Sunday Sermon 1 November 2015 – As Each Part Does Its Work

Readings:  1Co 12:1-27; 1 Php 1:1-11; Mat 5:21-26; Eph 4:15-16

 

Message

Eph 4:15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. Eph 4:16  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

It’s been a hectic couple of months. When you make a commitment to something – like a major event, a 50th party, a wedding, a conference – there’s no telling how things will work. The risks are the same as a simpler event.

The most risky events are like concerts (we had a great one on Sunday night). There’s the great story of the award given by a choir to the pianist for her faithfulness through the year at every practice – this was the last one before the Christmas concert. The old dear was still a great pianist – but sometimes not with it at all. “Thanks so much” she said. “It was a great idea to give this to me tonight – I can’t make the concert after all! Something’s come up!”.

She might be one of those people with the headstone on her grave: “great life, but missed the point”. One has to end well – endure to the end! (Matthew 24:13 may apply in the broader sense.)

Have you missed the point of church life?

It was still very noticeable to me – despite the wonderful attendance of people over the Jubilee weekend (there were lots of options) – that some people were just not to be seen. Of course leaving the country is probably a valid reason. 🙂 And it was a long weekend.

Of course the same can be said of today. One colleague said to me this week that he will be very pleased when the World Cup is over. Maybe people will get back to church!

The good news is that the work goes on!

Paul – writing to the Ephesians in a seminal passage – a key descriptor of the Christian church which we looked at last week when considering how we grow to maturity as we move forward on our faith journey – how we grow to be like Christ and into Christ – writes this:

Eph 4:15  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. Eph 4:16  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Pardon me if I am losing the plot here – but those last 6 words seem rather succinct. Clear. Unconfused. Simple.

As each part does its work. You can almost count those words on one hand (you could if you were Jim Carey in the movie “Bruce Almighty!) As each part does its work!

The analogy of a human body – the extended metaphor Paul uses – appears in 1 Corinthians 12 as well as we heard today.

He hints of our participation in other ways of course. There are other analogies, metaphors or concepts used. Like the beginning of his letter to the Philippians:

Php 1:3  I thank my God every time I remember you. Php 1:4  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy Php 1:5  because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, Php 1:6  being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Our partnership in the gospel.

It’s also an involving kind of idea.

Even “silent” partners put their money into the business, if I recall. They do something.

Paul rejoices because of the participation of the Philippians in the gospel – its teaching and proclamation through the world – and in their own lives – because this can never be a clinical kind of critique of everyone else who we believe needs to be changed by Jesus – when in fact it begins with us. (The classical line heard at church after a powerful sermon – “I wish Mrs Jones was here today – she really needed to hear that!”)

As we said last week – the biblical serenity prayer is this (for those who missed out):

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know it’s me.

Paul writes:

I always pray with joy Php 1:5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, Php 1:6  being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

There’s work being done – work to be done.

After that brilliant passage – in the next chapter about Jesus’ humility (the “if any…” passage –  If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,  then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose, (Phil 2:1-2) – Paul also says:

Php 2:12  Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, Php 2:13  for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

Fear and trembling? It sounds serious. It is!

If there was an alternative title to this sermon it could be something like “paralysis in the pew”.

Or alternatively, turning to 1 Corinthians 12,

“Body Life – the part you were called to be”.

Verse 27 says clearly:

1Co 12:27  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

The context of the passage is the “spirituals” – literally the pneumatikoi

Here’s the verse at the beginning of chapter 12:

12:1 Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. (Literally agnostic – without knowledge). Verse 3 continues:

1Co 12:3  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. (Note: Of course they said that back then knowing it meant Caesar was not Lord and inviting trouble! For us it should be – society is NOT Lord. Money is NOT Lord. And the list goes on!)

1Co 12:4  There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.

1Co 12:5  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.

1Co 12:6  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

1Co 12:7  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

What is clear then is this:

1. BODY LIFE IS SPIRIT-LED LIFE

There is something quite unique in the organism of the church (see last week’s sermon for the distinction between organism and organisation).

It is a Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered body. Last Sunday we talked about Peter’s declaration of faith as the foundation – revealed by the Father in heaven to him. (“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!)

Here Paul tells us that the 3rd person of the Trinity is part of this too. You can’t have one without the other two! (It reminds me of the Frank Sinatra song “love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage – you can’t have one without the other!)

And so, says Paul: ‘no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. ‘

He continues with this pattern of the Trinity spelt out in another way.

1Co 12:4  There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.  (Holy Spirit)

1Co 12:5  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. (Jesus)

1Co 12:6  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. (The Father)

1Co 12:7  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

It’s all God-works. Not ours. And its not for us. Verse 7 says – it’s for the common good. (Perhaps there’s nothing new about Bentham’s philosophy of what’s best for all – called Utilitarianism). Of course Paul would not have said that “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.” For Paul right and wrong is set by God.

But in the church people are there to serve for the common good – to build up the church – for the glory of God.

Body life is Spirit-led life. He goes on later in verse 12 and 13: 1Co 12:12  The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 1Co 12:13  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. (Because this is the source of our life!)

Body life is Spirit-led life.

2. BODY LIFE IS GIFTED LIFE

1Co 12:8  To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 1Co 12:9  to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 1Co 12:10  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. 1Co 12:11  All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

He doesn’t want us to be agnostics-s – ignoramuses (ignorami?) about spirituals – spiritual gifts.

The lists vary between here and Ephesians 4, Romans 12.

Body life is gifted life. The great thing is that the gifts empower us to be a blessing to others. They are not for us but for the wider body of the Church. And this is not like a wedding where the bride makes a list and the guests select from the bride’s choices.

The bride of Christ does not choose. The Spirit chooses. The key phrase is “just as he determines” (in verse 11).

Lucky for us we can still desire spiritual gifts. More about that in two weeks’ time as we look at 1 Corinthians 14.

3. BODY LIFE HAS BODY PROBLEMS AND BODY SOLUTIONS

When you read the rest of the passage the analogy between the church as the Body of Christ and the human body has all kinds of implications.

1Co 12:14  Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 1Co 12:15  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. 1Co 12:16  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. 1Co 12:17  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? (Note: this means that “body sins” include one part of the body saying “I am most important” and therefore I am the whole and not a part of the body!)

1Co 12:18  But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 1Co 12:19  If they were all one part, where would the body be? 1Co 12:20  As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 1Co 12:21  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!”  (Note: A “body sin” here is when someone says “I don’t need you” to another in the body).

1Co 12:22  On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 1Co 12:23  and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 1Co 12:24  while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, 1Co 12:25  so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

The passage reaches a climax here:

1Co 12:26  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

1Co 12:27  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

If one part thinks it’s the only one that matters – well you get the message. It’s out of sync. It’s like a cancerous cell – a limb that grows way past is proper position and size. My mother would have said “don’t get too big for your boots!).

And of course if you are more important – then others become redundant or irrelevant.

“I don’t need you” is a very unhelpful thing to say in a family – and especially in the family of the church which is in fact a living organism.

Of course sometimes when there is sickness and healing is needed, the bad stuff has to be lanced like a boil – or cut off to stop the spread of gangrene.

  • The partnership in the gospel
  • The completing of the good work that God has begun (which He completes if we cooperate
  • The working out our salvation with fear and trembling (for it is God who works in us…)

All happens in this organism. You can’t just be a passive observer! It happens in body life – in Christian Community.

As we look at our Mission in this community today when we have our congregational meeting after the service – the first choice we have is to decide to be part of what God is doing in this part of his body – the Church.

Or not. Brother Mike spoke about the covenant at Shechem a few weeks ago. “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24).

How about you? In or out?

“As each part does its work.”

Amen.

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Posted on November 2, 2015, in Sunday Morning Sermons and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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