Sermon from Family Praise Service – 17th September 2023
If you’ve played a team sport before, like netball, cricket or football, you know the concept that when “if we win, I win.” Learning your place on the team and how to use your skills to enable the greatest success for the team is essential. Team chemistry gets disrupted when the team leans too heavily on just one person’s abilities or when others feel like they have nothing to contribute because they are not the top performer on the team. It is hard when one player is singled out as the ‘star player’, certainly they should be rewarded for being the best player in the team, but were they really the “most valuable player?” In fact many teams that have one superstar end up doing poorly.
That superstar will have great stats and accomplishments but unless the team has good team dynamics and other good players they will not go anywhere.
To have a healthy relationship with a local church you have to know and believe that each person who follows Jesus, including you, is essential to that church. In the reading we are about to hear, Paul is writing to the people of Corinth.
The Corinthians had many factions in their church and some really talented speakers and wise leaders and yet they were not really living up to the true potential they had as a local church. Instead of being built up in love and growing in love and grace they had pride issues, division and chaotic worship services where people were exalted over God. Paul desires for us to see that we are one body made up of many members and each person brings something essential to the life, ministry and culture of the church. To do this Paul addresses social diversity in the church, the church as a body and finally the use of spiritual gifts.
So let’s listen to what he has to say.
Reading – 1 Cor 12:12-26
Corinth was a really wealthy and socially diverse city. It was much like any big city in the UK today with lots of social diversity and opportunity. Many would travel there for the Olympic style games and the opportunity to work and trade. There would be Jews and Greeks in the city as well as people who were slaves or servants and those with an incredible amount of wealth. It looks like the church in Corinth matched their city’s diversity.
We already know that there were people who had power and wealth and those who were “of no regard,” there were Jews and Greeks, and slave and free.
This is important to Paul because the natural tendency of human behaviour seems to be to congregate with people who are like you and to not associate with people who are different.
Paul helps us to see that the church is different; we are one body with many members and so it is with Christ (verse 12). In the process of placing our faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and new life in Christ we were baptized in one spirit and into one body regardless of our social background.
This means that the Corinthians were meant to live out their life in the church in a way that was upside down from the culture around them. They were to study the Bible and eat and drink and pray with people who were slaves or free, Jews or Greeks, rich and poor, old and young.
This was a struggle for them as we see throughout the letter. But, their friendships were meant to be different than the world around them. Someone walking into the Corinthian church during a worship service should be confused because of who was gathered together and how much they’re blessing and serving each other. To make this point Paul next uses the illustration of the human body.
One Body, Many Members:
The human body is an intricate and interconnected wonder. Scientists and biologists are still discovering new wonders about how and why things work the way they do. There are whole systems in place like the nervous system and respiratory system where different parts of the body and organs interact to accomplish specific tasks often without your knowledge.
Paul draws on this idea to show the church that each individual member is needed and part of the interconnected and intricate wonder that is the body of Christ, the church. Each part of the body, when working properly will build up the body in love (Ephesians 4:16). The problem is that the body of Corinth was not working properly. It appears that there were quite a few people in the church who competed with each other over gifts, and others who were either undervaluing or overvaluing the contribution they made to the church.
Paul addresses the tendency to undervalue your place in the body of Christ in verses 15-20. Just because you’re a foot and not a hand does not mean you’re not essential to the body. God has arranged the parts of the body to serve a particular function for human life to flourish and so he does the church (1 Corinthians 12:18).
Can you imagine being at a church where everyone has the same gifts, strengths and weaknesses you have? It sounds boring and limited. Likewise, what about being at a church where everyone has the gift of teaching but no one has the gift of hospitality? Or how about a church with the gift of administration but no one has the gift of leadership? These gifts are all essential and really flourish when they’re complimented by other gifts that the Lord gives us. This means that even if our world’s culture devalues the types of gifts you have, the Lord sees them as so essential that he gave them to you by the Spirit to be used in the church.
What about those who take pride in their gifts and overvalue their contribution to the church? Paul addresses this problem in versus 21 and following where he says of one part of the body saying to another “I have no need of you.” The Corinthians would rank certain gifts as being better than others and therefore more indispensable in their mind and Paul is saying to them, “if you really knew which gifts were indispensable you would not be boasting.”
There are parts of the human body that you cannot live without and they’re typically weaker or hidden parts and not the ones you bestow a lot of honour on.
You may compliment someone about having great batting talent in cricket or nice hair, etc but you never say that someone has great white blood cells. Some parts of the body get praised more than others but all are essential and if you were missing some of the weaker or less honourable parts you’d notice it and be unable to continue to do what you do on a day to day basis.
So it is with the church and when we recognize this truth unity is built up (1 Corinthians 12:25).
Paul’s goal here is not to give us a theology of the human body, rather he desires earnestly for love to exist at a greater level in the church and the example he gives is that we’d care for one another and rejoice with those who rejoice and suffer with those who are suffering (1 Corinthians 12:26). Knowing your place in the body and doing so with humility leads to unity and love in the family of faith.
So which part of the body are you?
We have a couple of activities to do now!
For the more agile and creative you will see a body on the floor – not, this isn’t a who donnit! I want you to think which part of the body you are. You might be the hands – good at making, mending or creating. Ou might be the knees – good at cleaning or praying!
Or an ear – good at listening – I think you get the idea. Put your name and what you are good at on the body.
For those who like to be ponder and think through the passage I have some questions that you were given as you came in. Turn to the person next to you, look again at the passage and discuss – or you can always do both!