This study is a modified transcription from the audio.
This morning we continue our series about the church. We have been in a series entitled The Body of Christ. This is our third week of five, and we are looking at some fundamental components of the body of Christ, of the church of God worldwide. In the New Testament, one of the primary symbols (pictures) of the church is that the church is the body of Christ, with Jesus Christ as the head of the body; therefore, the title of the series is The Body of Christ. A couple of weeks ago we looked at baptism. We looked at the purpose and the role of baptism: what is accomplished during baptism, as well as what is not accomplished during baptism. Many of you come from different traditions, and perhaps you learned some new information about the New Testament’s teaching on baptism. Last week we looked at the other ordinance, or sacrament, recognized by Trinity Bible Church. We recognize two ordinances, or sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is done once. A believer in Jesus Christ follows the Lord’s example in water baptism. However, communion (or the Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist) is done on a regular basis. It is designed to be repeated. It is a constant, perpetual reminder for you and me of our relationship with Jesus Christ. We are purchased by his blood, and so we break bread to symbolize his body that was broken for us. We drink of the juice (or of the wine), symbolizing his blood that was poured out for us. Last week we talked fundamentally in an instructional message about the component of the body of Christ called communion.
Today we are going to talk about community. “Community: Where Everybody Knows Your Name.” What is this craving that we have for community? We see it here at Trinity Bible Church. We hear it as we talk with individuals -- this craving and this longing for deeper relationships. It is as though God placed in each believer an innate, inherent desire to grow in his or her relationship with Jesus Christ in the context of community. I would argue that is exactly what is taking place. The Christian life was not designed to be lived out in isolation, but rather to be lived out in the context of a community such as Trinity Bible Church (one local body of believers). Like any other church, we are designed to be a complete body of believers. Each individual contributes his or her own giftedness, passions, and strengths to complement other peoples’ weaknesses. All of your gifts and strengths also come along with weaknesses. You need other people to contribute to you. As a body of Christ, we need one another; therefore, today we are going to talk about community. In fact, when Jesus Christ talks about the church (believers, his followers), he speaks in stronger language of the relationship between two believers than that between a person and a blood relative. Does that make sense? In the Bible, when Jesus talks about the relationship between a Christian and another Christian, he implies that the relationship is more deeply rooted, stronger, and more significant than a relationship between blood relatives. That is how critical this component of a community (a local assembly, a church, the body of Christ) is to Jesus Christ. Our relationships here grow deeper than our blood relationships.
If you have your Bible, open it to 1 Corinthians 12. We will be looking at Paul’s teaching on the church from 1 Corinthians 12:4-27. We will follow Paul’s thinking as he argues his point to the Corinthian church: they have to start being a community that needs one another, and that meets one another’s needs. It is refreshing to open the book of Corinthians. As you read through the books of 1 and 2 Corinthians, two letters written to the local assembly at the city of Corinth about two thousand years ago, you understand that theirs was not a perfect church. It is refreshing to see that, although they did not always “get it right,” we can learn from them -- because there is no perfect twenty-first century church, either. Two thousand years later, we often struggle with the same issues as the first-century church. We struggle with the same things now, two thousand years later! I think we are going to find Paul’s instructions to Trinity Bible Church today to be compelling. I hope your Bibles are open.
We will look at 1 Corinthians 12, starting with verse 4. We will see that the inseparable nature of God is foundational for the body of Christ (the church, the local assembly). Paul will argue that the three persons of the Trinity, in their relationship with one another (three persons but one essence, one entity), have simultaneous unity and diversity. That is foundational for our understanding of how the church works.
Starting with 1 Corinthians 12:4: “Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are different ministries, but the same Lord. And there are different results, but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.” Do you see what Paul does at the beginning of this section? Paul highlights the Trinity for us. We saw “the Spirit,” the third person of the Trinity. We saw “Lord,” “the same Lord,” which is Paul’s common name for Jesus Christ. We saw “God,” which is the New Testament’s way of depicting the Father. Paul is laying out a foundation: unity and diversity in the body of Christ is to reflect the unity and diversity that we see in the Godhead (the Trinity). The three different persons -- a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit -- have three different roles (or purposes, or designs) in the way they carry out their work in our lives, and yet they are one God together. They possess both unity and diversity. That is the foundation of Paul’s argument.
Let us continue with verse 7: “To each person, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all.” We will come back to that later. Verse 8: “For one person it is given …” and Paul is going to give a few examples of spiritual gifts. There are four lists in the New Testament of spiritual gifts: Romans 12, here in 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter. None is a comprehensive list. Taking all of the lists together, we see that teaching is mentioned in all four; but usually different gifts are named in the different lists. You may put those together into a comprehensive idea of a list of gifts. Paul gives us an example. He argues: “For one person is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom [a gift], and another the message of knowledge [another gift] according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another performance of miracles, to another prophecy, and to another discernment of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. It is one and the same Spirit, distributing as he decides to each person, who produces all these things. For just as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body -- though many -- are one body, so too is Christ. For in one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves, or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit.”
Again, Paul is laying the foundation for his argument. For the rest of chapter 12, he argues that the body of Christ is to have unity within diversity -- that we look different, that we act different, that we have different personalities, and that we have different God-given skills from birth. We have different economic backgrounds and different bank accounts. We have different gifting by the Spirit, and that is Paul’s focus (mentioned four times in this text). In wisdom, God gave us these gifts for his reasons, for his purposes, for his results that he is working out. The Spirit himself is the means of the gifts, as well as the exercise of those gifts, for you and me on a daily basis. God gave us these gifts not for our own benefit, but for the benefit of each other -- for the benefit of the body as a whole. Each of us has been given a gift to benefit the body, as well as to reflect the awesome relationship of the Trinity: we have unity and diversity in the triune God. Paul also emphasizes “the same Spirit,” or “the one Spirit.” The idea is that he is the originator of these diverse gifts. We are all given these gifts by “one and the same Spirit.” The gifts look quite different, yet they have one source, one origin. Paul lays the foundation here for his argument that the community of believers should be a reflection of the Trinity.
Notice two things as Paul gives us examples of the spiritual gifts. First, note that no one believer has all of the gifts. No where does the New Testament even suggest that one believer is fully sufficient in and of himself to live the Christian life. However, the New Testament does suggest in 1 Corinthians 12 that every believer is equipped with at least one gift. That means everyone within the sound of my voice who has trusted Jesus Christ as his or her Savior and Lord has been equipped with a spiritual gift. Isn’t that great? You did not choose it. God chose it for you. You have a purpose in life, because the Spirit of God equipped you with a gift that he wants you to exercise. It is not for your satisfaction alone that you have received the gift, but it is also for the encouragement and the benefit of the body. Every one of you has been given at least one spiritual gift. None of you has all of the gifts, which means that every one of you is insufficient in some areas, and that we all need one another. It is a good place to be.
The other thing you will notice in 1 Corinthians 12 is that no believer is equipped with a gift only for his own benefit, for his own satisfaction. I think there is satisfaction in having a gift from the Spirit, but it does not stop there. It is supposed to be for the benefit of the body. I want you to follow along with me and see this through. In the New Testament, of each gift that is given to us by God, none is given just for our satisfaction. A gift not only is given for our satisfaction and benefit, but also is to be given away. Every gift in the New Testament that is given to you and me is given to us to be given away. Does that make sense? Think of your salvation. It is given to you, and do you benefit? Absolutely, you do. You find satisfaction in your salvation; but if it stops there, then you have been a poor steward of your satisfaction. The gift of salvation has been given to you so that you would enjoy it, and so that you would give it away. It is a beautiful thing. We receive gifts from the Lord not only for our satisfaction, but also in order that we will give them away. Gifts of the Spirit are no different. You and I have received a gift -- at least one -- from the Spirit of God for our satisfaction, for our enjoyment, for our benefit; but if it stops there, then we have become poor stewards of that gift the Lord has given us. We have to give our gift away as we exercise it. Paul is laying out a foundation here. He is saying that the Trinity is inseparable. It is unity and diversity. He is laying that as a foundation -- as a model for you and me to follow as a community of believers.
Second of all, let us continue to follow Paul’s thinking. Each member is indispensable. Let us look at the indispensable, or inexpendable, nature of each member. I grew up working in the family business with my older brothers. From the time I was six until the time I was about fifteen, every time I would come into work, my brothers always reminded me, “Jeff, little brother, just remember that we are inexpendable and you are expendable.” I did not know what that meant until I was about ten or eleven years old. I finally figured out what they were saying! They were basically saying that in order for the company to work right, they had to be considered integral. They were non-negotiable, indispensable, inexpendable; but I could choose not to show up one day, and everything would work just fine. It is, I think, an older brother’s right and privilege to say things like that to a younger brother. Everyone in this body -- everyone in the local body, everyone in the community -- is indispensable. The failure of one individual in the community to do what God gave him or her to do will ultimately result in the lack of health in the community at large.
Let us look at the indispensable nature of each member in 1 Corinthians 12:14-20. “For in fact the body is not a single member, but many. If the foot says, ‘Since I am not a hand, I am not part of the body,’ it does not lose its membership in the body because of that.” Paul gives an analogy here. Again, he is talking about the body of Christ. Now he is going to go through some individual members of this symbolic body of Christ. Already there is irony here because he says, “If the foot says ….” Feet cannot speak! Feet need other parts of the body to even speak. Already we see that every part of the body is necessary. Verse 16: “And if the ear says ….” Again we chuckle: ears cannot speak! “And if the ear says, ‘Since I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. If the whole body were an eye, what part would do the hearing? If the whole were an ear, what part would exercise the sense of smell? But as a matter of fact, God has placed each of the members in the body just as he decided. If they were all the same member, where would the body be? So now there are many members, but one body.” Again we see unity and diversity -- the notion that you need a community -- but do you know what else that means? The community needs you. God has equipped you by his Spirit with a spiritual gift, which suggests purpose to me. You have a purpose to fulfill in the community. Because the Spirit of God has given you a spiritual gift, you have a purpose to fulfill. You have been given a gift that you must exercise, because the Spirit of God has given it to you.
I do not always watch Dr. Phil, but once in a while I catch Dr. Phil. I like what he says most of the time. In fact, I am impressed that he often says exactly what I want to say, but he is able to get away with it somehow! I am not sure how that works. I have got to figure out his secret! This past week I caught a glimpse of Dr. Phil as he interviewed a young lady. She is a young, married woman who has been classically trained in piano. The conversation revealed that the woman was incredibly skilled at piano. The problem is that she fears playing in front of people. She has incredible skill, incredible talent, but no one else gets to enjoy it because of her terror. Dr. Phil walks her through the problem. “Well, why are you afraid? What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen to you? Isn’t it worth it to play in front of people, even if the worst thing that could possibly happen happens? Isn’t it still worth it to play? You have such a great gift and a great talent.” She was crying, and he finally said it! He put his foot down and said, “You know, here’s what I’m going to say to you. I believe that to whom much is given, much is required, and you have been given an incredible gift. Young lady, you don’t have the right to deprive people of your gift.” How absolutely awesome that is! What a great biblical principle that is! She has been given an incredible talent, an incredible skill. To keep it all to herself because of any excuse -- fear, lack of time, a busy family, too busy pursuing other goals -- would make her an example of a selfish, poor steward. You do not have the right to deprive people of your gift. To whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48).
It was interesting to watch Dr. Phil continue his work with the young, classical pianist. He said to her, “You don’t have the right to withhold from other people what you have received.” He worked with her to the point that she said, “You know what? You’re right. This is a talent. This is a gift. I don’t have the right to deprive people of my gift.” He said, “So, are you going to play in front of people?” She replied, “If I can. I really want to. I think I can.” What he did then was awesome. He said, “Okay, bring out the piano!” Right there in front of a live, national television audience, he brought out a grand piano onto the stage. Dr. Phil had her sit down. He went to the other end of the piano, and her husband came up behind her. Without her knowing in advance that she would perform, she sat and played one of the most beautiful pieces we have heard.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, each of us is equipped with at least one spiritual gift. God has given us gifts for a purpose, and to whom much is given, much is required. We do not have the right to deprive the community of saints (the local body of Christians with whom we are aligned) of our gifts. We administer a spiritual gifts assessment in our new members’ class. We recognize publicly those who attend the course, completing the new members’ process. Their names are posted for a time, and then we affirm publicly the group of new member candidates, accepting them into the body of Christ.
In essence, to affirm new members is to “bring out the piano” before them! They publicly stand and align themselves with Trinity Bible Church. They have completed the spiritual gifts assessment. Whether or not they knew before, they now know that God has equipped them for a purpose. To whom much is given, much is required. None of us has the right to deprive this body of God’s gifts. Our affirmation provides public accountability for new members of Trinity Bible Church. Church, love our new members. Ask them how we can minister to them, and ask them which skill God has given them in order that they may to minister to us.
We offer several upcoming opportunities for a prospective member to choose a convenient class. Course work is completed by attending one class for 3-1/2 hours. The new members’ process can guide in discovering spiritual gifts. A prospective member will learn how to better contribute to the very real needs that exist at Trinity Bible Church. We do not regularly push membership at Trinity Bible Church. This is the hardest push I have seen in my six years at Trinity Bible Church. Why do we do this? We want people to be accountable to a body. That is why there is church membership. A member is enabled to vote and to hold the leadership accountable. It also gives the body a chance to hold the member accountable, to “bring the piano out,” so to speak. Please hear me clearly: Trinity Bible Church would rather have one participating non-member (who did not attend the new members’ class) than ten non-participating members (who attended the new members’ class and then fell off the radar). It is about exercising the gifts that God has given us to fulfill our purposes and to accomplish the very real needs in this body. We are all indispensable to Trinity Bible Church. We need each other.
Third, Paul argues for the interdependent nature of the body -- not the independent nature of the body, but the interdependent nature of the body. Watch these verses, 1 Corinthians 12:21-27: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ nor in turn can the head say to the foot, ‘I do not need you.’ On the contrary, those members that seem to be weaker are essential, and those members we consider less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our unpresentable members are cloaked with dignity, but our presentable members do not need this. Instead, God has blended together the body [this is beautiful], giving greater honor to the lesser member, so that there may be no division in the body [there it is], but the members may have mutual concern for one another. [Listen to this.] If one member suffers [this is what interdependence looks like], everyone suffers with it. If a member is honored, all rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and each of you is a member of it.”
After you and I are born physically, we are dependent individuals throughout childhood, and maybe even somewhat into adolescence. We are dependent on other people. We probably continue to be dependent as we hit those teen years, and then we get into the stride of the late teens. We go to college and experience some autonomy -- a bit of independence. Maybe even in our twenties we live life as independent individuals. However, there comes a time when we recognize that we may have skills, gifts, and even training, but we are not complete in and of ourselves. We need other individuals in a healthy, growing, vibrant community of strong biblical relationships. That is called interdependence. Interdependence is both the recognition that you have something to contribute, and the realization that you need the contributions of others who have been equipped for your benefit.
My wife stubs her toe practically every day. She might injure her toe on a dresser, a bed, a twig, or the carpet -- you name it! She can stub her toe on just about anything! When she stubs her toe, it is really interesting to observe her body coming to the aid of that one little toe. Suddenly, the other foot begins to carry the majority of her weight and hobbles her over to a chair or to a bed, where all of her body then absorbs the weight by sitting down. Her eyes then take over, and start to examine her toe to see if there is any damage done. Her fingers take over, massaging the hurt. Sometimes her mouth takes over and blows on her toe, because that seems to relieve some of the pain. Her whole body takes over to assist her because of this one member that is weak. If it is really bad, then her mouth takes over and hollers for her husband (who is still sleeping in the bed) to get up and assist her! She may use her brain, her eyes and her hands all together to bandage the wound. It is called interdependence. The toe that was strong goes through a period of weakness and has needs. Imagine that your body did not respond that way. You stub your toe, but the rest of your body does not respond at all, and the toe is in severe pain. Your body keeps walking, not even acknowledging that this toe is in severe pain. Our bodies are not like that; instead, they respond naturally to pain.
Think about this. A week later, my wife (an avid interior designer) is hanging up a picture and smashes her finger with a hammer. Who do you think is going to be first in line to help out with that finger? It is going to be her toe, right? Her toe is going to run wherever she needs to go to get assistance. It is somewhat silly, but bear with me. Her toe is going to run wherever she needs to go to get assistance with that finger. Right now the toe is strong. It is capable of taking her where she needs to go. From weakness, it has been nursed back to health by those fingers which massaged and bandaged it. Now, the toe is going to assist in the weak moment of the finger. That is the analogy of the body of Christ that Paul has given us. That is the analogy that we should see here at Trinity Bible Church, and that we should emulate.
Let me conclude with a letter. This is a dear letter from members Burt and Bruce about the last ten to twelve months of their lives. Let us take a look at what interdependence can look like when it works well. Bruce writes on behalf of himself and Burt:
We embraced Christmas and the New Year with grateful hearts. Many of you know why. Our trial began in May of 2003. It became a journey that started with uncertainty, but one that was filled with unexpected blessings. At the beginning of Burt’s diagnosis of osteosarcoma cancer, God’s fingerprints became obvious through the lives of many of you at Trinity. From Purcell, who initially guided us when we were so confused; to the pastors and elders in our home for prayer and communion; for the concern extended through calls, emails, cards, letters, and rides we needed; for the delicious meals lovingly delivered; and for Mary, who organized the details for us, we give thanks again and again. We have experienced God’s power and grace through your faithful prayer support. God has heard your prayers and he answered. The cancer is gone. We continue to rejoice in your faithfulness as Burt’s healing progresses. You are precious in his sight and in ours.
God bless you dear friends,
Burt and Bruce.
That is what interconnectivity and interdependence looks like. How many more of these letters would I have the privilege of reading before you if we all did our part -- if we all exercised our gifts for the benefit of the body?
Every believer needs a community of saints. Every Christian needs a local body, a place to belong. This is especially necessary for Christians who lack local biological family members. When functioning properly, the church is designed to serve as one’s extended family. Some of Jesus’ teachings even imply that the tie between believers is stronger than that between blood relatives. Do you belong to that type of a community? Does that type of community belong to you? What would be different in your life if you regularly experienced the sort of community the church was designed to be? Is your church the place "where everybody knows your name?"