What do you think of church? On these Sundays evenings we're looking at the Bible's teaching on The Christian Life. Today my title is Fellowship. Living the Christian life means belonging to the Church, the family of God. The Church isn't an optional extra for a Christian any more than being born into a family is an option for any of us. It's a fact of the Christian life. So it really matters. And that's the lesson of our passage this evening – 1 Corinthians 12.12-26. Please turn that up. Now chapters 12-14 of this letter belong together. This whole section is introduced in 1 Corinthians 12.1 with these words:
"Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed."
The way they're behaving in Corinth shows that they are ignorant. How? Because there is division, arrogance, jealousy and quarrelling in the church. Their thinking about spiritual gifts is badly and dangerously distorted. As a result, their attitudes to one another display their failure to love one another in a Christ-like way. What are spiritual gifts? A spiritual gift is an ability that a believer is given by God for the service of the Church and the cause of the Gospel. What was their wrong thinking? In this case it centred around speaking in tongues, which is a language of prayer unintelligible even to the person using it.
Some members of this church in Corinth not only spoke in tongues but also thought that everyone else should do the same. And some of those who didn't speak in tongues had been intimidated by this loveless attitude. They began to think that they should be speaking in tongues if they were to be considered real Christians. And because they couldn't, they were doubting their service in the church had any value – indeed they were even doubting whether they were genuine believers at all. And as a result they were hurting badly.
That's essentially the situation that Paul is addressing here. In chapter 12 he puts them right. And in particular, in 1 Corinthians 12.12-26 he does that using a wonderfully vivid and instructive metaphor for the fellowship of the Church. He describes the Church as like a body. What he teaches is a key to healthy fellowship in the Church. If we're going to bring glory to God by fulfilling his purposes for us – which is what the Church is for – we need to be healthy. So these principles need to be in our bloodstream.
As you'll see from the outline on the back of the service sheet, I have three simple points from what Paul says here about the fellowship of believers: first, believers belong to one another; secondly, believers differ from one another; and thirdly, believers need one another.
1. Believers Belong to One Another
Paul actually summarises 1 Corinthians 12-26 in verse 27, where he says:
"Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it."
Individually members of the body of Christ – that's so crucial for how we understand ourselves. And that image of the Church as the body of Christ is what Paul develops here in 1 Corinthians 12 – first of all in verses 12-13. Take a look:
"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. 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."
Any body worth its salt is one united whole. In fact if your body is in bits, you know that there's something pretty seriously wrong. And it's not going to function well. The body is a unit. And if you're a believer, you belong to the body. That's not a matter of choice. That's who you are. We don't have a choice of who'll be our brothers or sisters. What we have a choice about is how we'll treat our brothers and sisters. So please don't go missing from your body. Don't be like a finger that goes AWOL and wanders off on its own away from its body. It's an absurd idea and it's an absurd thing to do. One of the most powerful things we can do consistently for our own spiritual health and for the health of the fellowship is simply to be with one another regularly and consistently.
Be there! Be there when the members of the church all meet together on Sundays – as you are this evening. This is where you belong. If you're not in a small group, do something about that. Make that your task for this week. If you want to try out belonging to a small group for a few weeks, then we're starting a new Discipleship Explored group this Tuesday at 7.30pm over in Eslington House. Get in touch with Ramzi Adcock about that. Or ask Jon Teasdale about Home Groups. If you're a student, go along to Focus or JPC internationals. We have small groups for all ages and stages – find the one that's right for you. If you already belong to a small group, be there when it meets to give and get encouragement, and to pray for one another. The members of your small group should be looking out for you – and we all need that. Following Christ faithfully is tough. We need all the help we can get. Be there when the ministry team you're involved with gets to work. Don't go missing from the body.
And we need to treat each other as brother and sister – because that's what we are in the body of Christ. Perhaps I should qualify that, because I don't know how you do treat your brothers and sisters, if you have any. We need to treat one another as brothers and sisters should treat one another. We all have the same Heavenly Father. And we all have the same Lord and Saviour and brother – Jesus. Look around you. This is your family. These are your brothers and sisters. I'm sorry about that, but there's nothing I can do about it. Blame God. You're stuck with us. And what's more, we're stuck with you. So don't tolerate loneliness. Don't get lonely yourself. Don't allow yourself to sink into isolation. Get involved. And don't allow others to get lonely. What fellow believer do you know, if you stop to think about it, who's in danger of getting isolated or going missing? Get in touch with them.
And how is the Body of Christ created? By the Spirit of God. When we believe, we are drenched with the Holy Spirit and incorporated into Christ. We become united with him. We become a part of his body, along with all our fellow believers. 1 Corinthians 12.13 again:
"For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free …"
Whatever your religious, ethnic, social or economic background, if you are now trusting Christ, then that's because the Spirit of God has grafted you into the body of Christ. You belong. So the body of Christ is worldwide. All believers everywhere are part of it. And that's not just theoretical. That's a practical reality. I've experienced it myself. I've been warmly welcomed into the homes of believers in Africa and Asia and America. Wherever we go in the world there's a group of believers among whom we belong. There's an extraordinary bond of fellowship that cuts across all distinctions of ethnicity, language or culture. Christians never go abroad just as tourists or workers. We go visiting spiritual relatives. So don't go anywhere, if at all possible, without looking up the family. The Holy Spirit unites us as members of one body.
The body of Christ is worldwide. But it's also local. Paul's focus here in these verses is on the local gathering of believers. We, here at JPC, are the body of Christ. We are a unit. We are one – because of Jesus. His Spirit has formed us from the dust of the earth into one body. Don't destroy this unity – experience it, enhance it, enjoy it! Believers belong to one another. Don't go missing. Be there. Treat each other as brother and sister. And don't tolerate loneliness.
2. Believers Differ From One Another
Having emphasised the unity of the body of Christ, Paul now stresses the diversity within it. 1 Corinthians 12.14:
"For the body does not consist of one member but of many."
And verses 19-20:
"If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body."
And the point about these many parts of the body – hand, foot, eye, ear and so on – is that they're all different. Some of them are obvious. Some are not. Some are large. Some are small. Some of them are internal, some are external. Some we'd rather keep hidden, others we don't mind anyone seeing. They're all different. They do different things. They have different uses. They serve different purposes. The church is made up of many parts. Again - just look around you. We're very different. So don't require or expect uniformity. That's not the way God made us. And realise that there's no place for feeling inferior on account of your difference from someone else who you think is so much more significant than you. Verses 15-16:
"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. 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."
Don't listen to the voice in your head that says, 'I'm useless. I have nothing to contribute. I'm not needed here.' It's a lie. Don't identify one spiritual gift that you haven't got and make that the mark of your own worth. To take one example, don't think 'I'm no good at leading Bible studies, so I'm no good.' Not true. Be content to be who God made you to be. Of course we must never be content with our sin. That's fatal complacency. I'm talking about how God made you, and what he's got planned for you. Don't envy who God made someone else to be. And don't do yourself down because of who God made you to be. Instead, appreciate the difference. The fact that we're so different is vital for the proper functioning – even the very existence – of the body. The notion of a body made up of only one organ is obviously ridiculous. So, verse 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?"
We must never value one kind of person above all others and think that everybody should be like that. Nonsense. We have very different spiritual gifts. Paul's already given a list of different gifts in verses 8-10. He does the same again later on in verses 28-29. Those are examples – there are plenty more spiritual gifts. If you'd like to find out how God wants to use you in his service, then the best thing to start serving somewhere. Get stuck in to some ministry that appeals to you – find something you can help with, get on with it, and see how it goes. Something I find increasingly wonderful to see is the way we all fit together so perfectly for God's purposes. And, of course, that's no accident. Verse 18:
"But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose."
God is the one who has put us together. If you're a believer, and a member of this fellowship, then that's because God decided he wanted you here! And why has God made you and gifted you the way that he has? Because God knows where you fit in the body of Christ and what you need to be like to do what he wants you to do. And that leads to the third point. This is blindingly obvious once we've seen that the church is the body of Christ. And yet we miss it over and over again. It's this.
3. Believers Need One Another
So there's no room for feeling inferior in comparison to others who seem to us to be more important. And there's no place for feeling superior either. 1 Corinthians 12.21:
"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.""
Don't look down on those who can't do what you can do because God's gifted you to do it. There are things you can't do that render you useless without the support of others. Have we got that? We are useless on our own. Let's not forget it. People who might seem less important are in fact crucial to the life of the church. Verses 22-24:
"On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honourable we bestow the greater honour, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require."
Those who apparently are the most obviously gifted may be far more dispensable than others you might think the church wouldn't miss. Maybe you think you don't matter much. Maybe you think you haven't really got a contribution to make. Well, you'd be wrong. On the other hand, maybe you secretly despise far too many of your brothers and sisters in Christ. Well, it's wonderfully true that when we devalue certain people, God makes up the deficit. End of verse 24 and beginning of 25:
"But God has so composed the body, giving greater honour to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body…"
If the ministry that you do goes unnoticed – if you get no thanks for it – if as far as you can tell you're unobserved and unappreciated – then try not to worry. God sees. And God will honour you for it. So don't get either an inferiority or a superiority complex. Instead, we need to take our eyes off ourselves, and look to the needs of others. We belong to one another. We need to help the hurting. We need to care for one another. Every member of the body, whatever their role and function, should be cared for equally. God has combined the members of the body so that (1 Corinthians 12.25-26) …
"…there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together."
If you hit your thumb with a hammer, the whole of you hurts. If your tooth stops aching, the whole of you feels better. The well-being of every member of this fellowship matters to all of us. Ask yourself: Who do I know who's going through a hard time at the moment? What practical steps can I take to show simple kindness towards them? How can I care? Every one of us can make a difference. And when we make a difference in the life of one, we make a difference to the life of the whole body. And who knows – you might even be used by the Holy Spirit to lift a brother or a sister out of feeling lonely and useless. And you might help them to see that they belong, that God made them just as they are to fulfil his good purposes for their life, and that they're needed in the body of Christ. Just like you. Let's bow our heads to pray:
Heavenly Father, teach us to be faithful in our belonging to the body of Christ; hard-working in our serving by the power of the Holy Spirit; and consistent and considerate in our caring for one another. And so may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all, evermore. Amen.