Care For One Another
1 Corinthians 12:14-26
January 5, 2003 | Brian Bill
Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions this year? If so, how many have you broken? One of the best ways to keep a resolution is to set some low standards. People magazine reported last year about the goals of some members of the Hollywood crowd. Singer Michelle Branch committed herself “to drink more water.” Actress Susan Sarandon just wanted “to try to have more fun.” Almost anyone can hold to resolutions that don’t require any effort. It’s like the old adage, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.
Do you know what the five most popular resolutions are?
- Take up a new hobby.
- Make more money.
- Improve relationships.
- Stop smoking.
- Lose weight and exercise.
As we inaugurate a new year, some of us are looking to drop a few pounds and get in better shape. I want to suggest this morning, that while this may be important, it’s even more crucial for our church to get involved in some “body building” exercises. We want to make sure that this church is healthy and so we’re going to “work out” by studying some of the “one another” statements in the New Testament.
In Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and Colossians, Paul makes over 30 references to the church by using the analogy of a human body. Just as our bodies need care and attention, so too, the church can only be healthy and experience growth when everything is brought into balance and properly exercised.
Vigorous church growth is always multi-dimensional. We must strive to keep our six purposes as a church in equilibrium with each other in order for the church body to remain healthy. In other words, our message must remain biblical and our mission must reflect balance. Our six purpose statements come from Acts 2:42-47. They are summarized by Jesus in the Great Commandment in Matthew 22 and the Great Commission in Matthew 28, and are explained by Paul in Ephesians 4. Here are the six facets of an IMPACT church:
Have you ever noticed how easy it is to get out of balance in your life? The same is true for the church. We must guard against overemphasizing one aspect of ministry at the exclusion of the others. Some unbalanced churches end up stressing only one or two purposes and can easily become unhealthy.
We use this IMPACT statement to guide our preaching diet and leadership decisions so that we don’t ignore any of the biblical mandates. While we must continually focus on all six purposes, it’s also helpful on occasion to isolate one characteristic so that we can understand it in greater depth and experience the advantages of a church-wide emphasis on this one particular aspect. For the next two months, we’re going to give our attention to the “C” of IMPACT: Caring for one another.
I’m reading a very challenging book right. The picture that the author paints of the church is gripping: “There is nothing like the local church when it’s working right. Its beauty is indescribable. Its power is breathtaking. Its potential is unlimited. It comforts the grieving and heals the broken in the context of community. It builds bridges to seekers and offers truth to the confused. It provides resources for those in need and opens its arms to the forgotten, the downtrodden, and the disillusioned…Whatever the capacity for human suffering, the church has a greater capacity for healing and wholeness…the radical message of transforming love has been given to the church.”
Are you ready for a good work out as we begin the New Year? Let’s pump some biblical iron so that we can experience this radical message of transforming love. Please turn in your Bible to 1 Corinthians 12:14-26.
When you came in this morning you were handed a puzzle piece as a reminder that you are a valuable part of God’s picture for this church. I’d like to suggest that one of the reasons some of us might not be caring for others like we should is because we might feel disconnected from the community of believers here. True caring flows out of connectedness, and when we care we become more connected. We’re in this together. Did you know that every snapshot of the church in the New Testament is a group picture?
The Apostle Paul stayed in Corinth eighteen long months working through the many problems that divided the Corinthian church and its into this setting that he tells them that it’s time to get into spiritual shape by doing some body building. His basic point is that we are all linked together as pieces of a puzzle. And as such, our linkage means that we are bound to “do life together” and to care for one another. Take a look at your puzzle piece as we walk through these principles.
1. Each piece is part of a united whole, but is not uniform.
We see this in verse 14: “Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.” Just as our human bodies are one unit made up of many individual ingredients, so too, the body of Christ is an entity with a plethora of pieces. The word “many” carries the idea of “abundance” or “much.”
In a Peanuts cartoon, Lucy is demanding that Linus change the channel on the TV and threatens him with her fist if he won’t do it. Linus isn’t too frightened by this threat and says, “What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?” With a scowl on her face, Lucy replies, “These five fingers. Individually they’re nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold!” Immediately Linus responds, “Which channel do you want?” As he’s walking toward the TV, he looks at his fingers and says, “Why can’t you guys get organized like that?”
While I’m certainly not condoning Lucy’s methods, this is a great illustration of how the church is to work together. Individually we’re nothing, but when we’re curled into a single unit, we form a weapon that is amazing to behold. It’s only when our many pieces come together that we can demonstrate a picture of God’s power.
2. Each piece is indispensable and not inferior.
In verses 15-17, Paul is addressing those of us who may feel inferior: “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.”
A foot may feel less important than a hand and an ear may feel mediocre compared to an eye. Paul is establishing the truth that everyone is valuable and necessary.
Imagine yourself boarding a plane for the winter wonderland in northern Wisconsin. As you buckle your seat belt and settle in for the flight, you smile because of the great deal you got on your ticket and you dream about landing in Packer Country. The pilot then comes on the intercom and makes this announcement: “This is your captain speaking. The reason your ticket was so much cheaper is that we’ve done away with the people you never see – the maintenance men who service the plane, the navigator who is only needed on foggy nights like tonight, and the air-traffic controller up in the tower. We also didn’t think it was necessary to have those security people checking for weapons. Have a nice flight.” I don’t imagine that many of you would want to reserve a seat on this plane.
No one is inferior because everyone is indispensable
The smaller pieces in God’s puzzle called the church are just as important as the more visible ones. No one is inferior because everyone is indispensable. This church will never get off the ground if you and I don’t do our part.
3. Each piece is divinely designed, not humanly developed.
When we fully grasp this truth, we will experience freedom and joy like we’ve never had before. God made you just the way He wanted you! You have been designed to reflect His purposes! He has shaped you for spiritual significance! Your piece has a place right here in this church! Look at verse18: “But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” You are not an accident because you are part of God’s awesome arrangement called the Body of Christ.
A panel of women got together a while ago and debated on whom they thought would make a perfect man. Instead of coming up with an actor, an athlete, or a wealthy tycoon, they decided that the perfect man was Mr. Potato Head. They came up with four reasons: He’s tan, he’s cute, he knows the importance of accessorizing, and if he looks at another woman you can rearrange his face! We don’t have that option in the body of Christ. God has already determined who is going to be what part and where that part is going to plug into the church. And we can’t rearrange that.
Notice that this verse says, “Every one of them.” No matter how you feel this morning, you are not exempt from God’s exhilarating exhibition of His glory in the church. You are not disqualified because of something you’ve done or how inadequate you may feel. Because you have been designed on purpose, you have a purpose, and that purpose is to find your place that is shaped exactly like your piece of the puzzle. Once you discover your place, then it’s time to plug into the greatest adventure of all time.
God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, “just as He wanted them to be.” The word “wanted” means, “to delight in.” Have you ever thought about that? God has placed you in the church for His delight and pleasure. Psalm 135:6 says that the “Lord does whatever pleases Him.” And He doesn’t make mistakes. That means when we question the size or shape of our piece of the puzzle, we’re really questioning God. When we refuse to interlock our piece with others, then we’re disobeying God. When we make a commitment to connect with Christ and with His people, He is pleased beyond measure.
Friends, God dreams of a church where black and white, Hispanic and Asian, rich and poor, farmer and business person, couple and single, cop and convict, student and senior citizen, reformed prostitute and youthful virgin, lifelong saint and former sinner can all join hands and celebrate our designed diversity within unfettered unity.
4. Each piece is distinct, and yet not deformed.
If feelings of inferiority are addressed in verses 15-17, Paul next speaks to those who are filled with pride in verse 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!’” When a speck of dust blows into your eye, your finger instinctively rubs the eye. There is no debate from the finger about whether or not it wants to help. As the eye is rubbed and several fingers pull down the eyelid, the eye waters, causing the speck to be flushed out. Without the hand, including its specifically functioning fingers, the irritant would have remained.
As you look at your portion of the puzzle and compare it with those around you, you’ll quickly discover that yours is designed differently. The shape of your piece and the location where it fits in God’s picture of the church is distinct from everyone else. There has never been anyone like you before and there will never be anyone like you again – and that’s probably a good thing (that’s one of the many reasons I’m against cloning because I wouldn’t want another “me” walking around). Your contribution to the kingdom is unique. Having said that, we must guard against thinking that we are more special than those around us. Instead of thinking that our piece is prominent and everyone else’s is a poor imitation, we must realize that we’re all different. But different doesn’t mean deformed because we all need each other.
Vince Lombardi, legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, is often quoted when talking about the importance of winning. What you may not know is that he was also committed to caring. He could throw things around in a locker room at halftime but he also said this: “If you’re going to play together as a team, you’ve got to care for one another. You’ve got to love each other. Each player has to be thinking about the next guy and say to himself, ‘If I don’t block that man, Paul is going to get his legs broken. I have to do my job well in order that he can do his.” Lombardi went on to say that the difference between mediocrity and greatness is the feelings that his guys had for each other. Friend, you will never care for Christians, or non-Christians for that matter, if you believe you’re somehow more special, more important, or better than they are.
5. Each piece is interconnected, not independent.
The last part of verse 24 establishes the principle of interconnectedness. Your puzzle piece is designed to lock together with those around you in order to form the picture that was designed by the Creator. Notice again that it is God who not only arranges in verse 18, but that God’s desire is for each member to intermingle with others: “…But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it.” The King James Version translates the word “combined” with “hath tempered together.” This word refers to “the mixing, commingling, or coalescing” of two elements so that they become a compound. A similar idea is found in Genesis 2:24, where we read that a man will be united to his wife and they “will become one flesh.”
I heard about a poor family that couldn’t afford a Christmas tree. They waited until Christmas Eve and found a tree that was OK on one side, but pretty bare on the other. Then they picked up another one that was full in the front and scraggly in the back. They nervously offered $3 to the salesman, hoping he would take the money, and he accepted because no one else wanted the two trees.
Later that night, the salesman was walking down the street and saw a beautiful tree in the couple’s apartment. It was thick and well rounded. He knocked on their door and asked them how they got such a beautiful tree. The husband showed him how they had worked the trees close together where the branches were thin and tied their trunks together. The branches overlapped and formed a tree so thick you could no longer see that there were two.
God loves to take us with our weaknesses and tie us together with other scraggly people in order to make the beautiful body of Christ
Friends, when we’re put together just right, a stunning makeover takes place. God loves to take us with our weaknesses and tie us together with other scraggly people in order to make the beautiful body of Christ. For better or for worse, we’re stuck with each other because we’re stuck to each other.
This welding together of lives within the body of Christ has two purposes.
First, according to the front half of verse 25, when God combines us, then there’s no room for disunity: “So that there should be no division in the body…” We’ll talk more about this next week when we focus on: “Be United With One Another.”
Second, as the last part of verse 25 says, we are commingled so that we can care for each other: “…But that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” The phrase “equal concern” means, “to be anxious about.” That means that we should worry about the welfare of others. We use the word “fellowship” a lot in our Christian circles. We get together for fellowship, we have fellowship groups, and we even have a fellowship room. Often we use this word as a synonym for fun and laughter.
While that’s certainly part of what it means to have fellowship, the best definition I’ve ever heard is that biblical fellowship is “life-sharing.” It’s the most intimate kind of in-depth camaraderie imaginable. It’s what is described in Acts 4:32, 34-35: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had…there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.”
Verse 26 fleshes this out for us: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” Suppose you’re at home, running around barefoot, and you carelessly happen to smack you pinkie toe into the leg of a chair. While most of us don’t think about our baby toes very often, the pain rushing through your body will be an immediate reminder that your “little piggy” toe exists! In fact, every part of your body will join in its pain. The leg and foot that are not injured will begin to jump up and down. Your back will bend over in order to enable your arm and hand to extend a soothing massage. All the members necessary for speech will hopefully restrain themselves so that you don’t utter an embarrassing word but groans and screams will certainly emanate from your larynx.
That’s what Paul is saying should happen in the church. When someone is hurting, we should rally together to help. I’m thankful that this church is known as a caring community. Many of you here this morning can attest to the support you’ve received when you were in need.
Verse 27 provides a great summary statement: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” This isn’t an optional add-on. You are the body of Christ. And this isn’t just for a small percentage of people who serve or for those who take a membership class. Paul says that each one of you is a part of it. We do life together because we belong to each other. The word “part” means a portion, or a “piece.” You are a piece of the puzzle at PBC!
1. Commit yourself to take the next step in connecting to this body.
If this is your first time here, or you’ve been visiting for several weeks, we are thrilled that God has brought you here. May I encourage you to keep coming if this is the place where you sense God leading you to contribute your piece of the puzzle? Some of you have been coming for a while but have not yet plugged into a small group. I urge you to join with a group of people who can help you when you’re down and whom you can help when they’re down. Others of you are ready to become members. Wherever you are right now, take the next step this year.
2. Figure out how you fit and then plug into God’s puzzle.
Maybe some of you are members but have slipped a bit. Friend, it’s time to serve like you’ve never served before. God wants us to be involved according to our giftedness. There is a ministry here that is a perfect match for who He has made you to be.
3. Pray and ask God to give you a practical way that you can come alongside someone this week.
There are needs all around us. Some of us miss them because we frankly focus almost exclusively on ourselves. Ask God to make it clear how you can care for someone who is hurting. It might be a note, a phone call, a meal, childcare, or some financial assistance. Remember, we’re called to care for people, not cure them. That’s God’s job.
4. Be vulnerable and ask others for help when you need it.
This is something I had to do when I was preparing for a tough funeral and our Christmas services two weeks ago. Several people supported me and cared for me when my batteries were low and my margins were maxed out. When you and I are authentic, others will feel more comfortable opening up.
5. Invite others to discover their place here.
We passed out about 400 puzzle pieces this morning, but there are a lot more to go around. This puzzle [hold up box] has 1,000 pieces. Determine to invite your friends, co-workers, and relatives so that we can help them discover their purpose and place in God’s family.
I want to conclude this morning with two questions.
Vaughn McLaughlin is pastor of the Potter’s House in Jacksonville, Florida. He continually challenges the 60-some pastors he mentors with a haunting question: “Would your community weep if your church were to pull out of your city?” Let’s personalize that. Would anyone notice if Pontiac Bible Church bailed out of Livingston County? And if they noticed, would they weep if we withdrew? Are we making a difference here? Are we known as a caring community?
The second question is similar to the first. Would anyone here notice if you left? Would we weep if you went away?
In a mountain village in Europe several centuries ago, a wealthy man wanted to leave a legacy to the townspeople and so he decided to build them a church. When it was finished, they marveled at its beauty and completeness. He had thought of everything. But then someone asked, “Where are the lamps? How will it be bright enough in here to have services?” The nobleman pointed to some brackets on the walls. Then he gave each family a lamp that they were to bring with them every time they came to worship. “Each time you are here the area where you are seated will be well lit. Each time you are not here, that area will be dark. This is to remind you that whenever you fail to come to church, some part of God’s house will be dark.”
God has placed you as a strategic piece in His kingdom work. You are an important part of the success and effectiveness of this church. Everyone else is depending on you to be here and to carry out your function. Did you ever work on a puzzle for hours and then discover that one of the pieces is missing? It’s not a good feeling, is it? Friend, don’t be missing in action. Make a resolution this year to surrender to the Savior and to plug into the caring community here at PBC. You’ll be glad you did.