The Body of Christ
As we begin this morning I want to start by asking you a very personal question, or at least as personal as you can get in a one sided conversation in front of a group of people. How do you feel about your body? That question might not be as strange as it first sounds. Over the past 10 years the phrase “body shaming” has worked its way into our culture. According to bullyingstatistics.org, 94 per cent of females and 84 per cent of males are affected by body-shaming. And a government study in England last week found that 60 per cent of adults said they feel ‘ashamed’ of the way they look. I would imagine that most of us would rather not think about our bodies and if we do we probably don’t think very complementary things. We would say that our bodies are too fat or too skinny, too short or too tall, too bumpy or just kind of lumpy.
Those studies have a lot to do with our text for this morning. Stay with me here, Paul says that you are the Body of Christ. Look around you; each one of you makes up a part of the body of Christ. As Paul reached out to find a metaphor to adequately describe the church, the one he came back to time and time again was the comparison between the church and a body.
In Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians and Colossians Paul uses the body as a metaphor to describe what the church is like and how it grows. In doing so, he pays the church the highest compliment it will ever receive. Those of us who are familiar with the Bible tend to skip over things like that without really taking the time to think about it. We don’t usually have a good opinion of our own bodies, but Paul says that the church is the body of Christ, which is an astonishingly flexible metaphor.
In the Bible the church is compared to a vineyard, to a lamp stand, to a building, and I believe that all of those are useful. But vineyards don't do much for people living in East Alabama. Lamp stands might have worked for my great grandparents but we have electricity, and buildings are nice but the risk of equating brick and mortar with a spiritual reality is a little tough.
The image of a body is something we can all relate to. The inspired writer says that the church is a body; specifically it is the body of Christ. And that has two very powerful implications.
First: Being the body of Christ requires that we maintain a relentless focus on Christ.
I want you to take out your phone and open your photo app. One of the great things about digital photos is that you can have 10,000 pictures on your phone and unlike film, you know immediately if it is a picture you like or if it needs to be deleted. Are you at your app yet? Now swipe through those pictures, and what do you see? There are pictures of the landscape, o few of your dog or cat, a few screen shots, maybe a meme or two, but a majority of the pictures are of people that you love.
But be a bit more specific. What parts of the body did the camera focus on when the pictures were taken? Does your album contain picture after picture of people's hands? Do you have an album full of foot pictures? No, we always take pictures of faces because that's the primary location for a person's physical identity. We may have struggles with names but we usually remember faces. And that’s not lost on the writers of the Bible: Psalms 105:4 Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his face continually!
2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
The head is so much more important than a good place to hang a face. The head is the seat for all decisions. Four out of our five senses are clustered on the head: vision, hearing, smell, taste. And were it not for that marvelous, complex computer we call the brain, it wouldn't matter how many nerve endings in your fingers telling you that the iron is too hot to touch, you would burn yourself. So in a way, touch is also centered in the head.
Every movement of the body, from the involuntary blinking of an eye to an athlete's spectacular diving catch in center field, is first imagined in the brain. Every word spoken is chosen there. Every emotion we feel is first fired in the brain. So when we say that Christ is the head of the church, we are saying that He is our identity and that He is our authority.
I don’t want to rush past this point, so let’s go a little deeper. The fact that we worship by using the oldest form of music known to humanity, A Cappella singing, is not the true mark of our identity. It clearly sets us apart from most other churches, but it isn't who we are.
The fact that we perform baptism by immersion for the remission of sins is certainly important, but it isn't what identifies us.
The fact that we are autonomous, meaning we have no denominational headquarters, we are governed by a group of volunteer leaders called elders, and served by deacons is different from almost every other religious group out there but once again it is not what identifies us.
Neither is the fact that we observe communion every week, or that we fund our ministries exclusively through free-will offerings. Even the fact that we are theologically conservative, and biblically fundamental does not make us the Church of Christ.
In fact, if all those things were true about us, and we did not maintain a relentless focus on Jesus, we would not be the Church of Christ. We would be the church of A Cappella singing or the church of immersion or the church of whatever takes the place of our true source of identity. When a church loses its vision of Christ then it loses its purpose, because it fails to be the body of Christ.
There is a second implication to this idea that the church is the body of Christ. We maintain that relationships are everything.
1 Corinthians 12:25 That way there should be no division in the body; instead, all the parts mutually depend on and care for one another.
Romans 12:5 says We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.
Ephesians 4:16 says: The whole body depends on Christ, and all the parts of the body are joined and held together. Each part does its own work to make the whole body grow and be strong with love.
Paul is pretty clear that each part of the body, mutually depends on one another, belong to one another, depends on one another. If you are a member of Christ’s body you cannot help but be concerned about one another because in the body relationships are everything.
If the church were merely a business we'd have partnerships. If it were merely an army we'd have duties. If it we were modeled on some new-fangled technological paradigm, we'd have functions. If the church was just one more marketing strategy we'd hold positions.
But the church is a body, so we have relationships. Scattered all through the New Testament there are commandments and teachings about how we relate to each other. And to be honest I don’t do as well as I should, and some of you could say that with me.
So for the next several weeks we're going to take a refresher course and explore some of these passages. They all have one thing, one phrase, in common. "One another." In these texts we are taught to:
Greet one another - Romans 16:16.
Encourage one another - 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Bear one another's burdens - Galatians 6:1-2
Accept one another - Romans 15:1-7
Confront one another - Colossians 3:15-17
Confess to one another - James 5:13-18
Pray for one another - James 5:13-18
Love one another - John 13:34
That's just the tip of the iceberg; there are dozens of one another passages. God was trying to teach us that if we do not have relationships then we couldn’t be a body. A body must have community, it must be connected; if we were to separate my left hand from my body then it’s is not only useless to the body, but it will die. We understand that physically, and we need to understand it spiritually.
As we close today I want to say two things about relationships.
First, Real church growth will occur in the midst of community.
The church is a living body. God hasn't called us into an abstraction or a theory or a paradigm. He has called us into a community. There is nothing we can do that will be more effective than to love each other. As a matter of fact Jesus said I’m giving you a new commandment: Love each other in the same way that I have loved you. Everyone will know that you are my disciples because of your love for each other. (John 13:34-35)
If we are truly interested in being the Body of Christ we must fully commit to the body. And because we are part of the body of Christ our marriages will last. Our families will function in healthy ways. Our conflicts will be resolved. Our friendships will be deeper. Our commitments will be truer.
Secondly, I believe that real church growth can occur if we follow the Biblical Model.
Quickly I want to read to you some models of Church growth: Acts 2:42-47 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
Acts 4:32-35 All the believers were one in mind and heart. Selfishness was not a part of their community, for they shared everything they had with one another. The apostles gave powerful testimonies about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great measures of grace rested upon them all. Some who owned houses or land sold them and brought the proceeds before the apostles to distribute to those without. Not a single person among them was needy.
We don’t need church growth experts, we just need to live out what we read in the Bible. The early church was healthy and growing because they knew what it was to live a “one another” life.
It is a principal that can be demonstrated by a toy that Rylan used to have in his toy box. I have asked Rylan to bring it up it here and demonstrate how it works. At first you might look at it and remember when you had the same toy, or maybe you are wondering where I am going with this and what this has to do with being a healthy church. Watch what happens when Rylan holds his left hand completely still and pull with his right. Did you see what happened? Even though he only moved one part of the ball, every other part changed. That’s the principal. We need to understand that we are all affected by the things that affect the other parts of this body. Or as Paul writes in Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
People living a “One Another LifeStyle” knows that when one part of this church suffers we will all suffer with it, If one part rejoices we will all rejoice with it. That’s the Biblical Model. Church that’s what we have been called to do today. Laugh with the Body when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. That is why we take time out of our worship every week, to offer this invitation.
But we have been conditioned to use this time as a time to confess the most gross and public sins in our lives. It has only become acceptable to come forward if you have murdered someone, committed adultery, gotten pregnant, or been put in jail. And that’s a far cry from what God inspired the Apostle Paul to write, Laugh with the Body when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down.
While we were working in Atlanta we served a small congregation on the outskirts of the suburbs. We had a book where we keep a record of the Baptisms, people placing of membership, and responses that occurred. One Sunday the gentleman who kept the book noticed something very strange. In 2002 we averaged one response for every five services. But what we also found is that 70% of those people did not go to church with us.
You see we all have a God given desire to laugh with the Body when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down, but we have made the invitation something to be ashamed of. So when the desire to have someone share the load with you gets strong enough it is easier to go to the church down the road and offload some of your burden than it is to share it with the Body you are a part of. That way there is less gossip, less snickering, less questions to be answered.
I pray that Greenbrier is not that type of Church. I hope that we fully understand what is fixing to happen. I dream for a day that we will all feel free enough to laugh with the Body when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down.
That’s the opportunity afforded to you right now. What in your life is bringing you joy, do you feel free enough to share that with the Body today? What in your life is causing you pain, do you feel free enough to share that with the Body today?
Today let us take our first step into deeper community. Will you take that step with me while together we stand and sing.