The Universal Body of Christ

12 When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. 13 Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. 14 And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.

15 All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith.

Grace be with you all. – Titus 3:12-15 ESV

The early community of Christ was a close-knit one. Despite the fact that Paul was traveling from one end of the known world to the other, and planting churches in ethnically and geologically diverse regions, they all shared a bond of unity. Wherever they were located, these fledgling communities of faith were in the minority and found themselves facing extreme opposition. To unbelieving Gentiles, Christians were nothing more than a sect of the Jewish religion. After all, the converts to Christianity followed the teachings of an itinerant Jewish rabbi. But to the Jews, Christians represented a dangerous heresy that rejected the Mosaic Law and dismissed the rite of circumcision. So, wherever Paul and his companions preached the gospel and saw its message of faith in Christ take root, they met with strong opposition fueled by extreme antagonism.

These new congregations of believers were often ostracized and isolated from their former communities, and lacked mature spiritual leadership, so Paul felt a strong sense of responsibility to provide them with instruction and encouragement. He wanted them to know that they were part of a much larger community of faith that was spreading around the world. His letters formed a kind of literary highway system linking together these distant and disparate congregations. His growing network of spiritual disciples included men like Timothy, Titus, Artemas, Tychicus, Zenas, and Apollos, who each played a vital role in ministering to the far-flung Christian community. These men provided much-needed spiritual training to the faithful, but they also served as the eyes and ears of Paul, giving him insight into what was happening within the body of Christ around the world.

Paul was constantly traveling from one place to another, fulfilling his commission to take the good news of Jesus Christ to the nations. But he tended to leave a part of his heart in every city, town, and village where the gospel found converts. In many cases, his first visit to a city was his last. His travels didn’t always allow him to circle back and check in on the churches he had helped to plant. And, in time, his lengthy imprisonment in Rome would completely curtail his efforts to minister to those whom he loved like his own children. But Paul never left them without adequate spiritual nourishment or oversight. He desperately wanted them to know that they were all in this together. They were part of a much larger family of faith that God was planting around the world and, for Paul, it was essential that each of these churches understand their role within the bigger picture. Rather than focus all their attention on their particular circumstances, they were to see themselves as members of the growing body of Christ.

Paul firmly believed that when an individual came to faith in Christ, they were to align themselves with a local faith community. They were not to act as a free agent, operating Lone Ranger style, independent and isolated from other Christians in their community. This corporate mentality was essential to the spiritual well-being of the individual and the community. And for Paul, it went well beyond geographic confines. He often used the metaphor of the human body as a way of illustrating the interconnected and interdependent nature of the body of Christ.

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NLT

The concept of a global church made up of people from all walks of life, every conceivable economic background, and diverse ethnic makeups was revolutionary. And this new admixture of individuals into a mutually beneficial community of faith was making a radical impact on the world. The church was growing and people were noticing. And Paul was obsessed with getting his expanding family of faith to understand their need for one another. He encouraged an attitude of generosity and selflessness and praised the churches in Macedonia for their gracious giving toward the needs of the church in Jerusalem.

For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do. – 2 Corinthians 8:3-5 NLT

Paul went on to encourage the believers in Corinth to follow the example of the Macedonian churches.

Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal. – 2 Corinthians 8:11 NLT

And Paul wanted the believers on Crete to have the same attitude, telling Titus, “let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:14 ESV).

The church is a living organism, not an organization. It is an interactive, interdependent collection of individuals who have been formed into a worldwide community that is to reflect the unity of the Godhead. And the letter that Paul wrote to Titus is as applicable today as it was in the 1st Century in which he penned it. His call to Christ-likeness, humility, submission, service, and an unwavering commitment to the truth is as vital today as it ever was. The words Paul used to open his letter still apply.

I have been sent to proclaim faith to those God has chosen and to teach them to know the truth that shows them how to live godly lives. – Titus 1:1 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

1 Corinthians 12:12-31

Unity and Diversity.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31

So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. – 1 Corinthians 12:24-26 NLT

Paul had heard about divisions and disunity taking place in the local congregation in Corinth. They had taken sides within the church, with some claiming to be followers of Paul, while others claimed Apollos as their spiritual leader. They had even been bragging about who had baptized them, claiming some kind of spiritual superiority as a result. Then there were those in the church whose disputes with one another had resulted in law suits in the secular courts. On top of all that, Paul had to deal with a spirit of division that had crept into the church as some were claiming their right to live in their new found freedom in Christ, but who were causing their fellow believers to stumble and fall into sin. There had crept into the church an attitude of selfishness and self-centeredness that was doing serious damage to the cause of Christ and the health of the body of Christ. What seemed to be missing was any concern for the common good. Everyone was in it for what he or she could get out of it. Personal rights had trumped any concern for the corporate well being of the body. So Paul provided them with a metaphor that he hoped would help them understand the unique nature of their role as members of the body of Christ – the church.

Because the church is a collection of individuals, it is easy for us to bring our individualistic mindsets with us and never fully understand what it is that God has in mind for this unique institution He has ordained. Becoming part of the church is not like joining a country club or a fraternity. There is something spiritual going on behind the scenes when an individual is called by God into a relationship with His Son Jesus Christ. That act of salvation places the individual into an entirely new situation, making him a Son of God and a brother to every other individual who has placed his or her faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. He becomes a member of the family of God. But even more so, He becomes a member of the body of Christ. To make His point, Paul compares the body of Christ, the church, with the human body. His emphasis seems to be on diversity, first and foremost. Unity is a byproduct of that diversity. In other words, in the human body, God has divinely designed each and every part with a purpose in mind. Each part is necessary and must work in conjunction with every other part. Some parts are seemingly more important – like the brain or the heart. Yet God has brought every part together and given it its own function and role to play. Some of those parts go unseen, working behind the scenes, but playing an essential part in the overall well being of the body. Each part is necessary. There is not competition or jealousy within the human body. One part does not envy another part. There is no pride or arrogance within the human body. Because God has crafted each part and placed it right where he wants it, to perform the role for which He created it. The same is true of the body of Christ. God has called every believer and placed them within the body of Christ, the church, and provided them with a spiritual gift that is designed for the good of the body. Paul had made it clear to the Corinthians: “It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. he alone decides which gift each person should have” (1 Corinthians 12:11 NLT).

The body of Christ is a divinely ordained and designed organism filled with a variety of individuals who represent and a diversity of gifts. Paul lists some of these as apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, healers, helpers, leaders, and even those who speak in other languages. Not everyone has the same gift. What would a church look like that was made up of only teachers? Diversity is a necessity. Every gift is needed. Every individual is important. But the goal is always for the common good. The motivation is always love. Paul is going to drive this point home in the very next section of his letter. Because even the spiritual gifts can lead to disunity if they are done without love. If our overall objective is not to express selfless, sacrificial love to others, then even our spiritual gifts can become destructive rather than constructive. They can divide rather than unite. We must recognize that God has divinely organized the church, placing each individual where they belong and gifting them in such a way that they play a vital, non-negotiable role in the overall health of the body of Christ.

Father, the church can be a messy place. There are so many people who have come from so many walks of life. They bring their personalities and all their baggage to the equation. Then there is our tendency to compete and jockey for positions of prominence and importance. Help us to understand that there are no spectators in the body of Christ. Each person has a role to play. Each is necessary and needed. You have designed the church to be a well-ordered organism where all the parts work seamlessly and effortlessly together. But all that is impossible without love. Show us how to be more than an organization. Give us a growing awareness and understanding of just how unique this thing called the church really is. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

A Change in Ownership.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT

autonomy: (aw-ton-uh-mee) – independence or freedom; self-government or the right of self-government

The believers in Corinth needed a slight attitude adjustment, and Paul was more than happy to provide it. It seems that much of their behavior was based on a misguided understanding of their new freedom in Christ. They had reached the conclusion that, since Christ had freed them from sin and provided them with forgiveness, they were free to do whatever they wanted to do. They had even come up with their own taglines or slogans to justify their behavior, such as, “I am allowed to do anything.” The NIV translates that phrase as “Everything is permissible for me.” Their problem was one of autonomy. Rather than understand the fact that they had been purchased out of slavery to sin by God with the death of His Son, they believed they were now free to do as they wished. They were self-governing, independent agents who believed they had every right and freedom to do whatever they wanted.

This would be a common misunderstanding in the early church. Paul addresses it in his letter to the believers in Rome. “Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living” (Romans 6:15-16 NLT). The logic of the Corinthians had led them to some fairly dangerous conclusions. Yes, there were some behaviors that were not addressed or prohibited in Scripture. But even those things we are free to do can end up enslaving us. Another popular maxim among the Christians in Corinth was “Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food.” While this was a true statement, it was not a license for gluttony or dissipation. That same logic had seemingly led the Corinthians to conclude that the body was made for sex, therefore, sexual relationships of all kinds were permissible. Paul confronts them on this issue. “But you can’t say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:13b NLT). Sex was an everyday reality for the Corinthians. Their city contained the temple of the love goddess, Aphrodite, where more than 1,000 “priestesses” performed sexual acts with those who came to worship. The satisfying of their bodily desires and urges was natural to the Corinthians. Becoming believers had not taken the temptations and urges away. So Paul encourages them to “run from sexual sin!” He reminds them that their bodies no longer belong to them. Christ had died to redeem not only their souls, but their bodies. In fact, the Holy Spirit had taken up residence in their bodies. Just as Jesus had taken on human flesh and lived a holy, sinless life, Paul was encouraging them to allow the Holy Spirit to transform their hearts and their character. He was pleading for them to honor God with their bodies. Christianity is not some kind of ethereal, purely spiritual endeavor, but a holistic, all-encompassing transformation of the entire being. We cannot divorce the body from the soul. In fact, Paul begged the believers in Rome, “I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him” (Romans 12:1 NLT). Our bodies belong to God. We have been set apart by God for His use – not just our souls, but our bodies as well.

The constant temptation for all believers is to satisfy our natural desires. Some of these temptations can appear to be quite innocuous. There is nothing inherently wrong with good food, but the desire for it can quickly lead to over-indulgence and gluttony. We are sexual beings, created by God to enjoy the pleasures of the relationship between a man and a woman. But we are not free to satisfy that desire outside God’s preordained bounds of marriage. Freedom is a highly valued, but also highly misunderstood concept today. Everyone wants freedom, but few understand the dangers that come with it. We are free in Christ, but that does not mean we are free to do whatever it is we want. Paul told the believers in Galatia: “For you have been called to live in freedom my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13 NLT). Freedom for the believer is not to be self-centered, but outwardly focused. I have been set free, not so that I can indulge the self, but to serve others. I am free to express love to others, not practice some sad form of narcissism – totally focused on self and our own satisfaction. We are free to live differently. We are free to live selflessly. We are free to live our lives on God’s terms, not our own. Because He bought us out of slavery to sin having paid the high price required with the life of His own Son.

Father, forgive me for my obsession with self. Help me to continue to grow in my understanding that I belong to You. That all of me belongs to You. May my life become less and less about me and my own desires, and more about You and Your will for me. I want my body to be a living, daily sacrifice to You. I want to die to self and live for You. Show me what that looks like. Make it concrete and practical. Don’t let me abuse my freedom by focusing on me. Keep my eyes turned to You. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Psalms 131 & 133 – Day 2

It’s Not All About Me.
(Based on Psalm 131)

Lord, I don’t have an arrogant heart,
I don’t look down on others as if I’m better than they are.
I don’t walk around with an attitude of self-importance,
Or as if I am somehow God’s gift to the world.
I am calm and quiet, weaned off my incessant need for significance,
Like a baby gets weaned off its mothers milk.
So Israel, put your hope in the Lord and not me, from this point forward!

It’s All About Us.
(Based on Psalm 133)

How wonderful and delightful it is to live our lives alongside one another!
This sense of togetherness is pervasive, like the oil used to anoint Aaron,
It ran from his head to his beard and all the way to the bottom of his robe.
It is like the dew that falls on Mount Hermon, that covers the mountains of Zion,
For it was there that God promised His blessing to us as His people,
Life in the community of God that will never end.