The Church - Belonging To The Body

Bible Book: 1 Corinthians  12 : 12-17
Subject: Church; Body of Christ; Church Membership; Servanthood

Several months ago I was going over to the headquarters of the Presbyterian Church in America - over in northeast Atlanta on Century Plaza. I was going to see a friend of mine, Archie Parrish. He's a church statesman, a prolific writer, a wonderful communicator, a great man of God. Not ever having been to the Presbyterian Church in America headquarters before, I got lost. And I saw this very well- dressed man walking across a parking lot. And so I pulled into the parking lot and asked him, "Do you know where the headquarters of the Presbyterian Church in America is located?" And he threw up his hands and said, "Don't ask me. I'm a Methodist." And that is the way some people define their relationship to the church of Jesus Christ. It's all about denomination. There are those who say, "I'm a Methodist; I'm a Baptist; I'm a Presbyterian; I'm a Lutheran; I'm an Episcopalian," or whatever.

One Friday afternoon late I was maybe the only one who was left in this building. I was at the receptionist's desk and a delivery came. And this man came in with this package and a clipboard. And he asked me if I had the authority to sign, to acknowledge the receipt, of this particular package. "I noticed on your sign out there that it just says Eastside." And he said, "What kind of a church is it?" And I said, "Well, it's just a Christ-loving, Bible- believing church." And he said, "No, I didn't mean that. I meant what kind of denomination is it?" And I said, "Well, if you're looking for a label, it's a Baptist church." And he said, "O well, that's good. I was thinking maybe it might be one of those non-religion churches." Well, to a lot of people a church is affiliated with some denomination, or it's not a church at all.

Then, of course, there are those at the other extreme who could not care less about the church or denominations, even though they insist they are Christians. They are just sort of independent Christians. They don't have anything to do with any other Christians. And they expect that when they die they will go to heaven, and then they will be a part of the church of Jesus Christ.

Then, of course, there are those who are not Christians at all. And for them it is totally a non- subject. They hardly would say that one of the most important relationships of life is the relationship to the church, for that is something that you would have to be a Christian to think and to say.

I. The Church Is No Ordinary Organization

The Church belongs to Jesus Christ. It is supernatural. Jesus said, "I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." So Jesus was the founder of the church. And when we talk about the Christian church, we are talking about something that is mysterious; something that we never fully understand; something that is truly supernatural. In other words, it is designed and empowered by God Himself. The New Testament calls the church the body of Jesus Christ. And that is a strange expression - the body of Jesus. But we need to understand that when the eternal Son of God stepped down from all of the majesty and the great glory of heaven; when He became human and when He was born on Christmas day that God gave to Him a human body to live in. It was, and it is, body number one. It is in that body that He was born, that Jesus grew to maturity, that He performed miracles, that He raised the dead. And then that body from which he taught marvelous truths, with which he walked on the water, with which He represented God on earth, was scourged and crucified on a cruel cross. And so it was in that body that He died. And it was that body that came back to life again on Easter Sunday morning. And it was in that body that Jesus ascended and went back to heaven.

That was body number one. But that meant that when Jesus' body went back to heaven God no longer had a comparable representative here on earth. And so God gave to Jesus a second body - body number two - the church. It was born, not on Christmas, but on Pentecost and has been in existence for 2000 years. It includes all those who are Christians, regardless of age or language or race. And it is this body number two that represents God on earth that speaks God's truth that communicates God's love. It is God's representative and spokesperson today. And the church is supernatural.

Now, there are those who have had a rotten experience with the church. There are those who have seen immorality in the church. They have seen conflicts in the church. They have seen mediocrity in the church. They have experienced boredom in the church.

As the Sunday School class for 7-year-olds was well underway, one little boy suddenly exclaimed to the teacher, "Can we hurry up? This is boring." Immediately the little girl to his left gave him a sharp elbow to the side and rebuked him, saying, "Shut up. It's supposed to be boring!"

There are those who have found the church to be a rotten experience. And they have often had legitimate complaints. But in spite of our human inadequacies and our human mistakes, the church of Jesus Christ has not only survived, but it has thrived for 2000 years. Understand that for 20 centuries the church has continued, even when great empires have collapsed. If it were merely a human institution, it would have gone out of business long ago. But the worldwide church of Jesus Christ today has over 1.7 billion Christians. It is seven times the population of the United States.

II. The Church Has The Holy Spirit

The church is older than any other organization in history. It is supernatural. But listen, folks, the church is not supernatural just because it has endured through the centuries. It is supernatural because when Jesus ascended into heaven, He gave to the church the Holy Spirit. In John 14 Jesus said, "Verily, verily I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father...And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; Even the Spirit of truth...." So Jesus Christ has empowered the church with a supernatural power -the power of the Holy Spirit. And I believe with all of my heart that the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit is available to us today. Let me illustrate.

In the 1850s in America there was a marked decline in religion in the United States. The discovery of gold in California, as well as a number of other developments, had turned people's minds and hearts away from religion and toward material things. The political turmoil over slavery and the threatened disintegration of the nation also preoccupied public attention. A severe financial panic in the late 1850s led to even greater concern about material things.

In September of 1857 a quiet businessman named Jeremy Lamphier decided to invite other businessmen to join him in a noonday prayer meeting once a week, seeking for the renewing work of the Holy Spirit. He distributed hundreds of handbills advertising the meeting. But the first day only half a dozen showed up, meeting in the rear of a church on Fulton Street. Two weeks later there were forty. And within six months some 10,000 were gathered daily for prayer in New York City alone. A spiritual awakening swept the country, and within two years an estimated one million people had professed faith in Jesus Christ. What happened during those days could only be described as a supernatural work of God.

III. Good Things Happen In The Church

There are many good things happening in churches all across America. And I believe that good things are happening in our church. But we're only touching the hem of His garment. God wants to do so much more in us and through us. He wants to demonstrate His power in miraculous ways. And do you know something? That's what the world needs to see.

If you'll remember in First and Second Kings, Elijah's day was a day of miracles. And God used Elijah supernaturally to impact his society for eternity, then Elijah was translated to heaven in that chariot of fire. And the mantel of Elijah fell upon Elisha, the younger prophet. And as Elisha stood there at the beginning of his ministry, he looked up into heaven, and he said, "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?" I believe that is the heart cry of the world today. We speak of miracles, and we speak of the supernatural, and we speak of the dynamic of the church, but the world needs to see us supercharged with the mighty power of the Holy Spirit.

As a church, I just want to challenge you to be everything that God said that you could be, naturally supernatural in a supernaturally natural world. So God has destined us to be supernatural. But that's not all. As the body of Christ, our relationship is one of interdependence. That is very different from the American way. As Americans we value independence, but as Christians we value interdependence. And so the Bible compares our relationship to each other as a relationship that is like unto parts of the body and that they cannot independently function. Your arms and your legs had to cooperate with your heart and your head if you were going to get out of bed this morning. I mean, the members of your body cannot function independently of each other. To be a body means interdependence with each other. I want you to see this in our text. Look in I Corinthians 12:12-21 (read). Now look in verse 25 (read). Now, listen, folks. You are the body of Christ and each one of you is part of it. The Bible knows no such thing as an independent Christian. To claim to be independent from other Christians is really to admit to not being a Christian at all. I think one of the most beautiful illustrations that I have seen of the body working together as it is supposed to is in the construction of The Promised Land - the community playground for children. Hundreds of people worked together. Everyone had a responsibility. And interestingly enough, it was not just members of Eastside Baptist Church. There were people from other churches and other denominations. There were school groups and civic groups and military personnel. There were boys and girls and teenagers and married folks and single adults and senior citizens. It was a marvelous thing to behold. And it was a miracle that it was accomplished in six days. You see, that's what happens when the body functions as it is supposed to function.

I stopped at a rest area on Interstate 85 several years ago. I think it was at the Georgia-South Carolina state line. But I never will forget this. There was a family in a van traveling north on Highway 85. They had a Spalding County tag. I guess they were from Griffin, Georgia, or from somewhere in that area. There was a man and a woman and five or six children. And they apparently had been traveling all morning without a stop. And they had planned to stop at this rest area and have a picnic.  I was just amazed at the orderly fashion in which those children got out of the van. The oldest one was about twelve. And they all had responsibilities. The twelve-year- old was taking care of the baby. There was about a ten-year-old boy who was carrying a watermelon. There were two smaller children who appeared to be twins who were carrying the picnic basket together. Another little guy was carrying a huge 3-liter soft drink bottle that looked to be as big as he was. And together they found a picnic table and they spread out a tablecloth. And together they worked to set the table. The oldest girl proceeded to change the little baby's diaper. I mean, I stood there in amazement at the cooperation and the teamwork. And finally I walked over to the father, and I said, "I just want to commend you on the great job that you're doing with your children. They're so well behaved. They're so helpful. They all obviously know their job and they're doing it with precision." And then I said, "What's your secret?" And he said, "I told them they could not go to the bathroom until they got their work done." Now, that is the kind of interdependence that we need in the church.

IV. The Church Is Supernatural, Interdependent, And Loving

The Church of Jesus Christ is definitely supernatural, interdependent, and then loving according to Jesus. In fact, that is the distinguishing characteristic to separate the church from any other organization or institution in the world. Jesus says that it is by love that Christians, in their relationships, will be known to each other. You know, the greatest words about love that were ever written in any language - some say the greatest piece of literature that was ever written - is on the next page from what we have read. And that is the love chapter in I Corinthians 13. It is read at weddings. It is seen and heard romantically. It is often quoted in part or in whole. But, you know, it is not talking about the relationship between friends or husbands and wives or two lovers. It is talking about the relationship of Christians together in the life of the church.

Bill Hybels, in his book "Rediscovering the Church," says that the church offers to the world a love of another kind. He says that Jesus was scandalously generous in distributing love. In Luke 7 when He was dining at the invitation of the Pharisees, the neighborhood prostitute barged in and fell down before Him, her tears bathing His feet. It was the social embarrassment of the month, but Jesus didn't whack her for her wicked life; He didn't throw her out to demonstrate that He hadn't had any prior acquaintance with her; He didn't sermonize on morality. Instead, He looked into her eyes and discerned that her tears of repentance were genuine. Then He assured her that her moral debt had been canceled by love of another kind. Those of us who have been saved have experienced this love of another kind. And it is that kind of love that we must not forget. And it is that kind of love that we  must communicate to all those around us.

Now, I don't want to paint Eastside as being better than it is. But anybody who hangs around  Eastside Baptist Church long enough will know that there is a love of a different kind here. And that is one of the marks of a church. And it has everything to do with our relationship to one another, and our relationship to a lost world. Now, we've talked about three characteristics of a church - it's supernatural, it's interdependent, and it's characterized by another kind of love.

V. The Christian's Relationship To The Local Church

But before I come to the close of this message, I want us to get even more practical. I want to list for you five different areas of a Christian's relationship to the local church and ask you to sort of self- score and say, "This is where I am" or "This is how I'm doing." The first question is a little more abstract than the other four, but let me try to explain it. The first question has to do with how we see our relationship to the church - that is, other Christians - as an expression of our relationship to God. Now, in order to understand that, you must realize that the church is not a building; it is not a typical organization. It is people. And I don't know about you, but I am ready to get our pictorial directory.

Because as you look into the faces of the people in the pictorial directory, you will see the church.  And as we see the church as an expression of our relationship to God, that is sort of a foundation to what the church of Jesus Christ is all about. So rate yourself. If you see that as a strength, give yourself a ten. If it's an area of growth, seven. If you think that's a weakness, then maybe a five. If it's a weakness that you'd like to see grow, then give yourself a two or three. But if you couldn't care less, then give yourself a zero or a one.

The Christian who wants to have God's perspective sees his or her relationship to the church as an essential part of that personal relationship to God. You see, it's an easy thing for me to say that I love God. Now, how do you know whether I do or not? Well, if I love other Christians in the context of the church, that is the proof of whether or not I love God. If God says, "Forgive others." And I say, "Sure, I'll do that." The proof of that, the reality of that relationship, is what I do in the context of the contacts and the relationships that I have with others who are Christians in the church of Jesus Christ. So, what's your score? Have you got it?

All right, number two. Now this has to do with taking responsibility, which is important for any relationship. If you are married, you know that you can't just expect the other person to make the marriage succeed. Now, we sometimes joke about it, but the marriage that is really going to succeed is the marriage where I take 80 or 90 percent of the responsibility and she takes 80 or 90 percent of the responsibility, rather than laying it upon the other person, or expecting the other person to make everything happen. Now, to say that I take responsibility in terms of my relationships to other Christians is not to excuse other people or to allow them to be irresponsible.

It's to recognize that I dare not step back and say, "O, there is some institution somewhere and they have got to make me happy. They've got to solve my problems. They've got to meet my needs.

They've got to connect me. They've got to do all of those things." But rather I take responsibility myself in terms of those relationships. For example, I can't say, "You're supposed to teach me." I need to say, "I will take responsibility to learn." I can't say, "You've got to befriend me." I need to take responsibility that I reach out and befriend other people who don't have friends. I dare not say, "You give whatever you need to give or whatever you will give, and I'll take the benefits off what you give."   It's that I take the responsibility and I also give in order for the relationship to be good, and in order for the church to be the church.

Too frequently modern American Christians leave the responsibility to others. What about you? Do you consider yourself to be responsible? If you are very responsible, give yourself a ten. If you leave everything to everybody else, then give yourself a zero or a one. By the way, there's an interesting side test that you can give yourself regarding this. Suppose this summer you're going to be transferred to another city and another state, to Indiana or Texas or New York. And you're going to look for a church to be a church home when you get there.

Is the main question on your mind what that church can do for you, or what you can contribute to that church? You see, that's the issue of responsibility. Are they responsible to me, or am I responsible to them? So pick a number and move on to number three.

Now, number three has to do with getting connected. I think of this sometimes as being like Velcro. If you have two pieces of Velcro, one piece is a set of hooks and the other is a set of eyes. And if they are completely separate from each other, there is no connection. If you just sort of touch them together and make a slight connection, then you can pull them apart easily. But if you press them so that there are hundreds of connection points, then it's almost like a zipper. It's hooked up and compressed together.

So how well are you connected to other Christians in the body of Jesus Christ? Do you know people by name? How many people do you pray for? That's a good indicator of how many other Christians you have really connected with. You see, God's design is that I pray for a whole lot of people, and a whole lot of people pray for me. And that is far superior than that I pray just for myself and for my own. Or have you worked with other people in projects? Do you have Christian friends?

Are you a member of the church? I tell people, "If you're going to leave here and go somewhere else, once you sense that God has called you to a church, then certainly don't take more than three months to identify with that church." Church membership is a tangible way of saying, "I am part of    everybody else, and I'll take that responsibility." So if you're well connected, give yourself a high number. Or if you're a loner or off by yourself, give yourself a lower number.

The fourth test has to do with doing one's part. I Corinthians 12 says that every Christian has a part in the church. There's only a partial list there, but some are teachers and some are evangelists and some are helpers and some show mercy to others and some are encouragers. By the time a person has been a Christian, say twelve months, especially an adult, each of us should have pretty clear idea of what is our part. Even as an eye needs to know that it is an eye and a foot needs to know that it is a foot in the body, each of us should have a pretty clear picture of what God has called us to do in the body of Jesus Christ. And then we do that part. It is an essential expression of devotion to Jesus Christ. For it is something less than devotion to Jesus Christ to be a part of the body and not be able to identify your part or your gift. Christians, by God's design, are never intended to be swamps that just have water flowing in. But we're to be rivers that have both water flowing in and water flowing out.    We do something.

So, how do you rate yourself? What is your part within the relationships of other Christians in the body of Jesus Christ? And do you do that part? That's a high score. Do you regularly contribute; give your proportion of energy and proportion of prayer or money? Or do you expect other people to give your share? If every Christian functioned just as you do, would that be a good thing or would that not be a good thing? Well now, give yourself a score.

Now we come to the fifth and final item, and that has to do with loving others. And, of course, Jesus said that this is a key mark of who is a Christian, and especially important within the context of the body or the community. It is, in a sense, the fuel that makes Christian relationships good. Because without love it's just another human organization. But with love, then the church is the body of Jesus Christ. Love is, in part, an attitude. But it is especially acts of kindness toward others. Sometimes it's confrontation. Love requires that. It's not letting other people get away with things that are out of line and inappropriate, but doing it in a kind and gracious way. Love is unselfish. It takes the other person's side and perspective. Love is forgiving. It is generous. It is treating others the way Jesus treats us.

Now, I know what happens in situations like this. Some of you are going to give yourselves a score that's higher than you should. Others of you will give yourselves a lower score than you should. Be honest, but don't be too hard on yourself. Because I know that there are a lot of people in this church who are a lot like Jesus Christ.

Well, how does it add up? What's your score? Maybe your score should trigger a response. There are some of you who perhaps need to say, "Okay, if this is one of the most important relationships of life according to God, then there's something that I need to do about it." And then once you realize that there's something you need to do, then do it. And do not do it just for yourself, although the benefits are wonderful. And don't do it for the church, although it's great when everybody does his or her part in the body. That's terrific for other people, but do it for the sake of Jesus Christ.


There Is Nothing Like The Church

I want to tell you something, folks. There is nothing like the church. I love the church. It is my family. It is my folks. Dear friend, you can be a part of the church of Jesus. Some of you here need a church home. You live in Cobb County or one of the surrounding counties. Your furniture is here. Your clothing is here. Your silverware is here. And yet your church membership is not here. You need a local church family. You need a local church home. Why don't you just get that church membership in place where you can have a family of people who love you and pray for you and care for you. Amen.