MESSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 24, 2002
(18th in a series on Christ’s church)
We continue in our series on Christ’s church this week. Our intention in this series has been to shine a spotlight on the glory of Christ’s church. We know from Ephesians 3:10 that one of God’s purposes for his church is “that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God would be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” This is a breath-taking truth Paul reveals. That is: God has placed the church on earth as a display, a reflection of his manifold—many sided wisdom so the angels in heaven can look down at Christ’s church in its local, regional, national and global expressions and see many, many aspects of God’s infinite wisdom they had never seen before—by looking at the church! The church is an inherently cosmic creation because we exist in part to display God’s manifold wisdom to the heavenlies. This series of messages has been given to looking at the individual facets of this glorious, divine-wisdom-revealing jewel known as the church. We have examined the individual facets of this jewel through the use of the various biblical designations or titles given to the church. The past two weeks, we have examined Paul’s designation for the church as the body of Christ and we continue there today.
As we focus on the body of Christ this morning, we again want to see how this designation answers the question, “How does the church accomplish her mission?” Our text is from 1 Corinthians 12 beginning with verse 14. As you’re turning there, let’s remember the context into which Paul was writing. The Corinthian church was racked with problems and one of their problems related to spiritual gifts and how they viewed them and used them. One abuse of spiritual gifts related to the gift of tongues. They had elevated the gift of tongues to a place of importance far above God’s design for that gift. Beyond that, the body is made up of people with many diverse gifts and to place so much stress on one gift above the others detracts from the glorious diversity of the body.
In 12:14 and following, Paul emphasizes the diversity of the many parts of the body and as he does this, he brings out a crucial truth as to how the church accomplishes her mission. That is, the church of Christ can accomplish her mission in God’s power because of her diversity. The fact that the body of Christ is diverse is not simply an interesting point to be noted and catalogued in our minds. We must see that the body can accomplish her mission BECAUSE we are diverse and its as our God-designed diversity is expressed that God works through His church. Our diversity is not simply one of many characteristics of the church, its crucial to the faithful carrying out of our mission. As we’ve seen before, the broad mission of the church is to express the glorious character of God and continue Christ’s ministry here as his body. That specific task is to glorify him by making disciples of all nations. That is done only as the diversity of the body is expressed in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what today’s text tells us.
Beginning with verse 14 of First Corinthians 12 Paul says, “Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17If 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? 18But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" 22On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
Notice the verse around which the rest of this text revolves is verse 18. “But God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” At the heart of Paul’s argument here is the body is diverse because that’s the way God made it down to the arrangement of each individual part. Each of us has been gifted and placed in the body to do certain ministries and those gifts and ministries have been sovereignly selected by God. He has gifted and equipped each part of the body so that as that diversity of gifts is expressed, the body will work as he intends. We must not miss how God here portrays himself as the Grand Engineer, the Master Designer of the body down to the smallest detail. Every other truth in this text flows out of that one.
The first point is seen in verses 15-16. Remember the context. Paul is writing to a Corinthian church that had placed inappropriately high value on the gift of tongues and implied that other gifts were basically second-rate gifts. That undermines God’s diverse design of the body where the body works when ALL parts, all gifts are expressed, not just a select few. This wrong elevation of the gift of tongues also caused some people who didn’t have that gift to look at people with these so called “important” gifts and feel worthless. He addresses that in 15-16. “If he foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 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 cease to be part of the body.” This same kind of thing happens today in church. People with less public or less flashy gifts are tempted to devalue their place in the body. They are tempted to think they are not nearly as important to the body of Christ as others whose gifts are more out in the open. The point Paul makes in response to that as you read on in the text is: Because God has designed the diverse body of Christ, we are to find our value and worth in the fact that each one of us was personally selected and equipped by God to carry on certain ministries.
What gives each member of Christ’s body value and worth is NOT the specific ministry each member performs. The value is seen NOT fundamentally in the ministry itself. The value and worth is related to God choosing us and gifting us to do whatever it is He wants us to do. Paul takes the self-centered, self-pitying attitude that says, “Because I can’t preach or teach or lead or administer, I’m not important” and he says in effect, “Its not about you—or what ministry you perform or how you feel about yourself in relationship to someone else with a more public ministry. That is all perfectly irrelevant.” The Scripture will never feed into our self-pity or self-centeredness. Paul smothers that by saying, “how you assess your own value to the body, how you feel about it is patently irrelevant. What is of ultimate importance is not you and your ministry and your assessment of the comparative importance of that ministry, but rather that you have the gifts and ministry opportunities you have because God gave them to you and THAT—GOD’S choice, GOD’S gift, GOD’S placement of you in the body is where you derive your value and worth.”
By implication, because our value comes from the fact that God has equipped and selected us for ministry and because everyone in the body has been selected and equipped by God, that means every one has equal value to God. This is so practical. Paul is telling us that our ministries and gifts should never be compared with other people and what God has given to them. It’s not about how we compare with other people—it’s not about others or us. Our value in the body is not derived from what we do, but rather by who has gifted us and called us to the ministry. We see this principle played out in Jesus’ relationship with Peter. After Jesus restores Peter to ministry after his resurrection, Christ tells Peter that in the future he too would die by crucifixion and would not be alive when he returned. Peter looked at John and asked Jesus, “Lord, What about him?” Peter was comparing himself and his absence at the return of Christ with John. Jesus immediately shuts down that comparative line of thinking by saying in John 21:25, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Do you hear the same point being made to Peter about John? He says, “My decisions about his life are irrelevant to you—that’s between Him and me. You just be concerned about what I have called you to do. Now, follow me.”
So when we sit down and cater a pity party for ourselves about how we just aren’t important to the body because we can’t do this or that, don’t expect Jesus to attend as a sympathetic guest. The only association Jesus has with pity parties is--he crashes them with the truth. He is the quintessential pity-party crasher. He comes in with his God-centeredness and throws cold water on us. He tells us to stop thinking about how we aren’t like other people and don’t have what others have. Our job is not to look at other people and compare ourselves with them, but to look to him and get our orders and value and worth from him and do what He says. And the reason why we should do that is because GOD has designed the body, putting us in the place HE wants us to be and He doesn’t make mistakes. When we whine to God about our place in the body, we are telling the Omniscient, Almighty, Master Designer of the body that he really goofed because he didn’t give this to us or didn’t make us more like this other person. That is arrogance because it makes the ministry of the church all about ME and what I want MY role to be instead of Christ and his purposes.
Another truth impacting how the church accomplishes her mission related to God’s design of the body of Christ is: Because God has designed the body of Christ to be diverse, each part of the body is necessary for the body to function as God intends. We see this in two verses. In verse 17, he says, “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?” Again, we see Paul using the human body to illustrate spiritual truths. The point there is that each part is useful ONLY as it contributes to the whole. Seeing is a fine physiological function, but a body must do much more than see if it is to act as a body. The eye by itself is useless because vision is meaningless when it is disconnected from the body. Likewise, our usefulness is evident ONLY as we function as a part of the larger body. If a person is given the gift of teaching, of what value is that unless there are others who are gifted and energized to pay the heating bill and light so there will be a suitable place for them to teach. If a person is gifted and energized to drive the church van, of what value is that unless someone else is gifted an energized to keep the thing running? If a person is gifted and energized to lead an evangelistic push into Piedmont Heights, of what value is that if there aren’t other people who are gifted and energized to pray that God saves people through that ministry? Each gift, each person is dependent upon some other gifts or people in order for the body function. God has designed the body in such a way so that we absolutely need each other in order to express our gifts in a way that truly builds the body.
We also see this in verse 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!” Again we see the truth that no one exists in a vacuum in the body of Christ. We exist for each other and others exist for us as we all work together for the glory of Christ. This has so many implications for us. If a person is doing a ministry they feel called to and have persevered in it and really worked hard at it, but it is going nowhere, one reason may be because they are trying to do it alone. Maybe they don’t have the prayer covering—maybe it’s a ministry God wants a TEAM to do, not just an individual—maybe they are gifted to do the ministry, but someone else with the gift of leadership is needed to bring direction and focus to the ministry. Christ doesn’t work through one person operating independently from the rest of the body. That’s a violation of his design. His design is interdependence within the body and this is only consistent with God’s over arching agenda.
God’s big agenda is always, always, always the same. That is—his glory—he wants to be glorified because He deserves to be glorified in all things. That’s why this whole world and we were created. With God’s agenda in mind, think about the comparative glory Christ receives when one person operates independently versus the interdependent ministry of the body. When one person does the ministry all alone, he praises God for the grace needed to acceptably do the ministry. That’s about it. However, when the body ministers as a diverse unit God is glorified in countless ways. He is glorified as the body learns to love and work with each other as redeemed sinners. He is glorified in the ministry because that ministry has prayer behind it and he is glorified because he has moved people to pray and then he answered their prayers. He is glorified as the many people who are in on the ministry give thanks to him—far more praise and worship given than in the case of the one independent part of the body. In light of God desire to be glorified, do you see why He has designed diversity into the body of Christ?
Another even more basic reason for the diversity is the fact that the diversity of the body reflects the diversity of God Himself. God is essentially diverse in at least two ways. First, God is diverse because He is a Trinitarian God. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The members of the Godhead are the same in essence-- equal in power and glory, but diverse in that they are different in Person. Second, God is diverse in the expression of his character. He is infinitely merciful, but he is also absolutely holy. He is enduringly patient, but he is also perfectly just. He is diverse in the expression of his character. Given the fact God gets more glory from a diverse body and there is diversity in the Godhead and diversity in His character its only natural that God would design diversity into his body, the church. This incredibly diverse planet and universe God has created with all its diverse elements profoundly express God’s diversity. Within the diversity of the body, each part is necessary for the body to work as God intends. We saw this previously in Ephesians 4:16. Speaking of Christ, Paul says, “From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, AS EACH PART DOES ITS WORK.”
A final truth impacting how the church accomplishes her mission and related to God’s diverse design of the body of Christ is: God has designed the body of Christ in a way that should prevent us from valuing one part of the body more than others. We see this in verses 22 and following. Beginning with verse 22 Paul tells us something about the exquisite wisdom God used in designing the body, “On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it; Paul mentions three kinds of parts in the body. The NIV uses the words, “weaker,” “less honorable” and “unpresentable.” By illustrating from the human body, Paul acknowledges the reality that there are certain parts of Christ’s body that seem, from outward appearance to be less important. But he also reveals that God, in his brilliant design of the body has placed within the body a stunningly wise feature. That is, he has given a usefulness to the parts of the body that is counter-intuitive. That is, those parts that seem from outward appearances to be not all that necessary are in fact the MOST necessary for the function of the body. The weaker parts are in fact… “Indispensable.” The less honorable “we treat with special honor.” And the “unpresentable are treated with special modesty.” And the reason he has designed the body in this manner is in verse 25. “ 25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” One purpose behind God’s design is to work against our tendency to divide by placing some people above others.
Let’s break this down just a bit and give some examples of what he means here. In the human body there are parts that seem to be weaker and I take that to mean parts that are easy to overlook because they don’t seem to be all that useful. Some of those parts are indeed essential like that part of our inner ear that controls our equilibrium that if its not working correctly it causes us to flop around like fish. The antibodies in our blood you can’t even see without a microscope but without them, we would rapidly die from infectious disease. They are indispensable to the body. Likewise, in the church there are parts that seem weaker. That is, we don’t see their ministry but without them the church would go down in flames very quickly. The best of several possible examples of this kind of gift is the ministry of intercession. That is, those people who are specifically called by God to pour their hearts out in prayer for the ministry of this church. These folks can spend hours a day in prayer for the church ministry crying out to God.
I agree with the pastor who said the intercessors have more influence in the church than perhaps anyone else in the body. These people have enormous influence in the body of Christ because they are constantly bringing the body and our many needs before the Lord for His provision, protection and anointing. Yet often, very few people in the body even know whom these folks are. Many times, these are elderly women who pour out their hearts before God. They are not visible and outwardly impressive, but if you take them out of the church, God’s work here is immeasurably hindered because they are one of the main pipelines for God’s supernatural work in Christ’s body. If we know that is true and think that way, that is going to check our natural response to divisively assign little value to people whose ministry we can’t see—like intercession. That understanding works to keep us from dividing because as we understand truths like that, we (verse 25) “share equal concern for each other.”
Some parts in the human body are “less honorable.” These are parts like those responsible for elimination of waste—our bowels and lower GI track. What they do we see as being rather unseemly but we treat them with special honor because if something goes wrong in that area of our body, we get to the doctor RIGHT NOW!! If we get a blockage in our bowel, we get help immediately. Without pressing the illustration too closely (!), we see this same kind of dynamic in a spiritual sense in the body—we are tempted to ignore certain ministries, but if those ministries aren’t performed we feel their absence painfully. The folks who shovel the snow are not, from outward appearances deserving of great honor. But in Northern Minnesota if people are tripping to get into the church because you have icy parking lots and sidewalks, folks quite rightly become frustrated. Many people in this church probably don’t know who maintains the heating system or who changes the light bulbs. But if they stop doing their job, this building is soon without heat and light.
Finally, Paul says some human body parts are “unpresentable.” We all know what Paul is speaking of here—we treat those parts with modesty. These parts are not to be seen publicly. This same dynamic is seen in the church. Many people don’t know who pays the bills because churches do their best to keep the business end of things hidden behind the scenes, but if that person fails to write the checks to our creditors our testimony as a church is trashed in this community. The sound booth folks are hidden behind their little desk—we don’t want that ministry to be on display. They do their job the best when no one knows they are there. In some churches they are placed in their own little rooms completely separate from the sanctuary. But when something goes wrong with the sound system that disrupts ministry for everyone here.
Those are just a few examples of this counter-intuitive value God has placed on the gifts. What we may thinks is not all that important is in fact crucial to the ministry of the body. The reason God has designed this into the body is because it helps us understand the body can’t function the way it is supposed to unless EACH part does what it is called to do. That understanding works against division and helps us to care equally for each other. The question at this point is, “Why, if God designed the body this way, do we indeed place so much more value on some parts than others?” And the answer is the same as it was for the Corinthians and it is because we are often shallow and self-centered. We DO judge by outward appearances far too much. Paul’s word is a badly needed corrective to our tendency. This God-placed diversity in the body not only keeps us from division, its essential for the body to work according to God’s plan.
As we close, let’s ask a few application questions related to all of this. The first and most basic question is, “Do I even know what my part is in the body and am I doing my part to minister in the body?” If you are well established here and are not actively ministering, then you are causing the entire body to function at a level less than God intends. Each person’s negligence or laziness hurts the entire body. A second question is, “Do I look down on the ministries and gifts God has given to me because they’re not as “important” as someone else’s ministry?” God’s word to us in that context is the same as it was to Peter, “Stop focusing on yourself or someone else’s ministry—look to Jesus who gave that ministry to you. He didn’t make a mistake by giving you the ministries you have.” Finally, “am I shallow in my assessment of the usefulness of some gifts as over against others? Or am I applying the truth from this text that the usefulness of our gifts are not what they seem to be and so I will care for everyone the same?”
The bottom line is we need each other if we are going to minister in the way God intends. May God give us the grace to live and minister in the diversity that is the body of Christ.
Page last modified on 3/3/2002
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