SERMON TITLE: Your Place In the Body of Christ
TEXT: 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Robert Tansill
Good morning, Gateway! I'm Robert Tansill, your new Associate Pastor, and it is great to be with you this morning. I also want to give a shout out to the North Main Campus. We are glad you can join us this morning. As Josh reminds us every Sunday morning, "God loves you!" This truth is at the heart of the gospel. And this is why we preach; to remind you how much God loves you, and how faithful he has been to you, and will continue to be, as you continue to trust Him in all things.
This morning, I want to take a brief look at the book of 1 Corinthians to see what God is calling us to be as a body, and the part you have to play in it. Growing up in the South, I used to think that to be a Christian all I needed to do was go to church, say a prayer at dinner time and before going to bed, and be nice to people. That was about it. For me, and many others, the guy behind the pulpit who preached every Sunday was supposed to do all the "church work". My role was to show up for an hour on Sunday, pay homage to the Creator by singing songs that I really didn't enjoy with words that I didn't pay much attention too, recite prayers to this distant Being that I didn't think had any real impact on my life, and to listen to sermons that were boring, impractical and utterly useless. The thought that I was meant to have an actual role to play in, what felt like, a disjointed, unsociable, and superficial gathering of people I worshipped with Sunday after Sunday, never entered my mind. I just went to church, did my time, and went home. I was, what author, Dean Inserra, called an "Unsaved Christian" which he describes as, "a person that places one's security in heritage, values, rites of passage (such as a first communion or a baptism from childhood), and a generic deity, rather than the redemptive work of Jesus Christ." That was me to a tee.
Then in 1982 at the age of 17, I put my trust in Jesus and began reading the Bible regularly. And it was at that point that how I formerly viewed the church drastically changed. I no longer saw it as something that I was supposed to do to "put in my time", but rather for what it truly is; a living organism ordained by God for the sole purpose of bringing glory to His name. And what shocked me the most was seeing that I had a role to play in the church that is meant to impact the lives of those I worship with, as well as those outside of the church. But it's not a role that I fulfill in my strength and ability. Rather, it's a role I fulfill which is driven by the power of the One I now acknowledge as my Lord and Savior. This is true for all of those who place their trust in Jesus! And the key passage that helped me see this was 1 Corinthians 12:12-26. So, if you would, turn in your Bibles to 1 Corinthians 12, and let's look at it together.
As you are turning to the text, just a reminder that you can send in your questions about our passage this morning, and we will try to answer them in our podcast this coming week.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
The Apostle Paul writes, "12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 21 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." 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Corinthians 12:12-26 ESV)
Without going into too much detail, the Apostle Paul is writing to the church in Corinth to correct their thinking about what they are supposed to be and do. And in Corinth, there is a lot to correct! Among the many issues they were struggling with were divisions along social, racial, economic and spiritual lines, the favoring of one leader in the church over another, allowing clear and unrepented sin to go on unchecked (a guy was sleeping with his stepmother!!), and a self-centeredness among many in the church that was eroding it's unity as well as minimizing the person and work of Christ in their lives and in the church. So, what does Paul say to this group of believers (and to us) about what it means to be in the body of Christ to get them back on the right course, and back to being and doing what God has called them to? The first thing Paul says is that,
POINT 1: In the Body of Christ…you are not meant to live in isolation. (vv. 12-13)
Looking again at Paul's words in verses 12-13, he writes, "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit." In Paul's words, the first thing I want you to notice is that he makes an argument for why those in Corinth, and us as well, are not to live in isolation, but rather are to pursue relationships and unity with one another. And he does it by using the word, "For", which he often uses to either explain why he said what he just did or to show the reason for his argument. In fact, he uses this word at least 98 times throughout this letter alone as he carefully strings together his argument for what the church is called to be and do. And what is the main reason that Paul writing this letter? Said another way, where does Paul first use this word "for", and why?
To find out the answer, you would have to go all the way back to chapter 1, and verse 11. It's there that you see the first time Paul uses this word to support his main argument which is seen in verse 10 in these words, "I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment." Now, listen to how New Living Translation puts this verse, "I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose." That's what the word the ESV translates as "judgment" actually means in this passage…purpose.
Folks, the reason Paul has to even write this letter is because the Corinthians have forgotten their purpose for existing. It's not about them as individuals. It's about what God has created, redeemed, and called them to be for Jesus, the gospel, and God's glory. And to accomplish that purpose, we cannot live in isolation. And that's why, when we jump back to our passage in chapter 12 and verse 12, he uses an illustration of a physical body to try to show what this unity looks like. And what a great illustration it is! It's perfect because it shows how each part of the body functions to fulfill its intended role, while at the same time accomplishing its primary purpose.
That's why the translation called, "The Message", is spot on when it translates verses 12 and 13 like this, "You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you're still one body. It's exactly the same with Christ." As you hear these words, you instantly get the picture that Paul is painting. To accomplish our purpose (the purpose God has called us to), we have to be united, which also means we can't live in isolation.
But what is it that unites us? What is the glue that holds us together? Paul gives one answer in two parts. The one answer is Jesus, or "Christ"; the anointed One of God who came to accomplish for us (and in us) what we could never do on our own. This is answer Paul has been fighting to get the Corinthians to see from the very beginning of his letter. Their whole reason for living and their whole purpose for existing is because of Jesus. He's what unites them and holds them together. He's what gives them a purpose as individuals, and as a body. And He does this in two ways. How?
First, He unites them through what He accomplished for them on the Cross. You see that in the phrase, "so it is with Christ." In these words, Paul has in mind God's call on your life, your justification, your sanctification, the righteousness of Christ that you can now claim as your own, your freedom from the bondage of sin, your direct access to Father, your new identity in Christ…all of it, and more! Because of Jesus and what He accomplished for you, God's original purpose for your life is going to be fulfilled, which is to have a relationship with Him and to bring glory to His name in all you do. And this is what the gospel is all about; Jesus doing for us what we could never do for ourselves so that we could become what God originally created us to be; people who love God and want to be in relationship with him and his church.
But there is a second way that Jesus unites us, which we see in verse 13 in the phrase, "For in one Spirit…". And this is where all that Jesus has done for us as individuals are used to unite us together as a whole. What Paul has in mind here is the Spirit of Christ, also known as the Holy Spirit. He is the one Jesus talked about in Acts 1:8 when He said, "But you (plural!) will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." He is the third person of the trinity, and He is the one who takes all that Christ has accomplished for us and applies it to our lives daily. He is the one who constantly reminds us that we are no longer to live for ourselves in isolation, but for Jesus, and His purpose for our lives. And He is the one that unites us together around this purpose in spite of our social, racial, or economic standing.
That's why Paul says, "Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit." Because of the work of Jesus and His Spirit, those things which once caused division have now been joined together to serve His one purpose. All those barriers that divided the Corinthians, and which can still divide us today, are now gone in Christ. Because of Jesus, who is the object of our faith, we are once again able to see our original purpose. And, because of His Spirit, we are enabled, or empowered, to fulfill it together. But as I said at the beginning, to do that, we can't live in isolation.
But we have to ask the question, "Why do we do that?" As long as I've been a pastor, I've heard time and time again from people that they don't feel plugged into the church. But let's be honest. For some of you, you just want to come to worship, and then go home. You don't want to be a part of a Life Group, you don't want to serve in a ministry, and you don't want to join the church. You just want to do your thing, and then leave. Believe me, I get it! I do.
You're running your kids around from dance to soccer to baseball...your boss has you working 50-60 hours a week...your college professors load you down with schoolwork that's a mountain to climb before your next class...and church seems to be the easiest thing to make a "box" to check off in your life with the least amount of commitment on your part because life is pulling you in so many directions.
But if you have put your trust in Jesus, that way of thinking is not an option. As we've already said by looking at verses 12-13, God has called you for a purpose, Christ has redeemed you for that purpose, and the Spirit is enabling you to fulfill that purpose. And because of that, the second thing Paul wants us to see is…
POINT 2: In the Body of Christ…you are not insignificant. (vv. 14-20)
Look at verses 14-20. Once again, using the word, "For", to explain the purpose that God has called His church to, and the part each of us have to play in it, Paul addresses a segment of the Corinthian church that felt as if they had nothing to contribute because of their social, economic, or racial standing, or because they weren't gifted in the same way as others in the church. And he does so by showing them that, because of what God has done for them through His Son and His Spirit, it is absurd to think that they don't have a part to play in the body. This is one of the outcomes of being redeemed. God gives us a "Kingdom purpose".
In fact, "The Message", once again captures how they were feeling in verses 15-16 in an almost humorous way when he says, "If Foot said, ‘I'm not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don't belong to this body,' would that make it so? If Ear said, ‘I'm not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don't deserve a place on the head,' would you want to remove it from the body?" The answer? Of course not! Why? Because they are important to the body of Christ just the way they are. They don't need to try to be anything other than what God has created and redeemed them to be. Instead of feeling insignificant, or envious of others in the church, they need to understand that they have a particular and significant role to play in the body that contributes to the overall purpose that God has called His church to. We are not all gifted the same way for a reason because, as Paul says in verse 17, "If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?"
Look at what Paul says in verse 18 that drives home the point that each of us has a particular part to play in the church that is important and significant to the body as a whole. He says, "But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose." Do you hear what Paul is saying? This thing called, "the church", is not supposed to be just a group of people who come together one day a week to worship God, and then go home. Rather, it's is a group of people that God has individually chosen, redeemed, gifted, and given a particular and significant role to play for the benefit of the body, and the glory of God.
In fact, look at the wording Paul uses to show how invested and actively involved God is with His church. He says God, "arranged the members in the body", meaning he, "specifically placed or put them exactly where He wants them". And He did this, "as he chose", showing that God is intentional about where He wants them to use their gifts in the body. There are no insignificant or unimportant parts in this body. Every part has a function that contributes to the overall purpose; a function that God Himself has "arranged and chosen", which is empowered by His Spirit, and specifically tailored to meet the various needs in the body. As the author, Sam Allberry, writes in his book, "Why Bother with Church?", "The membership of every local church is no accident; it is by divine design. There is no one there who is a spare part, a third foot, or second nose. There is no one there who is not necessary, or who doesn't need the rest of their church."
But, that's not all Paul has to say on this issue. There is another group in the church that he addresses. And, unlike the previous group that felt like they had nothing to contribute, this group is self-sufficient, arrogant, and see themselves as really important. And because of this attitude, Paul addresses them and their role in the church, which we'll sum up this way…
POINT 3: In the Body of Christ…you are not to consider yourself as more important than others. (vv. 21-26)
One of the greatest dangers in the church occurs when people overstate their importance in the body of Christ. It manifests itself as an attitude of control which does not value others around them, is self-seeking, and is self-sufficient. But what does it sound like?
Continuing the body illustration, Paul writes in verse 21, "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.' And then in verse 22 he adds this, "On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require". What does he mean?
As people who have placed their trust in Jesus, we should never look down on others in the church as if they are less important in the body. When we do that, not only are we thinking more highly of ourselves than we should, but we are also devaluing that person that Christ has redeemed, and that the Spirit is empowering. They are just as important to the body as you are. They may actually be more important than you think.
That's what Paul means when he says, "the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable." He's talking about those in the body who don't seem to have the power or prestige that some in the body might claim for themselves. They may even be considered as "weak" by some. But once again, Eugene Peterson beautifully captures Paul's thought in verse 22, when he says in, "The Message", "You can live without an eye, for instance, but not without a stomach." So, what does that look like in practical terms? Two illustrations come to mind.
When I was in seminary in New England, my wife and I had a couple of opportunities to go see the Boston Pops, which at the time was led by John Williams as its conductor. Typically, I'm not a big orchestra guy. But, knowing that my wife enjoys stuff like this, and being the fantastic and humble husband that I am, I decided that we should take advantage of this opportunity. Also, the tickets were free!
As we were sitting in the balcony watching the orchestra play, I became fascinated with how all these different and individual parts worked together to create this complex and incredible piece of music. Ninety-three individuals were playing their different instruments at just the right times with each person focused on their particular part. Yet, at the same time, they were all in perfect harmony, with John Williams guiding the way.
As they were working through each piece of music, with the trumpet section blaring one moment and the violin section screeching in the next, all of a sudden the music would abruptly stop, and a guy stands up holding a metal triangle, striking it so that it makes a loud, "TING!" that reverberated through the auditorium. Then he sits down, and everybody else picks up right where they left off without missing a beat. And what was so intriguing about all this is how integral that guy playing the triangle was to that whole piece of music. It was almost as if everybody else in the orchestra was playing their hardest just so that the guy on the triangle would get the honor. It truly was a sight to behold, and a wonderful example of the way the church is supposed to be as it pursues the purpose God has given it to accomplish.
And what does that guy playing the triangle look like in the body of Christ? He looks like those who are doing the work of the kingdom, but not in a way that often draws the glow of the spotlight. Often, they are the ones working behind the scenes using their gifts for the benefit of others in the body. It's the person who is taking care of your child in the nursery so that you can worship without having to worry about them or the person who brings a meal to someone in the body that needs one.
And that is why the Apostle Paul says in verse 24, "But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another." By using the word, "compose", Paul wants us to understand that we all have a part to play in this body. And to do that well, we can't live in isolation, view ourselves as insignificant, or consider ourselves as more important than others. As Paul said at the beginning of our passage, we are all one in Christ, and we all drink of the same Spirit. Simply put, we should neither view ourselves any better or any worse than anybody else because the ground is level at the foot of Cross!
God takes us, as broken people, redeems us by giving His Son to die for our sins, gives us His Spirit who endows us with gifts that are to be used for the benefit of the body and the glory of God and blends us together so that we are united for one purpose. That's what Paul has in mind when he uses the word, "compose".
And what does it look like when it all works together? Paul tells us in verse 26, "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together." This is the way the body of Christ is supposed to look. And if you have experienced any pain or hurt in the past as a result of the church, my encouragement to you is give it to God, who has the power to take our pain and use it for our good and his glory and to pick up your triangle, and get ready to play. In spite of what you think you see around you at this very moment, there is something much greater going on that we won't fully grasp until we stand before our God and Jesus, which author Paul Tripp sums up in these words, "Embedded in the larger story of redemption is a principle we must not miss: God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things in the lives of others."
Folks, if you trust Jesus Christ, then this is what you have been called to, and nothing less. This is what Christ died for, and what the Spirit is working to accomplish. You are needed and wanted in the body of Christ. Please, for the sake of Christ, take this call seriously. For to God, and God alone, belongs all the glory.
Let's pray together.
Father, thank you for calling us, redeeming, giving us your Holy Spirit, and giving each of us gifts that are meant to be used in this body for your glory. I pray that as we leave this place, you would show us where and how you want us to be used as we work together to accomplish the purpose you have called us to. And for those in this body who feel isolated or insignificant, I ask that you would show them how much this body needs them, and the role that you have specifically picked out for them to use their gifts for the benefit of this body as a whole. And for all us, help us to not think more highly of ourselves than ought, but rather to serve one another as Christ has served us. And until the day when Christ Himself returns for his church, may we continue to be faithful as we live out our faith before a lost and dying world. For this is what you have called us to. Father, we love you. And we ask all of this in the name of Jesus. Amen.