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Connecting to the Body of Christ

1 Corinthians 12:12-27.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 12, 2017.

Here at Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Everett, WA, we have summed up the mission that God has for our church in these words: Connect people to the Abundant Life found in Jesus.  Last week we talked about how the starting point is for people to connect to Jesus Christ by putting their trust or faith in his teachings and in his work.  Today, we are going to deal with the reality that those who connect to Jesus will be moved to connect to his body, The Church. 

Of course many people scoff at organizational churches and some of them are Christians.  Let’s recognize up front that this has some justification behind it.  We don’t have time to walk through all of those issues.  But it is important to recognize that the Bible reveals that Jesus is creating a group of followers that can be thought of in macro terms, The Church (at all times and all places), and in the micro (a small, local gathering of some of these believers).  We are all part of the universal, macro Church when we are spiritually born again.  But not all are convinced that micro-gatherings are necessary.  Thus they are content to “believe” in Jesus, and yet never face the issue that Jesus is wanting to connect them to other believers.  Suffice it to say, if we are connecting to Jesus then we have no choice of whether or not we are going to connect to his body because this is what his Spirit is trying to accomplish.  If you have put your faith in Jesus, he is working by His Spirit to connect you to his people in some local expression of his greater body.  Let’s look at the passage before us.

Believers all belong to the Body of Christ

In this passage Paul is explaining to the Corinthians why their worldly thinking in the area of spiritual gifts (and many other areas for that matter) was woefully lacking.  They had developed a very fractured and divisive group of believers in Corinth.  Paul explains that there is only one body, and yet many members.  Here he brings up the analogy of a human body.  Jesus, who was no longer here in the flesh, still has an earthly body, and that is His Church.  Thus each believer represents a diversity of gifts and functioning through which the Holy Spirit fits us together in order to operate as Christ’s body.  Now, Paul’s focus is on the individual members.  Even though they are very different, they are still part of one body, just as the individual parts of the body are vastly different and yet all work together for the one body.  Though he doesn’t state this here, in Ephesians 4:11-16 Paul explains that Jesus himself is the head of this body.  Just as the brain sends signals to very different aspects of the body to do very different things, it is all for the singular good of the whole body.  The Corinthians understood the diversity, but not that each part is supposed to be directed by the Spirit for the unified good of the whole.  Ephesians 4 makes it even clearer that we who are connected to Jesus by the Spirit, are also supposed to connect to his earthly body through other believers.

Thus all those earthly divisions that divide this world and are used to gain power for certain ones, is not embraced by the Spirit of Christ.  In verse 13 Paul lists 2 of these divisions: race and economic status.  Whether Jew or Gentile, Free or Slave, those who come to Christ are members regardless of what people may say.  You are a member because Jesus says so, and because the Holy Spirit is working to connect you to it.  We who are believers need to be quick to embrace and welcome new believers.  Of course this is easier said than done.  Do you remember how the believers responded to Saul of Tarsus when he repented of persecuting Christians and became one of them?  They were afraid to associate with him at first.

In verses 15-20 Paul points out that our differences are not meant to divide us.  Now he is not talking about doctrinal differences here.  When it comes to the teaching of the Bible and our interpretations, we need to recognize that certain things have always been recognized as essentials to the faith.  You must repent of sin; that is essential.  Another essential is the deity of Jesus Christ, and His coming Day of the Restoration of all things.  I could go on.  But I hope you get the point.  Some “beliefs” are heretical.  They should never be embraced even for the sake of unity.  Why?  Remember we are to unify with other believers of the faith, not those who believe just anything.  A good statement that has been around for several centuries is this: In Essentials Unity, in Non-Essentials Liberty, and in All Things Charity.  Historically we have often divided over non-essentials and generally without much charity.  Paul on the other hand is talking about our spiritual giftedness and our natural background.  Though they may be very diverse, it is not in order to keep us segregated.  The diversity is on purpose and is meant to strengthen the body and better equip it.  So the differences are meant to strengthen our unity, not weaken it.

Notice in verse 15 that Paul gives some examples.  These first examples all involve a member excluding themselves.  In this case, Paul mentions that they may exclude themselves because they aren’t like another member (perhaps a more visible or “distinguished” member).  The Corinthians saw spiritual gifts as a sort of heavenly commendation.  They all wanted to speak in other languages because in their social context that represented the highest gift.  Of course Paul tells them that they are wrong.  In their mentality, speaking in tongues was a sign that you were extremely close to God.  The more unintelligible something was, the closer to God it must be.  Paul explains to them that this is completely backwards.  The whole reason why the Spirit of God draws believers together is so that they can encourage one another.  Thus Paul, who had nothing against speaking in tongues, counseled them to at least have their “tongues” interpreted so that it could help the other believers.  The Corinthians had it backwards.  The gifts of God (both natural and spiritual) are not given to an individual for their own good, but to enable them to help others.  We need to learn to embrace the natural differences that we have with others, and to also embrace the spiritually diverse ways that God works through us.  When you exclude yourself, the rest of the body goes without the function that God has gifted you with.  No we can’t all be an eye or the lips.  It is not about what I want, but about how God is fitting me into the body.  Don’t exclude yourself because you take away from what God has for others, and you lose out on what God wants to give you through those others.

In verse 21 the example switches.  Notice that here the parts are excluding others.  The proud members can exclude the “weaker” members.  Of course this was being interpreted by worldly thinking and not the mind of Christ.  All new Christians are “weak” in the faith because their faith hasn’t weathered the storms of doubts, fears, and persecution that older Christians have.  Thus those who are strong should not exclude the weak, but quite the opposite.  Your strength is not for you, it is for the sake of the weak.  Help them and strengthen them.  Pride has the tendency to exclude others, whereas shame has the tendency to exclude self.  But in Christ, both pride and shame are supposed to be dealt with at the cross.  The cross speaks to our pride and says, “Only Jesus is worthy of our boasting.”  The cross speaks to our shame and says, “This is how greatly and by whom you are loved!”  Thus the proud come away humbled and the shameful come away healed.  On one hand none of us are anything, and yet, on the other hand, we are everything to God.  This great tension is meant to take vastly different people and help them to be welded into a unit called the body of Christ.  However, it is only possible if we are listening to the Spirit and being led by Him.

Do not look to leadership or being a pastor as something great.  These are not the greatest positions within the Church.  These are actually positions of servitude.  True leaders who are lead by the Holy Spirit will realize that He is asking them to lay down their lives in order to serve the rest.  Why are they being served?  They are served so that they can do the work of sharing Jesus with the world around them.  There won’t be any pastors in the eternal state.  We will all stand side by side as the adult children of God and enjoy His presence forever.

Connecting to the Body audio