The Church – The Body of Christ

1 Corinthians 12:4-27

A peculiarity of some American churches is their absence of diversity, often because they are “designed” that way. Cowboy church, skateboard church, churches filled with homeschoolers or single parents and their children or urban professionals in their twenties and thirties. There is nothing wrong with being a cowboy, riding a skateboard, homeschooling, single-parenting, or professional life. But this sort of single interest group church has great weaknesses – everyone has the same needs and experiences and problems and lacks the same resources to meet those needs.

Now, on the other hand, diversity often comes with problems, too. The Lord Jesus being an expert on human nature knew that; he knew there would be challenges in this church he said he would build. That is why Jesus prayed the way he did there in the Garden:

John 17:11 “Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.”

Once for his immediate followers, the Eleven, then four times for all his people –

John 17:20-23 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”

For Jesus to pray that particularly and repeatedly about a single issue must mean it’s really important to him. God in his loving-kindness has given guidance through his Word about this; he hasn’t left us to figure it out on our own. Both diversity and unity are essential to a healthy local church. How should we view and use this great blessing of diversity? It is, after all, the Holy Spirit who has granted a variety of gifts and people to the church!

A. diversity in community v.4-6, 8-12

diversity of

gifts (4)

Paul does not have in mind here what we think of as natural talents or abilities that a Christian possesses before conversion. Those talents may act as the starting place, the foundation from which the Holy Spirit builds and works. The spiritual gifts in view are demonstrations of the Holy Spirit at work through a believer equipping him or her to serve Christ by serving the church.

Since the body of Christ has a wide variety of needs, Christ by his Spirit grants to his people a variety of gifts to meet those needs. When God draws together individuals to form up a local church body, he usually brings all different sorts of people to the group: single people, married couples, families, adults, children, plus a variety of educational and employment backgrounds. Each believer in that group has been given a particular gift needed by the group for its spiritual health.

service (5)

Even a small local church has opportunity and need for different ministries because of the variety in people and their needs we just mentioned. The opportunities for service extend out into the community beyond the church body, but the focus first is on one another. When God grants a gift to a believer, God expects the gift to be used for the good of others. When the Holy Spirit demonstrates his presence in a believer, the individual Christian benefits and his brothers and sisters should benefit also.

activities / effects (6)

Paul makes an important point here in verse 6, don’t miss it! God has given a diverse collection of gifts to the local church to be used in many different kinds of service. The various acts of service will have a wide variety of results. But here is the point of the verse: it is God who produces the results. God grants the gift, God empowers the believer to use the gift, God accompanies the exercise of the gift, God produces the effects of the gift. There is no room for boasting here: it is God working through means of his choosing who accomplishes the results.

same Spirit / Lord / God responsible for directing all

God does not work against himself

Verses 4, 5, and 6 make the same point: it is all the same God who is responsible for giving gifts and producing results.

God has unified purpose throughout all time and place

Isaiah 46:9-10 Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,'”

three persons of Godhead work in concert to accomplish God’s one purpose

The Lord Jesus himself said in Mark 3:25 “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” God cannot be God and work against himself – Father, Son and Spirit are one and work together as one. That holds true for his distribution of gifts, too!

if God is one in his gifting various gifts, believers should be one in exercise of those gifts

should not be in competition – that’s a primary point of this chapter

The Lord Jesus hours before his death prayed for us: he prayed John 17:21 “that they all may be on, …that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” For us to be answers to the Lord Jesus’ prayer, brothers and sisters cannot compete in the area of spiritual gifts. They must act together for the benefit of the body and to reach the lost.

healthy local church has broad diversity of resources among its people

should recognize and value that diversity as a good gift from God

When we look at the created world, we see variety and diversity everywhere; at the end of day six of creation, God looked at what he had done and declared it “very good”. The wide range of gifts God gives to his people is also very good and necessary to a healthy church.

should not try to force everyone into same mold – that’s contrary to God’s purpose

It is true that our destiny as believers is to be conformed to the image of Christ. However, that doesn’t mean we are to all become identical. We will have a family resemblance; others should recognize us as the people of God who are divinely equipped to serve one another.

B. gifts are for the common good v.7

every believer displays outward evidence (manifestation) of the indwelling Holy Spirit

There aren’t some who have outward evidence of the indwelling Spirit and others who don’t. There is no second blessing, no higher level of Christian living evidenced by a particular spiritual gift. Notice verse 7: ” the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one“.

one sort of evidence – the fruit (evidence) identified in Gal. 5:22-23

Just like an apple tree bears apples, a cucumber vine produces cucumbers, and you find tomatoes, not peppers, on a tomato plant. In the same way, Christians display outward evidence of the indwelling Spirit’s presence. “But the fruit [the evidence] of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

another sort – talents or abilities given by God to the believer

A further evidence of the Holy Spirit’s activity in the life of the believer is the exercise of their spiritual gift – using their God-given ability for the benefit of brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.

gifts are granted with expectation that they will be used – see parable of the talents Matt. 25:14-30

These gifts are described as a “manifestation of the Spirit” – they must be exercised in order to be manifested. It is when believers use their gifts in service to others that the Holy Spirit’s presence and activity is demonstrated.

primary beneficiary of gifts – others, in particular the church

You will receive a blessing and benefit when you use your gift but only when you use it for the good of others. That is why God gave it to you, to be his hands and feet ministering to the needs of the body of Christ.

It is important to recognize God relates to people both individually and collectively – he has both the individual and the body in view. How God equips and works through the individual is for the benefit of the group. And, God works through the activity of the group for the benefit of each individual.

C. each part needs the body v.14-16

just as there is design to human body

no human body part can function independently of the body

We have a fellow in the church at White Rock who had run equipment for years and then one day he got careless. He lost most of his thumb and two fingers to a table saw. Once those parts were severed from his hand they stopped functioning; they couldn’t move on their own, they couldn’t grip anything any longer.

cannot thrive and grow independently of the body

Dale’s fingers not only ceased functioning, they could no longer grow and repair and thrive cut off from their supply of nutrients. To be healthy, they need to be attached to blood vessels and nerves so they can be fed and stimulated.

will die if separated from the body long enough

It took long enough for Dale to get medical treatment that his fingers could not be reattached. Because they were not being nourished, the tissue in them began to die. Dale’s experience was all in the physical realm but there are some pretty close parallels in the spiritual realm.

so there is parallel design to body of Christ

biblical model of church has more than one member!

All of the language the Bible uses to talk about the church makes it clear that a true church is made up of members, plural not singular. It is called an assembly, a house, a nation, living stones. Just as our physical bodies are made up of many parts, so the body of Christ is made of many parts.

God’s design is that functions carried out by other church members are essential to growth of individual

Each body part has its own function, so each part of the body of Christ has a particular function and purpose. Some parts overlap in their function, some are more essential to life and health than others. For the individual members of a local church to grow an mature the way God intends, they need what other parts of the body supply – encouragement, instruction, correction, support and help.

believer risks losing spiritual vitality (not salvation) if “going it alone” for long period of time

If a believer is separated from a local church for an extended time, they are at risk just like a body part that has been cut off. The believer cannot lose his salvation but he can lose his spiritual vitality, his spiritual liveliness. We in the body of Christ need one another.

D. the body needs each part v.18-22

yes, the appendix is useful and necessary part of our design

There are parts of the human body that doctors for a long time thought were unnecessary. They were wrong; we really don’t have spare parts.

same is true of every part of Christ’s body

We may not fully understand the purpose of each part, but that’s our problem: ignorance. If the Lord of the church has brought someone into fellowship with a local body, it is because they are needed in that church. The church needs them, each one for a purpose determined by God. Paul speaks in Eph. 4:16 of “the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies”. When parts are missing, the body is incomplete.

We also know the Holy Spirit doesn’t make mistakes in his granting of gifts to local church bodies. Our job is to trust his guidance and provision, not fully comprehend what God is doing.

some general characteristics common to all churches but with individual variation

Just as all human bodies have basically the same parts, so do local churches. Paul left Titus on the island of Crete for a specific reason: “to set in order the remaining matters and to appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5) The model from the beginning was that each church would have shepherds. There would be others as God supplied to take up the work of teaching and serving and administering and evangelizing the lost.

Just as most all humans are distinctive, so local churches are distinctive; each is fitted, specifically equipped for their particular time and place. The challenges facing residents of Ust-Kut, Siberia and Gorham, Maine while similar in some respects are in other ways quite different. Christ’s church in Ust-Kut is supplied by God with the people and resources necessary to fulfill God’s purpose for Ust-Kut. The same is true for White Rock Church in Gorham. Because our communities are different with different challenges, our churches will have some differences, too.

if an essential part is missing, health and growth of church is compromised

An essential part of the body of Christ can be present in church but missing in action. It is the duty of every Christian to be connected to a local church and involved in the work of the church. Simply being present for worship, even being a recognized member of the local church is not enough. The people of God must be involved in the work of God if Christ’s church is to be healthy and grow as it should.

One final important point: each local body of believers is an essentially complete church but it is not the whole church. The local church is dependent on Christ working through its members to supply its needs; the whole church present in the world is dependent on Christ working through local churches to supply its needs. Just as members need one another, so local churches need one another.

We’ve seen that in action in the last several weeks – our church and Christ Fellowship Church working to help meet needs at Rock of Salvation Church in Siberia, all done with the supporting prayer of several other church families. By God’s grace this will continue – God will use us here to be an encouragement and help to other parts of the body around the world. Our task: follow God’s leading, depend on his grace and strength to serve Christ by serving one another.

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