Sunday, September 17, 2017

Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes (1 Corinthians 12.12-27)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; September 17, 2017 - 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
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:: Scripture and Music ::
Come, Christians, Join to Sing (MADRID)
Every Praise (Hezekiah Walker)
You are Mine (arr. Hayes) - worship choir
Oh, How Good it Is (Getty/Townend)
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Today we are starting a new series for the fall. It’s simply called “The Body.” That is a reference to one of the metaphors used many times in scripture to describe the Church. Over the coming weeks we will be looking at a number of those passages and the way that the human body illustrates and helps us understand how we relate to Jesus and each other. Today we are looking at Corinthians, a letter by the Apostle Paul to the early church in Corinth. That group had its issues (but who doesn’t?!) In particular, different spiritual gifts in the church were being ranked above others, and in general there was a “look at me” kind of attitude that distracted from worship of God and damaged relationships within the church. And so Paul wrote to his beloved fellow-believers to call them to a unity of spirit – unity of THE Spirit, that God would be worshiped and people would care for each other. Now, I’m not saying we have that Corinthian problem, but any church – ours included – will be blessed by growing in the worship of God and the care of people. In fact, that sounds a lot like the Great Commandment, doesn’t it? Love God; love others. So, in today’s text, Paul talks a little theology, but mainly offers this extended analogy of the church being one body with Christ. And it’s something I encourage you to take to heart.

One in Christ (vv.12-13)

Paul sets out what he has to say in verse 12: “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” Now he’s going to break that down and explore the implications of that shortly, but there is what he’s trying to say in a nutshell. The church is ONE body with Christ.

Now that’s already an analogy, because he starts it out with “even as” – just like the body, so is our spiritual reality. But before he really dives into the metaphor, he offers the theology behind what he’s saying: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (v.13) The church is not supposed to be a ranked or caste system of insiders and outsiders, but one of equal and full participation in what God is doing. This particular verse conjures up the separate water fountains of the 60s; but God has a different plan, with different nationalities and socio-economic statuses in the same line for the same outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit.

And while the issue in Corinth was manifestly about gifting and role in church, no doubt there were ethnic and cultural divisions underlying and, perhaps, emphasizing the presenting issues around spiritual gifts as well.

But I will be the first to admit – even as a theologian – that hearing that you and I are “baptized into one body and made to drink of one Spirit” makes me think unity, but doesn’t really explain to me why that unity is good or how it works. So, with my appreciation, Paul turns to this analogy of the body.

Illustration #1: the body (vv. 14-24)

He really takes his time with this, in verses 14-24 (and beyond), and walks us through the theology by using the analogy. And I would divide the illustration into two parts. In the first, he illustrates the benefit of one body having many parts. In the second part he addresses the tendency to think some parts are more important or “honorable” than others.

So, for the first part, in verses 14-19, he sets the body parts to talking. You can almost connect the dots: maybe these were actual statements from members of the Corinthian church. So he imagines a foot saying, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body.” We know that’s ridiculous, right? Obviously, a foot is still a part of the body! And he repeats it with an ear also wondering if it doesn’t belong since it is not an eye. That’s the benefit of the analogy: we hear the ridiculousness that we otherwise miss. “Well, I’m not in the choir… [actually, let me be even more pointed]… I don’t really like to sing, I don’t really belong in this very musical church.” Or, “I’m new and don’t know a lot of people; I don’t really belong yet.” Paul’s claim is even stronger than “Yes, you do belong at Good Shepherd” it’s “You are part of the one Body of Jesus Christ and you are every much a part of that Body as the person singing at the microphone or as one of our elders, or anyone else here.”

That point flows naturally into the second: we tend to have a false tendency to elevate some roles over others. So perhaps we think the people in front of microphones are more important than people sitting in the back row. Or those who are highly visible matter more than those who are not. And Paul addresses that in verses 22-24, saying that all the parts are necessary, and those which are deemed weaker or less honorable are worthy of appreciation. So this is not talking about function. There are only a handful of people that can run the sound board. It does not mean that putting little Millie on the sound board is what we need to do. It is talking about belonging to Christ. My standing at the pulpit or your sitting in your “regular spot” or running the sound board with skill or reaching out to the community in the garden do not give higher or lower standing with Jesus. Those are all different functions like an eye seeing or a hand squeezing or a liver purifying the system. But each of you – EACH OF YOU – belong to Christ simply because he loves you and you trust him.

In between those two points of the body having many parts and those parts belonging to the one body, Paul makes two other applications within the analogy. In verses 17-19, he asks, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?” His point? We would not be complete with a whole church of sound booth operators, or seminary-trained preachers (yikes!), or 30 year-old white men. A body is made of many parts/members; that’s how God has desired and designed it (v.18) and that’s what a body is (v.19). And so, application two: don’t dare say to a member of the body, “I have no need of you.” That’s hurtful, harmful, and it’s a lie.

Other Illustrations

Let me break out of the analogy altogether (so avoiding using ‘body’ language) and try to state the points Paul is trying to make:

1.    The church is made up of a diverse set of people
2.    That amazingly diverse group of people make up one people belonging to God
3.    With God’s people, there is no place of honor, except perhaps to raise up the least among us
4.    To the extent that we push out or restrict the full breadth of God’s people, we distort and reduce the image of God that we bear

I’d like to offer briefly two other analogies for God’s people to see if we can hear these points more clearly and freshly. I went to the Butler-Providence game this past Friday night, so these two analogies are fresh on my mind.

Pep Band

So both schools had their bands there. Bands play at key times throughout the game, to celebrate what is happening on the field or to encourage the team and fans audibly. They are a part of the whole school there, which included team, students, cheerleaders, fans, band, guard, and more. But let’s focus on them for a minute. Let’s run our four points with the band.

1.    A band is made up of a diverse set of instruments.
2.    That diverse set of instruments also made up one band – as opposed to sitting randomly in the stands with a trumpet and playing whenever you wanted.
3.    We may be inclined to have favorites – oh, I love the drumline (after all, my kid is there) or the brass. We may be inclined to discount the flutes; who can even hear them? But they all play a role, sometimes seen and heard, sometimes not. In fact, during one song on Friday, the band was dancing and the flutes were dancing the best, perhaps because they didn’t have to also hold 40 pounds of brass on their shoulder while dancing.
4.    What if we played to our favorites – let’s just get rid of flutes and clarinets and maybe a few other things. While there are such things as a brass band, at that game, it would have reduced what having a pep band is for. We needed them all!

Sports Team

And of course there was a game going on as well. Think about the football team. Who comes to mind? The quarterback? The linemen? The kicker? The head coach? Other coaches? The assistants or medical staff? They all play a vital role for the whole.

1.    A team is made up of a diverse set of people and roles (not all of which even step onto the field itself!)
2.    That diverse set of individuals make up one team, especially as they work together towards one purpose.
3.    We may be inclined to have favorites – either because you know someone in one of those roles (when our team played against Myers Park last year, we found ourselves cheering for their kicker, because “we know him!”) or because we tend to think of certain roles as more important. Certainly some roles are more visible than others, but ask any coach or player… the effectiveness of the whole depends on EVERY person doing their role well. This past Friday, the game was more determined by extra point kickers and by sportsmanship decisions than by the QBs. Every role important!
4.    And what if we just had a few positions playing? Just two kickers squaring off, or two linemen without a ball? or two coaches without a team? It might be curiously interesting for a moment, but it wouldn’t be football.

God’s Purpose: Unity and Care (vv. 24b-27)

So, back to the church. Hopefully you’ve heard Paul well by this time. Because of and through Jesus, you are all part of this people of God. And God both desires and designed the many different ways we go together. Paul ends our text today by talking about the purpose behind God’s design. Listen: “But God has so composed the body… so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” (vv. 24b-25) God’s purpose is two-fold: unity and care. It’s the two “so that’s” you just heard. It is so that there may be no division… that’s UNITY. And it is so that you may CARE for one another. He elaborates on the care. Because we are one, “if one member suffers, all the members suffer… if one is honored, all rejoice.” (v. 26)

So whether or not our issues line up with those of Corinth, what God desires and has designed for us is the same: that we would know unity in Christ and that we would suffer and rejoice with each other. That’s a healthy body; that’s an exciting pep band; that’s an effective team!

In the coming weeks we are going to look at several other significant texts which also deal with the Body of Christ. I invite you to come back and go deep, for you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. Amen.