The following is an unedited sermon manuscript; for an explanation of my sermon manuscripts, click here.
*Originally preached in October 2021*
Sermon Audio: You Are the Body (1 Cor 12:12-27)
What makes a church attractive? What draws people into a church the way water is drawn into a dry sponge? Could it be a church’s programs? Their aesthetic, vibe, or music? Or maybe it is gifted, relevant, and concise preaching that makes them attractive? Of course, those things are important; some more than others, but those are important. But as we walk in from the blizzard of sin and discouragement and suffering in the world, are those the things that create the warm fire that make us say, “Ah, this is what my cold soul needs.”
I can certainly think of churches that had very gifted communicators, very talented musicians, and excellent children’s programs, but something is off. There is something about the culture of the church that is cold, that leaves us feeling excluded, exhausted, even hurt. Maybe the church is very impressive in many ways, maybe they even boldly proclaim the truth of God, but something is amiss, artificial even. An attractive church is not first and foremost a church that has as many conveniences as possible, but is ultimately a church that has been set ablaze by the grace of the gospel. It is a place where God has lobbed a Molotov cocktail of gospel inside and grace has exploded everywhere, making people honest, humble, relationally open, and secure without being self-righteous. It’s a place where you feel like you can relax but be compelled to repentance and godliness; it is a place where you can have your soul be reoxygenated by the good news of Jesus.
What makes church unattractive? What causes people to spiritually stiffen when they walk into church? An unattractive church is a place where the grace of Jesus is spoken of, maybe even passionately trumpeted, but not embraced as a reality in the lives’ of the people. It is a place, “Where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance and everyone lives the deadly serious passion of envy, self importance, and resentment.” That sounds so awful because that is actually CS Lewis’ description in his Screwtape Letters of what Hell is like. I think of Diotrephes in 3 John:
I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. 10 So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. – 3 John 9-10
What do we need instead?
Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. – Rom 15:7
What is being described here is what makes a church attractive: the welcome of Jesus. Pastor Ray Ortlund has helpfully explained the distinction between “gospel doctrine” and “gospel culture.” Gospel doctrine is the content of the gospel, the message of Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross, so that sinners could be saved by grace through faith, not by works, and become a part of the family of God. “Gospel culture” is what that doctrine creates. What happens to an individual when they believe that gospel truth?
First, they are peeled down like a switch; they are humbled by the ugliness of their sin, the holiness of God, and the immensity of the grace and forgiveness that is offered them in Jesus. They know that they are here on someone else’s dime, so they don’t walk around with a swagger or sense of entitlement. Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling, is their motto.
Second, they are raised to the Heavens. While the gospel does remind us that we are sinners who are only saved by the grace of God, it also tells us that we are so loved by God that God was willing to send His own Son to die in our place. That makes us secure and stable, that keeps us from falling into weird inferiority complexes or self-loathing. We are truly loved by God.
Third, they are brought into the community of faith, the Church. It is in the church where this ecosystem of gospel culture is cultivated. It is here where we hear gospel doctrine preached, where we speak gospel doctrine to one another, and like water on a garden, that doctrine creates a culture that trumpets the grace and welcome we received from Jesus in the gospel.
There is a necessary relational consequence to the gospel—you cannot receive the welcome of Jesus and not extend that welcome to others. John explains it this way, “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen,” (1 John 4:20). If we create a culture in our church that does not mirror our doctrine of the gospel, if we are grumpy and bitter and condescending and snooty, if we are repulsed by sin out there while indifferent towards sin in here, we compromise the doctrine of the gospel. Or, as Ray Ortlund puts it, “You can unsay with your culture what you say with your doctrine.” Gospel doctrine creates gospel culture, and gospel culture helps preserve gospel doctrine.
So, today we are going to read what a church should look like that has swallowed the gospel, hook line and sinker, we will see the culture this should create.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. – 1 Cor 12:12-27
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Cor 12:12-13)
Paul uses his favorite metaphor to describe the church here: the Body. We are the body of Christ, and just as a body is composed of many distinct parts, so too is the Church. Previously, Paul had been discussing the variety of spiritual gifts God has given the Church, but emphasizes that despite the variety of gifts, they all are given by the same Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:1-11). Here, Paul is doing the same thing of emphasizing the diversity in unity, but instead of different spiritual gifts he draws attention to the different walks of life we come from: Jews or Greeks, slave or free. Despite our backgrounds, our ethnicities, cultures, socioeconomic status, education, whatever—we all have been filled with the same Holy Spirit, and all have become members of the same body.
This means that here, every blood bought, Spirit filled Christian belongs. There may be churches that create subtle walls and barriers that tell certain groups of Christians that they are unwelcome at their church, that to really belong at the church they need to fit into their little niche, be that one of age, political preference, ethnicity, education, whatever. Could you imagine in the 1st century church what the dynamic would have been with slaves and freemen being members of the same church? There would have been a massive cultural difference between Jews and Greeks, and a great temptation to create an “us” vs. “them” mentality. But since we are all filled with the same Holy Spirit and all are apart of the same body, everyone belonged.
CS Lewis, in describing the essence of friendship in his book The Four Loves does a good job of describing what the community within the church is to be like:
In a circle of true Friends each man is simply what he is: stands for nothing but himself. No one cares … about [what family he came from], profession, class, income, race, or previous history…That is the kingliness of Friendship. We meet like sovereign princes of independent states, abroad, on neutral ground, freed from our contexts.
Everyone is Needed
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? (1 Cor 12:14-17)
Self Assessment is not sufficient grounds for determining whether or not you deserve to be a part of the Body. It may be tempting to look at others and think: I am not like them, I am not as gifted as they are, I don’t belong here. Paul strongly disagrees. The diversity of the body is not a weakness, but a strength. Further, Paul understands God Himself to be sovereignly orchestrating who is in the Church:
But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Cor 12:18-20)
God has chosen who will be a part of this church. Earlier in chapter twelve Paul, speaking of the different spiritual gifts given to the church, explains: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good,” (1 Cor 12:7). There is a gift that God has given each member of this church for the purpose of the good of the Body, and God has placed each person in the body for a purpose. Therefore:
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” (1 Cor 12:21)
Back in verses 14-17 the problem was an individual looking at other people and telling themselves, “I am not like them, I don’t belong here.” Here, the dilemma is someone telling someone else, “You are not like us, you don’t belong here.” Paul says that is as ridiculous as an eye telling a hand that it is unnecessary. If one church member cannot say to the other “I have no need of you”, do you know what that means? Everyone is needed. We need each other. We simply cannot do Christianity on our own.
Perhaps, you are thinking, I can see how other people are needed here, but not me. I don’t bring anything to the table. Paul disagrees:
22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, (1 Cor 12:22-23).
Are you tempted to think you are so weak that you are dragging others down? Do you wonder what would happen if you were honest with others about your needs, about your suffering, about your sin-struggles? Are you afraid that your burdens are simply too heavy and think that perhaps you would help everyone else out by quietly walking away from the church? Paul says, “Don’t think that for one minute—the weakest member in this church is the most necessary; you are indispensable.”
Charles Spurgeon, one of the most famous and effective preachers who has ever lived, struggled his entire life with depression. In one sermon titled “The Tenderness of Jesus,” Spurgeon opened with:
This morning, being myself more than usually compassed with infirmities, I desire to speak, as a weak and suffering preacher, of that High Priest who is full of compassion: and my longing is that any who are low in spirit, faint, despondent, and even out of the way, may take heart to approach the Lord Jesus. . . .
. . . Jesus is touched, not with a feeling of your strength, but of your infirmity. Down here, poor, feeble nothings affect the heart of their great High Priest on high, who is crowned with glory and honor. As the mother feels with the weakness of her babe, so does Jesus feel with the poorest, saddest, and weakest of his chosen.
Now, imagine if Spurgeon had never struggled with depression, or imagine that he lacked the courage to be honest with the rest of the church about his struggle—the church would not have been able to receive the gift of this kind of encouragement. There would be an aspect of the tenderness of Jesus that they would have been blind to. But because Spurgeon was willing to be weak, He pointed the rest of the church to their gentle Savior who could bear them up in their own weakness. Friend, your weakness could be the very thing this church needs to see Jesus in a way that we have been blind to.
Everyone is Honored
But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Cor 12:24-26)
So far Paul has been talking about how necessary the different parts of the body are, and it might be tempting to assume that what Paul has in mind here is a utilitarian argument: the body will be more effective to accomplish its tasks when each member is functioning properly. If your body is missing its hand or foot, it will be less effective. But this isn’t where Paul lands the plane; he doesn’t make an argument about how the Body will be more effective at making disciples or converting the lost or solving problems of injustice or whatever. He doesn’t end in a utilitarian conclusion, but an emotional and relational one. Why has God composed the Body the way He has? “So that the members may have the same care for one another.” To the degree that, “when one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”
This is the intention behind God’s sovereign composition of the Body; that we be so interwoven relationally that we hurt when one of us hurts, and we rejoice when one of us rejoices. What kind of assumptions is this vision of the Body making about the nature of relationships between the members of the church? It is certainly picturing more than the casual, polite relationships which keep other people at arm’s length except for small talk on Sunday mornings.
So, how can we grow in our efforts of trying to cultivate this kind of culture in our church?
1. You can pray. Pray regularly that the Lord would help us in our efforts to create the “welcome of Jesus” in our church. Prioritize coming to our Discipleship Classes where we pray for one another. Use our church membership directory to pray through the names of the other people in our church. It is difficult to remain relationally distant from someone you are regularly praying for.
2. You can practice hospitality. Open up your home to the other members of the church. Go out for lunch after church. Meet regularly for small group. Use our membership directory as a way of finding members of our church that you don’t know very well and have them over for a meal.
3. Lastly, friends you can simply lean in to this vision of church. As you consider how to spend your time and energy each week, what hobbies you spend your time on, what extracurricular activities you sign your family up for, what you do with your weekends—consider leaning in to the community God has given you in the church. Spend the necessary time to invest relationally in the Body so that we can help cultivate the necessary connections to care for one another, to rejoice with one another, to weep with one another.