Just down the road Nisan runs one of the most productive car plants in Europe. They produce two cars a minute. Each car is the product of thousands of individual parts, combined in thousands of operations over two days on the production line. Here's some photos of the four main stages the cars go through. The cars panels are pressed in the body shop. Sheet steel is pressed in the press shop (5000tonne presses!) into the shape of a body side, roof or door etc. the pressed parts are then subassembled with other pressed steel parts to reinforce them. The subassembled parts are all welded together in the 'bodyshop' to create the shell of the car. The shell is then painted (in the paint shop) and baked in an oven to cure the paint. The painted shell is on an overhead conveyer which takes it to the 'trim and chassis shop' Where all the parts are fitted such as the axle, engine, brakes, steering column etc. then all the internal parts are assembled such as the seats, door pads, headliners, stereo, sat nav etc. the assembly is finished and the final product/car is tested on the test track!
Each of those cars is a little illustration for us of the point Paul makes in our passage this morning – there are many parts, but only one car. Each part is essential to the car being a car. Some may be more prominent, some may be more central, but if any were missing you'd want your money back!
And in fact that factory is another illustration for us – there are 6000 employees all working together in amazing harmony. They have to, each has their own part of the process that must be completed in strict times. If the line breaks down it costs £10,000 a minute in lost productivity. Ever worker, every process is essential to the correct operation of the factory as a whole. And our passage this morning tells us that we are like those cars – complex combinations of many parts that all form together into one whole. And we are like that production plant, all working together in some greater whole, all reliant on each other to do our bit.
To put that another way, the big idea is this: Christians are all members of Jesus body, we all need each other and we need to serve the common good.
We'll see that worked out in four points Paul makes:
All in Christ are one body by one spirit
No one should feel left out
No one should look down on anyone else
Try and be increasingly useful
Context – The church is divided over the gifts of the spirit, Paul reminds them that all service and all working is spiritual if is it directed toward serving Jesus and building up his church because all Christians are baptised in the Spirit, not possible to be a Christian without having the Holy Spirit. So no cause for looking down on one another or for judging one person in and one person out on the basis of the gifts that they do or do not seem to have.
Today extension and explanation of that argument using the illustration of the body.
first Paul reminds us again of our unity in the Spirit.
All in Christ are one body by one spirit
12The 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. 13For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free--and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
This isn't a hard analogy to follow. In a body there are many parts and they are all different – but even with so many different parts there's only one body. It's the same in the church which is the body of Christ – there are many parts and we're all different, but we all form together into a single entity, the body, the church. We've been united by God who poured out of his Spirit in each of us, joining us to Christ and making us his, making us one.
Notice the point: All Christians have been made members of Jesus body – by the baptism in the Spirit of Jesus we are made one with him and therefore members of his body – members of one another. Whatever our background we now belong to him first and foremost.
We can easily think of this at a very surface level, but the Bible demands we take this incredibly seriously. Think through the Corinthian church –verse 13 – they were made up of Jew and Greek, slave and free. From this distance we can imagine it was easy for them to come together as a church, but stop and think about what that must have been like - how could those divided groups learn to love each other?
The Jews looked down on gentiles as unclean – no better than dogs - unloved by God and despicable, they couldn't eat with gentiles, it's forbidden in the law. And the Greeks were just as prejudiced: They looked down on the Jews and their primitive religion and culture. And slaves and masters… the masters owned people, went to the market and bought people. How do you treat that person who is your possession? Imagine yourself a slave – not free, but owned. How do you feel about the master who bought you and controls every aspect of your life?
Now imagine this group of people sitting down at church together. Imagine the host – most likely one of the richest people there (they're a house church remember, they meet in the biggest house for space), this guy would be accustomed to being served by slaves – imagine him humbling himself to serve them! Imagine the Jews mixing freely with the gentiles. Imagine them all caring for the sick. Imagine the rich giving away their wealth to help the poor when they're in debt or need. That's what church was like – a truly radical new society where deep divisions were replaced with sacrificial love and service.
This unity is spectacularly counter cultural. What power on earth can do this? Only God can create this sort of unity from that sort of division. He knits us together from whatever backgrounds we have to make us one new entity – not this culture and that, not this class and that, but Jesus' one and all.
This unity is a fact – we are members of each other, we belong to the one body. If we don't, it's because we do not have the Holy Spirit, which is to say that we are not Christians at all. But if we are Christians then we are united together by God's spirit into one body. It's done, but it needs to be lived out, realised in practice (as seen in the church in Corinth which was riddled with divisions). And to live it out consistently and thoroughly – that requires the work of God, a massive change in our minds, in our hearts, in our love for each other. This is nothing short of supernatural – we can't achieve it on our own, we need to pray and call on God to work it in us – that the Spirit might be manifested in each of us for the common good.
Of course, you can't do this on your own. We need an actual church to be a part of. If you're in Christ then you're no longer an individual who lives to and for yourself, you're a Child of God placed in a family, a servant of Christ in his household, a member of his body. That can't be expressed on the internet, through books or watching Christian TV – that is, at a distance. It needs to be expressed in living fellowship with one another; more than cups of tea and coffee and a chat, a living relationship of love and service.
So that's point one, we are united together, we are one body, if you're a Christian you are united to Christ in one body by his Spirit. There are many implications that follow and Paul's going to spell them out in the rest of the chapter. The first implication is our next point:
No one should feel left out
14Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15If 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. 16And 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. 17If 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? 18But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
Again there's a sense of the blindingly obvious here isn't there? You can't have a body that's all ears, or all hands, it needs limbs, internal organs, eyes, ears, mouth, etc. Each part is different from all of the others, but they're all parts of the same body. And what's more God made the foot and the hand, the ear and the eye and very other part too, and God arranged them as he wanted them. And that's us, we're the parts of the body.
So Paul says feeling unimportant in the church is as silly as a motor deciding it's not part of a car because it is not the wheels, or a child deciding they are not part of the family because they don't like carrots, or a Geordie questioning his identity because he's gone off football.
This section is particularly directed to those people within the church who feel that they have somehow missed out, or that they don't belong. They wish that they could be a hand, not a foot, or an eye, not a hand. Some of us feel that don't we? We feel somehow out of place, unwanted, or unneeded, or unnoticed. But Paul says two things to us here – you are part of the body, you are necessary, needed; even if you don't feel it. Bodies need variety in their make up, can't be just one thing, one part. Don't regret what God hasn't made you, find the way that you can contribute being you, as God did make you. Second Paul says you're made to God's design. He wanted you to be you because he has a role for you in his church.
I'm not sure any of us wants to be compared to a hobbit, but if you don't mind me saying it, if you feel out of place and useless in the church think of the hobbits. They are the classic case of the little people proving astonishingly important. Think about it, the hobbits are actually called Halflings – they're weak and powerless in a world of astonishing and dreadful powerful. Who would have thought that they would have the starring role in a story of Elves and Kings and Powerful Magicians and frightful dark monsters. But they do; and their humility, their very smallness and insignificance is their strength, when combined with perseverance, courage and steadfastness. It's the same with us - we don't need to be hero's to serve the Lord Jesus, we don't need to be spectacularly gifted, to be impressive and showy, but we need to be humble and willing and steadfast and faithful. However unimpressive we may be or feel, we all have something to offer, we all have heaps to offer – God made us to be useful in his design for his church.
So that's the first implication of our unity in one body – no one should feel left out. The second implication is our next point:
No one should look down on anyone else
21The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" 22On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24while 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, 25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.
Again Paul is crystal clear – no part in the body can do without any other part, we're all necessary. This seems to be particularly directed to the proud in the church – you may think you're more important and significant, but you can't live without the people you think are less important.
Paul gives us two illustrations to show how this works – the weaker parts of the body and the dishonourable parts of the body. Paul doesn't elaborate, so we have to guess what he means by the weaker parts – but we know our internal organs are much more sensitive than, say, our arm, but also much harder to live without! Likewise the dishonourable or unpresentable parts - I guess he's talking about our sexual organs – we may think them shameful if exposed, but that means that we need to treat them with special dignity and cover up, so the less honourable parts actually end up receiving greater honour.
And in case we still haven't got it Paul pushes the analogy a bit further – in a body if one part suffers the whole body suffers. Try hitting your thumb with a hammer, see if your thumb doesn't pass the pain on the rest of you! Think of an ear infection, an infected toe, the pain when you bump your head. One part hurts, whole body suffers.
Think back to the church inCorinthagain: the rich shouldn't look down on the poor, the slave owners aren't superior to the slaves; the extravagantly gifted are not marked out by God as more special or important.
I've never been in a war, but I've seen enough war movies to know that a military unit has both grunts and officers, and they all have a role and all the units form together into a much larger army with artillery and cavalry or air support or whatever. And all are necessary to win a war. Some may be treated with special dignity, others with very little dignity at all, but in the battle they rely on each other doing their jobs properly, their very lives are at stake.
And that's us in church too – we're dependent on each other so if one is ill we all suffer. And think how this plays out in practice in a church – doesn't gossip radically undercut our unity and love? Doesn't selfishness make it hard to serve? Doesn't cynicism spread? And doesn't it go the other way too? When we see sacrificial service we grow in faith too? When we hear testimonies of God's love and faithfulness, don't we trust him more? If one person gives generously and sacrificially we are all encouraged to do the same – aren't we?
So this calls for sober self reflection: when are you prone to pride? When are you tempted to look down on others? Do you look down on others for not pulling their weight? Do you look down on people in less important ministries? Or do you look down on people struggling with sins that you've left behind? Do you wish church was full of more people like you? God has made everyone different, but he's also made us all indispensible to each other. As fellow members of God's church you can't do without them, and if anyone is struggling, it's up to all of us to carry them through. No body is ever happy to lose a limb, we need to care for and protect each other as we do our own bodies.
For that to happen we need a radical change of heart. We need to come to church not to be entertained, not to be comforted or even to fatten ourselves on good teaching. But to come to build others other up by serving them. So take note of the opportunities to serve. As much as it's possible make it your aim to come early and leave late and spend the time in between caring for others. Don't come to be passive, but active. Look for new people and make them feel welcome; look for people on their own and include them; talk about God and the bible and how you're doing, and pray for each other, there and then as you have a coffee; during the service let others hear your responses, dare I say it – sing loudly so that we can hear you praising God. And carry that same love and service into the rest of the week too.
So far Paul has been working out the implications of our unity in one body. We're all united, so even if you don't feel special or important don't despair, God makes us different for a purpose, we've all got something to contribute. And if you do feel special or important don't look down on anybody else – but serve everybody. If any part of the body is hurting, it hurts us all, so don't be proud, be a servant.
Our last point takes us in a slightly different direction. And it's this:
Try and be increasingly useful
27Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.
This sounds a bit like it undermines Paul's argument – suddenly we come to a hierarchy, the apostles are first, next prophets and then teachers. The rest of the gifts probably aren't in rank order, but they're certainly not first. How can the parts of the body be ranked? Well we're coming up against the limits of the body analogy, but this doesn't undermine Paul's argument, there are a great variety of gifts and some of them are more useful than others, that is why he will argue for prophecy over tongues later on, and that is why it is possible for them to be dissatisfied with the distribution of gifts. But while we don't all have equal gifts, we are all part of the body and we are all indispensible.
So why the hierarchy here? Apostles, prophets and teachers bring God's word to the church, that's why they have precedence. There would be no church if God's word was not heard, as Paul says elsewhere the church rests on the foundation of the apostles. These first three gifts establish the body as a church, not a social club with service opportunities.
A bowling club needs to go bowling; they need a bowling green and a greens keeper, cricket club needs to play cricket, they need bowlers and batters and fieldsmen, a knitting club needs to actually knit, or they're just a mothers meeting … some gifts establish the identity of the group and without them they would be a different type of group, in the church we need to hear God's word, this is fundamental to what a church is – to be the body of Christ requires that we gather around his word to hear his voice and do his will. In church there may or may not be miracles, but there must be God's word. There will need to be some form of administration, but administration is not distinctive to us; churches can have good or bad admin and remain a church, but a church can not be lacking the word of God and remain a church.
So where does that leave us – well we can't all be apostles, those positions have been filled. But we can eagerly desire greater gifts. So what makes one gift better than another – well that's the topic of the next two chapters. But let me give you a quick preview – love is our goal and love dictates that the greatest gifts are the ones that are most useful to other people for building them up.
We'll have more to say about the particular gifts in chapter 14, and more about love next week. But for now remember that if you're a Christian you are a member of Jesus body, the church. So we're all needed here, don't hold back your gifts for yourself, but look for ways to serve the body. And don't look down on others, but look for ways to love them and build them up - for their good and your own. Let's pray.