Important Body Parts
The last couple of weeks we have been talking about our new Discovery Series. Discovery is a series of classes that will lead a person into a relationship with Christ, then guide them into membership in local church, help them find a God ordained ministry, mature them in Christ by helping them understand God’s Word and applying those teachings to every area of their lives, and ultimately make them into disciples of Christ who can also help others enter into that same journey with Christ.
What we have said is elementary to some of you and revolutionary to others. Today I am supposed to introduce you to the Discovering Your NICHE class. The word NICHE is just a clever way to address several issues surrounding how a person comes to understand the unique features of the way God created them and how those features help a person accept and ultimately perform a specific God-sized, God-ordained purpose in life.
I recognize that simply talking about the Church at times can be quite boring. Talking about the church is not always exciting, especially if you only think of the church as a building. But it’s not! The church is not a building, it is a movement! The church is like a wave. The church is incredible. And if the church has never been incredible to you, then perhaps today’s message will be helpful.
And, helpful it may be, for some it may be hard to get your hands around. The American dream can be a stumbling block for some of us when it comes to appreciating and understanding the full impact of the church. It used to be the American dream was simply to be able to retire with enough money to survive and perhaps travel a little. But now the American dream has been reshaped into becoming autonomous. Have you heard of that word? Autonomous!
Autonomous means I wake up in the morning and I do whatever I want, whenever I want. Autonomous means I have so much money, and I have my health, and if the phone rings, I can think to myself, “You know, I don’t really care who it is. I am not going to get it.” Someone says, “Hey, you got a meeting.” And you say, “I am not going.” Somebody says, “What you do you want for dinner?” and I say, “Whatever I want.”
That’s the American dream. I don’t want to be beholden to anyone. I want whatever I want when I want it. And you have to admit, that’s kind of an awesome way to live. That would be great. I can just make it up as I go along. And these days, because of technology and capitalism and free enterprise, it’s possible that early in life just about anyone can be autonomous. And if we don’t strike it rich early, it’s very possible for many of us to work at it 30 or 40 years and find ourselves autonomous for the last quarter of our lives.
You can make enough money and have enough power and influence that you can live like a King. So today, we strive for autonomy and we teach our kids autonomy and we get in our cars and we go off to church and we try, as hard as we can, at least most of us, we try as hard as we can to be Christians within the context of the mission and goals and purposes of the local Church.
But even before we darken the doors of the Church, there is already a “disconnect” between autonomy and Christianity. And, some people have that figured out. Some people have discovered something special. They understand that the church is made up of Christians. They understand that they cannot really be autonomous because they are Christians.
And, as Christians, they understand that by nature, by definition, they are connected to something so much bigger than them and they have also discovered, something I hope to communicate to you today, that ultimately satisfaction in life, understanding purpose in life and as a result living with peace and contentment in life, especially if you are a Christian, does not come from autonomy. There is no peace and satisfaction in that – maybe occasionally in the short term – but not in the long term.
Those who “get it” understand that as Christians, as little parts of a larger whole, they are connected to something incredible. They have discovered that there is a way for them to plug into what God is doing all around them through the church.
And, just as there are those who get it, there are those who do not get it and there are those who want to get it. And, sad part is, study after study – poll after poll reports, that many of you here today are currently unhappy, unfulfilled, and unsatisfied with the way things are going in your lives, and you think if I can only get that raise, that new job, that new car, that new house, a new relationship, get those bills paid off, get to that other field where the grass is greener, then I will be happy and fulfilled and satisfied.
But it’s not true. It’s just simply not true. And I am sorry. I really am. So let me tell you that you have a choice – you have options you can choose today, this week, this month, this year that will make your life more fulfilled, more meaningful, more passionate. This isn’t a message about how or why you should make more money so that you can invest it and yourself in the church. This is not about making you feel guilty about your limited involvement in Church. This is not about that at all.
The point of this message is this: that every single one of you has an opportunity. Every single of one of you have been invited to be a part of something much bigger than yourself.
And, if you embrace this truth, then you will understand where peace and contentment comes from. And it doesn’t come from just doing a bunch of stuff and making a lot of money, because that is not your purpose in life.
And if you are a Christian, your purpose in life cannot be found and there is no satisfaction apart from a proper understanding of your position in Christ. You are a little part of something universal; you are a little part of something big, something that God is doing all over the world. And as a part of that, there is no real peace and satisfaction in life apart from doing what God has called and gifted you and made you to do.
Let’s take a look at the Bible and see what Paul had to say to a bunch of Christians in Corinth. Take a look at I Corinthians 12. In this letter the Apostle Paul is talking to them about the fact that they are a small part of something big, that they are a part of something much larger than just a few individual people doing a few individual things.
Let’s look at I Corinthians 12, v.27, this is actually the conclusion, but I want to read the conclusion first in case you decide to leave early (pause), and then soon we will go back and read the beginning.
I Corinthians 12:27 says: “Now you (keep in mind he is talking to a bunch of strangers – plural), now you are the body of Christ – pause – and each one of you is a part of it.” Now if you grew up in church or have been a part of the church for a few years, you are probably familiar with that wording…you are the body of Christ. But think about that for a minute. These are strangers who aren’t far removed from the death, burial and resurrection of the person Jesus and now Paul is saying – you – you plural – you are the body of Christ.
“Well, no we are not. We are not the physical body of Christ. Jesus was a person. He had a body and we are not it. He walked around the earth, he had a body, I mean he was crucified, buried and resurrected…he had a body. We are not the body of Christ, Jesus had his own body.”
But Paul is going, “no…hang with me…this is new…give me a second to explain myself. Now you are the body of Christ. You, as a group, you as a people who have put your faith in Christ, you are now, on this earth, the physical presence and representation of Jesus Christ, you are the body of Christ.”
“Me…no,…not me!” Yes you….YOU…you people, you plural, you together, you all make up the body; you together are Jesus on the earth. You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. You collectively are the hands and feet and eyes and ears and nose and mouth of Jesus on the earth. And individually each one of you plays a role in that.
He explains to us, if you are a Christian, he explains to us something that is so important. He explains to us the relationship between the individual Christian, between me, that’s me the lone Christian, the relationship between the lone Christian and all the other Christians. We are the body of Christ. That collectively, we – all of us together – that collectively we are the body of Christ.
He explains that the closest any of us will get to Jesus on this earth, the closest we will ever get to being with Jesus is when we are around, in, apart of, with other Jesus followers.
This is huge. This has immense ramifications. Because in our autonomous society, you know what sort of temptation this is, because when I individually prayed the prayer, when I made my confession, when I got baptized in front of other individual Christians…I became a little Christian, I got my little bible, I got my little certificate, my little membership card, my me mine my personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And now I go off and live my own individual Christian life.
But that’s not how it works. You weren’t saved as an individual so that you could remain alone – so that you could remain by yourself – so that you could remain an individual. You were saved so that you could become connected to something greater than yourself. You were saved to become connected to all the other Christians.
Whether you knew them or not, whether you liked them or not, you were connected to all the other Christians and you now have a purpose in this life that cannot be lived out apart from the body of Christ. And together, connected to all the other Christians, you are Jesus on this earth. You are the BODY of Christ.
Now if we just stop right here, if we just ponder on this a minute or two, if we just think through this as Christians and think through our past as Christians, for some of you that may be two weeks, for some others that may be 30 years, but if we just think about our past as Christians, and so many of you have heard that so many times – the body of Christ – you have heard it so many times that its like – swoosh – it goes right over your head.
But if could think through what it means to be the body of Christ, to be Christ in person on the earth, if we were to begin to rethink our experiences and frame them in such a way that we no longer think of them individually, but rather collectively, we would realize what might be possible as the body of Christ. Think about what the body of Christ has accomplished through the years. Collectively, Christians have built hospitals, colleges, orphanages, towns, aid agencies, assisted people in disasters and various crises.
All over the world, in crisis, Christians have come together in the name of Jesus and did things together that no individual Christian can do. And if you have ever been a part of something like that, if you have ever accomplished something significant, something larger than yourself, if you have ever been a part of a group that has tackled something significant, then you know it is life transforming, it is life changing.
And if you have ever been involved in ministry, gone on a mission trip, whether local, national or international, if you have ever done a mission project, if you have ever taken on a ministry at a church, then you know what is at stake. But for some of us individual Christians, we can’t see that. We can’t get beyond the “me.”
“I don’t go on mission trips because – I don’t do ministry at church because – I only have a couple days off a week, I don’t have enough vacation to do that and go to Disney world, I need to rest, I don’t want to fly that long or drive that far – I don’t want to spend my savings on ministry – I am saving for Hawaii – and what can I do anyway – and what if I get sick – and I, I, I …I can’t.”
And the ones that do go, the ones that do join in a united effort, the ones that do “get it”, do you know what they say, do you know how they react? Well they say, “Did you see what we did? Did you see how we helped those people?” They start talking about “we.” “We did this, we did that, we we we.”
No more “I,” individual Christian. Now it’s “we,” we the church, we the body, we collectively. We were connected in a way that I cannot explain. God was so present with us in ways that I had never experienced before in MY own life. And then people can’t wait to serve again, or go back, and they show you pictures of where they went or what was accomplished. And if you have ever been a part of a group of Christians who did something so significant, then you understand what we are talking about.
You can actually be the presence of Christ on earth. You become the hands and feet of Jesus, but not by yourself. “We!” Remember what Jesus said, and this is so awesome, remember what Jesus said, wherever two or more are gathered in my name….there I will be in their midst. When two or more are there…in my name…I am there in their midst. Whenever I am there in His name…no…whenever two or more are gathered, then I am there in their midst.
Yes, He is always in you. But when two or more gather in His name, He is there in the midst of them all. Not just “in you” but “in your midst.” Jesus said, “I like a midst. Why, because when two or more are gathered, that is like a body. That’s me on the earth. I show up in the midst. And I love you as an individual, you are great, but you get a bunch of midst, ah I love that, because the midst is the body of Christ!”
That’s powerful. And something can happen in the body, in the midst of people, something can happen in the body that can never happen through the individual. (PAUSE)
Now let’s go back to these verses that led up to that. Starting in I Corinthians 12:12
12he body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.
13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.
16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.
17 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?
18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
19 If they were all one part, where would the body be?
20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 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!”
22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,
23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,
24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it,
25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.
26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
Your foot isn’t part of the body because of the role it plays; it is part of the body because it is connected- no more no less. But I am not a hand, but I am not an eye. But that doesn’t matter. You are a part of the body, no more no less, even though you are the foot.
And this is important. Because some of you have judged your value to the Church, you have based your value to the Church on your giftedness, you have judged your value to the church based on your money, you have judged your value to the church based on your ability to speak or teach – or you inability to do so – you say I can’t speak or pray in front of others – I can’t sing or play an instrument – I can’t teach – so I don’t know that I have any value.
And maybe there is something in you that says, “You know, I don’t know that I am really part of that Church, part of that body, because functionally, I don’t know what my function is.” But Paul says, “no, hang with me, listen to this. You were baptized into the body, you are in the body. And that fact that you don’t know what your role is, you don’t like your role, you don’t want your role, you don’t think your role is as good as that other persons role is, Understand – you are no less a part of the body…because God put you in the body.”
Just because a body part doesn’t like its role, or doesn’t want its role, or doesn’t know its role, or wants to be another part of the body, it is still part of the body. It is still expected to be a part of the body and function as part of the body. Our participation or our placement in the body does not determine whether or not we are in the body. If everyone in the body was the same, if everyone in the body had the same role, if everyone in the body had the greatest gift, it would be odd.
You are a part of the body…regardless of what you think…like it or not. You will never find peace. You will never find a sense of satisfaction … and you will never understand your purpose … you will never go to bed at night and lay your head on your pillow and be able to celebrate your life and say “I know why I am here” not on your own. It’s impossible.
You will never be able to answer all those questions about purpose and meaning…all of those questions especially those questions about purpose and significance and identity. The answer is found by understanding your role in the bigger picture, your role in the body, because God has arranged the parts in the body…every one of them…just as HE WANTED THEM TO BE!
This means you have a significant role in the body and if you are a Christian you are INDESPENSIBLE. And the fact that you don’t understand how you fit doesn’t change the fact that you fit. The fact that life has changed, the church has changed, the way we do things around here has changed, and things aren’t the same, none of that matters. The fact that you don’t think you have a significant role to play doesn’t change the fact that you do have a significant role to play.
And one of the greatest things you can do is to get involved somehow in ministry with other people and try a whole bunch of stuff until finally you find your sweet spot and can say hey, I have finally figured out what I am created to do.
It is to finally answer the questions of how you can work in tandem with other believers, with other Christians to accomplish God’s work in this world, this community, and in this church. And one of the greatest discoveries in the world is when you finally figure that out.
And you know something, when you figure that out your Christian life is going to come alive. The problem of “you know, I just don’t feel the presence of God anymore. I don’t feel close to God. I don’t know what happened. I am just not being fed. God seems distant. The church feels weird. It’s not the same place it used to be. I am just not close to God” goes away, because you will feel close to God when you are working with the body.
You don’t grow on your own. Cut off a hand and see how much that hand grows. Pop out an eyeball and see how much that eyeball grows. You grow when you are attached to the body. You grow when you are working in tandem with other believers in the body doing God’s will. And it’s never God’s will for you to withhold your gifts, or your talents, or your time because you don’t feel like it.
“Well, I just can’t find my purpose in life. My purpose is, my my my my my my purpose in life.” Well it’s because you don’t have a you you you you you your purpose in life. You have a role to play within the context of a body. This is simple. But it’s also revolutionary. And I guarantee you there are people who can stand up hear today and say:
“Let me tell you my story. I got invited to do this thing…I didn’t want to go…Wanda asked me help at JAM…I didn’t want to give up my Wednesdays….and I had this bad attitude…and then I got with a bunch of Christians and we did something together and it changed my life. I went down to this thing…I just got talked into doing this ministry…I volunteered to help out on Sunday and all of a sudden I am able to use my skills and …. And now it’s like I can’t wait to go back and see those kids, or finish that building project, or visit that mission.”
And you know what you would say, you would say, “my faith grew more…my faith grew more in working shoulder to shoulder with other Christians…doing that ministry project…my faith grew more during that time than during any other time of my life.
You are indispensable to the work of God in this place. Now just because you do not know how and you don’t feel it, don’t let that blow you off course, but what if you just stayed with that, and what if you got on your knees tonight and said, God, I need to find my indispensable area. I need to find my sweet spot, to find that place, that ministry area, that mission, that indispensable place where I begin to understand that you put me in this slot, you put me in this body because I play an indispensable important role, because the scriptures say that you arranged the body the way you wanted it. (PAUSE)
Last verse…the place we started all this…now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.
There are three questions you will never be able to answer until you find your place in the body. Number one is why don’t I feel close to God? It’s real easy, because you feel close to God when you function in the body. The foot is never going to feel close to the body until it gets connected to the body.
The second question you will never be able to answer is “why am I not growing?” Do you know how much a hand or a foot grows when it is separated from the body? What happens when a foot gets disconnected from a body? It stops growing. You can’t cut off a hand and expect that hand to keep growing.
And the third question you will never have answered is “what is my purpose? God show me my purpose.”
The significance is not where you are in the body; the significance is that you are a part of the body. And together we can accomplish things that we could never accomplish by ourselves. And it is God’s will for you, and God’s will for me, that we function as a body. Because together we can accomplish the will of God in this world; in this community; in this Church, (PAUSE) but apart from that we will always struggle and we will never be able to find our place, our purpose, or our significance.
That’s how NICHE can help. I can’t promise that you will take the NICHE class and all the lights will come on and everything in life will be crystal clear and satisfying and complete. But what I can say is that I will work with you and we will journey together, with God’s help, to learn and discover God’s purpose for your life. I will help you take a step in the right direction.