The Body of Christ

Ephesians 1:18-23

We have lived through four months of this new year, and I would like to ask you a 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’s not really a strange question; Four months ago many of us made the decision that we were going to work on some things. We were going to eat better, get more sleep and exercise, and try to live better lives. So four months later how are you doing?

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 too bald.

That’s what’s kind of strange about the text that was read to us this morning. 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 of Jesus Christ 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, the original theologian of the church; 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, so we just press ahead in the text. 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 Southeast Texas. Lamp stands might have worked when this church was down on 10th street, 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 mentally go to the shelf or the table or the bookcase where you keep your family albums. There yet? Open one of the albums. What do you see? Pictures of loved ones, right? Be 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 shots of the head and face. Why? Because that's the primary location for a person's physical identity. We may have struggles with names but we usually do pretty good at remembering faces.

The Bible knows how important faces are.

Psalms 105:4 Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence (or 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 important because it is the primary location of identity, but not just because it's a good place to hang a face. The head is the seat for all decisions. Have you realized that 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 were sending the signal that the iron is too hot to touch. There would be no central processing system to decode and interpret those messages. So in a way, touch, too, is 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. Let’s go a little deeper here for a minute. 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, we fund our ministries exclusively through free-will offerings, we are theologically conservative, and biblically fundamental. You see none of these reasons 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.

There are a lot of church growth books out there. The problem with a lot of those books is that they tend to focus on savvy marketing, careful demographic studies, or brilliantly applied business strategies to grow a huge, shiny church. You know that you can grow a big church that fails to maintain its focus on Christ. When a church looses its vision of Christ then it looses it’s purpose, because it fails to be the body of Christ.

The second implication to this idea that the church is the body of Christ is that relationships are everything.

1 Corinthians 12:25 says that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 

Romans 12:5 says so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 

Ephesians 4:16 says: from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Did you notice what Paul said, builds itself up in love, you belong to each other, care for one another. As members of the same body we cannot help but be concerned about each other. When we remember that the church is the body of Christ we realize that 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." They are called the one another passages. In these texts we are taught to:   

Romans 16:16 -- Greet one another.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 -- Encourage one another

Galatians 6:1 - 2 -- Bear one another's burdens

Romans 15:1 - 7 -- Accept one another

Colossians 3:15 - 17 -- Admonish (confront) one another

James 5:13 - 18 -- Confess to one another

James 5:13 - 18 -- Pray for one another

John 13:34 -- Love one another

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 an organization. But it is more than that. We are a body. An organism. 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.

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 2:41-47 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Acts 4:32-35 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

I believe that the precedent that our first century brethren set for us is the real key to church health, and Body Growth. It is a principal that can be demonstrated by this toy that I recently found.

Look at this ball. I don't know what you call it but I got it out of Rylan’s toy box. You can do all kinds of things with it. In a very powerful way this toy represents the church. I'm going to hold my left hand completely still and pull with my right. Did you see what happened? Even though I 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. 

We are told that is 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 to write, Laugh with the Body when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. 

While we were working in Atlanta we actually served a small congregation on the outskirts of the suburbs.  We began to keep a record of the Baptisms, placing of membership, and responses that occurred and we 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, down the way 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 Park Central 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 close 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.


Questions To Consider

Paul calls us the “Body of Christ” in 1 Corinthians 12. He says that there are stronger and weaker, presentable and less honorable parts.

What would you consider to be a weaker part of the Body of Christ?

What would you consider a stronger part?

What is a part that you would consider less honorable?

Is there any reason for a part of the body to feel insignificant?

In what ways are we part of the same body?

How does Paul feel that we can avoid divisions in the church?

How can we seek greater gifts?

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