In Christ— One Body
Key Verse 5
“So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
This chapter has many teachings, too many for us to be able to cover at one time. But if we are going to get an overview of the chapter, Paul begins by talking to the church about what worship is all about. How we can worship God individually and collectively as a church in a way that is good and pleasing to God. He tells us that if we are to going to worship God in a spiritual way, that is, in a true and proper way, we will have to no longer conform to the patterns of this world, but let God transform us on the inside, so that we may fulfill the will of God. After Paul sets the stage for worship, he then talks about the way God has set up the church in such a way as to fulfill his will and purpose. He tells us that the church is the body of Christ, even though it is made up of different members, it is one body just as a human body is one body made up of different parts. Paul tells us also how these parts (members) should function in relation to each other— how they are actually created to serve one another. He does that in order to paint a picture for us of what a healthy church should look like and be like. In the second part, Paul talks about the kind of relationship we ought to have with one another. He tells us what he always tells the church— that we should humbly love one another, and be devoted to each other. He also tells us what kind of relationship we should have with those who do not belong to the body of Christ— the church. Today we will only look at the first part of this chapter.
Read verses 1-2. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your (true and proper) “spiritual act of” worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Foremost, the church is called to spiritual worship. Paul defines worship here as being transformed in such a way as to offer your bodies to God as a living sacrifice. Offer your bodies to God as your ongoing and continuous act of worship. To do that you will have to change the way you think, the way you view yourself and others, the way you view God and the church and your role in the church. In other words, you should no longer think like the world does, nor follow its patterns and customs, but you should be transformed and renewed on the inside until you can be sure that you are serving the will of God in blessing others with your life, and building up the church.
The body is the instrument through which you express yourself. You body— is the whole you— your whole self, your personality, your emotion and intellect, your thoughts and imagination, your body parts— all comprise the “self of you”. When we were in the world, we thought like the world thinks, we felt like the world feels, we acted like the world acts, we lived as the world lives. All of us lived and moved according to the pattern of this world. We competed as the world thinks we ought to compete, pursued the things the world would have us pursue. We thought like the world, felt like the world, loved as the world, behaved as the world does. We were glad for the things the world gladdens for, and sad for the things the world is saddened over. We offered every bit of ourselves to live as the world would have us live, by the pattern the world has set before us, the patterns we learned as we lived and grew up in the world. We were thoroughly selfish and self oriented. Everything we did, even our acts of service, were done with selfish intent. We worshiped ourselves and we worshipped the world. But when we found Christ, or rather when we were found by Christ, we came to see that the world is in enmity with God and hates God and God’s ways. We repented of our sins and turned our hearts to God in faith accepting the sacrifice of his Son’s life on our behalf. We were regenerated by the work of the Holy Spirit and began to live in Christ and for Christ. what we once considered valuable began to appear as it truly is— worthless. And what we once thought to be worthless, began to matter most to us. Our lives changed inside out. We began to think differently, and act differently.
But that does not mean that the patterns of this world have been completely washed away from hearts and minds. Much of the patterns and customs of this world have been replaced by godly patterns according to the gospel we now hold dear to our hearts— and the greatest pattern yet of all that we now cherish— is the Lord Jesus himself, whose life and words and actions have become for us not only the pattern of our lives, but our greatest hope and aspiration as well. But there are still patterns to be renewed and refined in us. Especially some things like our view of worship— the way we view and use the gifts God gives us— the way we serve the church and each other with these gifts— and the way we view one another and relate to each other as a church! All these need renewal and refining. Paul tells us that we are no longer to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed through renewal. He talks about spiritual acts of worship and of gifts and service in this passage. Consequently, we must not view things in our own way, lest our way is still patterned after the world, but view things in a new way— a renewed way, in accordance with the will of God.
Paul then goes on to paint for us a picture of the church— what the church is made up of— how the church and its members work together as a church to honor and fulfill the will of God. He tells us what it means to offer myself individually— and ourselves collectively as a church— like a living sacrifice. In other words, he tells us what my role is in the church, and how my role relates to the roles of my brothers and sisters in the church. Specifically, he talks about how I can offer my-body personally— and our-bodies collectively— to the will of God for the good of each other and the good of the church. He describes the church in a most intriguing way that we might change our worldly (worldly-patterned) view of ourselves and of the church and begin to see the church in a transformed way, in the way God sees it and works in it and through it. So how does God view each of our members? How does he view the church?
Read verse 3. “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” This is Paul’s first statement regarding the church. Before he talks about our interrelationships one with another, he begins with these pungent words: Don’t think of yourself more highly that you should. But think of yourself with sober judgment. What’s he talking about? He’s talking about the way we see ourselves and each other, and consequently how we treat one another. He’s talking about self worth. Do we do that? Do we actually think of ourselves more highly than we should? Well, yes of course we do that— a lot. Actually there is nothing wrong with thinking highly of ourselves, if we do it with sober judgment, according to our faith. It’s when we think “more” highly of ourselves than we ought to that gets us in trouble and blinds us to see our real worth and the real worth of others. And when that happens, we do great harm to ourselves and them. Then we end up with a dysfunctional church that doesn’t know how to work together for God.
So what’s the remedy to this? Listen to what Paul says: He first says, “By the grace given me”. Then he says, “Think of yourself with sober judgment in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” In other words, you ought to think of yourself clearly and sensibly, with the right sort of judgment, a judgment not based on worldly standards but based on faith. This is Paul’s secret in how he himself thinks of himself. He doesn’t compare himself with others, and sees that he had been given a greater role than others. He doesn’t look down on those whose portions seem to be less than his own. He does not judge by his great wisdom, or his superior skills and such. Rather, he says: “by the grace given me”, and that’s his way of saying that he views himself not based on his accomplishments, but entirely based on the grace of God. Whatever he is and does is owed to the grace of God. That was Paul’s faith, through which he saw himself and all others in the church with sober judgment. This is the first rule for a church to function properly, where all its members view themselves and one another with eyes of faith based on the grace God poured on each of them.
Why does Paul talk about this from the start (that is, thinking highly of oneself)? Read verses 4-5. “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” He talks like this because he wants to tell us about our church, how the church is made up of members that make up the body of Christ, just as much as the members of our own human body are intimately related to one another, each with its own specific function working together towards the same goal. And each member is so radically connected to the other members. And they all work together to benefit each other as well as to the health of the whole body. Paul talks about this from the start to help us understand that in order for members of the body to work together to the benefit of each other and for the benefit of the body as a whole, no member should regard itself as more important or less important that all the other parts, but regard itself exactly how God intended it be and to function.
It was the same grace of God that rescued me from sin that rescued you from sin. And it was the same faith in Christ that brought me into the body of Christ that brought you into the body of Christ. It was God who has made us to be who we are and has assigned us each a function in the body. So whether I am a foot or an eye, or even a fingernail on the hand, it was the same grace and faith that has made me to be an eye and you to be a nail, and him or her to be a hand. Therefore, I cannot think too highly of myself, or I might despise and look down on you, and in doing so hurt you and the church, which is the body of Christ. And I cannot think too lowly of myself either, or else I might despair and fail to perform my duty and function as God apportioned to me to do. Instead I must see myself with sober judgment, with eyes of faith! Then I will understand how precious I am— and how indispensible you are in the body of Christ. I will understand how your role in the body of Christ is so intimately related to me and to my role that I cannot function properly without you, nor can this church body function properly without you. I will also understand how you and I were blessed and called to work together to fulfill the will of God, which is to build up his church to the glory of our Lord Jesus.
There are two kinds of Christian in the church. There are those who understand and live in the grace of God. They have a healthy view of themselves and know their own worth. Then, through the love they have for the Lord Jesus and faith in him, they need not be told to offer themselves in building up his church. And then there is the other kind of Christian who serve only if they are given special places of honor. So in order to get them involved in building up the church, they need to be publically recognized and treated with distinction. Otherwise they will not lift a finger to serve others nor God’s church. And if they so happen to participate in building up the church, and they are not honored for it, they are insulted and stop building the church. These are the ones who think too highly of themselves. The others who quietly work in building up the church, do so by faith, compelled by their love for Christ Jesus and the church.
This is the profound truth about who we really are and how we make up the church. Let me read verses 5-6 again. “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” What this means is that the church is like the human body with hands and feet, eyes and toes. The church has a unity in its diversity just as the human body is one with many organs and limbs. Paul goes even further about the church as a body. His point is not just unity in diversity, but Paul tells us how profoundly related we are one to another. He says: “and each member belongs to all the others.” What on earth does that mean? It means that our unity goes much deeper than just belonging to the same body. It means that we literally belong to each other. “Each member belongs to all the others.” Therefore, the church is so much more than all of us being parts of one body. The church is being part of each other. It means that my hand and my eye are not just parts of the same body. There is a deeper unity which Paul describes here. He says the hand is a member of the eye and the eye is a member belonging to the hand. Let me give you an illustration. If you accidentally hit my eye, my hand will instinctively reach out for my eye as if it has itself been hurt and in pain. If you throw a ball at my head, my stomach and shoulders and legs and all will react to duck together. What I am saying here is that these reactions of my hand, and then my body do not come after a long period of deliberation, argument and reason between the members as to whether my eye really needs help or not. They don’t hold a board meeting first in order to decide to help the eye or not! My hand reacts to the eye pain as if it were happening to it. So, we all belong to each other, “each member belongs to all the others.” We are part of the body and we are part of each other.
Then in verse 6 Paul explains to us how this interrelationship one with another is supposed to work. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” What he’s saying is that the benefits (the advantage and gain) that pour out from one member to another pour out from the unique gifts that each member has. The gifts we have, and how we choose to use them, determines in a big way how we are a blessing one on another, or how blessed we are one by another. For example, my hand serves my wounded eye in a much different way than my feet would serve my eye. (I may have to run to the doctor— something that my hand cannot do for my body. But the hand can keep the eye from further injury buy covering it.)
In verses 6-8, Paul now lists several kinds of gifts that believers in the church have, which are supposed to be used to bless each other, and to build up the church. There are 7 here (although Paul mentions many other kinds of gifts in his letters to different churches). But here he mentions 7— and here they are. There is the gift of (1) “prophesy”, the gift of (2) “service”, the gift of (3) “teaching”, (4) “encouragement”, (5) contributing to the needs of others (that is, the gift of “giving”), (6) “leading” is one of the gifts he lists here, and finally the gift of (7) “mercy”. There are at least 4 of these gifts that at the same time are Christian virtues— virtues that every Christian should have if that Christian is walking by the Spirit, and in obedience to the will of God. They are “serving” because the Bible tells us all to “serve one another in love” (Gal.5:13). Then we have “encouragement” because the Bible tells us to “encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13). Then of course we all must engage in the gift of “giving” or “contributing to the needs of others” because the Bible tells us to “share with those in need” (Ephesians 4:28). And finally there is the gift of “mercy” which every Christian should have because Jesus tells us to “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36) We realize from this that the gifts that God distributes among his children are not necessarily packaged in neat categories that make one person distinctly gifted from another, nor does one member have them while another does not. But the gifts that God gives us, are given us “according to the grace” of God (6).
No member is gifted in the same way or with the same measure as another member. But we are all gifted for the sake of blessing one another, and for building up the church. God may grace you with an unusually tender heart to show mercy where others would falter. Or he may grace you with an unusual sense of joy and pleasure in giving to others generously. Or he may grace you with an amazing inclination to offer encouragement to everyone, especially to those who really need it. You may even be graced to know when and where encouragement is most needed where another member might be clueless. Or God may grace you with a heart that throws itself at every opportunity it has to serve the church and God’s people. What we’re saying here is that this is the way or the avenue through which one member of the body blesses another. As God has graced you and me with his gifts flowing from heaven into our hearts, so do we pour out these gifts and extend them to each other. How can I do that if I think more highly of myself as I should! How can I do that if I’m comparing my gift with yours and seeing that I’m more gifted, despising you for the seemingly small gift that God has given you. (Your gift, big or small, may be just what I need to rise above myself and fulfill my own purpose in God!) But how can I receive and pour out my gift on you and on the church if I am sulking because I am a toe and not an ear! I can’t, unless I understand that we are all members of his body, and that each member belongs to all the others. And therefore, I will give praise to God while I pour out my gifts to bless you and the church that God in his grace has made me a member of. There may be some members who do not understand this, and there may be others who do not want to understand this. But for us who do, here is what we must do: You and I should not only share our gifts and pour them out on each other, but we do so as an act of spiritual worship to God— offering our bodies as a living sacrifice holy and pleasing to God.
I am not going to talk about the other gifts one by one, but let us read them in verses 6-8. These are gifts that God has given to his people, not for safe keeping and storage, but to be used for the glory of God and for the blessing and edification of the church. If we are in Christ, we have gifts; that is an absolute— because the Holy Spirit gives us gifts according to the grace of God. Some are given to be teachers, others to show mercy, and others are givers and so on. Some are prophetic gifts. Paul tells us to use them; To engage them. He exhorts us to pour out on each other what the Lord has poured out on us. If you are not sure what your gift is, pray about it, seek God earnestly and God would be more than happy to reveal to you— if you are earnestly seeking to engage your gift for the service of the church and your brothers and sisters. Still if you are not sure, your brothers and sisters probably have an idea of where your gifts are, and would be glad to tell you. If you have a hard time expressing yourself for example, I assure you that you may not be gifted with the gift of teaching. But then again, you may be given a gift that no one else has, and are not using it because of your own low self image. So pursue and find the gifts that God had endowed you with. And then use them for the glory of God.
How then can you use them? One of the junior shepherds suggested this, and I am inclined to mention it here based on this passage. I am recommending that we form small groups of people, groups of 4 or 5 members who seriously want to pursue Paul’s strong exhortation to use your gifts to serve each other and the church. Form these small groups and let us truly engage ourselves in serving one another until our little group becomes a church builder. In these small groups we will work with one another without fail, and help one another in any way possible. We will pray for each other to discover all our gifts, and then we will make every effort to use our gifts to bless and grace one another and to build up the church. I am not saying that these groups should be used as therapy for one another, nor am I suggesting some psychological strategy for closer bonding with one another. We will not be using these groups as a tool to promote our pet spiritual peeves. I am suggesting that we use these small groups as a living expression of what the church should be— the church which Jesus died and rose again to bring together in one body.
Three realities become ours when we are in Christ, when we trust him and put our faith in him and in what he had done on the cross and by the resurrection. The first reality is that we are no longer condemned but we are justified by faith. Christ imputes his righteousness upon us and we become the children of God. And God pours on us his holy spirit as a seal of our son-ship. Our justification is the first reality then. After that the second reality in our Christian lives is our sanctification. In Christ we receive power to grow in our inner person and to bear fruit to God and to serve one another. So when we are united in Christ by faith, there is instant justification, and continuous sanctification. I’m saying this for the sake of the third reality that comes to us in Christ. When we are put in Christ, we become members of Christ’s body. As verse 5 says: “So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” This is the third reality that we need to deeply meditate on and come to see its vitality in our own lives. In our church, many seem to be aware of the first two realities, justification and sanctification, but I believe we lack the fundamental awareness of the third reality we have in Christ— that in Christ we are one body, many members of one body and each member belongs to the other.
So my prayer is that we come to know this reality very deeply, and form small groups to better experience this reality with each other. Until we can truly feel and know deep inside me that these others in my group, in my church, are the most intimate members of the body of Christ, they are not my friends only, but they are my self, members of the same body of Christ. For them, I would do anything to see them in good spiritual health and taken care of, and served, and blessed and edified, and growing. Until I can know in my heart that if my group member is suffering, I would not rest until he has received the comfort, the word of God, the prayer and everything else he needs. Because in this I know that I am serving them with my gift, and I am building up the church, the body of my Lord for whom he died.