Of course another game involving the body was Operation. Operation was not about contortion it was about hand-eye coordination, having control, overcoming nerves, and keeping a steady hand. If your hand slipped slightly the buzz would startle you. Although an actual electric shock did not affect the player the buzz from the game would make it feel as if you had been shocked.
And for those who were even younger, many children grew up with puzzles to teach them about the parts of the body. 8-10 piece puzzles with the head, the torso, legs, arms, hands, and a foot taught children the basics of how a human body is constructed. And, if they got bored putting the same pieces together all the time, they could mix and match pieces in a fun way on a head shaped like a potato. We will come back to Mr. Potato Head later.
Why do I mention these childhood games? Well, they all have a similar focus – the body. And the Body of Christ is what we will focus on today from Scripture. The concept of the Church as the Body of Christ is a repeated theme in the New Testament. The meaning of this phrase is that we are multiple, yet we are one. And although we are multiple and different as individuals parts, we function best when all parts are doing what they are designed to do.
This series on taking a deeper look at the church has primarily focused on Acts. We began in Acts 2 and have worked our way forward to Acts 6 today with another two weeks to go. But like we did two weeks ago, we are going to move our focus to 1 Corinthians using Acts as our launching point. Two weeks ago we saw the unity in the church from the end of Acts 4 and contrasted that with the division in the church in Corinth even as they came together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Just a few sentences later, in what we know as 1 Corinthians 12, Paul continues to address the divisions in Corinth by showing how the church is really one body so to be truly functional is to work with and care for one another. That is our focus today.
One God, Many Gifts, for One Body (1 Corinthians 12.4-11)
1 Corinthians 12 begins with Paul saying he wants the church of Corinth to understand. He then shows that the Trinity is perfectly involved in the development of the church. Regardless of how people are gifted to serve, it is the same Spirit who provides those gifts. Regardless of how people choose to serve, they are serving the same Lord. And regardless of the activities being done, they are being done for God. So, one God has given a variety of gifts, aptitudes, desires, etc. in order for the church to function best. As Paul continued in chapter 14, God is a God of order.
Consider Creation for a moment. God did not make everything the same. He made different types of fauna and flora and He made humans to be different from them all. Why? Because as God created the overall ecosystem, it all works together to serve a singular purpose. Likewise, God provided each of us with different skills, and in this context, giftedness, to serve Him as one united body.
Paul then lists a few of the gifts God has given – wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, and interpretation. Paul says that all of these gifts are not to be withheld for our own pleasure, but are given by the Spirit, to whom the Spirit wills, for the “common good” (v7). That is, we all benefit when everyone serves according to his/her gifts.
One Body, Many Parts, One Composition. (1 Corinthians 12.12-26)
Paul then elaborates on his point by turning to the human body as an example. If I seem repetitive on this point, notice how repetitive Paul is. One body. Many parts. Many members of one body. Single members collectively as one body. Etc. Paul is speaking to a church that has deep divisions – even factions as he stated in the previous chapter. But the letter starts by talking about the divisions and people choosing to follow different lines of thought. In fact, the wording he used in 1 Corinthians 1 is remarkably similar to how people put signage in their yard at election time. When he says, I follow Apollos or I follow Peter, etc. it is like saying I vote for this candidate or that candidate. The problem was that Apollos, Peter, Paul, etc were not in opposition with one another, but the supposed singular body of Christ had become as divisive toward one another as our current political system is today.
Notice the imagery Paul uses beginning in verse 15. He makes statements that one part of the body does not consider itself a part of the overall body because it is not a certain part. Then in verse 21, he says that one part of the body says to another part, “I do not need you.” We see this as imagery and it is, but the imagery is addressing a very real issue! Remember in 1 Corinthians 11, which we reviewed a couple of weeks ago, some were gathering before the meal to eat their fair share before others arrived – leaving only scraps. Then, in 1 Cor 12.1, Paul begins by saying, “Now concerning spiritual gifts.” What he is doing – as he does in much of this letter to Corinth – is responding to a message he received from the church in Corinth. They had asked him some question related to how people with differing gifts should respond to one another – and Paul is replying.
So, imagine that the letter to Paul may have said something like, “We have people who say they should do this and others who don’t think it is important.” Paul writes back with examples from the human body which show the statement to be absurd. Effectively, Paul is saying that they should consider which part of the body they are willing to live without. Notice what he wrote beginning in verse 22. Read 1 Cor 12.22-24. Some parts of the body are more well known, they are more visible, they may even appear to be more useful. But all parts of a human body are necessary and so it is with the Body of Christ.
Because God designed the human body as one collective unit (v. 24) and the church is designed the same way.
One Composition, Many Appointments, for One Purpose (1 Corinthians 12.26-31)
Paul concludes this section by challenging them to consider how a body functions. Verse 26 states that all individual parts of the body either rejoice or suffer together. Think about it. You have likely experienced a tingly sensation throughout your body before – perhaps a good tingle from excitement and euphoria, and a bad tingle from anxiety or nerves. The sensation is real, but likely originates in one particular area, yet influences the entire body in that moment. This is the essence of what Paul is stating in verse 26.
He continues by providing a strong reminder of this current theme. NOW, you ARE the Body of Christ – with each of you being one part of it. He is saying that if you truly belong to Christ you need all of the other parts of the body – so care and nurture one another (tying this back to verse 25). He then lists another set of gifts with the idea that not everyone has all of these gifts, because again, as verse 4 and 11 combine to make clear, the single Spirit of God (i.e. no division) gives the gifts He chooses to each person as He wills.
So the purpose of the Body is singular – and that is to do what the head of the body desires – and the head is Christ. And what does Christ desire? Well that is our final point today.
One Purpose. One God. One Love. (1 Corinthians 13.1-13)
The text may be familiar, but imagine you are in Corinth on the day Paul’s letter arrives. Imagine you have never heard these words about love before this moment. And imagine you are hearing these words after just having heard Paul’s words about the gifts and the body. With that mindset, take a moment to read 1 Corinthians 13.
The point Paul is making in the overall context is that it is more than considering how good you think you are or how well you do what you do something. That type of thinking is the “childish ways” (v11). Instead, love is our ultimate purpose. Love is the command of Christ and if we are not loving others, particularly those who are part of the Body, then we gain nothing (v.3). Indeed, we are nothing (v.2). But Jesus did not give His life and call us to be part of His body that would be nothing. Jesus gave His everything so that we could truly be something – and that something is being a functioning member of the Body of Christ.
I began this sermon by talking about certain games and puzzles. Of course, childish games and puzzles give way to more complex ones. It is not enough for a medical student to consider the body in eight simple pieces. Rather they must learn the full anatomic structure of the body and how it works together.
But I think one thing that many adults lose as we age is the desire to imagine possibilities. That is why the three-dimensional Mr. Potato head is fun for children. The puzzle pieces fit in different areas that simply will not work for a two-dimensional puzzle where every piece has its defined space. Likewise, sometimes three dimensions is not enough. Twister is a three-dimensional game, but with a little imagination, someone added walls and added a fourth dimension.
A part of being one body is to nurture one another, or as Paul wrote in 1 Cor 12.25 to provide the same care for one another. That care is expressed in general empathy and specific concerns, but it is also expressed in helping others to grow into all that God would have them be even if they are different than you (or do things differently from you).
The JOURNEY letter for this week is: N – NURTURE.
Our verse for Nurture and for the Mission (Equip the Saints) is from Ephesians 4.11-13. This passage is once again about what God gives to His Church for the sake of the body. Let me read all the way through verse 16. (READ Ephesians 4.11-16.) Mature manhood (v13) – represents the body maturing. Jesus as the head (v15) of the body (v16) joined as one (body) by joints will allow the body to grow and be built up in love (v16). Equipping the Saints for the work of ministry no doubt includes helping each member of the body to reach their potential as an individual member of Christ’s body. But it also requires helping body parts work together in order for the body to function properly as a collective representation of the Body of Christ.
PRINCIPLE: The Bible compares the God’s people to a body. Bodies were made to function and each part is important so the body can function as a whole. As we care for ourselves, let us also care for one another.
QUESTION: What can I do that, if done well, and done for Jesus, can make a difference in this church?
- LEARN: Take time this week to determine what your talents, skills, and desires truly are. Knowing how God made you is critical to serving Him to the best of your ability. Even if you have done this before, it is a worthwhile exercise to do again.
- LOVE: Jesus gave us the Great Commandment: Love God, love others (Mark 12.30-31) and the New Commandment: Love one another (John 13.34-35). These are not options if we are truly a part of His body.