2008-09-07 (pm) 1 Corinthians 12.12-31 One Body
The Church. Why? What’s the point? Why bother?
Well, we’re instructed to do so, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).
We talked about that day this morning.
We talked about the Holy Spirit and the Word.
But those are not the only weapons we have with which to fight against the forces of darkness, whether they are outside of us, as in Satan and his efforts, or our sinful natures that still war within us.
No, God provided us with another defence, the church.
Now, when you think of the church, do you think of it in terms of fellow soldiers on a campaign against evil, working to help one another with the truth? Even though much of the scriptures use such language (Ephesians 6) and Paul describes his fellow workers as soldiers, even though we have many songs like that talk about being soldiers, or fighting in God’s army, we don’t readily use such metaphors anymore.
Being in the military isn’t cool. Since Vietnam, it isn’t cool to be proud of the military. In Canada, even though we have a much longer history of being good soldiers, our recent history has often seen our soldiers employed as peace keepers. The present war in Afghanistan chafes at the peacekeeping image.
But we are in a battle, and the battle is against our sinful natures as well as the principalities and powers of this present darkness. How well will we stand?
Well, we stand only as well as we are united in one purpose.
We are united first and foremost under Christ our head. He is the leader of the Church. He loves her, he died for her. He’s no stuffy commander safe and secure in liberated territory. He’s the paratrooper who descended behind enemy lines, set the captives free, and delivered the death blow to the enemy.
Christ is the head of the body. He calls the shots. He calls us to obey. He gives us orders. He tells us what to do and when. Like the brain commanding the hand to move, Christ commands his people to do His work.
And yet, is that so true? Do we follow Christ so well? Are we well trained soldiers? Aren’t we more like whiny children asking, “Awe do we have to?” Don’t we question everything that Christ commands? Don’t we try to look for ways out?
Sometimes, perhaps. But sometimes we’re also the ones who, through the Holy Spirit, pick up our crosses and follow Him. Don’t we know people who have given their lives, literally died, for the faith? Don’t we know people who have lived in real danger? Don’t we know people who give recklessly, unceasingly, determinedly, to the church, to Christ the head?
Oftentimes the church gets a bum rap. People don’t like the church. People make up excuses to avoid going to church. They don’t like the people. They don’t like the music, the preaching, the teaching, the denomination. But if that really is the reason why they are not coming to church, if there isn’t an underlying spiritual problem keeping them away, then they don’t know what the church is. They don’t really know what it means to be a part of the church.
The church is Christ’s body! It is terrible that people take Jesus’ name in vain. But what gives Christians the right to be so cavalier in their attitude toward His body? Why do we treat it like a possession? I’m going to my church. Why do we think of the church as a building? It is a building, but it is not this one. This building is going to pass away. If this building had been constructed in Louisiana, we might be in the process of rebuilding it still. The church is the building constructed not of wood and stucco, but of people.
The church is very, very old.
The church is the body of Christ and it has existed since Adam and Eve were created. Yes, we reformed types believe that the church began already back in the garden. Pentecost merely marks the visible outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Where the Spirit was given to all, not just a few.
So, when we say we are members of a church, we might mean this congregation specifically, but in reality we’re members of the universal, invisible body of believers that has existed from the beginning. And that is something worth reflecting on. We’re not the first Christians, we don’t have a corner on the truth, we’re not the most advanced believers that have ever lived. It is hard to talk about progression when you consider we’re just one group of people that’s a part of a much, much larger group of people. It’s kind of amazing and humbling and exhilarating all at the same time. We’re part of something so much bigger than we can imagine! Not to mention being children of God!
So, one aspect of being a Christian, is that suddenly you’re a part of something huge.
But think about that too. You’re a part of something huge, but that doesn’t mean you can do nothing. This is not an excuse to avoid other people. You can’t say, “I’m a part of the invisible church, you don’t see me because I’m trying to be invisible too!
No, the church is the invisible and the visible. We’re a part of this great whole, the body of Christ, but we’re also a part of a local body. It is important to join up with a local group of believers.
It’s important because it is one of the means of receiving the blessings of Christ. Now, it is certainly true that I can get a great amount of strengthening, blessing, and encouragement from spending time with God in prayer and Bible study. But there’s more to being a part of the body of Christ than being alone, or even being in a family.
We need to get together. We need to benefit one another in what we do for one another.
Think about it, you can’t help someone unless you go over there and help them. You can’t receive help unless you allow another person to come over and help you.
Jesus knew what kind of struggles we’d face. Remember he faced them all. He faced worse things than we do. We cannot possibly imagine the suffering Christ endured.
But we do know that our sufferings, our struggles are nothing to shake a stick at. The Christian life is full of the greatest joy and happiness in the world. But it is also full of the greatest sorrows.
Now, I’m not talking about what we experience in our lives. Yes, we have sorrows, we lose loved ones, we miss our friends, and we suffer from illness and pain. But when our hearts have been touched by Christ, when we realise that we’ve been saved by grace through faith, and when we realise that is an amazing gift, freely given, something that we don’t deserve, our thoughts turn away from ourselves, and turn to others, we start to see our friends, family members, neighbours as people who are lost, who are wandering around aimlessly. Our hearts cry out to God for them. For knowing what we know, and realising that they don’t know it, we understand that their futures are bleak, and that makes us very compassionate to them. How can we possibly complain about our present suffering when we know the eternal suffering that is awaiting those do not know, or who have rejected Christ?
I’ve begun to realise that I have a lot of growing to do in this area. I need to push the envelope more. It’s strange, I can usually mingle pretty well in a crowd, but sometimes I fall back, I retreat. I don’t react as friendly as I can.
Let me give a couple of examples. On Thursday, Cecil took me golfing. We were moving along, much slower than I’m sure he’s used to going, since as is my custom, I tried to use the entire course on every hole, when a solitary golfer came roaring up behind us. She pressured us, until she caught up and finished the fourth hole with us. Cecil welcomed her to go ahead of us, or to finish the rest of the nine with us.
Cecil was much chattier with her than I was. He asked her questions, etc. I just kind of hung back and waited. Eventually, I talked more, but I didn’t see it as the opportunity it could have been. I withdrew into myself.
The second example happened last evening. In the morning, I’d missed a call on the cell phone, and since they didn’t leave a message, I didn’t bother returning it. In the evening, I had my cell phone with me, the caller phoned again. I answered it. It was a man looking for food for him and his wife.
Now, I’ve been in Edson long enough to know that of all the people I’ve helped with food and gas, not one of them was being honest. But here I was with a call, wondering what to do with this guy. Should I get his name and call the deacons? We don’t have vouchers at the church, nor do we have any food bags ready. What should I do?
It occurred to me sometime I got off the phone that I should have done what Jesus did. I should have told him about the food he could eat that would make him never hunger again. Or the water he could drink that would into a wellspring of life. I could have shared Christ, but I didn’t.
As churches, we’ve shifted so far from being the blessing Christ’s body is supposed to be. We think that in order to be a spiritual blessing we need to be a physical blessing. We can hardly think of doing ministry without tying it to meeting physical needs. But that’s not what the church is about!
The church is about the spiritual! You can take care of the physical without being Christians or churches! We are to preach Christ, who is the bread of life and the living water! Why, oh why are we trying to feed people with ordinary bread and ordinary water and thinking that it is doing some good?
As the body of Christ, we are to connect people to Christ! We feed them Christ, we give them true bread and water! The church has turned its back on the truth, fell for a half truth, and fell for a lie. Peter and John understood! Paul understood what real power was: the gospel of Jesus Christ. They didn’t have silver and gold and it didn’t hinder their ministry one bit! They gave what they had, priceless treasure: Jesus Christ! That’s what Paul meant when he said he was not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! For it is power!
The power of Christ is in the church. Together we are connected to true power, true wealth. We can meet people’s spiritual needs, as long as we don’t become distracted from the church’s primary task. We are to witness to the power of Christ, not the power of 4 to 1 government grants. Yes, a valid, useful tool. But if we give food without the bread of life, we’re giving them nothing more than spiritual indigestion.
Finally, one last reason to see that we’re part of a much larger body, it keeps us humble. We realise that for all our faults and for all the faults of other churches, we need each other terribly much. We cannot do this on our own. Christ brings us together. The Pentecostal, Baptist, Alliance, Mennonite and Carrot Creek pastors get together regularly. We support, pray and encourage one another. We need to encourage greater interaction between churches.
Our church might be an eye, the Mennonite Church might be an ear, the Pentecostal Church might be a hand. We need each other! We are the body together! Amen.