Members of the body of Christ
17th May 2019
We've spent some time thinking about these words:
We've seen that it's only reasonable that we should respond to God's mercy by laying down our lives for the one who laid down his life for us, to give ourselves as living sacrifices on God's altar of God because Christ sacrificed Himself for us.
We've seen that in order to live the lives God wants us to live - and, really, the lives we want to live - we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We need the Holy Spirit to work inside our brains to enable us to think differently.
I hope we've seen that it's not enough to learn what it is we're supposed to think, but to actually think it. There's a difference between learning the doctrine, the way you learn chemistry or physics, and being transformed in your mind so that you think and feel differently. It's not enough to have the head knowledge.
God will work in your brain between now and the day you die, to help you to think like He thinks. Isn't that a wonderful thing? And doesn't it make sense for us to cooperate with him in doing it? We can cooperate with God by reading the Bible and trusting it, by worshipping Him, and by encouraging one another. Slowly, slowly, slowly, our minds change, and we start thinking the way that Jesus thinks.
Moving on, I suspect many modern-day Christians would be surprised that the first thing Paul says we should think differently about is church membership:
Sadly, many Christians in our generation fail to take church membership seriously. But Paul says this "to every one of you". There are no exceptions.
Paul instructs us to think of ourselves with sober judgement and immediately after saying that, he says that "in Christ, we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others". Paul is telling us to think of ourselves as church members.
This word "member" is a bit old-fashioned. In medical textbooks, a part of your body used to be called a member of your body, which is why if you cut up a corpse it's called "dismembering". It might be easier for us to think of a limb. Each one of us is a limb of the body of Christ. But it's not just limbs; it's every part. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12 that some are eyes, some are ears, and so forth. If you belong to Christ, you are an important part of the body of Christ.
We shouldn't think of ourselves more highly than we ought, but we should think of ourselves with sober judgement. I find perhaps the two biggest problems in the church pastorally are:
Most of us are in one category or the other - or both sometimes, which is really complicated. To both groups of people I would say use sober judgement.
I also find Christians who have low self-esteem but act as if they had high self-esteem, as a way of feeling better about themselves. If you're like that, I'd just like to tell you that you don't need to do that. You're loved by God and - I hope - by your church just as you are.
So what is a sober assessment of who you are? You are an important part of the body of Christ! That'll do for me. It's all I need. It's more than I deserve and it's a rather wonderful honour, isn't it? It's also a huge responsibility. We are Christ's body on earth. We are his hands and his feet, and his tongue on earth. We are God's answer to the world's problems.
We are the most important body of people in the world, which is funny really because the world thinks we're completely irrelevant. Isn't it a strange thing? They think we're complete time-wasters. But we're the only ones with access to the Holy Spirit of God and the power and truth that He brings.
We're only us - we're nothing special - but we have been given the Holy Spirit, and the Bible, and God has called us. And that makes us more important than any other group of people. It doesn't make us better people than anybody else. It's just that we're the only ones with access to the truth and the power of God. And we are called by God to bring His answer, and His truth, and His love, and His saving grace to the world.
And here is a sober assessment of who you are: you are an important part of this.
This is the simple truth. You are an eye, or an ear, or a nose, or an elbow, or a kneecap, or whatever - a spleen perhaps - in the body of Christ. You matter! You're important! So when you're not in church the body of Christ is diminished. No Christian can go to every meeting, but it's important to take an active role, an active part in the body of Christ, the church, because you're important. The Bible says so.
To take a silly example, you might say that while you're watching television, your feet aren't very important, but you would miss them if they weren't there. Just because you're not preaching or doing the children's talk or something, doesn't mean you're not important. It doesn't mean your church don't miss you. It doesn't mean you haven't got anything useful to contribute. The body likes to be whole, doesn't it? If the foot isn't there, the body is disabled. You are important!
We've been given a huge commission; we're supposed to be very gradually saving the world for Jesus. In two thousand years we've made some progress. The world is a better place than it was two thousand years ago and there are more Christians now than there have ever been on the planet. But there's a huge amount of work still to do, and if we're not going to do it, it's not going to get done. You are important!
Paul says "each member belongs to all the others". It's quite obvious that your forearm belongs to the rest of your body, but do you believe that you belong to the Christians around you? That's what he's saying, isn't it? He's saying you belong to your church and your church belongs to you.
Your church leadership can't - and should't try to - make anybody do anything. What you do, and how you live, is between you and God. Leaders shouldn't boss you around, telling you what to do. It's not for them to complain if you don't do certain stuff they wish you would do (although now and again they may need to complain that you do stuff you really shouldn't do). You're free to go to church, or to not go, to get involved or not to get involved, to do what you want to do and not do what you don't want to do. But under God, we are responsible together for the mission of God.
You have a part to play. The ankle could choose to wander off somewhere, but the foot would not be happy. The elbow might choose to stop functioning altogether, but you'd never clean your teeth again. If any one of us fails to live as if we belong to all the others, the church fails to work properly.
Now and again, we might moan at God, saying "God, why don't you do more to help people?" And I think part of God's answer is, "When my church will come together in unity, the church can do this in the power of my Holy Spirit." It's for us to do God's work. We are the body of Christ. We do God's work by the power of the Holy Spirit, but we do it. It is true for example that no-one comes to saving faith in Jesus but by the Holy Spirit, but 999 times out of 1000, the Holy Spirit uses you and me to speak His truth into somebody else's life. And if one part of the body has chosen not to get involved, then there may be some people who don't get to hear the call of God.