What Makes A Church Tick? Members!"
"Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it." 1 Corinthians 12:27
Have your ever noticed how people go humbly into a law office? They know little about law and trust their needs to an attorney. It's the same way with mechanics. Our automobiles baffle us. When something is wrong, we don't pretend to tell the mechanic how to do his job. Again, we are humble. The jet airplane is another example. We do not for a moment try to tell a pilot what to do. Instead, we creep aboard silently, buckle on our seat belt and try to be as light as possible but in the church, all too often, there is precious little of the teachable humility. In the church suddenly everybody is an expert! Suddenly everybody knows it all! And folks are quick to give advice on how things ought to be run and the results? Well, just look at the mess our churches are in today and you'll see.
Today it's vital that we turn back to the bible. We need, above all, not to hear the latest word from man, but hear the latest word of God, we need to move beyond opinions, sixty-year-old traditions and whatnot, to the idea God has of the Church.
Our text today represents one of the most beautiful illustrations in the entire New Testament. This text is God's best thinking on the church. Written by St. Paul, our text shouts above. The clash of opinions, the localized expectations, the diehard traditions, and with an inspired voice explains what makes a church tick.
In weeks past we've looked at the need, the job and the qualifications for ruling elders and deacons. Now we turn to the membership. The text says, "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it." The body of Christ - that's what the local church is and you as a church member are a piece of that body.
Meditating on the text, it is obvious that the body has a radical unity, our physical bodies are knit together wonderfully. You can't take your foot off and store it in the closet. Your body is unified, each piece is attached with other parts to make up the whole.
Last November Kathryn's mother came and stayed for a month and Claire thought she was wonderful. Little Claire followed her grandmother everywhere. And poor Gran could have no privacy! One morning Mrs. Cook took her false teeth out to polish them and Claire saw it. Amazed, Claire sprinted into the hallway shouting, "She took her teeth out! She took her teeth out! For days Claire pulled on her own teeth to see if they too were removable. She has even crawled into the lap of other elderly folks, and much to her parent's embarrassment, asked. "Can you take your teeth out?" Yes, the body is connected, at least most of the time! It is unified!
What does this mean for church members? It means that we are like a body. We are closely knit. We are interconnected with each other. Remember the Negro spiritual, "Them bones gonna rise again"? The words go, "The toe bone is connected to the foot bone, and the foot bone is connected to the leg bone." It 's this way in the church. We're not a mass of individualists here. We're joined together into a body. We're not an organization but an organism! Not let me ask you a question. Can you name ten people in this church that you are connected to, that you are responsible to and for? name me ten people you minister to and receive ministry from on a regular basis. Too often today, the unity of the church is no more than a bucket of marbles. We're not knit together. We're afraid of involvement. People come here to get but won't give. Yet look at how the church came alive one snowy Sunday recently when attendance was low and we all pulled in together sitting close. There was loud singing. People worshipped enthusiastically. We were glad to be together. We touched one another and there was a body! This is the view of the church Paul had when he wrote the text. Church is a place where people join together. They are close in their concern for one another.
Passing on, the text tells us that the body is also a collect of radical gifts. Your physical body has a brain to think, fingers to feel, eyes to see, and lungs to breathe. And you will notice that each body part ministers to the other. When the eye hurts, who ministers to it? The foot? No! Usually it's the finger. The mouth ministers to the stomach, the ears give soothing music to the weary brain, and the eyes guide the entire body safely along the path.
What does this mean in the church? Here, too, we have many parts of the body with each member gifted to provide a ministry. The scripture mentions gifts of the Holy Spirit (Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4). God gives every Christian a means to serve the body. To some are given serving gifts like helps, contributing, discernment faith, hospitality, administration or showing acts of mercy to others are given speaking gifts like preaching, evangelism, encouragement, teaching or wisdom. Still others are given signifying gifts such as tongues, healing or miracles. And each member is called on to discover his gift and apply it toward the needs of the whole body.
Another interesting point about our radical gifts is that we don't depend on one person to do all the work. Each member is given a chance to contribute. Look at it this way, when the stomach is hungry, it doesn't say to the foot, "Feed me my dinner!" It looks to the hand and mouth for that help. Here in the church it's important to look to the right person for the right ministry too. If someone comes to the pastor with a legal matter, he'd be ill equipped to help, so he will refer that person to one of our members who is a lawyer. If someone is lonely, they'd best be referred to a deacon or a Sunday school class or our "Hello Daily" telephone ministry. A young person with a problem of unwise budgeting could go to one of this church's bankers for help. And on and on. The church is a body, close knit, and made up of different parts all with special gifts to meet needs.
The text also points out the radical importance of each member of the body. Where would you be right now without you neck? If someone took you arms would you miss them? Even let something as obscure as the elbow malfunction, and the entire body suffers!
Here in the church it is the same way. Many take the attitude, "I'm not important. The church won't miss me! Yes we do! Your absence from the body is just like an amputation. We miss what you can do for us and you miss what we can do for you. Your absence makes the entire body the less.
You know what a vestigial organ is? It is a part of the body that no longer serves a useful function. Your appendix, your tonsils, are examples of this. They can be removed and you won't miss them, here in the church there are no vestigial members. Each Christian is called on to make himself useful.
Obviously in the early church there were some members suffering inferiority complexes. They felt like they had nothing to contribute and herein 1 Corinthians 12, Paul wrote saying, "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, that would not make it any less a part of the body." The inference is clear. You may be a lowly foot but you're important. Where would the body be without it?
Radical unity, radical gifts, radical importance--these are facts about the members of a church. Here's another--radical tolerance. Paul said, it's a fact that in you body each organ, every bone, each muscle is important. And in your physical body there is a radical toleration for each part. There's an old fable about a body in which the stomach was accused of doing nothing and consuming everything. So the hands and feet and teeth decided to go on strike and send nothing to the stomach. And the result was they all began to waste away. The stomach proved to be important as it shared with other organs to make them healthy.
Here in the church body there must be a same radical tolerance. The attitude "He's not like me. He doesn't fit into the church. He's not a Christian, is sinful and disrespectful and disrespectful of another part of the body. Here in the church, we're not all alike. We all don't do the same thing. We don't all provide the ministry or the same priority. And thank God for it! What if all were preachers? What if there were no deacons and elders? What if all were administrators? I plead for unity today. I plead for your gifts.
I plead for you to see how important you are in the body. But I also plead for tolerance. Don't expect everyone to be like you, to minister just like you, to share your same vision. And don't cut someone off just because you feel they are an unhealthy part of the body.
If your stomach has indigestion, you don't cut it out. With patience and tolerance you nurse it back to health. Probably at one time or another every part of your body has been unhealthy - teeth, feet, hand, headache, a leg or whatnot. It was tolerance that kept your body together until healthy was restored. Here in the church let there be the same tolerance. We have unhealthy church members that lame the body, that give us indigestion or headache but don't cut them off. Pray for them. Be tolerant. discipline them, wait patiently. It might be that they will become healthy and begin to contribute again.
It is exciting to note that the body of Christ illustration here in 1 Corinthians 12 is followed by the great love Chapter of 1 Corinthians 13. It is to say that a healthy Christian body is a loving thing. Our radical unity, gifts, importance and tolerance result in radical love.
This love is first expressed to other parts of the body. Just as the physical body takes care of itself, so the church body must take care of herself. Each member must minister with his gifts to the others. If you see need, minister to it, or call it to the attention of someone equipped to deal with it. If you feel pain, call on that appropriate part of the body for help. Strive to build up the body in love!
Here let me say a word about church growth, about evangelism. A healthy body reproduces when dual physical bodies are sick or when something is missing, it may become impossible to reproduce, to bear children. It is the same with the church. If the body is unhealthy, underfed, if members of the body do not take care of one another, if they aren't unified, committed to each other, then that church body will not reproduce. Evangelism will be nil. The church will wither and waste away.
Let me also say this about church growth. I can see that my children are fed and clothed. I can see that they get rest and training, but I cannot control how tall they grow or how much they weigh. God hasn't given me that power. Likewise here in the church, we can only control such things as feed, discipline, and health. If we will concentrate on developing a healthy body here, then you can be sure that this church body will grow and develop to her full size, whatever that size may be in God's plan.
Radical love for the body--that is what 1 Corinthians 13 is talking about. But this radical love is not just for the body. It is also for the world. J.B. Phillips said that the early church could be symbolized by a group of people holding hands in a circle facing outward. The modern church, he said, is like a group of people holding hands and facing inward. If he's right, that explains a lot about the weakness of church missions today. We are to be concerned bout the body. We are to be unified, to minister to one another in radical love, but we are also to be concerned about others. When a body is healthy, it doesn't stay slumped in a corner. It gets out and moves in the world! Thus the church's mission of radical love is not just for herself alone. It is for the world also.
Now let me ask you two common questions about your church's mission. Where is your church? What does your church do? The usual answers to those two questions are one, where is your church? It is on Main Street in Charlotte Court House, Virginia; two: What does it do? Lots of thins. She has a Sunday school, regular worship services, occasional weddings and funerals, a picnic and some in-home bible studies.
Do you see how our typical answers to those questions reflect inward thinking? Let me answer those questions in a more biblical way. One: Where is your church? The church is all over southside Virginia. The church is in homes and apartments from Phoenix to Richmond. She is in schools, clubs, courtrooms, factories, and forests. The church is wherever her people are. Two: What does your church do? Many things! She keeps house, teaches children in school, cooks supper, works in mills, flies people around in jets, sells cars, practices law or medicine, ministers to one another, and spreads Christ's salt and light in the world. Our church is everywhere, into everything, doing what needs doing for the sake of Jesus Christ.
It's beautiful, isn't it? To catch a vision of the church is to lose your breath! One of our elders stopped me at the door of the church last week and said what so many are thinking. He said, "It's been a long time since the church as worked like that." he's right. It has been a long, long time. Our thinking about the church has been low and mired in erroneous opinions for many years.
The church today is experiencing dry times. Her health is poor. Her vision is bad. Bearing children is almost beyond her. But I remind you that we've been here before. Long before us Israel had forgotten God's plant. They had relaxed in their zeal for the covenant. And their unity and gifts and mission suffered greatly. There is Ezekiel Chapter 37, God gave his prophet a vision of the valley of dry bones. He led Ezekiel around the valley, let him take a hard look at the skeletal remains, and then God asked, "Son of Man, can these cones live?" God answered Hid own question then with a resounding yes! Bones dry and long covered with the dust of death began to click together as the spirit of God moved over them and as Ezekiel preached God's word. And there in the Valley of Miracle occurred. Israel became a living body again! Even today as we look across our churches, Churches dry and skeletal, the question comes again, "O Son of Man, can these dry bones live?" God's answer is always the yes of hope. For you see, the Lord believes in you. He believes in the church. And he is the author of all resurrections.
Stephen M. Crotts
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