There are some people here who have studied anatomy in great detail and passed exams in it. They know the name of every bone in the body, every muscle, every organ and gland and whatever. And they know the function of each part. And they know what happens if a part isn’t working very well,
But all of us have at least some knowledge of the body. We all have one. We all know the names of at least some of the parts. Even I can probably identify my head and my elbow and a few other bits. We are all very conscious of our bodies, when we are concerned about how well they are working or concerned about how they look. Some bits we might be proud of; some bits we are embarrassed by.
A husband and wife were getting ready for bed. The wife was standing in front of a full-length mirror taking a hard look at herself.
“You know, love” she said, “I look in the mirror and I see an old woman. My face is all wrinkled, my chest sags to my waist, my rear is hanging out a mile. I’ve got fat legs and my arms are all flabby.”
She turned to her husband and said, “Tell me something positive to make me feel better about myself.”
He thought about it for a bit and then said, “Well…there’s nothing wrong with your eyesight.”
As you know, the Bible uses the body as an image of the church. There are other pictures. The church is also said to be a family, an army, a building, a flock, a bride. All of them tell us something about the nature of the church. But the one that receives the most attention is “the body of Christ”. What does that mean and what does it tell us about the church? How are we meant to function? Can we name the various parts? What part are you? Is the body healthy or sick? Today is just the introduction to a series we might call “How The Body Works” or “Ecclesiastical Anatomy”.
The body analogy is used quite a number of times. There are some longish passages about the body and other times there are just passing references. Sometimes the church is simply referred to as “the body of Christ” without any further development of that theme. It is an image that only Paul uses – none of the other biblical writers – but Paul uses it quiet often. There are various references in 1 Corinthians but chapter 12 explores it more extensively. Romans 12 also has an extended treatment and is somewhat similar to 1 Corinthians 12. Ephesians is largely about the church and uses the body language a number of times. Likewise, Colossians. It is a rich image that has a lot to say to us about how God views the church, and how God expects the church to work.
In Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about spiritual gifts. In that context, he uses the body image to explain some things about spiritual gifts.
Today, I would like to look at “A Body Designed By God”. I am going to read parts of 1 Corinthians 12. Listen for verses that say that God puts the body together in the way that He wants it to be.
READ 1 Corinthians 12:1, 4-14, 18, 24b, 27-31a
I am sure you noticed the strong emphasis that says God puts the body together; God decides which bits there will be; God distributes the various gifts.
Just by the way, it is probably a bit informal to talk about the “bits” of the body. A much better word for a limb or organ of the body is “member” and that should ring bells for you in connection to the church. That is a word the Bible uses and that we use both in relation to the body and to organisations.
A few years ago, Chris and I witnessed an accident in which six people were killed. Later we had to give evidence it the coroner’s court. The police had photos of the accident scene that they wouldn’t show us because they were too horrific. The phrase that they used was that the people were “dismembered and scattered”. Dismembered. Body bits were all over the place!
In 1 Corinthians 12, verse 4 to 6 say, three times, that there are different gifts, different ways of serving, different ways of working but it is the Spirit who distributes those gifts; it is the Lord who is served or who enables that serving; it is God who is at work in the members of the church as they work.
Again, by the way, notice how the three persons of the Trinity are mentioned there. People sometimes say that the Bible never talks about the Trinity. It is true that it never uses the word “Trinity”. That is a later word. But there are many places, like this one, that talk about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
In vv.7-11, the role of the Holy Spirit is mentioned six times (and implied several more). Paul hammered home the role of the Holy Spirit in all of this. V.7 talks about each person in the church receiving a manifestation of the Spirit. A manifestation is the way something is revealed or made visible. In each person in a church, there is (or should be according to God’s design) a way that the Holy Spirit is made visible for the common good. The gifts of the Spirit make the Spirit (make God) visible.
We will talk about the gifts of the Spirit another time but let’s use the first example here, in v.8, “a message of wisdom”. Let us say that you have this gift. God enables you to say wise things that you could never say if you were relying on your own ability. God gives you profoundly wise words and, because it is beyond your natural ability, people see it as coming from God. God is revealed through your use of this gift. When people realise that this wisdom comes out of your relationship with God, they might say, “Wow!”. When we use our spiritual gifts, people will be amazed at God.
V.7 says that to every Christian – to every member of the church – some manifestation of the Holy Spirit is given. Every member of the church. “Is given”. That is passive. We receive it… from whom? It is given by whom? God. It is God who gives the gift; who gives this supernatural ability; who decides what particular gift each person will have. God is in control. God designs how the body will be.
In vv.8-10, Paul lists nine spiritual gifts: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues and interpretation of tongues. After the first four he keeps on saying “given through the Spirit”, “by means of the same Spirit”, “by the same Spirit”, “by that one Spirit”. For the last five, he doesn’t. Does that mean that miracles and prophecy etc are not given by the Spirit? No! All of these are gifts of the Spirit. Having said it four time, he hopes that we will realise that it is true of all of the gifts. All of these manifestations are the work of the Holy Spirit.
In fact, just to make sure we haven’t missed the point, Paul says it again in v.11: All of these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He distributes them to each one, just as He determines. This is God’s work; He distributes; He decides how He will distribute; He decides who will have what gift and how many of each are needed in any church.
But again, notice that He distributes to each one. This is about every one of us. God has chosen to place us in His church and to give us a certain gift or gifts. Every one of us has at least one spiritual gift that God expects us to use for the common good. For the good of everybody. These gifts are to be used for the good of the whole church – indeed, for the good of people beyond the church. People will be converted through our use of our spiritual gifts because that is how they encounter God. You have a role to play because God has chosen what parts He needs in the body, and He needs you to use the gifts that you have been given by Him.
Clearly, in this passage, there is an emphasis on the sovereign work of God. He is in control; He is Lord. In fact, both Colossians and Ephesians, when using this image of the church being a body, say that Jesus is the head. We will come back to that another time. The point at the moment is that God designs His church. God decides what part each of us will play and gives us gifts accordingly. Paul keeps on saying it. It must be really important that we get it.
1 Cor 12:13 we are baptised by the Spirit into the body
1 Cor 12:18 But, in fact, God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wants them to be.
1 Cor 12:24b But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lack it.
1 Cor 12:28a And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets…
The church is a body designed by God. Each one of us has been chosen and allocated a role and placed in the body where God wants us to be and given spiritual gifts to enable us to function for the good of the whole body.
This has a number of really important, practical implications.
- You are uniquely important in God’s plan.
God has chosen you and given you a particular role. Your role is different from other people’s. There are different gifts and different ways of serving. Other people can do other things but only you can be whom God has called you to be. In God’s plan, your role is crucial to the whole church.
- If this is how God designed His church to operate, we need to comply with His plan.
We cannot ignore God’s plan. He expects us to take this body teaching seriously. God expects us to be a body with all that that means for how we relate to one another and how we function in the role God has chosen for us. God expects us to do it.
- If this is God’s design, let’s rejoice in His decisions (not resent them).
You know how sometimes we don’t like our own bodies and we think that God didn’t do a very good job of designing us? Sometimes, it helps to remember that God doesn’t make mistakes. God designed us and God love us just the way we are.
The same applies to the way God has designed the church. He is infinitely wise. He knows what He is doing. His decisions are always good. We might think, “I wish I had another gift, not the one I have got. I wish I was more important in the church or I was more visible and more appreciated. Why did God decide I should be an eyelash? I’d rather be the eye. Or, why can’t I be the heart?”
We can easily look at others and be envious. But, if we know that God loves us and He knows exactly what is best for us – and also what is best for others and how we can make a real difference for others – can we trust His wisdom? Can we submit to His design and rejoice in what He has called us to do?
- There are practical questions for each of us to answer
Do you know what part of the body you are? Do you know what gifts you have been given, and why? Are you using your gifts? Are you being the part God has asked you to be?
We will be looking at these questions, and others, in the weeks ahead. Hopefully, we can help each other discover our gifts (if we don’t already know what they are) and help each other use those gifts. “Help each other”. That’s what being a body means. We need all of the parts. We need the gifts that we don’t have but others do.
And hopefully, as we understand more of this body analogy, God will be delighted as He sees His church operating as He always wanted it to, and other people will be blessed as we use our gifts for the common good.