One Body, Many Parts
1 Corinthians 12:12 – 27
One Body Many Parts
A surprising metaphor
I’m sure you’ve heard this joke, but I’ll tell it anyway, why didn’t the skeleton go to the ball?
Because he had no body to dance with!
The body’s a funny thing isn’t it?!
I thought we’d start with a few jokes that remind us of that, as we look at this body metaphor in 1 Corinthians.
Why can’t your nose grow to 12 inches long?
Because then it would be a foot!
Doctor, doctor, I can't stop pulling ugly faces.
That's not a serious problem.
Yes, but people with ugly faces don't like it.
Doctor, doctor, I keep seeing purple and yellow spots.
Have you seen an optometrist?
No - just purple and yellow spots.
The body, it’s a surprising metaphor for the church, isn’t it?
If it was up to you, to come up with a picture, that communicated something of the nature and function of the church, I wonder what you might come up with.
No doubt it would be shaped by your own experiences of church, good and bad,
Where you think where you fit within the church.
I don’t know what you’d come up with, but this picture, the body of Christ, is probably the most famous metaphor ever used, to describe the church.
And so as we celebrate 2 years of meeting together as the body of Christ here, this is a good chance for us to a bit of a body health check.
And if you’re new with us this morning, or if you’re interested in finding out about Christianity, you can have a listen and see if this describes a community that you’d like to be a part of.
The Apostle Paul, one of the leaders of the early church, wrote to Christians in the city of Corinth in the first Century AD, and he said, The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.
And it’s simple enough, isn’t it? Just as the human body has limbs and organs, and fingers and toes, which, despite all their differences make up one body, so it is with Christ’s body, the church.
But as I said, when you think about it, it’s a surprising comparison.
Take a group of people,
People naturally selfish, and concerned for their own needs…
People from different backgrounds,
People with different life experiences,
People with different gifts and abilities,
Some who struggle with this sin,
Some who struggle with that sin,
Some who have these particular physical needs,
And others who have no such need,
Lump all these people together in the church,
And call it, the body of Christ!
It is remarkable isn’t it?!
Or take a church in Littlehampton,
Over two years plug close to 200 people into it!
People with great jobs,
People who would do anything to get a job,
People who have grown up in church,
People who have never been in a church before this one.
People whose gifts are obvious,
People who have no idea how they can serve others,
And call that the body of Christ,
It should make us ask, “how can that be?”
How can you draw a metaphor, that takes a group of people like that, and not only unites them, but intimately associates them with Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
These people are the body of Christ.
That should be .. well, impossible!
Membership of the body is a spiritual work
But Paul tells us exactly how it comes about.
Verse 13, For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
The “body of Christ” is an appropriate description for the church, only because of the work of God.
Verse 13 is all about people coming to faith in Jesus, it’s what this baptised by one Spirit means.
How can Jews and Gentiles .. who basically hated each other, or slaves and free people, enjoy this kind of unity, well because what’s important is not whether they’re a Jew or a Gentile, but the fact that they’ve become God’s people, baptised by one Spirit.
When people trust that Jesus’ death is enough for their rebellion against God to be forgiven, They get a new identity, that makes any divisions based on their old identity meaningless.
Some of you will remember Year 12,
Some of you are in year 12,
Some of you are still .. looking forward to year 12, and I use that term loosely, but I remember it!
And I remember after year 12, when the results came out, I was friends with lots of really smart people, they were all asking each other, “How many 20s did you get?” 20 being a perfect score for a subject.
And I didn’t get any 20s, and sometimes it felt like there was 2 groups of people, those who got perfect scores and those who didn’t.
And then we went off to university, and do you know what happened? Getting a 20 in year 12, for maths, or whatever, counted for absolutely nothing at university.
You still had to do the same assignments as everybody else,
You still had to learn the same stuff.
The perfect score people had to sit in the same classes as the rest of us.
As soon as we walked into that first lecture, everything that had come before counted for nothing, and they only thing that mattered was that you were a Health Sciences undergrad.
That’s what determined what classes you sat in,
What you were taught,
How you filled your time.
we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink
Sometimes people say that .. here Paul is speaking about some spiritual experience that might happen after someone becomes a Christian, what you might have heard called second baptism .. or second blessing.
But that’s actually the complete opposite of Paul’s argument here.
He saying this work of the Spirit isn’t something special that’s happened to a few of you, this is what’s happened to every one of you when you came to faith.
And you were placed by the Spirit of God in the body of Christ, and you stopped being just an individual, but an interdependent member,
An organ that depends on other organs,
A limb that needs other limbs to help it function.
This spiritual change is God’s work.
And this extraordinary analogy, can only make sense of the church, because that spiritual work has been done in us by God.
And so having explained how the body comes about, Paul speaks in verses 14 to 19 about the diversity that exists in the body, and then in 21 - 26 he shows us something of the unity of the church.
But it’s not a case of unity in diversity, and diversity in unity, and sometimes there’s a bit more unity,
And other times there’s a bit more diversity, and as long as they’re more or less in equal parts, it doesn’t matter.
No, in the body of Christ, the unity, shapes the diversity,
The unity, what we’ve just been seeing, the work of the Spirit of God,
The shared faith in Christ, and belonging to Christ, make sense of the diversity and bring order to the diversity.
Diversity vs the error of “I don’t belong”
And I’m sure, if you’ve been part of the church for a while, you can recall, or at least imagine, the situation that Paul points to here: One member of the church saying, “well I’m not like that person, so I’m obviously not really important.
I can’t do the things that that other person can do, so I don’t really belong here.”
But Paul shows just how far off the mark that kind of thinking is.
Look at verse 15, 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. , . 16 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.
Can you imagine a foot, thinking, “gee the hands get all the action.
They get to pick up food,
Feel nice, soft things,
They get to hold hands with people,
Being a foot just .. stinks!”
And then you wake up one day to discover that your foot has fulfilled its life-long dream, and has transformed itself into a hand!
So know you’ve got 3 hands and one foot!
And you can play the piano really well,
But you can’t put your shoes on.
But did you notice here in Paul’s rhetorical question, the foot doesn’t actually say, “I want to be a hand”, It just says “Because I
I’m not a hand, I don’t belong.”
Do you remember Aron Ralston, the rock climber who got trapped in a canyon in Utah in 2003, and he had to amputate his right hand with a pocket knife in order to get free?
Paul says, what happens when we start thinking this way, is that the hand amputates itself.
I’m not like these people.
Out comes the pocket knife, and off I go!
What does that do to the body?
And .. what does that do to the hand?
Araon Ralston, he’s still alive, missing a hand.
But his hand has presumably rotted away to nothing somewhere in the Utah desert.
Imagine how destructive that would be in the body of Christ.
God has arranged the body the way he wants
See, not only for the sake of the body, but also for the sake of the individual members, the idea of someone saying, because I’m not like that person or that person, I don’t belong here, shows we’ve completely missed the point, that God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
See if you believe that, when it comes to humans, God created us to look, more or less like this .. I’m not saying I’m a prime specimen or anything, but if this is how God made us, then we know that the position and function of each part of our body is determined not by the part itself, but by God.
So, in the church, the position and function of each member, is decided not by the member itself, but by God, as he distributes gifts, and equips people according to his pleasure and purposes.
And you see there in verse 17, Paul says, God’s distribution of members and gifts, works. 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?
Imagine trying to tie up your shoelaces, if all the body was just big toes!
Imagine if all we were was just an eye, one massive eye! We could wink at people, and nothing else!
Just an eye?, that’s not a body! That’s a monster!
That’s Frankenstein gone wrong!
And you know sometimes I think, “gee I wish everyone was more like me!”
I don’t think that here, with all you lovely people, but you know, sometimes my mind goes there!
But imagine if there were 200 me’s around?!
I’d be superfluous, wouldn’t I?!!
To say nothing of all the other problems 200 Claytons would create!
A church that is 200 people just like me, is just as much a monster, as a body that is one huge eye.
Disastrous, to want to amputate yourself from the body in which God has placed you, because you’re not like someone else,
Or because you’re not gifted in the ways that they are.
Of course, the error here is by no means limited to the person who thinks they’re different and so don’t belong.
What’s happened is the church has seen some members as more important than others.
That was the church in Corinth,
That could easily become the church in Littlehampton.
Do we treat people differently based on their visibility in our church community or their apparent giftedness?
When we’re talking to someone over tea and coffee, are we looking past them, to the people we’d rather be speaking to?
In God’s kindness, I don’t think this is a major issue for us.
I often hear from people, about how genuinely welcomed and cared for they feel,
That people don’t feel valued based on their gifts or the visibility of their contribution to our life together.
But we still need to be on our guard.
How terrible it would be, if we made some members of the body of Christ .. here, feel like this,
That they don’t belong.
Like they’d be better off amputated.
Unity vs the error of “They don’t belong”
Paul then shifts from thinking about diversity, to unity.
And if the error that he was just trying to address was .. “I don’t belong”, now he’s got his sights .. set on, someone in the church saying, “well they don’t belong.”
Read with me from verse 21 if you will, 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!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, etc etc.
Again, Paul uses this fanciful image of a body part that can speak, and like our body jokes at the beginning, it’s just so silly to think of a body like that, .. but how come we could let it happen in the church?
See it’s easy to start feeling superior, because of our gifts,
Because of our roles,
Because of how God might be using us,
And a sense of superiority becomes a sense of self-sufficiency.
There was a Roman historian called Livy, who wrote about the first of the Roman Secessions when the Plebs, that’s actually what they were called, I’m not being rude!, the Plebs literally walked out of the city of Rome, because they thought that the members of the aristocracy were getting a free ride, while they themselves did all the work. So they just up and left, and of course the Roman elites didn’t know how to do anything for themselves and so the whole city shut down,
And Livy records a Roman Consul named Menenius Agrippa trying to convince some soldiers to get back to work, and so he tells them a story about a body, in which the various body parts thought the stomach wasn’t making enough of a contribution, and so those other body parts decided the stomach didn’t belong, and they were going to stop nourishing the stomach.
Soon of course, all the body parts found themselves unable to function, and they realised that stomach was making a contribution to the body, and they desperately needed it.
In the human body there’s a mutual dependence of the various parts, isn’t there?
Each part contributes to other parts, the other parts contribute to it.
Same thing in the church, each member is dependent on others.
The gifts and contribution of one member are not the benefit of that member alone, but for the building up of the whole church.
You see Paul’s got his eye on the Christian who says, “What can that person offer?
I guess it takes all types, but they’re not doing anything for me.”
If that’s what you think, Paul says, you don’t understand how the body works. The benefit of other people’s gifts are not just for the body, but for each member in the body!
See verse 21? They eye cannot say to the hand, the body has no need of you?
No! The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!”
It’s the eye who needs the hand, just as much as the body needs the hand.
When you look at the people in our church,
From all kinds of backgrounds,
Of all ages and stages of life,
With all different kinds of gifts,
I hope, when you see these people, that you thank God for their contribution to our church life,
But I hope also from these verses, that you can thank God for their contribution to you…
To your Christian life,
To your growing and being built up.
And it’s not just those with obvious or spectacular or “important” gifts, who serve us and build up each member, it’s also the seemingly weaker members.
If you thought verses 22 – 24 were a little odd, you’re right, because Paul’s talking about euphemistically about genitals.
Some parts of the body, you don’t show them off!
They’re not very presentable!
But just for a moment, imagine how you’d get by without them?
Imagine if .. from this moment on, you could never go to the toilet again!
All the other parts of your body, and your body as a unit would suffer, if you didn’t have this .. “less honourable” part of your body.
That first error, “I don’t belong”, is most likely made by people whose gifts and roles are not public, and up front, and not very visible.
This error, “they don’t belong”, is a greater trap for those among us whose service is visible,
Whose gifts are spectacular, the ones we say, “wow look at that them.”
This is a trap for those of us who hold formal roles,
People who lead the various ministry areas of our church.
And as we grow to two Sunday morning gatherings in April, and we create more leadership roles, and there’s more people involved in up-front public ministry, and exercising leadership among us, we will need to carefully guard against this.
And if you’re someone who’s asked to step up into a more public leadership role, I really hope and pray that you’ll agree to serve us in that way, and I pray that you will guard your heart against this.
And will you pray that I will guard my heart against this?
The preacher cannot say to the chair putter-outer-person, I don’t need you!
And did you notice that the unity which God established has a purpose, pick it up with me in the middle of verse 24, but God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25so that, there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Kathy and I have just started watching this TV show called Revenge. I don’t know what I think of it yet, but I’m watching it for theological research purposes!
So far, what I’ve been able to determine, is that it’s about a community, in which there are the haves, and the have-nots. Some of the wealthiest people in the country, and people who can’t keep their businesses open.
That was Corinth, that was the church in Corinth, the people who Paul’s writing to.
They were so divided,
That when they shared in the Lords’ supper, well they didn’t share in it at all.
Some people had so much they got drunk, and others were literally starving.
The body can never be like that.
The church can never be like that.
God’s purpose in uniting the members of the church
God’s goal, his purpose, in combining, verse 24, the members of the church the way he has, is that there should be no division, but that every member should be equally concerned about every other member.
Now, by sheer factor of size, that’s hard, it’s hard to be concerned about every other person here on a Sunday.
That’s one of the advantages we’ll face as we grow to two. At least for a time, our immediate church family, will be a slightly smaller group and we’ll be able to better care for those around us. And maybe if we make the most of that time when we are in slightly smaller gatherings, we’ll be better placed to keep doing that as .. under God, we continue to grow.
But I don’t think the point is you have to demonstrate your care in exactly the same way to every single person,
If you took a meal to the Fopps when Abby was born, do you have to take a meal to every other family in the church, every time a baby’s born?
I don’t think so.
I think the point is you don’t take meal to the Fopps because you think they’re anything special…
That you want the pastor to think well of you or something.
But if there’s a need that you become aware of, and you’re able to do something about it, for someone who maybe doesn’t have the up front role,
Do it for them too!
And one of the ways that this concern is demonstrated, is in this great picture of suffering together and rejoicing together.
Poor old Matt Pearce had a knee reconstruction a few weeks ago.
I gather, that’s a painful experience!
How do you reckon Matt would describe the pain in his knee,
Or if any of us have a pain, how do we talk about it?
Do we say, “My knee has a pain”?
No, we don’t do we? We say “I’ve got a pain”
I’m in pain.
We recognise the unity of the body, when one part suffers, the whole body suffers.
If I’ve got a sore knee, it’s not my knee that lays awake at night, tossing and turning while the rest of my body sleeps soundly!
If I’ve got a pain like that, my whole body suffers.
Actually there are some people who do talk like that, though, aren’t there?
That’s how little kids talk. My knee has a pain.
It’s a mark of immaturity and a lack of understanding to speak like that of the human body.
See again, unity in Christ, shapes the diversity.
Because of our unity, because of our shared identity, we suffer together, and we rejoice together.
Think of the last 2 years of our church life, or whatever part of that you might have been here for.
We rejoiced in the launch of a church,
We rejoiced with the Klein family in Tanzania, who started there the same time we started here.
We rejoiced as babies were born,
As couples were married,
As people came to faith in Jesus, and came back to Jesus.
And we mourned together, as people we loved passed away.
We prayed desperately that others we know would be healed.
We’ve wept as family and friends continue to walk a path away from Christ and away from God,
We’ve felt the pain of couples losing unborn babies, and those unable to conceive.
Friends we have lived this life together.
The remarkable picture of the body of Christ, has been the story of this community, these past 2 years, and it’s my prayer that in our 3rd year and beyond, this will continue to be our story.
Martin Luther, German pastor from the 16th Century once wrote: The sun does not say that it is black. The tree does not say, “I bear no apples, pears, or grapes.”
That is not humility, but if you have gifts you should say, “These gifts are from God; I did not confer them upon myself. One should not be puffed up on their account.
If someone else does not have the gifts I have, then he has others. If I exalt my gifts and despise another’s, that is pride.”
The sun does not vaunt himself, though more fair than the earth and the trees, but says, “Although tree, you do not shine, I will not despise you, for you are green and I will help you to be green.”
Isn’t that great?!
Friends, my prayer, and my promise to you, as we launch into this 3rd year that God has kindly given us together, is this:
If you’re a tree, I’ll help you be green.
If you’re a sun, I’ll help you shine.
Whatever it is that God has gifted you to do for the building up of this body and each member within the body, Please let me help you.
Let me suffer with you,
And rejoice with you,
And will you do that with me?
And will you do that with each other?