Rethinking the Church
Rethinking the Church - Part 1
The Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:1-27)
Welcome to Christ’s Community Church. This morning we’re beginning our new series entitled “Rethinking the Church.” And my goal with this series is to re-inspire you, the church, giving you the inspiration, the vision, or the revelation of what God would have for you individually and for us together as the church in 2017. You see, if we approach this year with the wrong attitude and without that revelation from God, it’s not going to be that exciting, purposeful, spiritual journey that God intended for it to be. But if we approach this New Year with a passion for what God wants to do through us, being filled with the Holy Spirit, then God, whose ways are higher than our ways, will prepare the way so that we can walk in the fullness of life. And so today as we begin, we’re going to look at first Corinthians chapter 12, as Paul is talking about the ministry of the Holy Spirit and how he works through us, in our church, as we’re working together for his kingdom purposes. Here’s what the apostle Paul said beginning at verse one…
“Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus be cursed," and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:1-3).
You see, it’s the Holy Spirit who transforms life from black and white to living color, from low resolution to high definition, from random and chaotic to purposeful and meaningful, and so Paul is saying, “I don’t want you to be without knowledge of the spiritual gifts.” This is important, and I believe when it comes to the subject of Rethinking the Church, if we want to be effective, if we want to be purposeful, and if we want to be a powerful church for the kingdom of Christ, we need to embrace the gifts and the power of the Holy Spirit today more than ever.
Bill Bright, founder of campus Crusade for Christ, once said, “If there were only one truth I could share with the Christian world, it would be “How to be filled with the Holy Spirit,” for there is no single truth that is more important to the believer.”
And yet one of the great tragedies of this age is that the Church in general has become complacent, having a form of godliness, but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:5). It’s as if many people these days have the attitude “If I can’t see it, I don’t believe it.” And so you have many people in churches around America who are focused on the material world instead of the spiritual world; and it’s as if they’re practical atheists, because they’ve denied the Spirit that gives them true life, they don’t have a spiritual pulse, and they’re spiritually dead. For us today to be who Christ calls us to be, we need to embrace the Holy Spirit, we need to learn from him, and allow him to work in our lives.
Now when the apostle was writing this letter to the Corinthian church, it was 20 years after Jesus had told his disciples in Acts chapter 1, "Wait for the gift my Father promised… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…” (Acts 1:4-5, 8). And it’s recorded in the second chapter of Acts that after the believers waited, they gathered together waiting and praying for a week and a half, and the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, enabling all the believers to do supernatural works.
Acts chapter 19 tells us, that God enabled Paul to do “extraordinary miracles, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them” (Acts 19:11-12).
And you remember Peter, who denied Jesus three times, yet Jesus restored him and the Holy Spirit empowered him to preach boldly. Acts chapter 2, verse 41 says, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”
Sometime later one of the disciples died and so they sent for Peter. Acts chapter 9 tells us, when he arrived he got down on his knees, prayed, and said to her “Tabitha get up.” She opened her eyes, and Peter took her by the hand, helping her to her feet, and he presented her to the believers alive from the dead. “This became known all over Joppa,” and the Bible says because of this, “Many people believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:36-42).
As we’re Rethinking the Church I want you to consider where is that power? What happened to the Church in America? Paul says, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:4). It’s his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20). You see, today if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit will not only give life to your mortal bodies, but he’ll also empower you to minister to others and to make a difference in this world. Our God is the same yesterday, today, and forever” and our God can and does still heal and perform miracles, because one of the cool things about being God is that you get to do whatever you want (Hebrews 13:8). Isn’t that a good definition of what it means to be God?
That’s what the psalmist said in Psalm 115, “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him” (Psalms 115:3). And so he can do miracles, he can heal, he can raise the dead, because he can do whatever he wants. That’s why we join together with the psalmist and praise him saying, “I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, O Sovereign Lord” (Psalms 71:16).
The apostle Paul says to the Church, “I don’t want you to be without knowledge” and he continues teaching on the Holy Spirit in verse four,
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).
He describes the fullness of God here; notice that it’s the same Spirit, the same Lord, and the same God who works in all men for the common good. And so God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are involved in the giving, the administration, and the application of spiritual gifts. And each believer receives a spiritual gift, each gift is useful for the kingdom of God, and is to be used to build up the body of Christ and to further the proclamation of the gospel. So the apostle Paul says, “About spiritual gifts, I don’t want you to be ignorant!” And then he goes on in verse eight to describe some of the gifts that God has for the members of the church…
“To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines” (1 Corinthians 12:8-11).
So Paul lists these nine gifts, not that these are the only ones, but they’re just examples of some of the spiritual gifts, manifestations of the Holy Spirit given to each of us to serve others, so that the church would be built up, it would be encouraged, and that we could be who God has called us to be. You see we’re all in this thing together and we each have our own part to play. If you’re a Christian and you call this church your home every one of you is here by divine appointment from God. If we’re going to be effective, each one of us needs to get plugged in, finding our place to serve so that others would be blessed and that you’re blessed as we work together for the common good.
You see God has given each one of us a gift, a specific unique gift to use for his kingdom, and the Bible tells us in first Peter chapter 4…
“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 4:10-11).
Today as we’re Rethinking the Church, we need to begin by seeking the Holy Spirit, receiving our gifts, and whatever that gift is, using it passionately. To begin thinking outside of the box, outside of ourselves, and to realize that the church is not just a building, it’s not just a place or an event, but it really and truly is in its essence, a body of people living their lives together with Jesus Christ at the very center. And it’s Jesus here as Lord, God, and Savior, he’s the one who’s connecting us together, he’s the one that’s changing lives, and he’s the one empowering us and working through each of us so that we’re blessed and more people get to meet him.
When we speak of Rethinking the Church, we’re speaking of a community of people doing life together around the person and the work of Jesus Christ. Paul says it this way in verse 12,
“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body” (1 Corinthians 12:12).
That’s us! You and I are that one body, we’re unified around the gospel, coming together with one purpose, and as we’re empowered and gifted by the Holy Spirit, we’re the hands and feet of Jesus here in Emmitsburg. This is an amazingly appropriate analogy that God uses, because it’s cross-cultural, it spans every age, and it always works.
As parents, one of the first things you teach your children is their body parts. Where’s your nose? Where’s your eye? And so, we teach our kids the body parts, and Paul uses the analogy of the body, because it’s familiar to everybody everywhere.
He says that the church is a body, and his point is that everyone has to be working together just like the parts in a body. He’s talking about everyone, whether a finger, a toe, an arm, leg, ear, eye, or nose; they are all different members, different parts of the body. As we come into a relationship with Christ, and are filled with the Holy Spirit, we’re invited to become active functioning parts of the body of Christ. Together, as his body, we’re doing the ministry of Jesus in our community, and that really describes our mission doesn’t?
You know, if you have a bulletin, open it up and read what it says there in the left column.
“We are reaching, connecting, and equipping people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ!”
So each of us, as members, as parts of the body of Christ, we have the privilege of owning the mission of Christ’s Church and contributing our gifts and our abilities as we serve together, working with our brothers and sisters for the forward progress of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s what the Bible is describing. We are all in this together. Verse 13 says,
“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” (1 Corinthians 12:13).
Again, this is the work of the Spirit. He’s not talking about water baptism. This is the work of regeneration, of being born again, as the Holy Spirit opens your heart to the message of the cross. It’s that moment when you receive Jesus Christ by faith; dead, buried, and raised again for your sins, and he connects you to God. When that’s happened in you, the Holy Spirit is the evidence that you have been spiritually connected to God as your Father, the Church as your family, and every member as your brothers and sisters. This is all done by the work of the Spirit.
You see, it’s the Holy Spirit that does the work of regeneration, of making you a new creation. It’s the Holy Spirit that gives us spiritual gifts, that empowers us for ministry, and keeps us focused on the mission of Jesus. And it’s all God’s grace, because even though we all have different experiences, come from different backgrounds, and have different abilities, the Holy Spirit has a job he wants each of us to do in the church. Here’s how Paul describes it in verse 14…
“Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 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. 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. 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?” (1 Corinthians 12:14-17).
Here I think that God the Holy Spirit speaking through Paul is making a joke. It would be like looking at the person next to you and saying, “We’re different, so I’m leaving!” But that’s silly, isn’t it? You know, the hand, the foot, and the mouth all need each other. And I’m not talking about the disease, but try walking to the refrigerator, reaching in for a snack, and eating it without one of those other members of the body. They’re a team, and in the same way we need each other, and without one another we would be incomplete. And so it’s a little joke and Paul goes on in verse 18 saying,
“But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (1 Corinthians 12:18).
Again, we find that this is a work of God. He has put the Church, the body of Christ, together just as he put our bodies together. Job described it this way,
“Did you not…clothe me with skin and flesh and knit me together with bones and sinews? (Job 10:10-11).
Even David said of God,
“You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb” (Psalms 139:13).
But still we’re tempted to say, “I know I’m a foot, but I sure wish I was a hand.” You know it’s like,
“I know I’m a teacher, but I sure wish I could play on the worship team.”
“I love kids, but I really wish I could be the lead pastor.”
But the Bible says, God has arranged the parts in the body just as he wanted them to be, and so we need to rejoice in our calling, to work at it with excellence, knowing that God has decided what you would be and where you would be, because he needs you there. Look at verse 19 with me,
“If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 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!" (1 Corinthians 12:19-21).
You see, each one is needed, every gift is needed. All of your experiences, both the men and the women, the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the single and the married, we need everybody. We need all of your backgrounds, all of your experiences, all of your giftedness, because that makes us a better church and allows us to love and serve more people better. We should never look down upon ourselves, or any other, because God has decided what you would be, where you would fit, and so you’re needed. Each member of the body is of great worth. There is not one that is not needed. Paul continues in verse 22 saying,
“On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:22-27).
If we could grasp the importance of this, not diminishing the value of ourselves or of any other one of us, but realizing that God himself has set each one of us in this place; in this church, because as the Bible tells us in Psalms chapter 92, those who are,
“Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish…” (Psalms 92:13).
This is not those who are uncommitted, not those who attend from time to time, but those that are planted, those that have let their roots grow down deep in the church, into the body of Christ. These are those of the psalmist describes this one in chapter 1,
“He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers” (Psalms 1:3).
Today, we have the potential to be a great and positive influence on this community. We have the opportunity for this church to grow and to be more effective in 2017. And God’s plan is that we would flourish here, that the church would have so much momentum, so much strength that the gates of hell wouldn’t prevail against it. If we could just grab hold of that, if we could just understand, that God has placed us here to flourish and prosper. If we could just take ownership of that, we wouldn’t need to run around aimlessly, we wouldn’t find ourselves frustrated and looking for affirmation, because we’d know that God has a plan, he’s got a purpose for each one of us, and he’s placed us in his house just where he wanted us to be.
God has arranged each part in the body just as he wants them to be. He has set you in his house, to advance the kingdom of God, and to bring glory to Jesus. And so whether you’re working in the nursery, praying, teaching, cleaning, or caring, your goal and your motivation is to point everyone to the head, to the Lord Jesus Christ. When the body is functioning properly, all the members are working together to give glory to God.
This morning, God is preparing you for the very thing he’s already prepared for you. He’s actually doing something within you now so that he can do something greater through you tomorrow. He’s preparing you. Don’t diminish the value of your gift or the place you’re in today. As you do your part, you are a revelation of God to the world.
Here’s what I’m talking about: God has given us the spiritual gifts to use to help our world know him. You see, Jesus came and served people, he goes to the cross, suffers and dies in our place for our sins, rises again to take away sin, to give us his righteousness, and to impart to us the Holy Spirit. But before he ascended into heaven, he promised more of the Holy Spirit, he promised power to witness, to love, and to serve. The power is there, the Holy Spirit does all these things, but only if we let him. He won’t invade our lives. Just like Jesus, the Holy Spirit waits for an invitation. Will you ask Jesus today to fill you with the Holy Spirit so that you can use the gifts he’s given you to build up others and to glorify God?