Serving the Church

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It's quiz time! Let me ask you: What is the mission statement of our church? We are to Live Godly Lives, Grow The Church, and Change Our Nation. Apologies if you're new here – but for those who have been around on Sunday evenings over the last few weeks, you'll know that we're in the middle of a series looking at how our Church Mission Statement works itself out in the life of a disciple of Jesus. We've looked at how we need to Trust In Christ and Obey The Word in order to Live Godly Lives, and tonight we move on to see how we need to Serve The Church in order for it to grow. And we're calling this series "The Spirit-Filled Life" – as it's not just about us having a clear corporate direction, but about God doing something in us and through us, by His Spirit that we couldn't do by ourselves. So let's pray that he'd be doing that as we come to look at his word tonight.

Father God, as we come to open your word this evening help us to hear your voice. Feed our minds, open our hearts and sharpen our consciences – so that we will go from this place better equipped to live a truly Spirit-Filled Life. Amen.

Let me tell you about 'Drive-Thru Church'. I'm sure you've come across drive-through fast food at McDonalds or KFC. Or drive-through car washes. You can get drive-through Starbucks out at the Metro Centre. You can even do a drive-through weekly shop these days, by doing click and collect at Asda or Tesco. But when I was on Sabbatical earlier in the year I came across a new phenomenon in the United States called 'Drive-Thru Church'. What happens is you drive in, park your car and you tune in your radio. And then you can listen to the songs, and the prayers and the sermon all from the comfort of your own car. And then you drive out waving at a few neighbours as you go, and before you know it you're back out onto the freeway to get on with whatever is next on your schedule. And you can also get drive-through prayer, drive-through communion, and drive-through weddings. You just have to be aware that not all churches offer this drive-through service!

Now I mention that not merely as a gentle warm up for this sermon, but to get you thinking – isn't it possible for us to drive ourselves into this church building, park ourselves in the pews, tune into what's going on, wave at a few neighbours and drive on through? I mean, I'm sure we've all felt that at various points: 'I haven't got time for this. I'm too tired to engage with others. And when I do I don't tend to get much out of it.' As we look for the church merely to serve us, and fail to engage with our responsibility to serve the church.

And as we think about this subject tonight we need to recognise right from the start that the church is not a place to which you go, but a body to which you belong. That's the picture we are given of the church in that Bible reading we had earlier on in 1 Corinthians 12.12-31. And it's written to a church who were divided by a rugged individualism that had seen many of them thinking only of themselves and their own interests. They had been called to be like any church in 2 Corinthians 5 and be "...ministers of reconciliation in the world... as Christ's ambassadors bringing God and man together." But they couldn't even get themselves together! So much so that Paul at one stage says: 'You're such a disgrace. I wish you weren't meeting at all.' – 'Your meetings do more harm than good.'

And as Paul dealt with the issues in Corinth, the Holy Spirit leads him at this point in the letter to write this very helpful passage about what it practically means to be a Christian in the local church – by painting us a picture of the church being a body, with Christ as the head. And it is designed to show us our interdependence (hands!) – as church should be somewhere that we can depend on each other. So let me share with you three things this passage teaches us that we should be saying to ourselves about our involvement in church – here's the first one:

1. We are Linked with Everyone Else (v12-13)

Take a look at verses 12-13. Have a look at those verses. What's the repeated word there? Do you see it?

"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. 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."

Five times here we read the word "one"! As Paul is emphasising unity here, isn't he? And to do that he is using this image of a body, with many parts all linked to each other. And the message is clear, that what it means to be church is that we are linked to everyone else. We are joined with them. We are one with them. Just like my hand is joined to my arm. It's inescapable! I couldn't separate myself even if I wanted to.

You see when the Apostle Paul says: "For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body..." He isn't talking about being splashed with water like Florence, Ellie, Vance have been tonight. Here it means the process of becoming a Christian – God's Spirit washing through us, opening us up to Jesus' grace and bringing us under his rule. This happens to all Christians the moment they turn to Christ. And if we've done that then we become part of the same body. The body of Christ, his church. So there is no second decision we make as a Christian to join the church. As the Spirit came on us he baptised us into one body and we were joined automatically whether we chose to or not. So I cannot just drift in and out of church like a spiritual gypsy. No! You belong to me and I belong to you. We are all linked.

Now that may be a frightening thought to you! I have to admit it freaks me out a little bit too! Because let's face it – at times being in the church can be intensely frustrating and even deeply disillusioning. So why should we be linked together and why should we stick with it? Well Paul is saying that just as our physical body is a single united organism which lives and grows through a whole variety of functions in which different separate parts are involved, working in harmony – so the church is built up by a variety of functions which different members are to fulfil. But there is a central control to which every part is obedient. The head of the body is Christ. And in Christ we find our unity. 

And it is his Spirit working in us who gives life to the church. We can find all kinds of reasons why church doesn't function as well as it should, and even why we feel church has perhaps let us down. But the only reason a church does not fulfil its purposes is because we fail to be united in the Spirit of God. It has been said that a thousand religious people knit together by good administration can no more make a church than eleven dead men together in the same grave would make a football team! It just can't happen! And so it is the Spirit who converts us. It is he who brings us into the body. And it is he who gives vibrant life to the body. In the church God's Spirit is at work!

But how do we know that God's spirit is at work in us? Answer: because deep down we long to go God's way! Yes we stumble and we fall, and there are all these other motives flying around, but deep in your inner being, the proof that the Spirit is at work in you is that you actually long to go God's way. And if you're at all unsure about whether you're a Christian tonight then we often recommend taking this little booklet "Why Jesus?" away and reading it through for yourself. Now I'm sure that would be helpful, but maybe you've done that already and you've been around a while now and it's time to sit down and really chat it through with someone? That could be someone who you've been coming along with, or it could be one of the leaders or staff here – but let me encourage you to do that this week.

But maybe your hesitancy about the church is not so much to do with uncertainty about faith or organisational frustrations. Instead it's to do with the many and varied differences there are between us. Well verse 13 tells us that we are to be united whether we are "Jews or Greeks, slaves or free" – as no matter what differences exist between us... we are still one body. So race and social status no longer divide us – For the same Holy Spirit permeates every believer. And so we are one in the body of Christ.

We need to say to ourselves: 'I am linked to these people sitting around me.' We may not know them very well. We may not get on with some of them very well. We might be very different. But a commitment to Christ, is a commitment to his body and therefore a commitment to be linked in with one another.

That's why joining a small group is so important. It's great to be part of a large gathering like this on a Sunday, but the thought of being committed to a thousand other people in a meaningful way is mind boggling isn't it?! So get into a home group, or Focus for students or a JPC international group or CYFA for those in school years 10-13. To be committed to Christ is to be linked into his body – so that we can know others and be known by them. And together support, and encourage, and build one another up in faith and love. Because the second thing this passage teaches us to say is:

2. We Need Each Other (v.14-26)

Paul goes on to tackle the twin dangers that every local church faces. First there are those who have an inferiority complex in the body. As verse 15 puts it: "If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body"" – And then again in verse 16: "...if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body..."" So the focus here changes from the unity of verses 12 and 13 to the diversity that is part of God's plan – We should be very joined together, but wonderfully diverse. But the church in Corinth had confused unity for uniformity. That's what they'd done. One commentator has said of this passage:

"God made snowflakes, everyone different, but at Corinth they wanted ice cubes – everyone the same."

And many contemporary Christians make the same mistake. They want everybody to be like them, passionate about the same things and doing things the same way as them. But that isn't God's plan! We don't all have the same roles. We don't all have the same gifts. We don't all do things the same way. As genuine unity thrives through variety. That should be our experience – verse 14: "For the body does not consist of one member but of many." But sadly some of the less outwardly gifted members of the church at Corinth obviously felt insignificant. As they met alongside Christians who seemed to possess such visible gifts of oratory, or prophesy, or tongues, or even miraculous powers, they were saying: 'Because I can't do what they can do, I don't matter. I don't belong.'

Ever felt like that? Ever felt you can't get involved in serving here because you're not good enough? Or maybe you started to serve, but felt intimidated by those who were already doing it – and so you pulled out? Well I'm sorry you felt that way, but the Apostle Paul says: 'That is wrong thinking! You must not think that way, as it is not the way God has ordered things.' The foot and the ear may not be able to perform the complicated functions of the hand or the eye, but who would want to be without them! Do you fancy going a day without your feet? I don't! That would be way too much falling over for one day! The answer to inferiority is found in verse 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?"

Can you see what he's saying? He's saying: no member of the body can perform another's tasks. So if the ear says I'm very inferior because I can't see, the truth is that neither can the eye hear! Both are needed! There is a great temptation to feel inferior if we are not in the limelight. That's what was going on at Corinth – where everyone was fighting to be seen. But who is to say that those with the secret ministry of prayer are not far more important than those with the more public ministries of leadership or teaching or preaching? And where would we be without those who have so faithfully and sacrificially exercised the secret ministry of giving down through the years and especially so in recent times, in the life of our church? And I'm fully aware of how futile all the hours of prayer and preparation that I've put into this sermon would be if no one was manning the PA desk at the back. Andy on the PA wields a lot of power over me at this moment in time!

Can you see? That in the church of Christ all of our various different gifts and experiences and personalities are needed – to fulfil the various different roles and functions which make the church work for the glory of God and the good of others. We are all needed.

A friend of mine tells the story of a friend – that's always a terrible start to a story, isn't it?! But this friend of a friend is very shy and was in a church where this passage was preached. And the speaker commanded the whole congregation to turn to the person next to them and look them in the eye and say – as this body metaphor requires: "I really need you." And as he turned around he found that he was in a pew with a beautiful blonde girl and as he stammered it out – "I really need you" – he went as red as beetroot and could feel the beads of sweat breaking out on his forehead. Now, don't worry I'm not going to make you do that, because I know that many of you are British and you would simply fall apart if I did. But that's the message we need to give to one another here: "I really need you." We all have a role to fulfil. We are all equally important. We all belong. Nobody is inferior. 

But then Paul flips us to the opposite side of the coin. Not the inferiority complex, but the superiority complex. As Paul goes on in verses 21-22:

"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." On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable..."

Can you see? We are not to compare ourselves with one another. Comparison leads not only to jealousy and discouragement if we feel we are inferior, but to also pride and complacency if we feel we are superior. What a lesson that is to learn, isn't it? We are such a competitive species, aren't we? We are so competitive in so many different ways. Often it's in subtle ways – we gently compete for superiority. Through our appearance, our achievements, our possessions – what we own. Through our career – what we do. Through our social backgrounds. Through our homes. We can even compete through our children – how talented and successful they are!

But in the church we don't compete. We don't compare. We've just got to be faithful in using the gifts Christ has given us. So you should never look across a church and think "I don't need you" to someone else, or even worse we should never treat someone that way. Everyone has value.

Paul tells us in verse 18 that God has arranged our different gifts just as he has arranged our bodies. He arranges our inequalities materially and physically and even spiritually. And he does that I think to teach us to use our differences to reach out to one another: to care and to love, to give and to receive, to strengthen and to encourage. Christians are one body. We are linked to everyone else. And everyone is needed. And then thirdly:

3. We Have All Been Given Gifts to Use and Must Use Them to Play Our Part (v.27-31)

As back in verses 1-11 – Paul has already mentioned a list of gifts. And there he makes the point that everyone in the church has some kind of gift or service or ministry. What he is saying is: if we have been baptised into the body then we have been gifted to play a part in the body.

And they are gifts let's remember. That is they are undeserved, unearned. One of the proudest moments in the life of my family was when my dad received an OBE from the Queen a few years back. But we must not think about the gifts of the Spirit as if they were Spiritual OBEs. A pat on the back from God for past service. No, they are gifts! Freely given. And it is God who chooses who gets what. It's not like a child's birthday where parents ask the child what they want and then they get it. We don't get to decide whether we would like the gift of this or gift of the other. No, God chooses. And he knows what is best. For us, and more importantly for the body – because why are these gifts given? Verse 7: "For the common good"!

So you have a gift to use and you are shaped that way for the good of everyone else who comes in through the doors of this building. And therefore not to use your gifts would be a slap in the face to the generous God who has given them to you. So let me ask you: Are you serving? Are you using your gifts for the good of others? To which I'm sure some of you will want to come back at me and say: 'Well Ken, how can I know what gifts I've got?' We try to look at this list of gifts here in verses 8-10 or verses 28-30 and we think: 'Have I got one of those? And if I have how would I know?'

Well can I just say that Paul could not be less helpful to us in answering that question! I mean for a start we can't be sure what many of these gifts actually were. Paul doesn't give us a dictionary definition of most of them. A lot of ink has been spilt over what prophesy actually is. And what is the somewhat vague gift of "helping"? It's very hard to work it out. And then you've got the fact that these two lists here in 1 Corinthians 12 are only two of five lists of gifts given in the New Testament, and no gift gets mentioned on all five lists. Is it likely that there are lots of gifts and here we just have a representative sample?

You see, I don't think Paul expects us to spend huge amounts of time, as some have, trying to work out what each one actually is. Our concern should not be so much identifying our gift, as exercising it for the benefit of others. If we are overly concerned to identify what exactly is my contribution to the church then we will be very quickly in danger of reinforcing the inferiority or superiority complexes of the Corinthian church. As it quickly becomes all about us! But it is not about us! So Paul is not asking you – What do you think your gift is? He is simply asking: Are you available? Are you prepared to get stuck in and play your part as a member of the body? Are you eager to serve others?

You see if I set myself to serve, God's Spirit will equip me for service. He will gift me for it. But the gift is His and in one sense it never becomes mine – I don't own it, I may not even be aware of it. I might even go so far as to say that some of those who are the most gifted in building up the church are least aware of what their gift actually is, because they're just so busy getting on with serving that they think little of themselves.

You see I don't know if my heart is conscious of being a heart – do you know if your heart is? I don't know about mine, but its self-consciousness about its own identity is quite irrelevant to its function and my health! So I think this evening it is enough to know that God is giving gifts to me and to you so that we can lay down our lives and serve one another. So that we can love each other. And be committed to one another. And reveal the power of God's Spirit in Christ's body the church… to a watching world.

So how do I know what my gift is? Do you know how I'd answer that?

  • I'd first look around and ask: What needs to be done in the local church?
  • And then I'd ask: Could I be the one to do it?

And then I'm sure that as you step out in faith to make yourself available, others will be very useful at helping you figure out whether you can do it or not. And God by His Spirit will give you all of the gifts and abilities and even time that you need.

You belong here! You are needed here! You have gifts to use and a part to play! So how can you do good for the body of Christ and Grow the Church? Let's turn this to Prayer:

Father God, we thank you that beyond all our deserving you've brought us into the church through your Spirit. You've brought us to say "Jesus is Lord!" And under his Lordship we pray that you would unite us together as your family. Teach us to serve, to love, to give. To lay down our lives to each other. And to show the Spirit through our care and concern. We ask it in his name. Amen.

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