The Gift Of The ChurchErwin W. Lutzer | February 14, 2016
Selected highlights from this sermon
By our salvation in Christ, we belong to His body, the Church. We are united together, interdependent, yet we have diverse gifts. We are a family, a body, and a temple of the living God. Because of redemption, we don’t have to be alone. We can find a place of belonging and a place of purpose in the church.
Let us be the generation of reconciliation and peace.
A woman in a church said these words: “I am so lonely I can hardly stand it. I want to be special to someone but there is no one who cares about me. I can’t remember anyone touching me, smiling at me, or wanting to be with me. I feel so empty inside.”
Brothers and sisters, today God created us to belong. We’re supposed to belong, and today in this world of fractured families when we have so much individualism and so much brokenness, this sense of belonging is more important than ever. And God, through His Word and through His creative power, has given us a vehicle, if I might call it that, by which there can be that sense of belonging, that sense of family, that sense of oneness for which we were created. It is possible.
This happens to be number five in a series of messages entitled The Inheritance of the Redeemed, that is to say all of the blessings that come to us simply because we are believers. We inherit them. Today’s blessing is one that you may not even have known about or thought about. It is the blessing that is oftentimes disregarded or not taken seriously. It is the blessing that sometimes seems to be so optional, and that is the blessing of the new creation that we call the church.
Now the church’s unity is very different than other kinds of unity – very different. You have, for example, organizations today that bring people together because they have a common interest. Their interest may be photography. Their interest may be music. Rebecca and I were in Colorado at a bed and breakfast where we have some friends who run it, and a whole group of people came in and they were into fly fishing. When I heard that I actually thought they were fishing for flies. I thought, “You know, we used to be able to do that on the farm.” And then I learned a little bit more about it, but somehow that did not really spark my interest, so I’m not into fly fishing. But many people are. I mean they were up early in the morning and they were committed, and so you have these interest groups.
You have interest groups of those who are perhaps interested in the same kind of entertainment, the same sports. We all like skiing, or we all like baseball. That’s not the kind of creation that God created when we come to a church. That’s not what it is. When we belong to the members of Jesus Christ, we actually share the very same life, because these other interest groups don’t necessarily. Your commitment to them doesn’t necessarily affect your view of sexuality, your view of marriage, your view of generosity and how you give to various causes. It doesn’t affect that whereas the life of God in the church affects us to the very core of our being, because metaphysically (that is to say beyond the physical) God created something brand new, just like He created the worlds in Genesis 1:1. You are a member of the Body. You are a member of the family. You’re a member of the temple as we are going to be learning here in a few moments, and you inherit that when you receive Christ as Savior. What a wonderful thing to be in the church that belongs to God.
Now we sometimes have our differences, of course. I heard about a man who didn’t like the music. That was not here at The Moody Church. That was another church, and he came to his pastor and said, “You know, if God were alive He’d be shocked at what is happening in His church.” (laughter)
Now, I want you to take your Bibles and I want you to turn to 1 Corinthians 13. What we’re going to be doing is looking at three different images of the church, and our place in that church and the gift of unity and why the gift is so very special. First of all, we’re looking at the gift of one body. Now I’m in 1 Corinthians 12. You’ll notice what it says. In 1 Corinthians 12:12 it says: “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.” Let’s just stop there.
There’s a lot of controversy that goes on about the baptism of the Spirit. There are those who have said, you know, that if you are baptized with the Spirit you’ll speak in tongues, etc. No, that is incorrect. There is no connection between the two. If we went into Acts 2 I’d help you to understand why, but just take it that this is the clearest verse in the New Testament regarding what the baptism of the Spirit does. And what does it do? Jew, Gentile, bond, free – we are all made members of one body by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. That happened to you, whether you realized it or not, when you believed on Jesus. Whether you acted on it or not, you are a part of something much larger than you are, namely the Body of Christ.
There are three characteristics of this Body. The first characteristic is simply that it has unity. I read it in verse 12. Perhaps I read it too quickly: “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.” Jesus Christ is the head of the Body and we participate in His life. You don’t have a head severed from the body, and the body continuing to live.
We are actually living within, and granted in this miracle of conversion, the very life of Jesus – the oneness of the Body. And that’s because of the unity that we need to understand that certainly the Holy Spirit connects us, but we have to connect with one another. Going to church is not optional. It’s not something that you simply decide to do, and then if you don’t like the church, you don’t attend.
Years ago I told you the true story about a man who was staying in the home of a doctor. And the doctor was on call so he said, “I have to go. If you’re hungry, open the fridge and whatever is there you can eat.” And the man opened the door of the refrigerator and there, wrapped in a plastic bag, was a human hand. The man telling the story, and I remember him telling it, said that after that he wasn’t hungry anymore. (laughter) Somehow the hunger just dissipated. What’s wrong with a human hand? I have two of them up here, and I am now looking at both of them, and I see them every single day. Human hands are beautiful, but when they are cut off from the body, they are repulsive. And there are some people who cut themselves off from the Body. Now you can’t extricate yourself from the Body of Christ if you are a believer, but you can reject the Body – the local church – in such a way that you can become angry you go your own way, and you can try to manage your own darkness. But we need one another. The unity of the Body!
The first characteristic of the Body is there is unity. Secondly, there is diversity. Verse 14 and 15: “For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body (Well, how would we walk if the foot was upset with the fact that it was a foot and not a hand?)’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. What if the
ear should say, ‘I don’t belong to the body?’” What if the whole body were an eye (verse 17), what would you do? You’d prop it up on the couch and all that it could do all day is watch T.V. If the whole body were an eye, could you imagine that? And then it says, “If the whole body were an ear, what would it be?” Well, you’d shut off the T.V. and all that you can do is listen to the radio.
What Paul is saying here very graphically is this: We come to the church with differences. It is not just merely racial differences and political differences, but it has to do with gifting and aptitude. And if we had time we’d explore this passage where it talks about various gifts that the Holy Spirit of God ministers, and what Paul is saying is that just because some gifts are more prominent than others, that doesn’t mean that they are more important. And we must realize that we are called to these differences. We are called to diversity. And that diversity exists within the church. It also, by the way, exists in marriages.
This past week I was in Florida. I preached seven times this past week, and a guy came up to me and he said, “My wife and I can look at the same clock and still disagree as to what time it is.” (laughter) There are differences even in marriage. I hope that that gets resolved, by the way, because there are some things couples should be able to agree on. But the point is that we are not the same, and everyone connects some way within the Body. And if you physically are unable to serve, you also are important to the Body because you are giving other opportunities to people to serve you. In other words, the Body must function despite its differences, its aptitudes and its gifting.
There is unity. There is diversity. And there is also, you’ll notice, interdependence. Now notice this. Verse 21: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again to the head or the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ You know, on the contrary, the parts of the Body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. And on those parts of the Body that we think less honorable we bestow greater honor. And our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty.” But the whole point is that the parts that we see, the parts that are exposed, the parts that are hidden, they are all absolutely necessary and interdependent on one another. If I were to stumble when I am going down these stairs, if my feet were to stumble, my hands would reach out and try to save me and do all that they possibly can to mitigate the blow.
By the way, I had a very serious fall a couple of months ago. I fell backwards. My hands were unable to help me. Think of falling backward on concrete on your head. Amazing! But I survived that with no permanent damage. At least that’s what the doctors tell me, for which I am grateful. But my hands, if I had fallen forward, they would have said, “Look, we’ll be smashed, but we have to protect the head.”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we, as a body of Christ, acted that way, that we are willing to sacrifice for others and say, “I’m putting myself out for this person over here, this weaker part of the Body, this needy part of the Body, because I am a part of the Body?” And Paul goes on to say in verse 26: “If any member suffers, all suffer together, for if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” And you rejoice as if their exaltation and blessing is your own. Can you imagine that – if we were so free of sin that when saw somebody with more money or more exaltation, we rejoiced as if it was our own? That’s what the members of the Body of Jesus Christ do. You get rid of all of the petty stuff, all of the image building, all of the need to feel that you have to outdo someone, because when one member is honored, you’re honored. When one member is going through a trial, you are there and you are participating.
When I was about, oh I guess about eighteen or so, I was helping my father build something on the farm. And I was hammering spikes. I mean I’m talking to you about two by fours, if you know what those are, nailing them together with spikes that were probably three inches long, or maybe longer. Well, this wasn’t my cup of tea. That kind of work was never my fast ball, so to speak, but I was doing it, and as I was leaning over and hammering with all my might, I hit this finger. We didn’t go to the doctor that day. We waited till the next day, but isn’t it interesting that only my finger hurt, but that night all the parts of my body were awake to keep my hurting finger company. (laughter) I never slept one wink that night. I could have said, “Well, the finger is hurting, but my legs aren’t, so let me sleep.” No, we’re willing to stay up with people who are hurting, even at great personal cost. That’s the way the Body is supposed to function.
So the Apostle Paul says that there is a unity that comes about because of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and one image of the church is the Body. There are other images, of course, and we’re going to very briefly look at two others. And now we’re turning to the book of Ephesians, and in Ephesians what we find in chapter 2 is the fact that the Apostle Paul talks about two other images of the Body. And we’ll see where this is going. The passage of Scripture that was read to us comes from chapter 2, and I’m just going to lift out a phrase or two.
“We are members of the same family.” You’ll notice he says that we are members of the household of God in verse 19. The household of God! We’re members of the same family. And as the Apostle Paul develops this thought, earlier in the text, if we had time to read it and to look at it more carefully, what we’d discover is that Paul says that he is taking Jew and Gentile who hated each other. Jew and Gentile were something like Arabs and Jews. Certainly we can think in terms of racial hatreds and racism and we can pour all that into this text, and the Apostle Paul says very clearly that God has made us into one new man. Boy, that impresses me. That’s in the end of verse 14 and 15. He has created in himself one new man in place of the two. What that means is that in the reconciliation of the church, it is not that the Jews had to become Gentiles, or the Gentiles had to become Jews. God said, “I am building a transnational community that transcends all this, and you don’t have to become one or the other. You stay who you are, but you are united in the Body, in the family together, and I have created the new man,” which means that when we speak about racial reconciliation or other kinds of reconciliation, blacks don’t have to become whites, whites don’t have to become black, Asians don’t have to become Latinos. We maintain all of that identity, but there is a fundamental family unity that transcends all of that. And I love the phrase – I read it last night – that says, “God killed the hostility.” The church of Jesus Christ should mirror the kind of unity and reconciliation that kills hostility between races, between the rich and the poor, between the educated and the uneducated. And that hostility has to be put to death. And Jesus says, “I have already done that if you only accepted it and acted on it, because you are members of the same family.”
He says, “By one spirit we have access to the same Father.” We have the same Father, God. We have the same Brother, Jesus, and we have the same companion, the blessed Holy Spirit of God, so we are definitely unified in our relationships within the family. And what we must do is to emphasize that.
Now there’s another figure of speech. We talked about one body very briefly. I talked about one family. There’s another figure of speech here that I want us to understand, and that is one temple. You’ll notice it says in Ephesians 2:19: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens but you are fellow citizens with the saints and the members of God’s household, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure being joined together grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together (Do you see this text?) into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
The imagery of the temple! The simple fact is that God has decided to go into the quarry of sin. Do you remember how Solomon’s temple was built? The Bible says that Solomon’s temple was built without any noise at the temple site because they quarried the stones far away. All of the noise took place there, and then they were brought together, and they fit perfectly, which is truly amazing. If you’ve ever been to Israel, you know how impressed you are with the fact that all of these buildings… I mean if you see Herodian stone – stones of Herod – that are beveled together, and they weighed twenty tons, you wonder how they did this. But all of the stones were brought together and they all fit together.
And the imagery that the Apostle Paul has (Peter says that we are living stones) is simply that God goes into the quarry of sin and He digs for Himself and chisels for Himself some stones. And He goes into every country of the world, every racial bit of diversity, every stratum of rich and poor, every kind of aptitude and gifting. God goes into that quarry. He chisels out the stones. He chooses them. He brings them together, and they rub together so that they become smooth. And that’s why God made us very different. And He brings us together because He is building a temple. And this temple is very special because it is being built by an architect whose name is God. And it’s going to be a very famous temple, because some buildings are famous because of who lives in them.
Rebecca and I have been to England a couple of times, and I remember being and standing at the gate there at Buckingham Palace, famous because that’s where the queen lives. She was having tea that afternoon, and we felt deeply rejected because we were not invited to tea, but at least we saw the building. I’d love to go in there sometime, but that probably will never happen. Why? Because it’s so famous because of the person who lives there.
If you come with us on the tour to the sites of the Protestant Reformation, we will be in the Wartburg Castle, and you know, we go through the castle. We see all of the things that existed in the 12th and 13th centuries, but everybody is anxious to get to a certain room, because that’s the room where Martin Luther lived for ten months when he translated the New Testament into German, where supposedly he threw an inkwell at the devil. By the way, I don’t think he did. I think that he said in his table talks, “I fought the devil with ink.” If you want to fight the devil, you don’t throw an inkwell at him. There isn’t a demon in the world who says, “Whew, did you see that? I just missed it.” (laughter) You fight him with ink. You give people the Bible. Now that does not hinder tour guides from sometimes rubbing some soot on the side of the wall, and saying, “Well, that’s where the inkwell landed.”
My friend, why do we want to get to that room? It’s because a famous person was there. He occupied it and something important happened there. The reason that the church of God is so incredibly important is did you notice the text? “We are being built together for a habitation of God.” God dwells within His church, and the various stones from all parts of the world, and here at The Moody Church where we have people from more than 70 different countries of origin, we come together and we fellowship together. Why? It’s because this is where God dwells.
“Oh,” you say, “He dwells within us.” Yes, He dwells within us but there is no substitute for the fact that when people are gathered together in worship as a church in the name of Jesus, God shows up, and says, “I dwell with these people.” In Genesis 3 He walked with the people. You get to the book of Exodus you find out that He wants to dwell with the people. He wants to live with His people. He wants to live among us.
Now, I’ve given you these three images because we are the representatives of Jesus Christ on earth, by the way. It’s very interesting. Have you ever read this in Acts 1? In Acts 1 it says: “The former treatise have I written to you, oh Theophilus (Luke wrote this) in all that Jesus began to do and to teach.” He wrote the Gospel of Luke. That’s where Jesus began to do and to teach his work. But obviously what Luke says is (and then He commissions His apostles), “We are the continuation of Jesus Christ on earth. I’m not bragging. I’m only telling you the truth.” We are Jesus on earth.
I think, for example, of that church in Berlin, which I’ve been to many times, which was smashed during the war. The image of Jesus was smashed – the Kaiser Wilhelm Church – and when it was put together they couldn’t find the arm, and so today it is a statue of Jesus without the arm as a representative of the fact that we are His arms. We do His work on earth.
Now, all of these images are wonderful, but how do we apply them? This is God’s gift – the connectedness of the church. You know, it’s possible during this series of messages, when I talk about the various gifts that are given to the church, to simply listen and then not to open your gift, not to apply it. That certainly is possible all the way through.
To tell a somewhat embarrassing story about Rebecca and me, you know one Christmas we were receiving so many Christmas cards that we put them in a basket. And we opened many of them, but there were some we didn’t open because we said to ourselves, “We don’t have time right now. You know, we’re going to wait a couple of days, and then we’re going to open the rest.” Well, we didn’t do that so the next Christmas we came across some unopened Christmas cards. Well, that was manageable. One of the little problems with it is that one of the cards had a hundred-dollar check written out to us. I’m not sure exactly how we handled it. You know, I mean you don’t phone up and say, “Hey, I got your check finally.” (laughter) I think we just ignored it, hoping that her bank would cover for her and tell her that the check was never cashed. But that’s the way we can be.
God gives us all of these checks. He gives us all of these blessings, and we can hear about them and we never open them. Now if we are the Body of Jesus Christ, if we are His family, if we are His habitation, His temple, who are we in the world? Where is our strength? What I’d like to do is to suggest to you where our strength lies as a church, at this moment a great need here in the United States of America.
I think, first of all, our strength lies in our basic unity and understanding that unity, and with that unity loyalty and commitment to the local body of Jesus Christ. I hope that you understand that.
You know, there are people who look at the church as a gasoline station. You know, you drive up your car Sunday morning. You get it filled and then you leave, and then you pay as little as you possibly can for the gasoline. And we all like the fact that gasoline prices are falling. And wouldn’t it be wonderful (you know you are listening to the radio and there’s cheap gas over here, this station sells it for this) if they said, “And by the way, if you go down the street another two miles the station is giving it away free?” Everybody would be there.
And some people look at the church like that. We can come, we can be filled, we can enjoy the music, we can learn from the sermon, we don’t have to make any commitment, and it’s all free, and we make no commitment either by our gifts, our talents or our money. And we just come every week to be filled up. That is not the way the church is intended to function. Everyone making a contribution! Everyone loyal!
Now senior pastors sometimes come and go. I’m treading very carefully here for the next few moments. And you’re a member of the family. That doesn’t mean that you jettison the family because there’s some service station down the road that has a higher octane. What you do is you stay committed to the church because your loyalty is very important. As a matter of fact, the Bible says in the book of Colossians that you cannot enter into all that God has for you if you look at the church as a filling station. It says: “That your hearts may be knit together in love to reach all the riches of the full assurance of the understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery,” Did you notice that? Unless your hearts are knit together in love you cannot enter into everything that God has planned for you. And that’s why we have TMC communities. That’s why we have small groups. It’s because of the loneliness and the sense of alienation. You can’t live the Christian life on your own. You need the Body of Jesus Christ and to become a part of it in a meaningful way. So our strength, I think, is really dependent on our unity.
I think also our strength is dependent upon our purity, and here I’m thinking of two different kinds of purity – first of all, doctrinal purity, and how we thank God for the fact that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached here. And even in evangelical circles today the Gospel is being left behind. It’s got all kinds of substitutes for the Gospel. May it be that The Moody Church ever and ever, until the coming of the Lord, always leads with a redemptive message to a broken world – the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is our most precious possession. (applause)
I’m talking about doctrinal purity, but I’m also speaking about moral purity. Part of my grief is that we are absorbing our values from the world, and not from the texts of Scripture, and not from the fellowship of the saints, not from the Word of God. I just think of how far the church has gone, and oftentimes how far the church has gone down throughout the years, and how we are so accepting of things that years ago would have never been accepted by the church. And the moral impurity, like termites in a building, weakens our witness.
And that actually is the third strength that we have, and that is the witness of the Body of Jesus Christ. A study was done to find out why people don’t witness. Why don’t they share the Gospel with their neighbors and with their friends, and so forth, and it was very interesting. It wasn’t because they didn’t have the right knowledge. Many of them even took courses on witnessing but didn’t witness. Why? Almost in each instance it was because of unconquered sin. Therefore, as their consciences bothered them because of their own weakness and their own failure (possibly even their own addictions) how are you going to commend Jesus to somebody if He’s not delivering you? Do you understand why it’s so important for the church to humble itself, to seek God, that we might see victories and, even as we sang this morning, that we might see the kind of revival whereby we hear stories of deliverance and help and freedom?
And when it comes to the witness of the church we have to do it in two ways. First of all, what we need to do is to do it by our works. You know, Bishop Sam Wale, who died in a hail of gunfire when Anwar Sadat was assassinated in Egypt in the eighties, told a friend of mine, “The way in which Christianity won North Africa is because of the kindness of the Christians.” You know, in those days there were plagues and the pagans just threw the bodies away, and burned them, and the Christians took them and washed them and gave them a decent burial, arguing that because of the resurrection even the wicked have a right to a decent burial. And then babies in those days were discarded. If you didn’t want a baby, they didn’t have abortion like we do today. You’d just leave it in a back alley and let the baby cry itself to death. But the church organized baby runs and picked up all these abandoned children and brought them all to nursing mothers, who accepted them as if they were their own. And the pagans said, “Where is all this love coming from?” And the pagans began to say, “Tell me about your Jesus.”
My friend, the world today can out entertain us. They can outnumber us. They can out finance us, but let it never be said that they can out love us (applause) because we have the blessed Holy Spirit of God in our hearts. And we take a stand against certain things, as you know, but in our personal relationships we are always loving, accepting, humble, broken, and welcoming to the people of Chicago, but also to the people in our own lives. So what we must do is to understand that at the end of the day we approach life with a very redemptive message.
Yesterday I was speaking in Palm Beach at a memorial service. It was a very interesting memorial service where I had the opportunity of preaching the Gospel. And I concluded with this story, which I will summarize, and that is, speaking of the Gospel, here I am on a plane and I’m meeting a young man by the name of Joshua. He was maybe forty-something and obviously successful. I said, “Tell me your story.” That’s always important. Always ask people their story. Everybody has a story. The addict has a story. The atheist has a story. The religious fanatic has a story. Democrats have their story. Republicans have their story. Everybody has a story. Listen to people’s stories. That’s one of the best ways to witness.
Okay, he was brought up in a church, and had a harsh judgmental father. He comes of age and throws it all away, and goes into atheism for a while, and now he was into Buddhism. It’s the old story of “I hate my dad. I hate his God. I hate his church.” He had two problems. The first problem was the intellectual one. Why Jesus and not Buddha? Now that was easy for me to answer. I won’t go into my answer, but you know, of course, that Jesus is a Savior and Buddha isn’t. Buddha claimed enlightenment, but he never had the nerve to say, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” Jesus has all the credentials of saviorhood that nobody else has, so we could dispense with that.
The other was the anger, the anger against the church, the anger against his father. That’s difficult, and I may be speaking to some of you here and that’s your issue. You know, the church betrayed you because God knows we’re members of the same Body, of the same family and the same temple, but we are filled with struggles with sin, shortcomings, and we are a lot less than God would want us to be. We humbly confess that. We are so far from perfect that sometimes it’s embarrassing.
Would you, today, overcome that barrier and say, “I am going to receive Christ and not let my bitter experience about the church stand in the way of my redemption.” It would be tragic if you allowed your bitterness to be the barrier.
The verse I gave to this young man that I give you today – the same verse – is: “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. My yoke is easy. My burden it light.” Come to Jesus Christ’s outstretched arms. Tell Him you are tired of managing your darkness. And you come to Him for light, for life and for salvation.
At the end of the day it’s all about Jesus. And at the end of the day we scatter after today in high-rises, in banks, in hospitals, in offices. Why? We represent Jesus wherever we are. That’s why we’re here – we’re representatives here on earth.
Father, we pray that you might help us to understand that when you created the Body, when you created the new man, and when you are creating this Temple, that those are Your gifts to us. Help us to live them out wherever You’ve planted us. Oh Lord Jesus, come to invigorate us and to help us to the light in the Gospel that saves sinners, we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.