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2-3-2-13 message by Pastor Rich Doebler

In the most famous Bible chapter about spiritual gifts, Paul writes to the church in Corinth…

12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. (1 Cor 12:12-14)

Viking tight end, Kyle Rudolph, was named MVP at last Sunday’s Pro Bowl. Nobody saw that coming. He wasn’t even invited to play in the Pro Bowl until the last minute when an injury to another player opened the way for him to fill in. His season had been good, but not phenomenal. But when he played alongside top-notch athletes in the Pro Bowl, his personal performance improved dramatically.

Something similar happens in the church. We become better and do better together than we ever could apart. There is a synergy that happens when God’s people learn they are a team and not individual players. When we work together to fulfill God’s call and purpose, synergy makes the outcome greater than the sum of the individual parts.

Americans like the idea of the independent person. Our culture seems hard-wired to celebrate the self-made success, the one who doesn’t follow the crowd, the independent thinker. Perhaps our sentiments date back the Declaration of Independence or the War for Independence. We admire the pioneer spirit, the one who can “go-it-alone,” the lone-wolf, the rebel, the maverick, the lone ranger. Some act as though Frank Sinatra’s song should be our national anthem: “I did it my way” — not our way or their way but my way.

“In America, individualism, like fluoride, flows in the drinking water.” [Kevin Miller, Christianity Today] Even in our churches, we resonate more with the idea of faith for the individual than for the church community. We talk mostly about a personal relationship with Christ — and we overlook the community relationship we need within Christ’s body, which is what the Bible calls the church.

“…the phrase ‘a personal relationship with Jesus’ holds rich meaning, but we might ask why the inspired Bible writers never use it.” [Kevin Miller, Christianity Today] Could it be that they had a higher view of the “community of faith”? Could that be why we read in the NT that we…

“…are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28); “we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body” (1 Cor 12:13)

Because each of us is a sinner, each one of us needs a Savior. But if we stop there, we miss something significant and important. If we stop there, we risk losing out on the deeper and fuller blessings God intended for us to enjoy in the body of Christ, the church.

It’s true you can be saved all on your own. You can worship God in a deer stand or in a fishing boat or alone under the stars. You can live as a spiritual hermit and still be on your way to heaven.

But if that is the extent of your spiritual experience, you’ll fall far short of all that God intended for you to experience. It turns out that God is keenly interested in community — not merely individuals, separate, distinct, on their own, apart from others.

Nearly three dozen times in the NT letters we read the phrase “one another” — to say that individual believers are responsible for other believers: love, encourage, accept, live in harmony with, serve, bear with, be devoted, instruct, teach, admonish, be kind and compassionate to, greet…with a holy kiss.

Why is God so focused on community? Because he knows we will grow into the likeness and image of his Son when we grow in our connection to his body — that is, when we connect with others and learn to get along with them. Apart from the church, we cannot grow as we should.

Alone you will never achieve the spiritual growth, the maturity, and the spiritual blessings you could have by sharing your life with other believers.

This is especially true when it comes to developing your spiritual gifts. As we’ve already said in this series, the reason why we’ve been given spiritual gifts is to serve others. Gifts are provided to each individual for the good of everyone — for the common good — not just for your own enjoyment.

It’s not easy to do! Sometimes it’s downright hard! Serving others goes against our independent nature.

“The young Francis of Assisi [late 12th, early 13th century] was riding his horse one day when he rounded a curve and saw a man hideously disfigured and foul smelling. As Christian History & Biography tells it, ‘…making a great effort, he conquered his aversion, dismounted, and, in giving the leper a coin, kissed his hand. The leper then gave him the kiss of peace, after which Francis remounted his horse and rode on his way.’” [Kevin Miller, Christianity Today]

Have you ever “kissed a leper”? I’m not talking literally — I’m wondering if you’ve ever found God asking you to do something for someone that was difficult or unpleasant? These are the times God stretches and grows us. In learning to set aside our own selfish interests and in learning to love the unlovable, we become a bit more like Christ.

The opening line of the first chapter of The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren is: “It’s not about you.” But human nature wants it to be about us. I want it to be about me; and you want it to be about you! We each want God’s gifts for ourselves.

It’s our old human nature coming to the surface again. We are essentially self-centered, selfish creatures — even when we’re talking about God’s spiritual gifts for the church. We want it to be about us!

So as we study spiritual gifts and the ministries that flow from them, it’s essential that we grasp the significance of community — the importance of a team. Because it takes a team — the whole body of Christ, the whole church — to fulfill our gifts and achieve maximum impact.

One player alone cannot do what a team can do together. Without the team, the MVP would be a MUP (Most Useless Player). If you watch the Super Bowl later today, imagine how Joe Flacco would do if he were to face 11 Giants alone. It takes a community of believers — a church directed and empowered by God’s Spirit together. Only then can each member fulfill his or her calling so the church can accomplish its ministry!

So let’s look again at the Bible passage from 1 Cor 12…

Seventeen times in this chapter Paul uses the word, “body,” as a metaphor — as a picture of something more than just a physical body. At the end of the passage (v 27) he explains that the word “body” is a picture of how the church should function: “You [plural, that is: all of you together] are the body of Christ, and each one of you [that is: individually] is a part of it.”

That is to say, each individual is not an autonomous, separate organism. Each one is part of something bigger than himself or herself. Each one is simply a part of the larger whole. Each one is part of the body of Christ, the church.

I’m guessing you’ve heard this before. So we may understand the general concept, but we sometimes have difficulty living it out in specific ways. For instance…

1. We all are parts of a single unit. 12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.

Examples: birds in a flock flying as one; a school of fish swimming as one; ants marching as one unit. If we are directed by the Spirit — sensitive to his leading — then we will function as one unit.

If we each insist on going our own way, or demanding our individual rights, or refusing to listen to others (their views, opinions, or preferences), then we will never function as a single unit. Instead of unity (synchronized beauty), we will have chaos and anarchy.

We are all parts of a larger, living unit.

2. We all belong. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 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 cease to be part of the body.

Some people pull away because they think they don’t really belong. When a “foot” complains about not being a “hand,” it’s thinking, “I’m not really part of the body — not like the hand is part of the body” (i.e. “I’m not part of the ‘hand’ club…so I don’t really belong”).

A foot with that kind of attitude “shoots itself in the foot.” It undermines its own potential; it cancels out its own God-given gifts. Even worse, it disrupts the proper functioning of the whole body. A body without feet is severely limited. The foot who pulls away sabotages what the body can do.

If you want to turn a healthy, functioning church into a dysfunctional body…if you want to make a church sick, then just stir up feelings of envy about what others are and what others do.

When a foot compares itself to a hand and feels inadequate, it’s devaluing the things a foot can do! And when feelings of inadequacy cause us to pull away from the body, we devalue God’s good gifts! In fact, it’s really an insult to God! It’s accusing him of not doing things correctly.

Envy or feelings of inferiority pull people away from the church. They say, “I don’t belong.” So they exclude themselves. They think their differences disqualify them. They think they’re misfits because they’re not like that other person — or can’t do what that other person can do.

Envy, feelings of inferiority, and complaining disrupt unity. They undermine relationships! As a result, we have “feet” who will not “walk”; we have “ears” that will not “listen.” These are believers who won’t do their part to benefit the rest of the body.

When “feet” and “ears” are offended or feel inferior and unimportant, they pull away and cease to function as they should. It’s like they’re spiritually paralyzed. And the rest of the body pays the price.

We must reject negative attitudes that undermine our sense of belonging. We must not allow a poor self-image or a lack of confidence to shape what we do. We all belong — so we should all act like it.

3. God has a plan for us. 18 …God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.

We don’t like losing control of our lives. We want to make our own choices. We want to decide what is the best place for us to be.

If you play tuba in the band, you can’t trade your music with the piccolo’s. The conductor gives you tuba music because the band needs a tuba laying down the bass rhythm. The piccolo can’t do that. The piccolo has a different function to fill. And you can’t do what a piccolo does!

If you’re a 325-pound tackle on the football team, you can’t trade places with the wide receiver. Your coach knows there’s no way you’re going to race past the defenders and down the sidelines. He knows where you belong — and it’s in the trenches, protecting the QB so he has time to get the ball to the wide receivers.

If you’re in the army and you get your “marching orders,” you don’t have options. You don’t get to choose. If you signed up for the National Guard, you can’t suddenly change your mind if you are deployed overseas. You can’t say, “Wait a minute! I didn’t think you’d ever need me in Afghanistan. I only wanted to fight back floods by filling sand bags.” It doesn’t work that way. You have to follow orders because someone has decided where you are most needed.

God knows your gifts, talents, and abilities — because he gave them to you. So God knows where you fit in the best. He knows where you belong. He knows where you can do the most good.

God has a plan for us. Knowing that should encourage us. Take comfort in the fact that God has a plan for you. He puts you exactly where he wants you — exactly where you should be.

4. We need each other. 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!

We’ve already seen that poor self-esteem causes some to feel that they don’t belong; they pull away. On the opposite end of the spectrum, however, an inflated self-esteem can lead to pride — an attitude that pushes others away.

Those with poor self-esteem may disqualify themselves; but proud, self-inflated independents want to disqualify others. “You can’t be in our club,” they say, “because you’re not like us. You’re just a poor, pathetic hand. You’re not an eye, like we are.”

The truth is that those who are like “eyes” — with vision and inspiration — need others who are like “hands” — those willing to roll up their sleeves, get down to business and do something; willing to get some dirt under their fingernails. Vision alone won’t get the job done. Eyes need hands.

5. We don’t know it all. 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor…

Things aren’t always what they seem. Merely looking at the surface won’t tell you everything you need to know. It turns out that some in the body who seem to be “weaker” are, in fact, indispensable.

And some whom we think are less “honorable” (i.e., less important or significant or valuable) — those whom most people would overlook — are in God’s view, worthy of special treatment and greater honor.

An NFL lineman can be pretty anonymous — just a one of the big guys guarding the QB. If his number is called, it’s probably because he’s been flagged for a penalty — false start, holding, etc. The QB gets the glory and the stats. But the QB knows he couldn’t do his job without his linemen, so after a game with no “sacks,” some of QBs will take all the linemen out for a steak dinner. He wants to honor them.

There are a lot of people in the church who don’t get the limelight. They work incognito; they function behind the scenes. Often they are the ones who hold things together, and nobody know. So they deserve recognition even though they don’t seek it.

Years ago some college students went to hear the famous preacher, Charles H. Spurgeon. While waiting for the service to start, they were greeted by a man who said, “Let me show you around. Would you like to see the heating plant of this church?” They weren’t really interested, for it was a hot day in July. But they didn’t want to offend him, so they agreed. He took them down a stairway, quietly opened a door, and whispered, “This is our powerhouse.” Inside were 700 people bowed in prayer, seeking a blessing on the service that was soon to begin in the auditorium above. Their guide closed the door and introduced himself. It was Charles Spurgeon.

Here was one preacher in front of the crowd — and 700 who prayed in the basement, unseen by the crowd. We have his picture, but we don’t have theirs. Nevertheless, Spurgeon held them in high esteem.

We don’t see beneath the surface, but God does. We don’t know it all; we don’t see where everyone else fits in. But we do know some things; we know that we need each other…that God has a plan for us…that we all belong…that we all are parts of a single unit.

Dream Team