Why is it necessary for the body of Christ to work together to accomplish the church’s mission? – Part 1

Recently, I started watching a new show on Netflix entitled: Manhunt. The show chronicles the last few years that the FBI tracked and ultimately apprehended the UNA Bomber. If you remember, the UNA Bomber alluded the FBI for close to 20 years as he carried out a serial mail bombing campaign. The turning point in the case was when Ted’s brother turned in a tip to the FBI after the UNA Bomber’s Manifesto was published. He believed the language in the Manifesto sounded similar to that of his brother’s. That tip and the letters they provided that Ted wrote them gave the rookie agent Jim “Fitz” Fitzgerald the material needed to link Ted K. to the UNA Bomber. A link he formed through linguistic analysis.

While the show primarily follows “Fitz” and his journey to catch the UNA Bomber, what you discover is that he didn’t do it alone. He wasn’t a one man show. He was just one of hundreds of agents assigned to a task force that worked together to bring Ted to justice.

In a similar way the body of Christ — the church — is made up of many different people. In order for the church to accomplish its mission to make disciples, all its parts must work together, just like all the parts of the FBI task force had to work together to bring the UNA Bomber to justice. Why is that?

Why is it necessary for the body of Christ to work together to accomplish the church’s mission?

In order to answer that question, the first thing we need to understand is that:

(1) All Christians are Members of the Body of Christ (vs. 12-20; 27)

Paul writing to the church in Corinth says in chapter 12 starting in verse 12,

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Co 12:12–13)

Skip down to verse 27,

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Co 12:27)

So by the very nature of our salvation, we are all members of the body of Christ. We may be from vastly different backgrounds, but in Christ we form one body.

The body comprises both the universal and local church.

The universal church is basically all those who have professed Jesus as their Lord and Savior in the world.

The local church is comprised of those who are a part of the universal church, but they form a local expression of the universal church as they gather together in covenant community with one another for the purpose of worshipping God and making disciples.

The local church to which Paul is writing in chapter 12.

We know that is the community to which he writes because his letter is directed to a particular church. The Corinthian church, which is a local church. In verse 14, he continues when he says,

“…the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” (1 Co 12:14–20)

The local church is a body.

The body metaphor Paul uses is genius because it’s something to which we all can relate. Almost every task we do — whether it is eating, drinking, dressing ourselves, playing a sport, driving the car or tractor, whatever it may be — our entire body is active and working together to accomplish that task. You see, it takes more than a foot to drive a car. Our legs, trunk, harms, eyes, brain and more all have to be engaged in the act as well. Just as our body parts form one body and are all needed to accomplish our daily tasks, the many different parts of the universal church form a local church that must work together to accomplish it’s God given tasks.

There is no such thing as an isolated disciple of Jesus.

You see, the church, the local church, has many members, which means we can’t form a church on our own, nor can we be a church unto ourselves. We need one another.

When I was in high school, I played soccer for the school I attended. Talent wise the team was really split. There were about half of us who really wanted to play soccer and half who were required by the football coach to play a spring sport to keep in shape for football.

I don’t want to dog on those guys too much. I mean they were just doing what the football coach required. But, as you could probably imagine, the football players who didn’t care anything about soccer, but just played because they had to, weren’t very good. But even though those guys weren’t very good, even though those guys often let us down, we needed them. We wouldn’t have been a team without them. Even if half of us were all-stars when it came to dribbling and scoring, there is no way we would have won a game because there would be no defense, no goalie, no one to pass the ball to when we were trapped by the other team.

Just as we needed the rest of the players on the soccer team, no matter how good or bad they were, we need the body of Christ. We need one another. You see, there is no such thing as an isolated disciple of Jesus.

Now, that doesn’t mean that people don’t isolate themselves from the body of Christ. They most certainly do. There are a lot of people out there who think all they need is Jesus and their Bible, and maybe a podcast or two. But we need more than that. We need each other. And that’s what Paul is really hammering home here.

Why do we need each other?

Well, we need each other because we all have been given different gifts. Starting in verse 28 Paul mentions these gifts,

“And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” (1 Co 12:28–30)

Now, we don’t have the time to go through each of these gifts, but what I want you to see is that no one person possesses all these gifts, which means that we all have a part to play. We must play that part in the context of the local church with others who compliment our gifts.

The reason we all have different gifts is because that’s the way God has designed it.

Look at verse 18 again. Paul says,

“But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” (1 Co 12:18)

In His infinite wisdom and providence God designed us to depend on one another. I believe this design not only originates in the mind of God but in God Himself. Just recently we have been studying the Trinity on Wednesday nights. Throughout that study we have learned that the Father, Son, and Spirit have existed in an eternal interdependent relationship with one another. Within in that interdependent relationship, each member of the Trinity — though all are God — have different roles that they fulfill. Those roles compliment the other members.

In some sense, the local church is similar in that design, which means that you could say that the local church is an earthly expression of the interdependent nature of the Trinity. So just as the Trinity depends on one another to fulfill different roles, those in the church depend on one another to fulfill different roles as well.

The local church, then, exists as an interdependent body because God has designed it that way.

A design that seems to mimic the very nature of God Himself.

God has not only designed the local church, He also builds the local church.

In His providence, God takes members of the universal church and specifically places them in a local church based on the gifts He has given them. I don’t know if you have ever thought about it, but that means you aren’t at the church you are at by accident. God led you to and placed you in that specific church at this specific time. He placed you there because your gifts compliment others in your church. In other words, He has given you to your church because you are needed. When you aren’t there. When you don’t play your part, it is felt. Look at verses 21 and 22,

“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,” (1 Co 12:21–22)

In the immediate context of the Corinthian church, Paul is seeking to unify. But as you can see, he also tells us that we all must play our part. Each one of us, then, are indispensable to one another and to the mission that God has given us.

Question for Reflection

  • Do you believe you are God’s gift to your church and the church does not operate properly without you?

Resources

Post developed from my sermon: Why is it necessary for the body of Christ to work together to accomplish the church’s mission?

In What Type of Community Must the Church Live? – Part 3

As Christians we are supposed to live in authentic and interdependent community. If you want to know what that looks like and why, check out my last two posts here and here.

While I believe I’ve argued well for why we must live in authentic and interdependent community and what it looks like, that doesn’t mean we know how to develop that type of community. Today, that’s what I’ll focus on –– how we develop authentic and interdependent community with one another.

How do we develop authentic and interdependent community with one another?

We can start by looking at what took place in the early church. Looking at Acts 2, we see that the early church:

  • Immersed their lives in God’s Word together.
  • Prayed together.
  • Shared each other’s burdens.
  • They laughed, they cried, they parented, they ate together.
  • They celebrated the Lord’s Supper together, proclaiming in a visible way to the world that Jesus is their Savior.
  • They served each other and the community.
  • They sacrificed for one another.
  • They made sure each other’s needs were met.
  • They extended hospitality to those around them.
  • They were on mission together, seeking to win others to Christ and helping each other grow in their Christian walk.

These are the things the early church did.

You are a necessary part of the body of Christ.

Along with doing these things, they saw themselves as a necessary part of the body of Christ. They knew that they were missed. They knew that they were hindering the church’s growth and mission when they failed to participate.

You must be willing to share your lives with others.

As well as they were willing to share their lives with each other. They were open. They were transparent. They shared more than their physical needs with others. They also shared their spiritual needs.

So we must not only participate in the same activities as they did, but we must see ourselves as a necessary part of the body, and we must be willing to share our lives with one another. Those you attend church with should know how to pray for you. Not just physically but spiritually. They should know your fears, your struggles, your joys.

I know hearing that probably sounds a bit invasive. But that’s what it takes to live in authentic and interdependent community with one another. If we always keep one another at arms length, if we never let anyone in, we aren’t really depending on them. Instead we are depending on ourselves. But that’s not how a body operates. Your arm doesn’t depend on itself. Instead, it depends on the rest of the body in order to work. We must do the same. We must depend on one another in order to live in authentic and interdependent community.

Conclusion

How are you doing with that? Do you see yourself as someone who just lives in proximity to others? Or are you living in or at least working towards living in authentic and interdependent community with your local church members?

If we are going to be authentic disciples, then we must also live in interdependent community. We must do it, not only for our own spiritual growth, but for the spiritual growth of others, and the furtherance of Jesus’ kingdom. So we must be disciples who live authentically and interdependently with one another in biblical community.

Resources

Post developed from my sermon In what type of community must the church live?

In What Type of Community Must the Church Live? – Part 2

The community represented in Acts 2 reminds me of an illustration I recently read in a book. The author spoke about the giant Redwoods just outside of San Francisco in the Armstrong Redwood National State Reserve. These Redwoods extend skyward over a football field in length. They have stood for centuries despite heavy storms coming through the region. The way they have been able to face storm after storm after storm without toppling over has to do with their root system. When you read about their roots, you learn that they are only about 12 feet under the surface. While 12 foot is not shallow, it doesn’t seem deep enough to hold a tree 100 or more yards in height in the ground against fierce winds. On it’s own it probably wouldn’t. But the giant Redwoods aren’t standing on their own. If you were to scrap back the earth, you would see an intertwined network of roots. The Redwoods are able to stand because they live in community with one another. In other words, they depend on one another for strength. What they couldn’t do on their own, they are able to do in community.  So that’s how they have been able to stand for 100’s of years despite the storms Mother Nature throws at them.

Likewise, the only way we are going to be able to endure the storms of life and thrive as God has intended us to is by living in authentic and interdependent community with one another. In other words, our spiritual roots must not just extend deep but also wide. We must be connected with and depend on our fellow believers around us. If not, we aren’t going to stand when the storms of life come at us. Instead we will fall. We need one another. We need to live in authentic and interdependent community with one another.

What does that look like live in authentic and interdependent community?

II. What does it look like for us to live in interdependent community? (vs. 44-47)

Starting in verse 44 we read,

“And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:44-47)

What I want to draw your attention to in these verses is the word “together”. It appears in verses 44 and 46. While this word is translated as the same word in English, it’s actually two different words in the Greek. As you can guess, these two words mean two different things.

In verse 44, the Greek is epi and it has to do with physical location. What that tells us is that these early Christians lived in the same place.

A. They lived in close proximity to one another.

This wasn’t a small community. In verse 41, we learn that 3,000 people were initially saved at Peter’s preaching during Pentecost. Some, I presume, went back to their towns, but others stayed in Jerusalem. Along with those who initially believed, we also learn in verse 47 that others were being added to the church each and everyday. So this was quite a large community of Christians living together with one another. I’m not exactly sure what that first community’s living quarters looked like. But what I do know is that they sold their possessions and moved so that they could live in close proximity to one another.

Now, I don’t think this means that we all have to sell our houses, secure a plot of land somewhere, and build our own community. Although, I know some of my church members wouldn’t be opposed to some folks buying and building across the street here, since they have land for sale. While they will gladly sell you a plot of land, I don’t believe that’s what Acts is teaching.

Acts is mainly a descriptive, not a prescriptive text. In other words, more often than not it tells us what the early church did and not necessarily what we must do. I believe that is the case in this text. God through the writing of Luke is calling us to do something but it’s not to move on to the same plot of land together. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with that. There are families in our church that do live on the same plot of land. If anything that can be very beneficial. I’m sure the families here would agree. But that is not what God is calling us to do — that part is descriptive.

That, however, doesn’t mean God isn’t calling us to do something. We have the book of Acts for a reason even if it is written in more of a descriptive fashion. What I believe that we, as 21st century Christians, are to take from this is that:

B. The church we are involved in and its members should be local to us.

In other words, it should be in the same community in which we live. We should be able to “run into” other church members while we are out and about.

That means then that we shouldn’t be members of a church that is located outside of our community just because it is the popular church in the area or we like the speaker. No, we must live in proximity to those with whom we attend church. That makes sense if we are going to genuinely devote our lives to one another. That’s hard to do if we don’t ever see one another. Or if it is a burden or hassle to get together with one another. So we must live in close proximity to one another, just as those in the early church did. In other words, the church we attend must be local.

That idea that we must be a part of a local church gains even more traction when we consider the second “together” used in these verses. It is found in verse 46. It is the Greek word homothumadon. Literally this word means to have the same fiery passion. It’s to be intensely unified with another like fans who cheer on their home team.

I know most of you in Decatur like football. Even if you don’t, being from Decatur, you probably still attend the Homecoming festivities — the parades, pep rallies, and the game. Those who attend those activities don’t sit there half asleep. They engage, they cheer, they root for the home team. If you were to take a step back and get a birds eye view of the stands, especially if Decatur was driving down the field for the winning touch down, you would see a fiery passion, a sense of unity among the fans. That fiery passion, that unity that draws you together is the idea that this word is trying to convey. This is why some translations translate it as “one accord.”

But this word doesn’t just carry the idea of being in one accord with other spectators at a sporting event. It goes much deeper than that. It carries the idea that we are to be together, in one accord with one another, on a deep spiritual and emotional level. What this word tells us then is that:

C. We are to live interdependently.

Living interdependently means that we are together in both proximity and in dependent community.

Think about the example of the Redwoods that I opened with. They exist in proximity to one another, as well as they depend on one another. They live in interdependent community. That’s how the first church lived. That’s how we are to live as well. 

Now, living in interdependent community of course means that we live in proximity to one another. But:

Interdependent community takes us much deeper than proximity.

Even though proximity is associated with interdependent community. To a certain extent living in proximity is easy to attain. All it takes is for us to live in the same community and attend the same local church on a regular basis. Proximity is really nothing more than seeing one another, saying hey, shaking hands, sitting in the same Sunday School class and sanctuary together. So achieving proximity is really not all that difficult. But it is the first and a necessary step to living in interdependent community.

That tells us, then, that

We can’t just stop at proximity, we have to keep going until we also are living lives that are depending on one another for growth and godliness.

We need to get to a place where we believe that we need each other in order to grow in Christ, that we need more than just Jesus, a Bible, and a quiet a place. Don’t get me wrong, we need time alone with Jesus. We need our time in the Word and in prayer, but we also need one another. We have to recognize that or we will never live in interdependent community with one another. We will never see the value of asking someone else to pray for us. We will never see the value of asking another to hold us accountable. We will never see the value of getting together with one another in Bible Study. We will never see the value of serving one another by using our spiritual gifts.

So we must get to a place where we believe that we need one another in order to grow in Christ and accomplish our mission as the Church.  I’m not talking about a physical need. Certainly, we need others to help us with things. We need people who are willing and able to cook meals for those who can’t do it on their own. We need people to go and fix things at other people’s houses. We need others to give us a ride at times. We need each other physically.

But we also need to go deeper than that, so that we recognize the fact that we need each other spiritually. The first church saw that need, and that’s what drove them to sell everything, to move in with one another, and to gather together on a daily basis to not only fulfill the physical but the spiritual as well. They saw their need for one another. If we want to be a growing vibrant church that is making disciples, we must see that need and we must allow others to meet that need.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do we see a need for one another? 
  2. Are we willing to be open and transparent so that others can fulfill that need? 

Next Time

Next time, I’ll focus on how we are to live in interdependent community with one another. 

Resources

Post developed from my sermon In what type of community must the church live?