Creating a caring, Christian community
1. No more heroes?
One of the TV shows I got into earlier this year was ‘Heroes’. I don’t know if you watched Heroes, but it was about a group of people who all had some sorts of special power or ability. So one could travel through time, or read someone’s mind, spontaneously regenerate body tissue, have incredible strength, move or ‘phase’ through solid objects, fly, perceive the future.
The blurb for the show goes like this – ‘All over the world, seemingly unconnected and ordinary people are realising that they possess incredible capabilities. As these strangers and more come to terms with their new abilities, they begin to understand that they may need to use their strengths for a greater collected purpose... the saving of all mankind...’
Our society loves the idea of heroes – those special, unique talented individuals that we adore – whether it be movie stars, pop stars, sports stars, politicans, or in other fields – we love heroes.
But heroes can be divisive – I love Hewitt, I love Federer, and we fight over who is the best.
That sort of thing was happening in the church in Corinth. There were divisions over who followed who – so back in ch 1 Paul writes- ‘there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says I follow Paul; another I follow Apollos; another I follow Cephas; still another I follow Christ.’
They were putting individuals on a pedestal and claiming allegiance to one or the other – they were their heroes.
And it spilt over into congregational life –so as we come to ch 12 of 1 Corinthians, they are dividing over the question of spiritual gifts. They thought some Christians were better than others, were super-spiritual, were heroes if you like, because they had some particular spiritual gift. And if you didn’t have that gift you were sub-standard.
Do you ever think that? That certain people in the church are heroes? Or that some are inferior? Perhaps you feel that about yourself as you sit here tonight? Do you ever wonder – what does it mean for me to be part of St Mark’s?
1 Cor 12 is a great help in overcoming those problems and showing how the church is to work together properly, as a community. So let’s see what Paul says.
2. We are all heroes – special JILs (1 Cor 12:1-11)
12:1 – let’s talk about spiritual gifts, so that you are not ignorant.
God is creating a new community – a community of people who belong to him. Call it God’s family, God’s friends, God’s people, God’s children, God’s kingdom - they are a specific group of people who belong to God. And it is all his work, and his alone. This new community is God’s people. They are if you like God’s heroes – created by God for a greater collected purpose.
But who are they? Who is in this special group? Who are God’s ‘in-crowd’? Only one thing identifies them. It is not being a human, it is not doing something good in our life, it is not even coming to a church every week, and it’s not even, as some of the Corinthians thought, having a particular spiritual gift, like speaking in tongues.
No. Paul says what marks this group of people out as God’s is what they say about Jesus. V3 – READ. God’s people are JILs – the people who say ‘Jesus is Lord’.
ILLN – One of my favourite stories is about an Irishman – apologies if you are Irish. Irishman in an expensive BMW driving too fast and a big, brutish policeman sees him and decides to have some fun. So he pulls the driver over, tells him to get out, draws a big circle around the car and tells him to stay outside it. Then proceeds to–
- knife out, slashes seats, looks at Irishman who just smiles
- baton out, smashes windows, looks, chuckles
- beats in panels, roof and boot, looks, laughs uproariously
- engine, smashes radiator and belts, looks, driver is beside himself, rolling helplessly on the ground in fits of laughter
Police man can’t take it any more. Says to man – I’ve destroyed your car, what’s so funny? Irishman says – I stepped into the circle 4 times.
God has drawn a circle that separates his people from those who are not his people. That circle is Jesus. God says we must be in Jesus, ‘in Christ’, in God’s hero, to be one of his people.
There are some people in the world who say the circle is much wider than that – all paths lead to God, or being good is enough, or it all depends on what I’ve done. Other people, especially people in the church, try to make the circle narrower – you’re only in if you’re baptised, if you’re in a small group, if you’ve been confirmed, and so it goes. There seem to have been some in Corinth like this - trying to narrow the circle to fit their definition.
But both groups ignore what God says through Jesus. And Paul says in v1 – I don’t want you to be ignorant. God has given us the truth, he’s given us himself in Jesus, so we don’t remain like the ostrich with its head in the sand. And he reminds them in v2 there is much false spirituality around – many of them had come from pagan backgrounds that they thought was the truth, but it had only led them to dumb idols. That is our society today in many ways as well – many are ignorant, and many trust in new spirituality which doesn’t lead them to the true God.
So who is in God’s circle? 2 tests in v3 – do they say ‘Jesus be cursed’? If so – they’re out. But not a lot of people are that blunt. So test #2 – do they say ‘Jesus is Lord’? If so then they are in God’s circle, because such belief only comes from the Holy Spirit. It is the mark of the Holy Spirit.
Of course it is not just saying it in terms of putting 3 words together, but actually show in their lives that they acknowledge Jesus as Lord and live with him as Lord. This is the mark of being in God’s new community.
At the end of the day there are only 2 sorts of people - those who have the Holy Spirit, seen in their acknowledgment of the Lordship of Jesus, and those who do not. God’s new community is made up solely of those people, who by the Holy Spirit are able to confess that Jesus is Lord.
If you are not part of that community, and want to be, please talk to me after the service. It is most important that you join God’s new community, for they are the only people who will be with him forever. Only God can give you His Spirit, and all you need to do is ask in repentance and faith.
But other than that ther eis no division in God’s community. Once you are in God’s circle you are united with everyone else in that circle, united to them and to God.
And, ‘yes’, vv4-6, people have different gifts, and do different kinds of service and work, they are still united, because there is only one Spirit, one Lord, one God. And sicne we are all in the circle, then we’re not to judge people, or ourselves, by what kinds of gifts they do or do not have, or by the way they serve, or by what God may or may not be working in them, because at the end of the day all these gifts come from the one Spirit. Paul here lists only some of the gifts of the Spirit to make his point, and there are other lists in the NT which also mention some other gifts. Marty will help us think through some of these in a few weeks time.
Paul wants us to understand that in the church of God there is an inherent unity, which is there because of the work of the Holy Spirit.
APPL - do you sense that unity here at St Mark’s? Are you part of it? Do you have ideas for how we can maintain and reflect that unity? Please let me know.
In the following verses Paul teases some of these thoughts out a little more.
3. In fact we are one hero’s body; with...
a) Unity - each part doing what it should, when it should (vv12-13)
ILLN - On Friday mornings I go to the Fitness Centre up the road. We are a little community, 7 of us there 2 days ago. We come together because of our common desire to get marginally fitter, and pay someone to help us do it. We only last an hour. Then we separate and have not much to do with one another until the next Friday.
Is that how you view church? Come on Sunday and that is it?
I suggest Paul is saying God’s community is not like that.
Look at v12 - READ. Even though the body is full of many different parts it is still just one body. There is a unity. All its parts belong to one body. Adults have 206 bones – but only one body; 630 muscles – but only one body; 60 billion cells in their brains – but only one body;
And the end of v12 - So it is with Christ. What a strange thing to say. Not so it is with the church, but so it is with Christ. Christ is a body. And what are the parts in this body? v13 - it is people. We are the body of Christ. We are. Spiritually speaking Christ’s body is made up of all those people who have been brought by the Holy Spirit into God’s circle – that is what being baptised by the Spirit means – becoming a Christian.
What unites us in this body of Christ is not being Anglicans, or part of St Mark’s, or part of the seniors group/ or a Bible study group or a youth group. It is the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Corinthians acted as though there were different classes of Christians. Those who could speak in tongues and those who could not. If you couldn’t you were still saved, but you weren’t baptised by the Spirit. Some people still think that today – it is not true. There is a fundamental unity in the body of Christ which is that we all have one Spirit – the Holy Spirit. And part of His work is to guarantee unity, not encourage division.
God’s people are a body. This body is not like a club or organisation or institution that we opt in or out of, that we come to when we want. No – we are part of a body - a living, growing organism. And not just part of any body. Part of the body of Christ. We are the body of Christ.
We are. Universally all Christians throughout time are the body of Christ, but also at a local level – so in v27 Paul says to the Christians at Corinth – ‘you’, you Christians here in Corinth, are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. We here at St Mark’s are the body of Christ. If you’re a Christian here you are part of the body of Christ – regardless of your age, sex, nationality, or abilities.
IMPACT of this??? Believe it? Reflect it?
b) Diversity - but not desiring the gifts of others (14-20)
Yet within this one body there is a need for diversity.
ILLN - imagine the body was just a pair of lips. It would be a big pair of lips – great for singing perhaps, but not much good for playing the piano. It would be a crazy body. Diversity is important in any body - we know it and God knows it.
And so in the body of Christ there is diversity. Unity yes, uniformity no. We don’t all have the same gifts. Rather God in his gracious generosity gives his body, his people, a wide variety of gifts. Imagine we were all pianists like..... We would all be queuing up to play, but no one would be singing. We need the whole range of gifts God gives us. We need people who will welcome, clean, speak, pray, sing, play, ....
We need each other. The body of Christ has many parts, and every part is needed for the body to work properly. So for instance the foot in v15, or the ear in v16. If v17, every part was an eye, the body wouldn’t hear. And if every part was an ear, the body wouldn’t be able to smell.
The body has many parts which all work together, and that is the way God has made it. v18 - READ.
Since it is God’s work, then I take it no part is inferior. So we are not to desire what someone else is. I am not to get upset because I only get to preach and don’t get to do Vibe or play bassoon. I am not to envy others and complain because I’m not one of them. God has made me a certain part, which is what is best for me and for you.
St Mark’s needs each person to play their part if we are all going to function properly. What happens to a body if some parts are removed, not used or left dormant? The whole body suffers. Please don’t think that your role, whatever part you are, is somehow inferior. It’s not. You are not. You are part of this body – and we need you. Your contribution is invaluable, even if it is different to every one else’s. That’s how God has made us. So don’t envy or desire the gifts of others - God knew what he was doing with you. No one is inferior in this body.
Let me say again - you are not inferior in this body. You are not unimportant. You are not useless. Maybe you feel that way. Feel left out or unnecessary because God hasn’t given you a certain gift. Sitting on the fringes or drifting from church to church because you don’t want to get involved? Look around. Everyone you see here needs you and what God has given you, because this body can only function at its full potential if you are involved.
Don’t just come along when you feel like it - please come regularly. And don’t then just come regularly - but please get involved. Do the work God has made you for. Be an active part of this body. And when you do that you will actuially feel more fulfilled and content and joyful.
If you reflect on the parts of your own body, you know they are all different. They all have different roles. What is your role in this body of Christ? What are your abilities and gifts? Ask yourself the question - in what ways am I meeting the needs of other people? Because in this body no one is inferior, instead there is a lot of diversity.
c) Discrimination - without disparagement (vv21-24)
And whilst there is diversity there is not to be division. We are not to look down on others and think we are superior. Every part of the body is essential.
ILLN – Think about a watch? What do you think of? Mine has a band, a protective case, a face, and three hands. Not a lot. But if you opened the back of your watch what would you see? Lots and lots of moving wheels and other parts. The watch would be useless without each and every part - even the ones you can hardly see. Or think of our bodies – one of the men in our 9.45 congregation collapsed last Sunday and had to be taken to hospital. The problem – his middle ear had a viral infection. That one small part affected the whole body.
In this body of Christ every part is essential. None of us have reason to feel arrogant or embarrassed. We’re not to be like society and judge people based on what they do. We’re not to look down on some, and look up to others. The church is to be different. Look at v21 - READ. We need each other. We sometimes want to be the one who gets all the glory, we can think we have it all and are better than others. The Corinthians thought the showy, miraculous, extroverted gifts were the most important.
But God’s way is the opposite. Look at vv22-24. God gives more honour to the weaker parts, the less honourable parts, the less presentable parts. The people you don’t see up front in the limelight. But for God the presentable parts, the people you do see, get no special treatment.
ILLN - If you think the only important people in this church are the ones you see up here then think again. The people behind the scenes who you don’t see are just as important. The people who put out books, put them away, serve tea and coffee, open up the church, clean it, help in the office, do the banking, people who pray in secret, who give their money, who... It’s not all done by Harry Potter’s magic is it. The church is full of people with different functions, who are all important, and are just doing their part, using the gifts and skills and opportunities God has given them.
Ask yourself the question - how do I see myself in this congregation and body of Christ? Do I feel superior, inferior, valued, unimportant, insignificant, nothing to offer? Why? Think about the ways in which you do need the other members of the congregation, and the ways we need you? Every Christian has an important role to play in the body of Christ.
d) Development - through dependence on one another (vv25-27)
God’s purpose in all this v25 is that there may be no division, but rather an equal concern and love for one another, and a desire to serve one another. Paul’s desire is for the Corinthian Christians to seek the good of the other. This is God’s desire too.
The Corinthians thought the gifts God had given them were for their own benefit. That was completely wrong. We have seen in the last few chapters how the Christian life is to belived for the glory of God and the benefit of others, and not for myself. It’s exactly the same with the use of gifts.
God wants us to be so concerned for one another, so dependent on each other, that v26 - READ.
In this body, each part grows as it depends on the other parts.
ILLN – there’s a story about a man visiting a leper colony in India. He was there as the lunchtime gong sounded. As he made his way to the dining hall, the sounds of laughter filled the air. The visitor turned and saw two young men, one riding on the back of the other, pretending to be a horse and its rider. An amazing sight because the man who was the horse was blind, and the man who was the rider was lame. They each did what the other could not, so that together they helped each other, and greatly enjoyed doing so.
In a healthy church each Christian learns to care for others, and finds in so doing a sense of enjoyment and fulfilment and times of real growth. Sometimes we need help in caring for one another - that’s why we have a Pastoral Care team. It’s part of the role of our small groups as well. The body grows as we depend on one another and serve one another.
e) conclusion (27-30)
To sum it up? V27 – read!
Here at St Mark’s every part of the body is essential, and we need to care for every part. When each part fulfils its God-given function, the whole body benefits. God’s Spirit has gifted you for our good, not just for your good. We need each other. In the church there are no nobodies. You are a gift of God to this body of Christ, and we need you and you need us.
Maybe you need to work out which part of the body you are - that’s OK. Ask God, try different ministries, analyse your skills, personality, etc, talk to other Christians, do a Spiritual gift discovery course (there are several on the internet – just google spiritual gift questionnaire, or we may run one later in the year). But do work it out and then please do use it. Many people do - thank you. Some don’t - please think again. Don’t just sit there, play your part. We need you.
Just as a body works best when it works together, so too the body of Christ. It’s the way God has set it up – he appointed apostles, prophets, teachers, etc – perhaps first in time – it is chronolgoical priority, not significance. In any church you need a church planter first, then someone to proclaim God’s word, and then to regularly teach it, and so on. But no one gift is intended for every Christian.
And especially if we too eagerly desire the greater gifts – v31. What are these? They can’t be the gifts Paul lists in v28 in that sort of order and hierarchy for that would make a nonsense of the rest of ch 12. Rather it is saying, perhaps tongue in cheek, if you want to keep seeking excellent gifts then seek those gifts which are useful for building up others, the intelligible gifts rather than tongues, and the framework and context for using, or desiring, any gifts is love, which is ch 13.
St Mark’s will be most effective for all of us when we all work together for the good of the whole body. God has put us all together, in this place, at this time, and given us each other to do that.
Sometimes on Australia Day or at big events they sing
- we are one, but we are many......
This is the Australian song. But it captures even more eternally the reality of the Christian’s song! REPHRASE. Is this your song?