Our church is approaching its 40th anniversary. Looking back there have been many changes. People come and go. People pass away and children are born. Pastors come and go. Even locations change. The truth is, although we desire to be constant and stable, change is necessary for survival and effectiveness for reaching the community around them.
As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, it was his desire to see change. He taught about gifts and purpose with the emphasis on the common good of the church. In 12:12-13, he writes, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 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.”
The church in Corinth had issues. They were allowing sin to run rampant, struggled with spiritual pride; all leading to division, various cliques and factions claiming superiority. Paul looked for an image to help bring them together and that image was the body. So what does it mean to be the BODY OF CHRIST?
The human body is made up of between 10 and 50 Trillion cells. When put together, they create the pinnacle of God’s creation, something beautiful and made in the image of God. But what about the church? How is she like a body?
As we know the church is often referred to in society as a building. Many of them are old and sadly empty. It is a place where people sin, give money and where people hear a sermon on the only day it is used… Sundays. In essence, people see the church as an institution that does little good and has lost its effectiveness in the world.
The New Testament uses different imagery to describe the church. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul describes it as a field and building. In Ephesians 5 it is called a bride. Here in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul’s emphasis here is the significance of each part of the body.
Paul emphasizes three qualities of the body that help us to understand and relate with one another. The first quality is unity – that we work together for one purpose.
Now the Bible is full of warnings regarding dissension and arguments. The apostle’s common theme was for God’s people to be of one mind, the mind of Christ; and to a singular purpose, to share the love of God to the world through word and deed. But the only way this can be accomplished is if people are unified.
As we read on in Paul’s letter we find another quality of the Body is equality. Everyone has the same value and worth. In verses 22-25, Paul writes, “On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 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, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.”
Society measures people using different standards. We do this to determine their worth, their strength, and value. Magazines come up with a list of the richest, most powerful and beautiful. These kinds of measuring sticks can leave you not feeling good enough or of any value. Sadly, even in the church, this happens. In the church, worldly values are also applied. Things like appearance and performance become the determining factors to a person’s value.
Fortunately, God’s value system is different. Jesus ministered to the outcast, the poor, prostitutes, handicapped, unclean, those possessed… He ministered to anyone in need. In Jesus’ eyes, each person has value because they are created in God’s image. Jesus loves you for being you.
When we use the world’s ways of evaluating each other, we miss out on the true and infinite value God places on us. When you look at the church, each person has infinite value. Each person is gifted by God and has other abilities and life experiences we all benefit from. In other words, everyone is important.
Unfortunately, if things/people don’t measure up or serve the purpose we want, then we tend to dispose of them. But in the church, we all have something to contribute. I have learned more about faith, life, integrity, and character from kids and seniors. In Acts 2, we see that everyone shared and served together because they didn’t see value based on status rather they based their status and value in Christ. The result can be seen in Acts 2:47 where “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” But that’s not all Paul wanted to see in the church.
In verse 26 we discover another quality. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” In other words, we are called to have empathy towards one another, to share in each other’s joys and sorrows.
People struggle with sharing their problems with others. We live in such an individualized “community” that when problems come up, people will often internalize leaving their problems leaving them feeling alone. But that isn’t the way the church was created or operate. We are called to suffer with suffering; rejoice with rejoicing; pray for each other; show benevolence to one another and to visit sick.
Church is about people living in community for the glory of God. Many gifts one Spirit, many members, one body. Everyone who knows Jesus is part of the Body, empowered by Spirit to live and work in unity with each other. “Jew, Greek, slave or free… baptized into one body and drink of one spirit” We gather each week with that expectation. It was true in Paul’s day and needs to be especially true for us today.
How do we do that? There are many verses about relating to each other. Each passage gives us a glimpse of what the church looks like.
Romans 12:10 – “be devoted to one another in brotherly love, honour one another above yourselves.” Devotion and honour – as we give that to God, we need to give to each other
Romans 12:16 – “live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” Humility is key in breaking down walls and building bridges.
Romans 15:7 – “accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Acceptance is foundational for love because it brings praise to God
1 Thessalonians 5:11 – “encourage one another and build each other up.” In John Fischer book, “12 Steps of a Recovering Pharisee” the author emphasizes our love to judge and condemn. It is easy to be critical but it isn’t our job.
Hebrews 10:24 – “spur one another on to love and good deeds.” Encourage each other to do good things. Simple!
1 Peter 4:9 – “offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” This is probably the best way to build community. Christians and food go hand in hand.
Paul ends off his thoughts with these words in verse 27, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” All of us have something to offer. Especially during times of transition and unknowns, it is imperative that the church focus on who they are and what God has called them to. And part of the process is everyone needs to step up and use the gifts, talents, and abilities they have been blessed with.
Is it easy? NO. Maintaining unity and focus is difficult. In the Old Testament, there is the story of the transition that took place in Israel when Moses died. There were fear and factions arose. But God raised up Joshua to lead the people and as the nation worked together, they accomplished something even Moses couldn’t do – they took the Promised Land.
Paul saw the church as a living organism, created and sustained by God to reach the world with the Good News of Jesus. To accomplish this task, God gave His Spirit and each member to accomplish it. May God’s church learn to be unified, practice equality and show empathy to one another to become the light of God’s love to others.