This week we start a new sermon series on the church - what the church is, and how do we fulfill that. This week we are reminded again that the church is not a building, it's a body - we are the church! We also learn the importance of Fellowship and Community.
This message is based on 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. To read it now, click here.
This week we’re starting a new series that looks at the church and the mission of the church. Francis Chan had some really good thoughts in our Sunday School class, we’re studying his book, Crazy Love. He said that “The most important thing we need to do as Christians is to think for ourselves, in a biblical way, to biblically think for ourselves.”
A few minutes later he said, “My concern though is that I think there are patterns in our American church culture that we just follow without thinking is this the most biblical way to do it. We just do it because that’s what every church does.” And he said that most of what we know about God has been handed down to us from others, and rarely do we actually go to the bible to see if that’s the way we should be doing it.
I agree with that statement, and I’ve been a little convicted for years about how we do church. Because again, most of what we do on a Sunday morning, especially in the 11:00 service, we’ve been doing for generations. Other than a few minor tweaks, we do church today the same way we did when the church was founded, the order of worship is really very similar. But do we know if it’s really biblical? Is there even a biblical model?
Personally, I think the bible is intentionally vague about the order of worship. Because it really doesn’t matter. Any worship service that is focused on Jesus Christ, and is sincere and honest and speaks to the spirit is a good worship service.
But we tend to fight a little to get our own personal preferences spoken to. That’s why the so-called Worship Wars exists between a traditional service and a more contemporary service. A lot of people think it’s very important one way or the other. And often churches wind up like ours, with two very different services, with two very different orders of worship. And the concern is with the unity of the church.
Because, while the bible may be vague on the order of worship, it’s not at all vague about the unity of the body. The church is a body, and as we saw in our reading, in verse 12-13, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body.” And while we might think worship is the most important part, it’s really only aspect of what a church should be about. I hope to show during this series, to talk about some of the various things the church should be concerned with.
This morning, our focus is on the idea of fellowship and community. The early church was as much a fellowship and community of believers as it was a common worship. And more importantly, remember that while we tend to talk of the church as a building, or a place to worship, to the early church it was body, it was a people who worshiped. And they could worship anywhere, as long as they were together.
I think our current understanding of the word church has led to a subtle shift in how we see church. I have no idea when that shift began to happen, but the result is that we see church as a place we go, or as something we do, not as a people we belong to. And that shift has allowed us to compartmentalize our faith. You see, church has become something we do on Sunday morning.
But the bible defines church as the body of Christ, we are the church, the body, not the building. The church isn’t something we do, it’s something we are. We are the church. We are the Body of Christ. We can’t compartmentalize this, we can’t turn it on or off. It’s who we are. If we’ve truly surrendered our lives to Jesus Christ, that isn’t something we can turn off when we go home.
So, maybe the comment by Francis Chan that we started with might be right, at least as it applies to the image of church that we have today. Maybe we’ve settled for a definition of church that’s been handed down to us by others, maybe our image of what a church is is not quite biblical. So maybe there is a need to rethink church. So that’s what we’re looking at in this series, Rethinking the Church.
In our reading this morning, Paul points out three things that we can learn about being a part of the body of Christ. The first is that we really do need each other. To set the context a little, the Corinthian church was dealing with some pretty big issues. They were having problems with unity, they were struggling with sexual immorality, they were suing each other, lawsuits between members of the church, and some were struggling with marriage issues.
All things considered, maybe it was like a lot of churches today. It’s not uncommon to see a lot of these same issues in our churches today. But because of the issues they faced, and how the church was dealing with them, some of the people were getting discouraged and leaving the church. Honestly, that’s something else that might be common today.
Also in the Corinthian church, some people were acting superior to others. This can happen in our churches as well, when people who have been involved in leadership for many years might intimidate new people. New people sometimes feel excluded. It’s often unintentional, but it sometimes happens. People in leadership need to be very mindful of this, and always be on the lookout for ways to include others in committees and activities of the church. Sometimes people bully other people to get what they want, bullies in churches are a big problem, a lot of churches struggle with bullies, and we aren’t immune either. But Paul makes it clear that every part of the body needs every other part of the body regardless of how active they are, or how obvious their gifts and abilities. God does not value one person more than any other person.
Paul wrote in verses 21-22, “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!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” We all need each other, the body is not complete when some are missing.
There is an important implication to this. As a believer, bonded with the Holy Spirit, you are linked with every other Christian in the world. You are linked to Christ’s Church universal, the worldwide church. Without each believer being a committed and active believer, Christ’s Church is incomplete. You have an important part to play, even if it’s limited to the local church; it’s linked to the worldwide church. Because we are a part of something much bigger, what we do has implications far beyond our walls. So if we’re going to do right, and have the influence over the world that the church is intended to have, we are salt of the earth, right? We need every one of you to be involved.
The second point we can learn here about being a part of the body of Christ is that we must honor each other. This point builds a little bit on the last point. As each person is different, and each person is important, each person must be honored in the church. Just as God values each member of the body the same, we should honor each member the same. We need to honor our Christian brothers and sisters for who they are and what they contribute to the church. Paul wrote in verse 24-25, “Everyone in the body is important, everyone deserves the same honor.”
I think there might be a flip side to this, as well. Each one of you has received the Holy Spirit when you became a believer. The Holy Spirit resides in each one of you – no one person is excluded from that. Each person has unique gifts to use to serve the church – no one person is excluded from that, either. Therefore, each person should be included in work and ministries of the church.
So as a church, we need to make sure that we’re including everyone in the church, but we also need to make sure that we’re doing our own part. Be willing to serve on a board, I know those positions are pretty much taken care of now, but next fall, express your willingness. And if you’re not on a board, you aren’t excused. There are other committees where you can serve. And at the very least, you should still be at the quarterly meetings and at the annual meeting. Every believer needs to bring your gifts and your measure of the Holy Spirit to these meetings, to contribute what God has given you to the good of the church. Everybody is important.
The third point is that we must care for each other. Verse 26 says, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” In other words, if one part is feeling pain, the whole body is either sick or injured. And the whole body responds in some way. Ever smash your finger with a hammer? If you’re like me, you’re mouth opened, your vocal chords and lungs let go with a loud yell, your arms waved back and forth, you hopped around a little bit, you brought the finger up to your mouth. Your whole body was involved. Your whole body reacted to what happened to your finger.
This might be a dramatic example, but it’s true that when one part of the body is injured, the entire body is affected. The same should be true in the church. And we try to do that, when hear of people struggling, we get the prayer chain going, we might visit, we might bring some meals. These are important activities that show that we can lean on each other when times get tough. And healing often comes through the help of a fellow believer. We’re family, and that’s what family does.
Paul’s message brings us a challenge to really live in unity with each other, to be active here in this body of Christ, to help to lift each other up, to encourage each other as we struggle with hardships and trials, and to be here for each other.
There is no part of the body that is more important than any other part. If any part gets sick or diseased, it will adversely affect every other part. Whether you are formally a member or not, you are a part of this body of Christ. And when you're not here, and even you’re here but not involved, the whole body here suffers. Do your part. Serve with joy, encourage with compassion, and support each other with love
I want to close with an illustration to show how important it is for everyone in the congregation to be involved, but I’ll need a volunteer. Can anyone come forward and help me out with this? I have a pack of rubber bands (take the rubber bands out of the pack). Can I throw this pack of rubber bands at you? (throwing these rubber bands obviously won’t hurt them – pick up the rubber bands, ask if you can do it again) Can I do it again, can I through another pack of rubber bands at you? It didn’t hurt, right? (this time pull out a rubber band ball. Act like you’re going to throw it at them, but don’t.)
The pack of rubber bands that were loose didn’t hurt at all, did it? When all the rubber bands are loose, going their own way, doing their own thing, they’re no big deal. But when the rubber bands are united together in the form of a rubber band ball, that’s a different story, isn’t it? A rubber band ball could hurt quite a lot, even though it’s still just a hundred rubber bands, when they are formed together, they are stronger, and more apt to have an effect.
The church is like this, too. When Paul calls for the unity of the church, he’s not talking about a hundred people sitting in their own pews on a Sunday morning, that’s like this hundred rubber bands sitting together in this bag. Rather, Paul is calling for the unity of the church, Paul is calling for the church to be united together, formed together in a way that it will have a real affect.
When Christ said, on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome, this is the image of the church He was thinking of. (hold up rubber band ball). This is nothing, this won’t change the world. But this, when we’re together, really together, a hundred people all working and serving together, we can do anything.