doctors, business tycoons, movie stars or anything of the sort. One was a waiter and the other a seamstress. Do you know who these people were?
The first was Philip who was one of the seven elected by the church to wait on tables and his story can be found in Acts 6:2-6 and also in Acts 8:4-40.
The other was a seamstress named Tabitha and her story can be found in Acts 9:36-43.
In both these cases the Lord moved mightily through and because of them. I wish I could preach a whole sermon on each of these people, and Lord willing, someday I will, but for now I want you to read these accounts on your own and pray, “Lord, what do you want me to do? What can I do to bring Glory to you and to build up your body here on earth”. If you pray that pray, God will answer it. He has promised, in his Word, to do so, and God never breaks his promises.