Selected highlights from this sermon.
If you begin to fall, your hands instinctively reach out to protect the rest of your body from injury. What if we as the body of Christ functioned as well as the human body? What if we cared for one another as well as we care for our own physical body?
The bond of believers is stronger than race, finances, education, and geography because it is as strong as Jesus Christ. There is no room for exclusion, and each part is essential.
It is not possible for us to progress in the Christian life and be what God intended us to be without being connected to and involved in a local church.
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The purpose of my message today will be stated up front. It will be very clear. It is not possible for you to progress in the Christian life and be what God intended you to be without being connected to and involved in a local church. It doesn’t have to be Moody Church, obviously. Geography and other factors dictate as to what that church is, but to join a church, to become part of something larger than any one of us is by ourselves, is what it means to have a Christian community, to be connected as believers.
I’m disturbed about this, because a recent book has come out by George Barna entitled Revolution. In it he says that in the church of the future (and he says that this is a trend) people no longer meet in an organized church. What they do is meet at Starbucks (and really build deep relationships with one another and with God), or the golf course, or somewhere else. Now that’s understandable if that’s the trend. I can see that he would write that. But what is surprising is that he thinks it’s a good idea. That’s what’s surprising.
I’m here today to tell you that I am in favor of Starbucks and golfing, though one time I hit 200 and lost and wondered why. It was way more than anybody else. (laughter) By the way, the most interesting thing about that experience is that we came across a duck sitting on golf balls. (laughter) Have you ever felt that way? Seriously, along a pond a duck got up and she was sitting on some golf balls. There’s a lesson there somewhere.
But the point to be made is this.: That’s a disastrous view that that’s the church. You can have fellowship and you can develop it, but that’s not the church. It’s very hard for me to believe that you can be subject to those who have the rule over you, as the Bible says. It’s difficult for me to believe that that can happen when you don’t have anyone above you, when you don’t have anyone ruling, when there’s no organization, and when everybody is doing their own thing at Starbucks or out on the golf course.
You are to obey those who have rule over you. Don’t ever join a church that is unwilling to discipline you if you get off the track. The Bible is very clear that the elders of the church are to watch out for people’s souls. It’s not going to happen just in personal friendships. And furthermore, if we are all bricks in the same building, and the bricks never get together to build the building—we’re stones in the same temple and the temple never comes together for any reason—what are we saying? Are we saying that this is the church? The church is to be gathered, and then the church is to be scattered. But the church is to gather. It is to commit. It’s not a club as we shall find out today. It’s something much more profound.
The passage is 1 Corinthians 12 where there are three characteristics of the church that we should celebrate today. Three characteristics of the church that we should celebrate in 1 Corinthians 12!
The first is this: We are a united body (verses 12, 13 and 14 and all the rest of the verses): “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.” He’s saying, “Just like you came here today, your legs brought you into the church, your arms are there, your eyes are there—just as we are many members but we’re one body, so also is Christ.”
“For in one Spirit (or by one Spirit – you can translate it either way) we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”
How do you get into this church, the body of Christ? You’re not born into it. You can’t sign on the dotted line and become a member. You can’t be talked into it. Only God can put you into the body of Christ. Only God can do it. And when that happens you and I become a part of one another. You’ll notice it says: “For the body does not consist of one member but of many. (verse 14) If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.”
We are joined to one another. My thumb can’t say, “I won’t be a part of the body because I don’t like the other four fingers. They are very, very different from me. I want to go somewhere where I fit in better with my kind.” It can’t say that.
Let me be clear today and say that if you are saved, if you have received Christ as Savior, you’re stuck with the rest of us. Like it or not, you are stuck with us—all the faults and all the rest.
I love to tell that story. It’s a true one. A man was speaking at a church and he was to spend the night in the home of a doctor, and the doctor was on call and so he got called away, and said to the man, “While I am gone, if you are hungry open the fridge and have whatever you like.” And so the doctor left, and the man opened the fridge and there, wrapped in a plastic bag, was a human hand. The version of the story that I heard was that after he saw it, he didn’t have any more hunger at that point.
What’s so gruesome about that? What’s wrong with hands? You can look at yours today. I’m giving you permission. If you are here with two, take a look at them. I’m looking at mine now. They do not stifle my appetite. What makes a hand gruesome is cutting it off from the body. And what makes people weak and shrivel and spiritually adrift is for them to say, “Well, because I’m not this and that, therefore I’m going to try to separate myself from the body.” Now if you are a Christian, you really can’t eventually do that because you’re a member of Christ’s body. But if you separate yourself from the local congregation, you can become like that hand in a plastic bag, because God says, “The only way that you can be whom I intended you to be is to become part of a local community (that we call the church).”
So Paul says, first of all, that it connects us to one another. It also connects us to Christ. “So also is Christ,” he says. He is the head. He exercises control. And what does the head do? What does my head do? It has the very same life as the rest of the body.
Jesus is in heaven. His body is there. By His Spirit, of course, He is everywhere. And we participate in His life. We share His life. In fact, the relationship is so strong that it says in the book of Ephesians that we are members of His body—of His flesh and of His bones. We are one with Jesus.
Now, how does this happen? It’s the baptism of the Spirit. So many foolish things are taught today regarding the baptism of the Spirit. Notice that Paul uses that little word all in verse 13 twice. He says, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks—and all made to drink of one Spirit.” He didn’t say, “Now only those in Corinth who speak in tongues are baptized.” He didn’t say, “Now only those who are particularly spiritual are baptized.” No! If you’ve trusted Christ as Savior (and that, of course, is the condition for everything that we’re talking about here today), it says that you have been baptized. All have been baptized into the body of Christ.
And what does it mean to drink of one Spirit? Well, when you drink water it goes inside of you. Now listen carefully. What this text is teaching is that the baptism of the Spirit puts me into Jesus, but Jesus is also put into me. Jesus put it very succinctly and clearly, didn’t He, when He said, “You in Me, and I in you?” That’s how we’re connected to Jesus when we accept Him as Savior. The relationship is that direct. And the head is in heaven. Are you there too? That’s what the Bible says in the book of Ephesians—that we are joined with Him and we are seated with Him in heavenly places. If Jesus is in heaven, I am already there because I am in Him. Death only changes the nature of the relationship. That’s all. And I don’t expect any hassles at the border when I go from this life to the next. No hassles at the border because I’m already there, thank you very much!
You say, “Well, when one part of the body suffers, the other suffers with it.” Yes! Does that mean Jesus feels our pain? Does Jesus care? Does He feel? Well, think of what He said to Saul who was on the way to Damascus to persecute Christians. He said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” Be very careful about this. You attack the church, and you are attacking Christ’s body, attacking Him. “Every attack,” He says, “every persecution, every attack against the church is an attack against Me, because I’m in this with you, because after all, I’m the head and you are the body, and we’re not going to separate at any point.”
So first of all, we are so gratified by the fact that we have unity in the body, but we also have diversity. “For the body does not consist of one member but many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I’m not a hand I’m not a part of the body.’ (I’m skipping now to verse 16.) And if the ear should say, ‘Because I’m not an eye I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them as he chose.”
Diversity! Just like our bodies there is diversity within the church. You’ll notice Paul says, “If the whole body would be an eye…” What would you do with a body and the only thing it had was an eye? I guess you’d prop it up on the couch so that it could watch television. If the whole body where an ear, then you’d turn off the TV and you’d turn on the radio, I guess. That’s it. That’s all it is—an ear. Paul doesn’t use that illustration, but I can’t help but refer to it. What if the whole body were a mouth? Fill in your own blank as to what that would be like if the whole body were a mouth.
Paul’s point is simply that there is diversity, and this means that there is no inferiority. You’ll notice there in verse 18 it’s where God placed it. Nobody is inferior to someone else. Sometimes we associate importance with public ministry so we think, “Well, that ministry is really important because it’s public.” But if you are asked to walk the halls as a hall monitor during our Sunday school (as some of the deacons in the church are asked to do), that’s not important because who in the world thanks you for that? So we think to ourselves that there are some jobs that are more inferior. We think, for example, it’s important for the pastor to show up on time at church. Wouldn’t that be terrible if the whole service had to wait because I had a habit of coming in late? So we say, “Oh no, no, it’s because it’s a public ministry. He’d better be here on time, but whether or not I am is another story.”
No, the Bible says that there is no such thing as inferiority. There’s no such thing as superiority. The eye can’t say, “Why aren’t you just like me?” The hand can’t say, “Why isn’t everybody like me?” No, one of the greatest sins of the church throughout the centuries is the “Why can’t people be like me?” syndrome. It is devilish pride. That’s what it is.
The Bible is very clear that in Jesus we have a bond that is stronger than race. In Jesus we have a bond that is stronger than economic opportunity. It is stronger than education. It is stronger than geography because it is as strong as the body of Jesus Christ – God Himself – is. That’s how strong! We are united in Christ. There’s no room for a lack of acceptance.
When we came up with that 14-word statement which we call the Promise Statement here at The Moody Church that Moody Church is a trusted place where anyone can connect with God and with others… By the way we worked on that for a while. Every single word of that is important. But that word anyone… We did a survey a number of years ago (I may have told you this recently.) in which we discovered sixty different nationalities, a nationality being people with a common origin, tradition and language. There were sixty different nationalities here at The Moody Church. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were a hundred nationalities here? (applause) That would be great.
Some people are going to have to have diversity training when they get to heaven. Heaven is going to be so diverse – people from every tongue and language and kindred, all united because of Jesus, all coming together because we belong to the same body, a bond that is stronger than color and all the other differences.
So first of all, we have the unity of the Body. Secondly, we have the diversity of the Body. And thirdly, the Body is interdependent. Notice it says in verse 21: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ 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 the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require.” We don’t come to church covering our faces, but we do cover a part of our body, which nobody sees. But to God those parts are indispensable.
You have parts of your body that no one will see. They are absolutely indispensable. If I did not have a big toe, I’d have to sit down to teach you today. I couldn’t stand up. That’s what the experts tell us in terms of our balance system. How intricately it is made.
And so I speak to those of you today who are parking cars, those of you who are ushers, those of you who work at the information desk, and all of the different opportunities that Moody Church affords you. I speak to you today and say that your part is absolutely essential. Where would we be without the maintenance crew taking care of this place? We couldn’t function, and Paul is saying that every single part contributes to the whole.
And why is interdependence so important? I’m in verse 25 now: “…that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” Your body is one, and the local church and the greater body of Christ is one as well. And when one part hurts, the others hurt with it.
When I was growing up on the farm I was helping my father build a building, and we were nailing huge spikes. And I remember I was kind of having a contest with myself to see how many hammer blows it took to get those spikes in, and I hit my finger. I know exactly which one it is (It’s this one here.) because the finger nail is larger than the others. I got a brand new finger nail out of this whole thing. And I didn’t go to the doctor until the next day. One of the things I noticed that evening was that all the other members of my body stayed awake to give my finger company. (laughter) I’ll tell you. They were all there.
Well, you know, the finger is a small part of the body. But it’s not possible for you to be weak, and it’s not possible for you to be disconnected without affecting us, without making the entire church weaker. And that’s why we are here to help you. We are here to give you what we can do as a congregation to build those relationships and to build that community so that we may be strong.
Maybe this is a habit from my days in Canada growing up, but even to this day I still have jumper cables in the trunk of my car. I don’t need them very often, but I remember the days when the cars didn’t work and it was so cold that everybody had jumper cables. But I still keep them there. I’ve just never had the nerve to throw them away.
Four or five years ago in the parking lot that was next to the church somebody had left lights on. And I thought, “Well, this is why I’ve had these things in the trunk for the last 10 or 15 years.” So I had jumper cables and somebody else knew how to hook them up. I mean that wouldn’t be my area of expertise. (laughter) I’d blow the whole place apart.
You know, we as Christians ought to always carry some jumper cables. You go along in life and you’ll see people in the ditch—believers hurt, discouraged, disenfranchised for whatever reason. And it doesn’t need the leadership of the church to give them a boost if you have your own jumper cables. Every member of Moody Church should be out there looking out for others, ministering to them, encouraging them, helping them out of the ditch and to get back on the road. That’s what it means to be a member of the Body.
You know that we have white cells in the blood stream that float along absolutely aimlessly. They meander. They are something like a college student who hasn’t made up his mind what his major is going to be. They float along aimlessly (millions of them) but the minute you get a pin prick, they come from all over the body. Nobody knows how they even know. That’s a mystery known to God, but they come with the same tenacity as a beagle on his way to get a rabbit. And they all come, and what they do is they gather at the point of the injury. And immediately some of those white cells encase the bacteria and cover the bacteria with themselves. Then they detonate and they destroy themselves, and the white cells die to make sure that no bacteria come into the body. Imagine that! And then the body is able to function. And if you get enough of these cells we actually call it pus because it’s white cells dying for the rest of the body.
Could you imagine how strong the church of Jesus Christ would be today if we functioned as a body as well as my body and your body function? For example, the minute I trip, my hands take the blow. You know, the hands don’t say, “Hey, we don’t want to get all busted up. You know, we don’t want to break a wrist or some fingers. Let him fall. Let him hit his head and his chest.” The hands don’t say that. In fact, when I begin to fall, they don’t even pray about it. (laughter) Imagine a church in which we were as quick to protect and to guide and to help one another as the members of our body are. Just imagine a church like that! (applause)
What are some of the transforming lessons we learn from this passage? First of all, when you belong to the Body, you don’t belong to a club. You know, a club is developed on the basis of a common interest. For example, there are clubs for fly fishing, and that really stimulates some of us I am sure. There are clubs for cars. There are clubs for this. There are clubs for painters, etcetera, etcetera. And what binds a club together is a common interest, whereas when it comes to the church that is entirely different—entirely different, because, you see, if you belong to a club, it doesn’t affect the way you run the rest of your life. But the minute you are a member of the Body of Jesus Christ, it affects your marriage. It affects the way in which you use your money. It affects the way in which your leisure time is used. It affects the way in which you conduct your business. It immediately affects the relationship that you have with your neighbors.
Everything is affected by being a member of the Body of Jesus Christ. Let me put it to you this way very clearly: If you belong to a club it will cost you dues. You belong to the Body of Jesus Christ and it costs your life. It costs your life. That’s what Jesus is after—your life! And that can only happen when we are a part of a community. It cannot happen in isolation. It cannot happen without commitment To be a contributing member you need loyalty and commitment and the willingness to sacrifice. You see, everybody is baptized with the Spirit if you are a member of the Body of Jesus Christ.
People say to me, “Well, you know, where is church membership in the New Testament?” It is everywhere in the New Testament—everywhere in the New Testament. You cannot show me any Christians that did not belong to a local assembly. And later on the Apostle Paul and Timothy even talk about people being on the list, and when one member went to a different fellowship, he received a letter so that he might be welcomed in good standing, because there was no such thing as an individual Christian doing his thing at the ancient Starbucks and saying, “Well, I’m part of a different fellowship. It’s called the fellowship of the coffee drinkers.” That’s an American notion and that has greatly weakened the church. You see, the church oftentimes, because it was under persecution, could not afford the individualism that we have today.
Dr. Dobson of Grand Rapids is a wonderful pastor who resigned some time ago because of Lou Gehrig’s Disease (He’s a marvelous man.) and it just breaks your heart. But I remember him tell us how he knew that the disease was beginning. And he said that the thing that he noticed was that he was at his computer and he was doing some typing, and he gave his fingers some directions and it took them a real long time to get around to following. You know, normally you just say, “Finger, press this key,” and it’s right there. But you know he’d say, in effect, “Press this key,” and the finger would just sit there for a moment and then think, “Oh, okay. I guess I should do it.” And then it would do it. See, the problem with that disease, as I understand it, is that the head keeps giving messages, and the rest of the body says, “Hey, we’re not going to do it.”
Imagine there being people here today at The Moody Church who know that God is leading you here or to some other congregation. I understand that. There are many places that have the marks of a New Testament church, and someday I may preach on what those marks are, but the point is that there are other congregations. But imagine wandering through life and not being a part of any community. You hurt yourself. You hurt others. And you really grieve Jesus.
In your bulletin today you have a list of things. You don’t need to look at it now, but it’s an insert entitled Your Call to Serve. I counted this morning. I think there are something like 60 opportunities to get involved in Moody Church. But let me explain something. Please don’t think that the reason for this insert is just that we have certain jobs that need to be done. You can do certain jobs at your local club. That’s not the reason it’s there. The reason is that in committing yourself, you then commit to a group of people and new friendships and new relationships in which there is a sense of accountability and friendship and strength that is developed through community. It is that that makes us encourage you to become a part of what God has called us to do here. It’s becoming a part of the body and functioning within that body.
I’m reminded of a story I once heard of a little boy who was lost in the woods. He wandered out on his own and they couldn’t find him, and they waited that whole night. And at night, of course, they couldn’t search. And then the next day and then toward evening of the second day they said, “Let’s join hands as a community and let’s just walk through the tall grass joining hands.” And he was found, but he was found dead. And the father said, “If only we had joined hands sooner.” We can touch this entire city for Jesus Christ, but we have to join hands to do it. (applause) We have to join hands to do it.
God has called us to community. He’s called us to loyalty, to the willingness to sacrifice. Sometimes here at The Moody Church people say, “Well, you know we have parking difficulties (Hey, you know we’re working on that, by the way.) or we have this challenge or that challenge.” I know, but sometimes there’s a cause that is even greater than our inconveniences. And becoming a part of what God is doing here is one of those causes.
Now for those of you who have been listening and you’ve never trusted Christ as Savior, I need to explain something. When you see your need and you believe in Jesus, all the things that I’ve talked about here become true of you. You become a member of Christ’s Body so you become a part of Christ, and Christ comes to live within you. You are connected to us, and the whole believing community throughout the world, because there is such a thing as the Church—capital C—that belongs to Christ, and you become now a part of a community that has been called of God to transform its environment. And that’s what God has brought us to.
So if you feel today that you’ve been an outsider, I encourage you to become an insider. Trust Christ alone with your sin and your need, and you’ll become a part of something that is much greater than you ever imagined.
Let us pray.
Now, Father, we ask in Jesus’ name that You might make this body healthy. We pray that You may give us a sense of community here. Yes, we have our challenges because of geography, but I pray that everyone may be a part of something here where they become acquainted with and involved in the life and the functioning of Your temple, of Your body, of Your special nation as we are called. Do that, Lord, we pray. We can’t. We’ve not changed a single human mind yet. That’s Your work. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
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