For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
The Articulation of the Church as a Body
What is the natural state of the local church?
How is it joined together (articulated) and how does it function so that Christ will have the preeminence in it?
Yesterday we were brought, by the Word, to the eternal past, and from there we were brought to the eternal future, in order to see the church in eternity, originating from Christ, as a perfect help for Christ, as a complement to Christ and with a glorious destiny.
However, this evening we want to briefly look at something much more practical, more immediate to ourselves: the reality of the local church.
What is the natural state of the church? We would like, in some way, to bring these eternal, extensive and magnificent realities, which were spoken of yesterday, into a practical and everyday use in the local church. Shall we look then at how the church is joined into one (articulates itself) and functions, so that Christ will have the preeminence within it? Let us look at I Corinthians chapter 12, verse 14 and onwards.
Many Parts in the Body
Of all the figures that the bible uses to describe the church and its function, the human body is the most perfect. The first thing that we find, in verse 14, is that in the body there is not merely one part (or member), but many. "Now the body is not made up of one part but of many".
The church is not an institution, it is not a human organization but rather it is a body, it is the body of Christ. The church is the body of Christ, and in a body there is not just one part,
but many. The first thing that this verse tells us, therefore, is that in the body, which is the church, there cannot be one or two or three members who do everything, because that would be a monstrosity. Be careful with the church that is a monstrous body, (i.e. a body out of proportion) in which one member is overdeveloped, and the others are undernourished.
One of the historical problems that Christianity has had, has been that a few individuals have tried to do what God demanded of many. A few try to do what God wants from many. Therefore, the first thing that we need to clarify is that a normal church is a church where there are many parts, not just one. The problem is not that there are to few members who attend, the problem is that there are one or two or three who believe that they constitute the body. We give thanks to God because the body is not one part but many!
Our placement is determined by God
Secondly, verse 18 says, "But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted." Who put you, dear brother, in the local church? God! Can anyone take you out of the church? God put you, and he put me, in the church! He baptized us in the body of Christ. Is there any authority greater than that of God? God is the greatest authority in the universe! You were in the heart of God, and He baptized you in the body, that is the church. Hallelujah!
It also says that He arranged or placed us just as He wanted. Dear brothers and sisters, do you recognize your place in the body? Do you know where God wanted to place you? This is one of the most serious problems that we have, because it is possible that there are brothers and sisters among us who still do not know the place, in the body, where God has put them.
If this is your case, I advise you to do two things: first, ask God, "Where did you baptize me? In what part of the body did you put me? It seems that I don't have any part, it seems that I'm useless; there are others in the church who are very able and so diligent that it would seem I have no place there, oh God! What is the place that you have arranged for me?" And second: ask the other brothers and sisters, they will also know. They will be able to shed some light because God also speaks through the brethren (believers). It is important that you know this, dearly beloved, because otherwise your life will be one of frustration. You will want to serve, but you will not know where or how!
The church is not going to be restored until all the parts of the body know where God wants to place them, and how they can serve there! Christ is not going to be the fullness of everything (Christ is all and in all-Col. 3:11) in the church until the smallest member is serving, contributing life and producing the fruit that God wants to give! God arranged the body as He wanted, dispersing the members in their rightful place!
Every Part has a Specific Grace
Regarding what it says in Romans 12:6, to each one of the parts that God arranged in its respective place, He gave a grace. It says, "We have different gifts according to the grace given us…" Brothers and sisters, do you feel disgraced? Brother, sister, we have to fight against unbelief (incredulity) and against the common opinion! For many years you may have felt useless, for years you might have felt carnal! Look, "according to the grace given us"! Brother, sister, believe this, accept it! God gave you a portion of His grace. There are no parts whom God wanted to put in the church who have not been given a specific grace.
One of the saddest things to see in a local church are members who appear to be convinced that they cannot serve for anything (or have no role to play), and that God seems to have made a mistake with them.
Valuing What God Made Us To Be
Corinthians 12:15-16 says, "If the foot should say: Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body, it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say: Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body, it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body?" Here we have a problem with the foot. It says: "I'm not a hand, so what am I good for?" And the ear says, "I'm not an eye, so what am I good for?" Such that the foot and the ear have a problem: they look at the grace of the other parts of the body and say, "Who is there like the hand, who is there like the eye!… I'm only a foot, I'm only an ear … it seems that I'm no part of the body at all!"
Beloved brother and sister, you have to value what God has made you to be in Christ, to appreciate the grace and the place that God has given you in the body. You must accept what God made you to be, do not take it for granted … and do not spend all your life saying, "Oh, how I would have liked to have been an eye! Oh how I would have liked to have been a hand." "How I would have liked to have had the gift of the Word!" However, if the church consisted only in members with the gift of the Word, then the church would not be a body, it would be a monster, (a body out of proportion)!
We pray to the Lord that day after day there would be more brothers and sisters discovering their place in the body, discovering the specific grace that God has given them, and that they would also begin to serve. Whilst there is a believer who does not know what to do, who does not know how to serve, then there should be cause for concern; not only from the workers, but also from the pastors in every location.
Verse 17 says, "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?". This means that there is diversity in the parts of the body. However, this diversity, which is so beautiful, is not sufficiently recognized within the body, and there are eyes that want all the others to be eyes as well. There are hands that want all the other parts of the body to be hands as well. Perhaps in your church there is a member who is very spiritual, who likes to study the Scriptures, who likes to preach: that person wants everyone to preach, to study the Scriptures, to be spiritual and to pray a lot. In another church, it may be the case that other members have a different grace, and as they have the possibility to speak and exercise some influence, they would like everyone else to have the same characteristics that they do.
My dear brothers and sisters, in the church there are diversity of parts, of functions, of gifts and that is what makes the body so multifaceted and so rich in expression. It is that which allows the Lord Jesus Christ to be expressed in His different aspects, virtues, graces and beauty. In Christ, all excellency and beauty are found, but in order for these to be expressed we have to see the body possess' a diversity of parts and gifts.
I am going to use music as an example. There are different instruments here, the guitars sound very beautiful, yet if there were only guitars, it would not sound so wonderful. The keyboard also sounds good. But if there were twenty keyboards and nothing else, it would not sound so wonderful. The keyboardist cannot pretend that everyone plays the keyboard. The guitarist cannot assume that everyone should play the guitar. Even the smallest instrument, that which plays but for a short moment is also necessary, and sounds wonderful when played at the right moment, even just one short note at the end.
In the church, there are members who go almost unnoticed. There are those who do not appear to serve for anything; however, it's so beautiful when they demonstrate their grace and blessing to the body. The "spiritual people", are not the only useful ones in the church. Everyone is necessary, we are all useful, thanks be to the Lord, because He has not devalued us! He has not included only the greatest, but He has also included us.
No one is dispensable
"The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don't need you!' On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable." Someone could say to their brother, "I don't need you, I can get by on my own; you are too immature, you are too weak, you don't know the Scriptures. If I say to you: where is the book of Corinthians, you look in the Old Testament." This is the eye saying to the hand, "I don't need you." The head is saying to the feet, "I don't have any need of you."
Brothers and sisters, it is so painful to see a member of the body undervaluing someone else. We do not undervalue the small or the weak. We never undervalue those who are carnal. "We do not even want to think: I don't need you." Because perhaps the Lord, in a crucial moment of desperation, in a moment of life or death, will ensure that you need one of the small ones, and He will save you through them.
There are brothers and sisters who have come to the church from the world and who have experienced a thousand and one things. They come wounded. Sometimes they come with a situation regarding an abnormal marriage, a destroyed family... that belongs to a long history of their past.... how many tears, how much pain, how many disasters have mounted up over them! However, the Father brought them, forgave them and baptized them into the body. And we, who have such legalistic hearts, so unmercifully stigmatize them forever. "No, this person will not be a service." If the brother tries to help with something, even something small, "Brother, I have a car, I can take you, I can accompany you, I can drive the vehicle, I'd like to serve...." We say to him, "No brother, don't concern yourself..." What we are really saying is, "I don't need you. You are not useful for anything."
When we look in the book of Timothy, we find all the requirements of overseers and deacons, but how good it is that the requirements of prophets do not appear, nor for evangelists, apostles, teachers, or for those who serve, for those who bring a glass of water, for those who help sustain others. No, there are no requirements for these people. God received them! And if God received them, who am I to close off my heart to them?
My dear brothers and sisters, it's true that they could not be overseers or deacons. We must obey the Scripture. But the Scripture does not say anything about other functions that they could occupy in the body. Sometimes it is apparent to us that those brothers and sisters who feel less honorable amongst us are the most willing to serve. We do not shut the door on anyone who God brings for Christ! We cannot dispense anybody. This is a warning for the more visible members, for those who have the greatest responsibility: do not undervalue the smallest or those who commit the most mistakes.
He who has least, has Most
Verses 23 and 24 say, "and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts require no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it". What do we call giving more to that which has less? It appears to be equity. My dear brothers and sisters, I know that for many it is a special honour for a worker (or a pastor) to come to your table and eat with you, or that a worker wants to stay in your home. But, do you know what? The Lord wants those who are less esteemed to be honoured. Invite that brother who nobody, it seems takes note of, prepare the table, attend to him, or that elderly sister, or that widowed sister... You will be pleasing the Lord!
Do we want to know the heart of God? He honours those most, who have the most need. So that there are no disagreements (schism) in the body. So that few do not have much while the many have little. Brothers and sisters, can we see that if we aren't living this ourselves in the local church, Christ will not be all (and in all-Col 3:11) in everything?
Finally, verse 26 says, "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it". What can we call this: when something happens to one person, it happens to everyone, be it good, bad, painful or joyful. Could it be interdependence, or inter-affection? We could say that it is a type of echo law: one speaks and then hears the sound reverberate all around them. What happens to one person affects the whole body. If one member suffers, everyone hurts, if one receives honour, all rejoice.
We can also say that under this same principle, that if one person sins, the death of that sin affects everyone; if one is sanctified, the life of that member also reaches all the others. The blessing that comes from the mouth of one member blesses the most distant member. The blessing that the mouth proclaims reaches even down to the little toe on the foot. Dear brothers and sisters there is no such thing as a disconnection between the members of the body. Everything affects all of us. Everything comes to us, everything hurts us, everything brings us joy.
It is possible that you have sinned during the week and have not repented for some time. You arrive at the next church meeting... do you know what? Your sin has brought a weight upon the others. Do you see that the worship doesn't flow, do you see how the prayer stops, do you see that the glory doesn't seem to be there? Dearly beloved, nobody's sin can go unpunished in the house of God, even though it is done in the most secret place. There are no secrets that hidden from God! And the body, which is the church, is a body that functions according to the plans of the Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is in the church. A Holy Spirit in a holy church! Brothers and sisters, this is related to practical issues, with the daily reality in each church. That is the church, that is its nature. It is an articulated (a joining of many parts) and organic body!
Now think for a moment in your own reality, in your church: Are we living in the reality of the church as a body? Or are we only proclaiming it? In the church do only a few do everything? Are there brothers and sisters in the church who are not considered so that they can serve? Does something similar to what we've described happen in your church? Let the Word of the Lord cleanse us from all of this. Allow the Lord to get rid of everything that hinders the functioning of this precious body that is the church. Do it Lord for your glory! We do not want the pre-eminence of two or three: we want the restoration of the church. God is doing it! Hallelujah!