The Functioning Of The Body Of Christ

Grace For The Journey

In our study of Romans yesterday, we looked at the foundational principle that is to guide us in our relationships with one another in the church.  In fact . . .

It is the foundational principle

That should also guide us

In our relationship God

And all other people.

Paul says in Romans 12:3, “For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”

As I pointed out yesterday, this is not an option for the Christian for it is a command given on the basis of Paul’s authority as an apostle.  The Christian is to think rightly of himself and not to become proud.  At the same time, the Christian is to boldly step out to do whatever God asks because of a confidence that God can and will work through him or her to accomplish His will.

Sound judgement in evaluating my self-worth comes in recognition that man has value only as a result of being made in the image of God for the purpose of God’s glory.  

Proper self-esteem is based in knowing that

Though I am a sinner and deserving nothing

But God’s eternal condemnation, God extended

His love to me in mercy and grace to redeem me

From my sins through Jesus Christ’s atonement for my sin.

He then graciously imputed Jesus’ righteousness to me

On the basis of faith in Him, and has made me part

Of His family and Christ’s body, the church.

Through His Holy Spirit he has gifted me to serve Him,

And in doing so, I fulfill His will and bring glory to His name.

I have no other value except in that.

That is the reason that God created me.

Therefore if I want to have greater value,

Then I must be faithful to fulfilling God’s will

For my life and bring Him the maximum glory

That I can.  I step forward to use my gifts

In confidence that God will fulfill His promises

And enable me to serve Him to my maximum capacity.

Paul’s command here is set in the context of having sound judgement regarding how you are to regard yourself as part of the church, the body of Christ.  Paul says in verses 4 and 5, “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

In the coming days we will look at the issue of Spiritual gifts, including a study of the particular gifts mentioned in the Bible so that we might better understand how God may have equipped us and how to use those particular gifts.  But for today, I want us to concentrate on understanding what the church is, and in particular, what it means that every Christian is part of the Body of Christ.

There are many metaphors used in the Scriptures to try and describe the Church.  The word “church” is from the Greek, ekkl’sia, and means “called out ones.”  The church is that group of people that God has called out from all people to Himself.  Let’s look at some of the metaphors used to describe the church.

#1. The Temple of God.  The analogy of a building used for the worship of God is used by both Paul and Peter.  Paul says in Ephesians 2:19-22, “So then you are no longer strangers  and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”  The Bible says in 1 Peter 2:5, “You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

This metaphor describes the Church as a building, the Temple of God, which is built to worship God.  Its cornerstone is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-11), and its foundation the Apostles and Prophets who communicated to the us the doctrines of God.

We are the “living stones” of the building.  The text says we are the “lithos” or “worked stones.”  These would be stones chiseled to a certain shape to fulfill a certain purpose.
We are then “fitted together” to form the building.  We are not just any old stones taken from whereever and piled on top of each other.  We were carefully chosen and crafted to be joined to other stones to build a living, growing building.

The purpose of this building is to be a “holy temple in the Lord,” “being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” 

We exist to bring glory and honor to God.  

We exist to serve Him and not ourselves.

When people look at us, the church,

They should see us as a community

Where the Spirit of God dwells and

The worship of God takes place.

If each of us is fulfilling our role, we will inspire others to come and worship with us.  If we are not, we will be unstable and others will be hesitant to join us lest the building collapses on them.

#2. A Royal Priesthood – The metaphor that we are a royal priesthood flows out of the metaphor that we are the Temple of God.  Peter used the analogy of the church being a “spiritual house” in 1 Peter 2:5.  In verse 9 Peter adds, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 

God called us to

Himself in salvation

For a specific reason

And it was not so

That we would escape hell

And live happily ever after.  

Escape of hell is a

By-product of salvation,

Not its purpose.

He saved us so that

We would be His own people.  

People who by His mercy

Had been given light to

Receive God’s own excellencies.

Though Christians come from every race we are made into one people, God’s own people.  Just as Israel was chosen and set apart from among all the nations to be His own, and they still are, we are also chosen out from all nations to be grafted in (Romans 11) as God’s own people.  Our purpose is to be a “holy nation,” and a “royal priesthood.” It becomes incumbent on us then to fulfill that which we were chosen to do.

What is the function of a priest?  First, to worship God.  As verse 5 says, we are to “offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”  Romans 12:1 says we are to be “living sacrifices.”   The other function of a priest is to be a mediator between man and God.  We are to bring those who are still in the darkness into the light by proclaiming the good news of Lord Jesus Christ to them.

These two metaphors speak to the purpose of the church in the worship of God and evangelism of the lost.  The next metaphor speaks of our relationship to Christ.

#3. The Bride Of Christ.  This analogy is referred to in several different passages in several different manners.  It is in a sense the continuation of the metaphor used of God and Israel in which Israel is portrayed as being God’s wife.  In Revelation 19:7-10 the account is given of the marriage of the Lamb and the Bride which is Christ and the Church.  Other passages also infer the Bridal analogy.  In Ephesians 5 Paul speaks of the relationship that a man and woman are to have in marriage.  The groom is to love his wife “just as Christ also loved the church.”  In verse 32 he adds, “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.”  The Bride’s response is found in verse 24, “But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives to their husbands in everything.”  We are to respond to Christ in that way.  We are to be subject to Him, and that submission is easy because we know that He loves us and is looking out for our best interest.  Jesus is certainly fulfilling His role as the groom, but how are we doing in our role as His bride?  Do you bring honor to your beloved Savior by your behavior toward Him?

#4. Miscellaneous Metaphors.  There are several other metaphors used of the church.

  • In John 15 and Romans 11 an agricultural analogy is used.  
  • In John 15 we are branches which draw our lives from the vine.
  • In Romans 11 we are wild olive branches grafted into the cultivated Olive tree of Israel.

We draw our lives from Christ.  Without Him we perish.  Feeling shriveled up as a Christian?  Maybe you had better check to make sure you are drawing your life from Christ and not some other source.

  • Another metaphor is that of Shepherd and sheep.  

Jesus is referenced as a shepherd (John 10:11) and those who believe in Him are called His flock (1 Peter 5:2).  This gives us some understanding of the nature of believers and the relationship the church has with its leaders.  Shepherds lead, feed, guard, and protect.  Paul charged the elders at Ephesus to shepherd the flock that “the Holy Spirit has made you overseers,” (Acts 20:28).  Peter says the same thing in 1 Peter 5:2, “shepherd the flock of God among you.”  The term “pastor” (Ephesians 4:11) is simply the Latin word for “shepherd.”  The church is seen as sheep who need shepherds.  Christ is the chief shepherd (John 10:4), and He has given the flock undershepherds, elders, or pastors to carry out His work among the sheep.

Now let’s turn our attention to what is the most significant metaphor in describing the nature of the church, especially in how it functions.  It describes not only the relationship of the church to Christ, but also of individuals within the church to one another and how they all work together.

#5. The Body Of Christ.  This analogy is used by the Apostle Paul in four New Testament books (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 1 and 4, Colossians 1 and 2).  In Colossians 1:18, Paul simply points out that Jesus Christ is “head of the body, the church.”  In Colossians 2:19 he adds that Christ is the head that supplies what the body needs for it to grow, and that growth is from God.  Interesting to footnote here that even in biology, the hormone that stimulates growth comes from the pituitary gland which is
located in the head!

Here in Romans 12:4-5 Paul simply says, “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”  That is, a body is made up of many individual parts that all fit together.

So too is the body of Christ which is made up of many different parts which all fit together.  Paul goes on to describe some of the spiritual gifts which fit together to make up the body of Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul gives the greatest explanation of this body analogy.  He starts in 1-7 stating that all spiritual gifts, the ministries in which they are used, and their impact on people are all given by God according to His own will.

Verse 4 says, “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.”  The Holy Spirit is the same for all Christians, but He gives different gifts given to different people.  Every Christian is given a spiritual gift or gifts by which they are to serve the Lord.  There are all sorts of spiritual gifts including teaching, administering, helping, showing mercy, giving, exhorting, leading and many more.

Verse 5 states, “There are varieties of ministries, but the same Lord.”  The Lord is the same for all Christians, but He will use those different gifts in different Christians in a variety of ministries as He chooses.  To use the gift of teaching as an example, there are many ministries in which the people who have this gift use it.  It could be used in some specific ages – children, youth or adults. Or in different settings – Worship services, Sunday School, Mid-week program, home Bible studies, prisons, hospitals, or other outreach efforts.  It can be used in different formats – preaching, interactive discussion, storytelling, drama, music, puppets, art, and writing.

Verse 6 says, “There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all.”  God is the same for all Christians, but the effectiveness of those different gifts used in different ministries will also be different – ACCORDING TO GOD.  My gift of teaching used in preaching is used by God for all of you.  Others of you here use your gift of teaching in a small group, or maybe just one to one in discipleship.  There are also those like John MacArthur, Charles Stanley, Chuck Swindoll, David Jeremiah, etc. whose gift of teaching is used by God on a national or even international scale.

The bottom line is that

God has gifted you

To serve Him,

But the gift given,

The ministry that the

Gift(s) is used in, and

The effectiveness of the gift

Is up to the Lord, not you.

Verse 11 states it, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”

In verses 8-11, Paul describes some of the gifts given by the Spirit.  We will be going into detail about all the gifts in a few days, but for now let’s look at the description of church Paul gives in the rest of the chapter.  

Starting in verse 12, Paul stresses the necessity of all the parts of the body of Christ working in harmony with one another.  This is the same thing he said in Romans 12:4-5. Verse 12 says, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.”

The analogy of a body is a fitting description of the Church.  We all easily recognize that the body is both diverse and unified.  The body has all sorts of parts to it – arms & legs, hands & feet, a waist, a chest and a head with eyes, ears, nose and mouth.  Yet all of these parts together make up one entity, a body.

The church is the visible manifestation of Christ in the world.  The church is the body of Christ.  It is one entity, yet is made of up many different parts.  Just as the head isn’t attached where the feet are, so the people who make up the church live in different places. Just as each body part serves a different function, i.e., the big toe doesn’t do what the ear does and vice a versa, so God gives believers different gifts.  And just as you can do more with one of your hands than the other, so God gives different ministries and different power to the saints that make up the church.  

Yet with all this diversity,

The church is still just one entity,

The Body of Christ.

The reason for this unity is seen in verse 13, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”  Regardless of our genetic, cultural, or economic background, all of us who belong to Jesus became part of this body in the same way every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Before we conclude our study today, I want you to make careful note of this verse and this passage because it corrects a lot of the nonsense that goes on in charismatic churches concerning the baptism of the spirit and speaking in tongues.  Pentecostal and charismatic theology teach a two tiered Christianity.  The first level is salvation.  The second level is being baptized by the Holy Spirit which is evidenced by speaking in an unknown tongue. This verse along with Romans 8:9, “But if anyone does not have the
Spirit of Christ, he is none of His”
makes it plain that unless a person is “baptized by the Holy Spirit” they are not Christians, and every Christian is indwelt (made to drink, cf. John 7;37-39 and 1 Corinthians 2:21; Galatians 3:2) by the Holy Spirit.  The passage shows that the manifestation of the Spirit could be in any of the spiritual gifts.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you are not “baptized in” or do not “have the Holy Spirit” because you do not speak in tongues.  That claim is in direct violation of the Bible, and anyone saying such a thing is either quite ignorant of the Scripture or a false teacher. We will look at this more closely as we talk about the different gifts of the Spirit over the next few days.

In verse 14-20 Paul restates his thesis and then goes on to illustrate the absurdity of one member of the body thinking they are not part of the body because they are not the part they wanted to be, “For the body is not one member, but many.  If the foot should say, ‘because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.  And if the ear should say, ‘because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?  If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?  But now God has placed the members each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.  And if they were all one member, where would the body be?  But now there are many members, but one body . . .”

Obviously when we look at our own body, we realize that every part is needed in order to make up a whole body.  Every part is needed in order for the body to function. Everyone in the church is needed for the church to fulfill its God given purposes.  There are no “small” or “unimportant” gifts or ministries.  No one in the church should refrain from getting involved because they do not think they can do anything important.

Paul makes ludicrous statements in verse 17 in order to bring that point out.  Imagine if the whole body were one big eye.  You would make the National Enquirer, and be featured on television talk shows, but it would do you no good because you could not hear, walk, talk, or eat.  The same thing would be true if you were one big ear, or one big nose or any other body part.  The same is true in the church.  If everyone were a preacher, who would minister to the children.  If everyone worked with kids, who would help the sick. If everyone helped the sick, who would repair the facilities, etc.  Paul’s outrageous illustration gives us a clear focus that everyone in the church is needed, and as he says in verse 18, God equips and puts each person in the body just where He wants them.  There are many members, but one body.

Paul goes on in verses 26-27 to stress the need of every person using their gift.  He starts out by saying that there is no room in the church for prideful people who think only what they do is important.  Verse 21, “And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.’  On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.”  Again, Paul uses an absurdity to bring out his point.  The eye needs the hand and the head needs the feet.  It takes every member of the body for it to function properly.  The same is true in the church.  Tragically, there are those that would think their particular gifts and ministries are the most important ones, and so they look down on other people.  But the truth is those things which are often thought of as the most important because they are out front and visible are not as important as what is behind the scenes.

For example, in terms of our physical bodies, we give a lot of attention to things like our face, hair, and general appearance.  Cosmetic advertisers would make you think that those things determine your self-worth.  We also give a lot of honor to our hands and their ability to accomplish tasks.  But let’s be honest about it.  Could you get by if your hair color wasn’t perfect?  Ladies, can you survive even if your lipstick is not the right shade to match your clothes?  Can you live a wonderful life even if your face is getting older and starting to take on the characteristics of a prune?  Of course.  Could you make it if you were missing one of your physical faculties such as sight, hearing, smell, taste or the use of your legs or hands?  It would be more difficult, but certainly you can live and succeed.  But if you are missing one of the body parts not thought of often, your “weaker” or more “feeble” parts, and you will find out quickly how necessary they are. How long can you make it without a heart, lungs, kidneys or liver?  In fact, when was the last time you gave serious contemplation to the care and well-being of your liver or pancreas, hypothalamus, or adrenal gland?  Yet all of them are necessary because without them, you are dead.

So it is in the church.  The preacher is probably the most visible person in the church, and after those who minister in music.  But you know something, the church can get along without me.  The church can get along without music.  The church can get along without this building.  But you know what this church cannot get along without? Faithful people praying.  Faithful people telling their friends, neighbors, and co-workers about Jesus Christ.  Faithful people calling one another to encourage and help one another. Faithful people discipling younger Christians.  Faithful parents instilling in their children virtue and the knowledge of God.  All of those are absolutely necessary for the church to exist.

Take away the preacher, the music ministry, and the building and the church will be hindered from what it could be, but it will survive and continue to accomplish God’s purposes.  This has been the case for the body of Christ under the severe persecution that has existed in the Communist countries.  But if these more hidden ministries do not exist, the church will become sick and eventually die.  Such has been the case in so many of the mainline churches which can have great orators, wonderful music and beautiful buildings, but the body itself is either extremely sick or dead.  God gifts each individual Christian with spiritual gift(s), and if they are not used, the whole body suffers. The “unseemly” gifts, those which are behind the scene, are often the most important.

Paul goes on to say in verse 23, “And those members of the body, which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our unseemly members come to have more abundant seemliness, whereas our seemly members have not need of it.  But God has so composed the body, given more abundant honor to that member which lacked, that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.”

Don’t get lost in the words “seemly and unseemly” or “comely and uncomely.”  Paul is simply referring what is exposed and what is covered with clothes.  In our physical bodies most of our bodies are covered by, or at least should be covered by clothing. Only a small portion is exposed.  In the church, there are ministries which are public and get a lot of attention.  There are also ministries that are done behind the scenes and get little attention.  Paul point here is simply to stress that there should not be any division in the body, and that every member should be cared for.

We are all in this together, and as Paul puts in verse 26, “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.”

That brings out the final aspect of this body metaphor.  We are all be knit together.  What I do affects you, and what you do affects me.  What each of us does affect the body’s ability to serve the Lord.  Every member is important and no member can be prideful.  If you are a true Christian, then God has equipped you to serve Him in some way.  If you are not using your gifts, then at best, you still leave this body handicapped. The body functions improperly.  We limp along when we should be running.  At worst, you leave this body sick to one degree or another.  Your failure to use your gift could be a nuisance such as a cold usually is to our physical body, or it could be a distraction such as a sinus infection might be, or it could be life threatening, such as a serious injury or disease might be to the physical body.

My challenge to you this morning is to start praying about how God can use you.  God has gifted you.  Do you know what your gift or gifts are?  More important, are you using them?  Every member of the Body is important.  You are either helping the Body fulfill its purpose in glorifying our Lord Jesus Christ, or you are hindering it.

We will be looking at the subject of spiritual gifts in the coming days in order to learn how we can better use what God has given to us for his glory.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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