One (Week 2)
Body (Ephesians 4:4-6)
Have you ever stopped and marvelled at how complex and intricate the human body is? Every system, every organ, every limb has an important purpose, no matter how small. Scientists say that if we didn’t have our toes we wouldn’t be able to stand. Our toes are what’s responsible for our balance and without them, we would fall over or have to walk on all four limbs. Toes are what allow us to be bipedal, walking upright on two limbs. No toes, no standing, walking or running.
Or think of your thumb. Most animals, the ones that have fingers and not hooves, don’t have what’s called an opposable thumb; a thumb that can move around and touch the other four fingers. Your thumb is incredibly useful for things like eating or using tools or texting someone. In fact, without having an opposable thumb, if our thumb was just like the other four fingers, there’s a good chance that humans would never have been able to get out of the stone age. Without thumbs, basically, everything we see in our modern world wouldn’t exist.
The human body is incredible and diverse and made up thousands and thousands of different organs and systems and components, each with its own unique function. And the truth is that we need each and every one of them in order to operate. Even the smallest body parts can make a huge impact.
Today we’re continuing our series One talking about unity within the Church. In Ephesians 4, Paul gives seven reasons why the church should be united when he says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bonds of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Paul says that all Christians have these seven “ones” in common. One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father over all. Over this seven week series, we’re taking a look at each one of these seven and asking the question, “What does Paul mean by that?” How do we have unity in this thing?
Two weeks ago, on Pentecost Sunday, we talked about how all Christians of all time have been filled with the same Spirit of God. That the same Spirit has been teaching all Christians and guiding all of us into all truth since the beginning. We talked about how often times God uses all of us to teach each other and that we need to remain humble and gentle; willing to learn from each other. This week we’re going to examine what Paul’s talking about when he says that is there one body. But before we jump in, let’s pray for God’s help this morning.
The first reason Paul gives for why we should keep the unity of the Spirit is that there is one body. That all Christians effectively make up one single body. This is a metaphor that Paul alludes to multiple times in his writings, but there are three primary passages of Scripture where he fleshes this idea out.
The first passage in Romans 12, verse 4-5 where he says, “For 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, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
Here, Paul presents this idea that just like a human body, where you have different organs and limbs that are useful for various tasks, the church is a body. Not everybody in the church is going to have the same function. In fact, we have different functions, different uses. However, that doesn’t change the fact that we’re all part of one body. Furthermore, each member belongs to all the others. In this sense, you can’t just think about what is best for yourself. You need to think about what’s best for the rest of the group.
This is something that I think we struggle with in North America. We’re a very individualistic society. We believe everyone should pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Politicians and business leaders will brag about how they were a self-made man or woman. And we seem to idolize people who have the ability to make it on their own without help from anyone else. But Paul tells us the exact opposite. That each of us in the Church belongs to all the others. That doesn’t just mean collectively, but individually.
How many, when you were in school, high school or university or something, had to do a group project of some kind and got graded as a group on the project? I bet you hated that you got graded as a group and wanted the teacher or professor to grade each of you individually. And a lot of times, that’s how we think about our relationship with Jesus. We want to be graded individually, so to speak, rather than as a group. But the reality is that when it comes to following Jesus when it comes to being the church, we’re graded as a group. We all collectively succeed or fail together because we all belong to each other. Which means you’re actually responsible for the spiritual development and welfare of the person sitting next to you right now. And they’re responsible for your spiritual development as well.
The second major passage where Paul uses this human body metaphor is in 1 Corinthians chapter 12. It’s pretty long so we’re going to break it up and look at the three different sections of this passage one at a time.
Starting in verse 12, Paul says, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—wether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.”
Once again, we see this idea that the body has many different parts. That we’re not all the same part of the body. In this sense, our diversity is celebrated rather than looked down upon. Our diversity is useful in order to make the body function. Now, at the same time, Paul emphasizes that we’ve all been baptized by the same Spirit and that the distinctions between Jew and Gentile, slave and free are unimportant. So when Paul says in verse 14 that the body is not made up of one part but of many, he’s not talking about superfluous differences in ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender, or anything like that. Rather he’s talking about function differences. Our skills, abilities, passions, talents and experiences. These are the unique attributes we bring to the table in the body of Christ.
He continues in verse 15, “Now, if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop belonging to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact, God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many part, but one body.”
Quite often, I think it can be easy for us to get down on ourselves. We can look at the gifts or talents or abilities of someone else and say, “I wish I had what they have.” I wish I could do what that person does. For some of us, it’s really easy to start to think that what we have to contribute isn’t that meaningful or useful to the church or that we’re not really part of the inner circle or something.
But Paul addresses that. Essentially he’s saying, even if you don’t feel like it, you're still an essential part of the body. Your feelings regarding your usefulness don’t change the fact that you’re still part of the body and still very useful. And we need you. We need your contribution. Otherwise, we would just be a giant ear or a giant eye and what good would that do? The truth is that God has given each of us gifts and abilities and he has placed all of us in the right place and wants us to contribute to the body of the Church.
Paul Continues 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!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.”
Sometimes we can think too lowly of ourselves and we can think that what we have to contribute isn’t that important. But other times, and just as dangerously, some of us can think too highly of ourselves and think that what we have to offer is the only thing that’s important.
As Paul already alluded to at the beginning of this passage, the Corinthian church was made up of both Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free people. The church was made up of a diverse group, not just ethnically or economically, but also when it came to personality types, talents and spiritual gifts. And what was happening was that certain people were starting to believe that what they could contribute to the church was more important than what other people could contribute.
So someone who was a good teacher might assume that their role was more important than someone who could spend a lot of time in prayer. Or maybe someone who speaks in tongues would start to feel that their role was more important than someone who loves to help others. And so not only did those with the more favoured gifts start to believe that they didn’t need those with the lesser gifts, but those who had the lesser gifts started to believe it as well.
Now, I’ll be honest, this is still something the church struggles with. It seems like a lot of times those of us who preach or lead worship can start, on some level, to feel as if the church exists simply as a vehicle for us to contribute our gifts of teaching or singing. But that’s the exact opposite of what Paul says. The eyes can’t say they don’t need the hands or that the church can get along fine without them. And the hands can’t say, because I’m not a hand I’m not really part of the body.
The church needs both eyes and hands as well as ears and feet and mouths. We need thumbs and toes. The church needs everyone; all of us working together, bringing whatever it is that God has given us. No matter what others may have communicated to you in the past or how you may have been made to feel, you are an important part of the church. We need you to be you. We need you to contribute your own specific mix of gifts, abilities, experiences, passions, talents, and personality type. And simultaneously, other people are an equally important part of the body of Christ. You are vital to how the church functions and so are they.
The final passage where Paul uses this body metaphor is back in Ephesians chapter 4. In verse 11 through 16 he says, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the whole body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
And here Paul tells us why we need the body. The whole point of our diversity, the whole reason why we all have different gifts, is so that the body itself, all of us both as individuals and as a group, will become mature followers of Jesus. And that maturity will be marked by both knowledge and unity. Once we’re mature followers of Jesus, we won’t be susceptible to false teaching. We won’t be gullible like infants are. Instead we will be able to speak the truth to each other in love.
Jesus wants all of us as Christians to become fully mature followers of him. People who regularly express the fruit of his Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And that maturity comes when all of us come together and use the gifts Jesus has given us in order to help other followers of Jesus.
Because we all belong to the other members of the body. And the other members of the body are just as important to the function of the body as you are. When we choose not to participate, we affect the body as a whole. It’s like trying to run a race without a foot or build a house without a hand. It’s technically possible, but it’s significantly more challenging.
William Greathouse, in his commentary on Romans, put it this way. He says, “Social holiness is not competitive; it is cooperative, empowered as it is by God’s gifts to the community as a whole.” We aren’t in competition with other Christians, other churches or other denominations.
Because we all have the same spirit of Christ living inside us, our diversity within the body isn’t a cause for concern but for celebration. We all get to use what God has given us to help others become better followers of Jesus.
So here’s the question I want all of us to think about this week: What is your responsibility to others? How are you responsible for the spiritual development and spiritual maturity of other Christians? What can you do to help others be built up and mature in Christ?
A lot of times, I think we have this idea that we can’t help others to become mature Christians until we have already reached some kind of level of spiritual maturity ourselves. And so we can get into this trap where we think our job is to sit there and be fed while it’s the job of the spiritually mature or the spiritual elite to make us more mature. But the reality is that, just like with kids, maturity comes as we practice mature behaviour. Maturity comes as we take on responsibility.
So how are you taking responsibility for the spiritual maturity and development of others? One great way to do this is to join a serving team. Our new serving team system will start in July, so if you haven’t had a chance to join a team yet, there’s still time. I know after service prayer, ushers and nursery are all looking for people. So if you want to join a serving team, come talk to me after the service and we can find a spot for you on a team. How are you taking responsibility for the spiritual development and maturity of the body you belong to?
As followers of Jesus, we must make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit because we are all part of the same body of Christ. We belong to each other and the spiritual gifts we contribute are vital in order for the body as a whole to become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.