[This is part of a series of sermons on the topic of "One Another". To access previous messages, please click here.]
Last week we talked about the hypocritical attitude we can have with our works and our conscience. With our works, we can get to a point where we think we deserve a position in the ministry for the Lord. I have literally had people list the works they have done for 20 or 30 years to justify why they demand a position of leadership in the church. They ask why they were not chosen. They ask why the pastor would disqualify them. They do not understand. If they have taught Sunday school, taught children, helped others, shoveled walks and driveways, witnessed for the Lord and visited many, why are they not qualified to be a deacon, or trustee or in some churches an elder? The answer is that none of those things are requirements to be a deacon. They are things deacons do, services they perform. The chief requirement to serve as a deacon is for the man to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:3). Other requirements, articulated in Titus and 1 Timothy, include submissiveness, blamelessness, not being an adulterer, having faithful children, being a steward of God, not quick to anger, not given to wine, not someone who would fight or be greedy. There are more qualifications, but the point is that through their own personal admission and line of argument, the individual listing their accomplishments and demands was neither submissive nor full of the Holy Spirit.
As we studied both works and conscience, we quickly find that our works do not earn us salvation, but our salvation is evinced in our works. We also found that our conscience can both accuse and excuse. We can accuse some by simply having a testimony that convicts them. The Christian testimony convicts because it involves submission. Christian submission to God is a bane to man who seeks only to please himself.[i] Man cannot understand how faith in things unseen motivates the Christian. Through faith, the Christian accuses the unbeliever and excuses the believer.
The believer’s faith in Christ’s vicarious sacrifice forces self-assessment and understanding of personal sin. With true understanding of imperfection, every believer knows he makes mistakes. Therefore, believers are forgiving as God in Christ is forgiving (Eph 4:32).
We will look at three passages today. Our first is the most extensive, but they are all essential to understanding how a unified church body functions. We will consider who moves the body, what our parts are in the body, and how we all submit in the body and the construct of the body. We should personalize this entire discussion. This is not sophistry, but functionality in the Christian life. All the way through this exposition you should be asking yourself, where do I fit in all of this?
Church unity is a very involved subject in many ways. In our construct today, many people believe they have intimate control over the functions in the church. Some congregations want to know every penny that is spent and even approve every penny as a church body. Scripture nowhere approves that intimate control. Other ministries provide for tremendous pastoral authority where the pastor is in control of every cent expended and every function in the church. Though the Pastor is responsible for everything that happens before God (Heb 13:17), real leadership permits others to join of their own volition, especially in a volunteer setting. Once again, totalitarianism does not seem to be supported in scripture.
Many say the pastor is simply the spiritual leader of the ministry. That can be partially true where a good pastor understands his limitations and those limitations include a lack of certain spiritual gifts. Turning over full fiduciary control of a ministry is not supported in scripture either. The pastor is supposed to administrate the ministry as much as he is to lead the people spiritually. He alone is accountable before Christ, being given greater responsibility.
Some churches want to intimately control the messages from the pulpit, the funds, the ministries that are put forward, invited in and in all ways be involved with every decision in any instance in the ministry, functionally and ministerially. One must ask, why have a pastor if this is the case? The pastor becomes a figure head.
A wonderful example of pastor/deacon and congregant is found in Exodus 17:11-12:
“And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands [were] heavy; and they took a stone, and put [it] under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.”
We have a picture here where Moses, in effect the pastor, focuses upon God. His desire is toward God. His entire being, spiritual and physical, is oriented toward God. The decision to go against the Amalekites was Moses’ to make, but he needed help. Sometimes where the spirit is strong, the body is still weak to perform. We find Aaron and Hur, in effect deacons, as individuals helping Moses physically such that he is not distracted spiritually or intellectually from God. The congregants were the men and women of Israel. Men fought to protect and execute God’s will in the ministry. Moses had the vision for Israel. The people carried it out.
In a military application, you have a Commanding Officer (CO), an Executive Officer (XO) and a series of department heads. The XO cares for the administrative functions, though this is not exclusive. The CO is more readily involved with operational things and junior officer training, but is still responsible for all aspects of shipboard functionality. Department heads are bi-vocationally operational and administrative in nature. They handle certain parts of the ship’s overall function and normally report directly to the CO. There are divisions in each department with officers in charge of them. Then within each division, there may be sub-divisions. We had communications, maintenance and operations portions in our division. Structures in the division are the division officer, the division chief, leading petty officer (normally the most senior or most competent Non Commissioned Officer) and work center supervisors as well as watch sections and section supervisors. This is quite a hierarchy for 300-400 men. Each element was essential for operations and had to be loyal to the other. The unit had to coalesce or it would not survive. We needed to know what each part would do during any given circumstance and trust that the individual job would get done. The church and the absolute need for unity is not much different.
The CO of the church is Jesus Christ. He is the operational head of the church, but responsible for everything. The XO is the Pastor. Though the Pastor does not run things operationally (think heart change operations), he is cognizant of the needs and desires and spends the most time with the CO. The pastor plans, organizes and executes ministries as given by the Lord for the church body. God gives him a vision for the ministry. This is where this illustration gets a little fuzzy. Unlike a military organization, the church is not beholden to strict authorities. The Pastor has authority as given by the Lord. However, in many ways he is a humbled equal to the others in the local body of Christ and accountable under the Lord to them. Deacons, although a spiritual equal, are the department heads functioning in the operational portion of the ministry in support roles to the Pastor (XO) while directly responsible to the Lord (CO).
Another way the military application is similar to the Christian local church is in doctrine. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines must follow a unique set of standards, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). They willingly submit themselves to this law which restricts normal American citizen rights such as the First Amendment and others in order to serve in a military environment. Unity of a given military organization is based in the individual submission to leadership; and commitment to a mission and needs of the whole. Just as the Captain tells the Private to take out a machine gun nest, therefore endangering his own life for the unit, so too God tells the believer to give himself for the Kingdom of God. One has eternal ramifications where the other does not.
Unity develops much the same way in a local body of believers. First, we unite under a single head, Christ. Second, we submit to the standards prescribed in God’s word, our UCMJ. Third, we recognize each of us has a specific talent just as each sailor on a ship, or each soldier in a unit has unique training and skills. Fourth we consent to being wholly committed to the mission of the commander within our unit. When we bring all these elements together and serve our Lord we can meet the mission objectives. We can further the kingdom of God in Christ and glorify Him in that furtherance.
Today we will consider three things that describe the vast power and strength of our God. Many discount how great our God is when they tell us He cannot work under certain circumstances in an individual church body. We are called to unify under Christ as the head. We do that best when we understand our place in the body and operate there. We help greatly when we focus upon our qualification within the body and do not adopt some false idea about how we might have to earn our place here. Finally, we consider the unity of the body as a whole and what it means before God.
I. Our place in the body (1 Corinthians 12:4-14)
Spiritual gifts are one thing in our relationship with Christ that is both personal and public. They are personal because God gives us ability very unique to our life and testimony. A gift is personal and extremely distinct to each member in the body. It is public because gifts are given to share with one another for use in the local body of Christ. Through spiritual gifts, we grow the local church, and the universal church as a whole.
Gifts do not guarantee anything, nor are they a testimony of grace or Christlikeness. Phillips wrote:
“The Corinthians had all the gifts. They were also the most carnal and worldly of believers. Some great Bible teachers have been known to be veritable tyrants at home. More than one admired pastor has been known to run off with the church organist. Some evangelists who can get tearful responses from audiences have been eaten out with worldliness, pride and greed. ” — John Phillips, Exploring 1 Corinthians, An Expository Commentary, The John Phillips Commentary Series, (Kregel: Grand Rapids, 2002), pg 258.
This is not going to be a discussion on trying to find your individual gift. If you are seeking counsel on that subject, I will invite you to contact your pastor separately. Further, do not take that to say he has the answer for you either. He does not know what your individual spiritual gift is. However, together we may find it with the Lord.
Man always loses focus on the real reason for life and ministry. Even the most attentive of individuals loses concentration. We often lose sight of our gift’s purpose, especially when we have what seems to be an extra dose of a gift. What is that purpose? Regardless of the gift, we are to use it for God’s glory.
The direct concern of this chapter in 1 Corinthians is to discuss the purpose of tongues, interpretation and prophecy. Many see these gifts as some super gift or a gift that brings about supremacy. We are not here to talk about specifics of these gifts today. What we want to consider is each person’s position in the body with respect to their gift. That must be your first consideration. What is each person’s responsibility? Why are we given these gifts?
Verse five tells us, “there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.” There are great varieties of service and uses of gifts. We have mentioned in the past that individual gifts are very distinct. One who has the gift of evangelism may never see the success of Billy Sunday, Bob Jones or John R. Rice. Still, every one of them has a place in God’s eternal kingdom while working for Him. They are all gifted with evangelism even though that may be for one convert in their lifetime.
Verse 8 tells us these are gifts from the Holy Spirit. Therefore, all gifts are given by God’s Spirit for the use of one Lord, the Son of God. Gifts are apportioned as God sees fit. He doles them out. If we were to say we needed more gifts in our church family, we would bring into question God’s decision. Since God brings people to the church, and God apportions the gifts in the church, then the church has what it needs. The appropriate gifts are here to grow and minister to that individual body.
This is further reinforced in verse 14 where each body of believers is made up of many individual members. Each member has a specific focus. Each has a function that supports the whole.
Each one of us must ask and answer three questions.
- First, am I contributing to the ministry that I am in? In a church body this small, every single individual contribution is vital. Every one of us must be operating in and for the ministry in support of this church body and the pastor’s vision to glorify God.
- Second, what is it that I am doing? Am I performing and contributing through my spiritual gift? Each individual has a gift. We have to line up what we are doing against what the gifts in scripture are, and what we are expected to do for and with one another. Now we should be clear, we are talking about spiritual gifts. This is not a discussion concerning your skills in the world. They are different. Those skills can be used by the spiritual gift but they are not a spiritual gift in themselves. We have to look at a list of gifts in scripture.[ii]
- The third thing is evaluation time. I recommend you spend time in prayer this afternoon with the two lists you find in your bulletin (spiritual gifts and one another commands).[iii] Ask yourself what one another commands you are fulfilling with the gift(s) God has given you. Since all ‘one another’ commands are required by every member of the body, and each member of the body is given a gift, this should not be a difficult assessment for each individual to make.
Where you may have the most problem is if you find you are not performing things on the ‘One Another’ list. We can find even bigger troubles when we do things on the One Another list using a gift we think we have but we really do not possess. This can cause great disunity in the body. Attempting to use a spiritual gift you have no business working with removes your use of a God given gift and displaces someone else’s rightful use of their gift. In effect, you are attempting to steal their blessings. This is not a situation where we pick up someone else’s slack. Though God can gift someone for a short period to fill a ministry need, it is His gift to give and administrate, not ours to take. We perform our gift for one another in the local body for God’s glory. That is how we unify.
If you do not know how to do this exercise, be comforted and encouraged. We will review spiritual gifts tonight in the evening service. We need to get everyone in our little church body working for the body. This is certainly a good start to doing so.
We should realize that a very important unifying activity for the body is that we obey God’s commands and use our spiritual gifts in the body for God’s glory. Some think that in order to be spiritually gifted or to gain spiritual infusion for their individual gift they have to go to great lengths to serve, even putting themselves in jeopardy. Folks have already tried this in the past and it didn’t work for them either.
II. Our qualification in the body (Colossians 2:18-19)
I know people who would purposefully do things in the church that caused them great physical pain. They thought that this was part of their spiritual service. They would put themselves out hurting themselves physically in the service of the Lord. Sometimes this physical challenge was so devastating it caused them to forsake the assembly on days of worship. One must ask how jeopardizing yourself physically for God causes you absent yourself from worship can glorify Him. I am not sure whether they thought this made them better Christians, or whether they were a good testimony to others, but neither is true. They were neither better Christians for it, nor was it a good testimony.
In Colossae, cults had begun to arise. They were intellectualists, ritualists, legalists, mystics and ascetics. The intellectualists would eventually fall prey to man’s philosophical thoughts and go the way of Gnosticism. Ritualists and legalists would eventually go the way of Judiazers, Episcopalian and the Roman church with their pomp and circumstance in worship. The ascetics remain in the many monasteries throughout the globe. They deny themselves many human comforts and claim a closer relationship with God in their personal deprecation. In this passage, Paul addresses mysticism more than anything, although ascetics are also discussed.
The mystics and ascetics both believe man can and should have an extrabiblical relationship with and receive revelations from God. We find this in the Mormon descriptions of the angel Moroni. We also see this in the spiritualist claims to speak to the dead and the occult’s association with demonic powers. Charismaticism and speaking in tongues also falls into this area.
The Colossians were in danger of being lead astray by individuals who seemed to have an extra measure of the spirit. They had wonderful experiences, angelic visitations and extra biblical revelations (Joseph Smith and Mormonism) that were very convincing. Their charisma attracted people.
Now, we should make no mistake. Christianity is spiritual in nature, function and focus. We are now spiritual creatures as our souls are quickened, made alive to God. However, we should not be fooled. Every body of believers has a specific set of spiritual functions already underway. The one thing that should guide that spiritual flow is Jesus Christ. Jesus uses the gifts among the body to minister in and grow the body. Jesus uses the Pastor to communicate that vision to the body. We have all the tools we need to do what God gives us to do.
The point Paul makes in this passage is that Christ is revealed between Genesis 1:1 and Revelation 22:21. We should seek no extra biblical guidance for God speaks to us through these scriptures using the Holy Spirit to do so. In verse 18, we are warned of a fraud in unscriptural responses to one another. We are supposed to let go of any personal assessment we might possess and seek the direct guidance in scripture. We do not look to angelic beings for guidance either. The only guide is Christ, the scriptures and the body of believers. The last part of verse 18 makes it clear we need to keep our noses out of the spiritual world that we know so little about.[iv] Mysticism dishonors God in that it is not content with His revelation and it worships demons through its function.
Charismatics say that doctrine is so intolerant and divisive. Gnostics say that the Bible is drawn largely from mythology. The Biblicist and true believer in Christ relish their Bible, as it is the true revelation of God to the world. The instruction therein is where Paul is driving the Colossians.
When using our spiritual gifts and seeking to unify the body of Christ in our lives with one another, do we regularly seek the word of God for the answers to questions we have? We certainly should. We can find ourselves lost in a society of yesterday (like a Judiazer) or stuck in the regularity of ritual (like a Pharisee) and get lost in a mystic or legalistic form of worship, function and operation (like the Gnostic) in the body of Christ. None of these honor God. If our body changes, we should be able to change with that dynamic just as much as we expect the individuals in the body to change and become Christians. We have to recognize that each individual in the body responds differently to different forms of our spiritual gift. If we do not focus on Christ as the Head and minister simply in our place within the body, we will never knit together and increase the body for the glory of God.
Our final scripture comes in Romans 12. This is the chapter where we find the believer called to dramatic change in verse two. It is one of my favorite passages to reference when a believer thinks they can stay in and of the world while trying to be Christian. However, we go a little further. After and during the change, we find humility called for in verse three. There is a recognition that faith comes in measures and God gives out those measures. This means we should regularly ask for more faith! In verse four, we find descriptions of the body of Christ again having many members individually functioning as a unit and with great purpose. We realize we may just be a finger joint, but without us, the whole finger would be stuck straight and unable to grasp things for the Lord. Yes, we need to bend to promote the unity of the body.
III. Our Unity in the body (Romans 12:5)
First we must know our place in the church body. Then we learn to submit to the local church in our given positions and function in the body using our spiritual gift. When we discern and achieve this individually, the church body can unify through one God in Christ. This is how God uses our individual abilities for His glory.
There are many here with many talents and diversities of talents. We should never covet another’s position, place or talent. We should in fact understand that from the smallest cell to the largest organ, each part of the body has a huge ministry. The senses have discernment. But their discernment is the best when they work together not against one another.
One finger cannot pick up a glass, but a finger with a thumb can in fact lift that burden and carry it. The shoulder cannot lift a heavy weight alone, but with the wrist and elbow, anything is possible as long as the hand using the fingers grasps the object. The hand and fingers cannot grasp an object they cannot grip. The fingerprints on the very tips of the fingers provide the ability to grip the work for the hand.[v] Every single piece of our body is essential to function. The eyelashes keep large pieces of debris out of our eyes. Everything, large or small is used by our body to function for the glory of God. Your position in the ministry may be as simple as washing the pew pads, or cleaning the church. You may be the tendon that makes a joint bend! Without juice and bread communion will not be possible. Without tendons connected to cartilage and muscle (sinew), arms, legs, fingers, toes and other things would never move.
How often we try so hard to be an arm when all we are is a small piece of tissue. We may be tasked with planning a project and get lost in the details of conducting the project instead of keeping ourselves focused on the simple part of the task at hand. When we try to be a whole arm and lift things, we often ignore the need for our little part somewhere else. If we are a finger joint but we deny what the eyes see, ears hear and senses feel, we step out of our role, try to take another one and deny Christ’s perfect design. We impede the growth and unity of the whole ministry simply because we want to be the eye or ear or sense of smell instead of a fingerprint for gripping.
Ladies and gentlemen, find your gift. Find it and use it to God’s glory. It will implement everything in the ‘one another’ commands in some way. Some how, your gift will accomplish all those things. Take a look at those lists. Do not try to be something you’re not, but be all that which you are. Do not cut yourself short, but never think that you are something far greater than your abilities. It is a fine line but we have to find out how we best serve God in this body and then go about doing those things with all the zeal and exuberance we can muster. Our body will unify when everyone is performing their spiritual gift and exercising their responsibility. Then, God can glorify us. Then God can give us more faith. Then God can use us. And the most important thing is that God is glorified through us. That is our purpose. Find that gift; glorify God.
[i] The most magnanimous or philanthropic without Christ only seeks to please themselves by serving others selflessly. Though it does not seem so, these selfless acts are, in effect, self motivated and gratifying. We should not be mistaken to say that selfless works need to be uncomfortable or displeasing, truly working for the Lord is satisfying and a delight. Our motives should be heaven focused though. The furtherance of God’s Kingdom in and for Christ is the only motive that testifies of salvation.
[ii] Spiritual Gifts List: administration, hospitality, giving, tongues, leadership, discernment, knowledge, healing, service, evangelism, teaching, pastor, apostle, miracles, mercy, helps, exhortation, faith, prophecy, wisdom. This list is not meant to be exhaustive. Though these are clearly identified gifts in scripture, there are others such as celibacy (1 Cor 7:7, 8) that are not clearly labeled as a spiritual gift, but they are certainly a gift of God. Further, people normally do not have just one spiritual gift. Many practice gifts with other gifts such as practicing the gift of helps with the gift of a pastor or teacher.
[iii] One another list: Loving, affectionate, honorable, preferring, understanding or not judgmental, edifying, like minded, forbearing receiving and accepting, humbling, patient toward, caring, serving, shunning conceit, bearing burdens, tolerant, truthful, kind, submissive, forthright, teachable from, comforting, not preferring of certain persons, exhorting/encouraging, spiritually stimulating, speaking kindly, hospitable, ministering, subjecting, giving our cares to, fellowshipping, admonishing, being at peace with, seeking God’s honor and glory, doing right, accepting conviction.
[iv] We should note here that this is a very brief and specifically oriented exposition on the passage in Colossians 2. There is much more these verses can teach us. Please do not take this as a complete understanding. We are simply applying it to this specific message today, the unity of the local body.
[v] When we consider the fact that fingerprints for different bodies are as unique as from one person to another, we may grasp the complexity and diversity of the gifts and their use in bodies of Christ across the globe.