COLOSSIANS #7: If We Belong to the Head, We belong to the Body

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Christ is the head of the body, the church. You are part of the body, the church. That’s the deal. That’s part of what you sign up for when you surrender your life to Jesus. Part of trusting Jesus is trusting that he has made you part of his body.

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Colossians  #7.  Colossians 6:18

 18 And he is the head of the body, the church.

In this message, I am going to say some things that may be difficult for some people to hear. I want you to stay with me. It may seem like I am being unrealistic at one point, but hang in there, because I will cover our topic today as thoroughly as I can, including taking into account the reality of this sinful world.

In verse 18, Paul moves from a universal view of Jesus to a more personal one. He is the creator of all things, Lord of the universe. That is true, and wonderful. Even more wonderful is that this Creator God takes a personal interest in you and me. He is the head of the body, the church. He attained resurrection so that he could give it as a gift to us. He is God, and yet, he took upon himself the responsibility to repair what we had broken: ourselves, and this world.

And he is the head of the body, the church. There are two important things for us to understand in this statement. The first is that one metaphor for church is that of a body. This is extremely important, for a number of reasons. Let’s look at the idea in greater depth, as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 12:

12 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. 13 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.
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 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. 16 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. 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? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
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.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (ESV 1 Corinthians 12:12-27)

This has huge implications for how we live our everyday lives as followers of Jesus. We follow Jesus as a part of his body. It seems to me that millions of Christians don’t understand this. So many people think that religion is very personal and individualistic. There is a small element of truth in this. We do each need to have our own connection to Jesus, because ultimately, he is the only one we can always rely upon. We each have to receive the grace of God, and not reject it, as individuals. But once we are connected to Jesus, we are also connected to his body. And this connection to the body of Christ – that is, to others who follow Jesus – is supposed to last as long as the connection to Jesus himself: that is, eternally.

I have met many, many Christians who claim they are fine “going solo.” Unless everyone else you know who claims to be a Christian is actually a hypocrite – that is, they don’t really believe – there is no justification for that. “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.” Could it be any more plain than that? You cannot say to other Christians, “I have no need of you.”

Have you ever met a toe? Just a single toe, wiggling around through the world? Obviously not. A single toe, unconnected to the body will die. That is a biological reality. That is also a spiritual reality. A Christian without regular Christian fellowship will eventually wither away. People have asked me, “Can’t you be a Christian, and not be part of a Church?”

My answer has always been, “Yes, but not for long.”

Some people say, “I am connected to the head, (that is, Jesus) just not the rest of the body.”

All right then, have you ever met a head with a toe sticking out of the side of it? Stay with me here, I know I am being ridiculous – but so are the Christians who claim they do not need to be connected to other believers. Now, if you are a toe, and you are connected to the head, let me ask you two questions: how do you think the head looks to other people? Pretty weird, right? You aren’t doing Jesus any favors, and you aren’t helping him look appealing to the world if you are not connected to the rest of the body.

Second, this: if you are a toe, and you are connected to the head, and nothing else, what is your function? Why is there a toe on the head? How does the toe help out, up there on the head? If a toe is connected only to the head, it contributes nothing to the rest of the body. There is no purpose for it.

Are you starting to get it? The whole idea of a Christian who is not connected to the church is utterly silly and ridiculous. It gives other people  a skewed view of Jesus Christ, and it takes away the purpose that Jesus has for you in blessing others.

By the way, sometimes, I think this is why people are turned off by Christians and churches. Metaphorically speaking, The face of Jesus is covered by toes and fingernails that should be rightly connected elsewhere, but they aren’t, and so the church does not seem to be an attractive place.  Or, even if the face of Jesus is fine, they see a body that is missing feet and fingernails and eyelashes, and think, “That’s a little strange and creepy. I’m not sure I like it.”

Christ is the head of the body, the church. You are part of the body, the church. That’s the deal. That’s part of what you sign up for when you surrender your life to Jesus. Part of trusting Jesus is trusting that he has made you part of his body.

I meet some Christians who say, “I love Jesus just fine, but I really don’t love other Christians.” Listen, brothers and sisters that is impossible. If you love Jesus, you will love your fellow Jesus followers. If you don’t love your fellow Christians, then either you haven’t met enough of them, or there is something wrong in your relationship with Jesus. There are some things in the Bible that are difficult to understand, or are unclear. This is not one of them:

9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (ESV, 1 John 2:9-11)

If you think you are a Christian, and you hate other Christians, then you are mistaken. Being connected with Jesus means you are connected with his body, because he is the head. One sign that you are a Christian is that you love other Christians.

11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. (ESV, 1 John 3:11-14)

Now, at this point, some of you may be getting a little nervous. The reality is, you just haven’t met many Christians that you can connect with. You feel like you really don’t love the rest of the body, but you really do love Jesus. What can you do? What does this mean?

If you are sure that you love Jesus, and you are sure that you don’t love other Christians, there are a few possibilities. The first is that you are mistaken about either one, or the other. Maybe you really don’t love Jesus. Maybe you still have not surrendered control of your life to Jesus, and you think you have the right to arrange your life however you want, even if sometimes that goes against what Jesus wants. All Christians fall back into this pattern  at times, but I am talking about something deeper than just falling back into sin from time to time. If you really don’t love your fellow believers, perhaps there is something wrong in your relationship with Jesus.

There is another possibility, and that is that you have not yet found your place in the body of Christ. There are many Christians that I can appreciate from afar, but with whom I will probably never be very close. I love them in the sense that I am committed to their best good because we are fellow believers. But I don’t necessarily enjoy hanging around with them. I believe the Lord has a place for each person who belongs to him, a place of deep, loving community with others. Not all churches are the same, and I think this is by God’s design. If we want to use our body analogy, the hand is made up of all sorts of bones, and tendons and tissues and blood vessels. The knuckle of the first finger on the hand works very closely with the other parts of the hand. It is also connected, ultimately, to the stomach, but the hand and the stomach don’t spend a lot of time together. They need each other, but they are not working together as closely as they are with the parts that are nearest to them.

The devil is against us. The world is against us. Our own sinful flesh is against us. Should it be any surprise that it is difficult to find a group of fellow-Christians with whom we can really connect? Of course it is going to be hard, at times, to find the part of the body where we truly belong. But it is absolutely essential that we do.

As a pastor, I need to be connected not only with the people in my churches, but also with the leaders of other churches. It took me the better part of twelve years to find good connections with other church leaders near where I live. I went to pastor’s gatherings, prayer meetings, and events for church leaders. I prayed, and I asked around. Finally, at a retreat for men, I met some other pastors and leaders that I can connect with at a deep level of fellowship. I never quit looking. If I was that intentional about finding secondary fellowship (with other pastors – I already had fellowship in my congregation) then it may require some diligence on your part to find your primary fellowship. Do not stop looking until you find it. It is an essential part of belonging to Jesus. If you belong to Him, you belong to the body. If you do not belong to the body, you will not belong very long to him.

In case I haven’t been clear: it is OK if you don’t connect with the very first church you visit. It may take you some time to find “your people” in the body of Christ. But it is not OK to stop looking until you do. This is of utmost importance. Pray for fellowship. Talk to people you know and ask for suggestions. Be willing to give people a few weeks of your time before you decide you can’t connect with them. Also, be regular. You will never develop fellowship with people if you visit once a month. Also, try and meet Christians outside of Sunday morning church. Fellowship will come extremely slowly if you only see your fellow members of the body once a week.

Now, I have been very strong about this as something that we must do. And we must. Some of you reading this may need to adjust your behavior to conform with Christ as the head of the body. But the reason for doing so is because being a part of the body of Christ is a tremendous blessing. Christ is the head of the body because the best thing for his followers is to be a part of that body. When we commit to Christian community as the Bible describes it, it is an inexpressibly wonderful blessing.

I am an introvert. I need to spend time alone in order to regain energy. Even so, I feel tremendously blessed to have genuine, honest relationships with many Christian brothers and sisters. There is no secret in my life known only to myself – I have the kind of Christian friends to whom I can tell everything. I know that I am loved and appreciated. I know many people who won’t let me get away with stupid stuff or pretensions. I have laughed harder and more often with my fellow Christians than anyone else. I have their backs. They have mine. During the best times, I realize that the love and fellowship I feel with my fellow Christians is a true foretaste of the joy of eternal life. In short, the body of Christ is one of the greatest blessings in my life, and has been for decades. It takes work to get here. You sometimes have to work hard to find the right people. You have to be willing to go through conflict with one another, and work through issues together, without running away, or giving up on each other. But when we live in accordance with the head, Christ, being part of his body is one of the greatest joys we can know on earth.

BODY LIFE

body of Christ 2

 

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Experiencing Life Together #11. Body Life (1 Corinthians 12:12-31)

I learned an important lesson when I was a camp counselor: Never throw an unwilling camper into the lake, especially if one of his buddies is standing on your foot. I learned this lesson the hard way, for although the camper was unharmed (albeit, wet), his friend’s weight on my foot, combined with my momentum, broke the bone of my little toe.

The truth is, I had never paid much attention to my ‘pinkie” toe up until that point in my life, other than to clean lint off of it. For the next few weeks however, I began to learn what an indispensable appendage that smallest piece of my body is. For one thing, what it lacks in size, it makes up for in intensity. I have learned that there is a kind of “nerve layer” that is part of any bone in your body. When the bone is broken, that nerve layer becomes very distressed, no matter how small the bone is. A bone is a bone, no matter how puny and silly looking, and pain is painful, no matter where it originates. Second, I learned how important the health of my little toe is to the rest of my body. My injury interfered greatly in ordinary physical activities. I couldn’t do many things that I normally did, like running, jumping, throwing campers in the lake – even walking was quite difficult and painful for a while. I had to limp in an odd sideways sort of way that eventually caused a great deal of pain to the rest of my foot, and my ankle. I contorted into even stranger methods of motion to ease that pain, and eventually my back became seriously out of line- all because of one tiny little bone in my foot.

Even beyond the ways my puny little toe affected the rest of my body, the injury had ramifications for my greater existence in society. For more than a week I couldn’t even drive a car (it was the toe on the right foot). This had all sorts of implications, not least of which was my inability to get to the Laundromat. For a while I had to stand downwind of everyone. My little toe may even have had a hand in destiny, as it was a certain lovely young camp counselor by the name of Kari Perina who finally offered to help me in my distress, and run me into town for laundry and errands (‘this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship’).

My point is this: though my pinkie toe seems insignificant, even unnecessary, I found I could not get along without it. And when I had to try to operate without it, it affected almost every aspect of my life (I’m not even going to mention bathing).

The Apostle Paul is attempting to make the same point in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, although without the enriching personal experience of a broken toe. This is a passage that is vital to the understanding and practice of house-church ministry. There is an atmosphere, a context for house-church ministry, and that context is what I like to call “body life.” A house-church group really doesn’t work properly unless all members participate in body life and use the gifts and blessings God has given them.

Paul calls the church “the body of Christ’ and he expresses four main truths that this reveals. The first truth is that just as in a physical body, each part belongs to the others. We all have been called to “one Lord one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:5). Paul describes the superficial differences that were predominant in his day: (Jew-Greek, Slave-Free) and asserts that that these are indeed superficial. In Jesus, we all belong to each other. The differences that we may be tempted to point to might include rich-poor, white-colored, expressive-quiet, or any one of a number of things. These differences are not as deep as the truth that if we are in Christ, we are all parts of the same body.

The second Truth is that while we are part of the same body, we do not all have the same function. Each part is distinct. As Paul writes:

“If 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? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” (1 Cor 14:17-19).

We are not all given the same personalities, talents and traits. We are given our differences so that the Church may function as a healthy body, with all systems operating correctly. There was a time, shortly after the accident I described above, when I felt like my whole body was one huge, throbbing toe. Believe me, it was not a pleasant experience. Trust me, the whole body was not meant to be a toe. In the same, way, we in the body of Christ are supposed to be diverse in our personalities, gifts, backgrounds, races and life situations. These differences do not mean that we don’t belong – but they do mean that we each have a different function to fulfill in touching lives according to God’s pattern.

Third, each part of the body is indispensable. As I illustrated in the beginning, even the smallest part is essential to the well-being of the whole body. As Paul writes:

The eye cannot say to the hand “I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you? On the contrary, those parts that seem to be weaker are indispensable….

But God has combined the members of the body and given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. (12:21-22, 24-25)

The body of Christ needs all of its members to be functioning properly to be healthy. If one part is sick, the entire body is affected. Have you ever thought of Tabitha, the believer from Joppa? We will never know until we get to heaven, whether she spoke in tongues or not. We have no idea whether God used her to bring prophecy or healing. But we do know that she was used by God to help the poor, and this gift was so indispensable to the body of believers in Joppa, that God raised her from the dead to continue using her (Acts 9:36-41).

The fourth main truth that Paul expresses about the church as the body of Christ is that each part needs to work together. This is very similar to the truth he expresses in Ephesians 4:16, where he writes: “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work (emphasis mine).

To put it in very direct terms, I will offer a free rendering of what Paul is trying to get at:

If the whole church were the pastor where would the house-church leaders be? If the whole church were house-church leaders, where would the administrators be? What about those who minister in prayer, or who visit the sick? The deacons cannot say to the house-church members, “we don’t need you,” and those who lead worship cannot say to those who sing, “we don’t need you.”

Are you starting to get the picture? God has a plan for each and every member. If you are a part of this church (or any church) God has a special reason for you to be here. He wants to use you to touch lives in a way that he cannot use any other part of the body. It certainly will require some working together, and perhaps you alone cannot make much of a difference, but without you, the entire body will be affected. This is great news. You are special, unique and absolutely indispensable. In the body of Christ, you are somebody. You also have a responsibility to participate in body life, so that God can use you. You might decide that you cannot be used, or that you are to insignificant. But if you decide that you do not want to be used, or you do not make yourself available to be used, you like my little toe, could end up affecting the very backbone of the body. Now, you don’t need to become anxious over your responsibility. You can only function as part of the body and do your piece, as you depend upon the power of the Holy Spirit. You need only to be willing and available and God will see to it that the details of how you are used work out.You should not be anxious, but instead, rejoice that God sees you as important in his plan to touch the lives of other people. Rejoice that He will give you the wisdom and power you need to be a properly functioning member of His body- even if you are just a little toe.

Your church might need your wisdom, given you speak up. We might need your prayers. Perhaps it is your willingness to serve, or your skill with tools, or your solid dependability, or your education, or your administrative ability. I hope you get the picture: the list is endless. You are somewhere on it. Don’t be the broken toe, remember that each part of the body needs the other parts.