Lent 2: GIVING OUR BEST TO OTHERS IN THE CHURCH

Romans 12: 3 - 5

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 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.

The world is all about image. It is about having the perfect body, the perfect figure, the right clothing and right car; it’s all about self-expression and self-worth and ego.

In this age of self, we need a counter argument against the cult of self:

“Before we try to figure out who we are as individuals, we need to think sanely about what it means to be the people of God…In the church, we explore our sense of self together. We are who we are as individuals because of our place in the whole, because of the community.”[1]

Romans 12:3 says we are not to think to highly of ourselves – literally it says “not to think more highly than it is necessary” but neither are we to think too lowly of ourselves.

 

We are told to judge ourselves soberly. Unfortunately, such a term ‘soberly’ brings images of straight laced tight lipped puritanical judgement of who we are, of ascetics beating themselves with branches “I am not worthy”. 

That is not what Paul is saying here. He is saying that we need to be clear-headed and honest with ourselves and understand the reality of the gospel.

The phrase “In accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you” does not mean differences in the distribution of faith to each person.  The grace of salvation that God gives us provides equal standing to all believers as his children; without Jesus, all of us would be lost in our guilt and sin.

It follows that if we are equal in God’s eyes, then we cannot justifiably view ourselves more highly than others (or more lowly). There is nothing that we possess which we have not been given by him, including even our faith (1 Corinthians 4:7).

none of you will be puffed up in favour of one against another. … What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?

There is no room for either superiority or inferiority in the church.

If we don’t go to God to find out who we are, we will start to look to our left or right and compare ourselves with those around us, and we will determine our worth through the cracked mirror of others.

God, who sees perfectly, does not judge by the same standards as we experience in the world (1 Samuel 16:7).

the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.

Our worldly default setting is to judge others and ourselves on the basis of outward markers such as physical appearance, talent, status, wealth, power and so on. None of this matter to God. What matters to him is the inward markers – what goes on in our hearts: the fruit of the Spirit growing in us.

He has appointed us with different gifts specifically, with a purpose that goes far beyond our human understanding, not to achieve any puny plan we may have for ourselves, but to achieve his plan.  

Because God sees the big picture, he understands how each one of us as an individual forms part of the whole church. Paul uses the picture of a human body to illustrate the point. Though some parts may appear less significant, they are vital in ensuring that the whole body functions well. 

The tiniest muscle in the human body is called the stapedius and it’s found in the middle ear.  Despite its size, it does an important job in protecting our ears from loud noises.

When I was a child, tonsils and appendixes were regularly removed when there were the slightest health problems because doctors then thought they were superfluous and unnecessary legacies of our evolutionary past. We now know that not to be the case for those body parts, they are important.

As humans, we often see certain gifts (perhaps those that are more on show) as more praiseworthy than others, but for a fully healthy body every single part is important. 

Pride (and its close relation yet opposite: ‘false modesty’) can throw a spanner in the works when it comes to a healthy functioning church.

God hasn’t specially favoured some with better gifts, but has distributed them all to fit perfectly together for the work that he has prepared for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

It’s difficult to get our heads around this concept in a society that is so individualistic, and it’s extremely countercultural to see ourselves as just one small part of a much larger whole. 

Yet that is what 1 Corinthians 12:7 tells us

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

Note: it does not say “for our good” but for the good of the whole body, the common good of all.

In reality we often forget this principle and scripture and the old man pride gets in the way of working together in the functioning of the church and there are easy traps to fall into.

It’s tempting to want certain skills or tasks because of the ‘status’ they confer or the praise that accompanies them, instead of concentrating on putting our own gifts to good use.

If we have an understanding of our gifts it can also be very tempting to use them solely for personal gain or glory. Rather than sharing the gifts God has given us with the church, we keep them to ourselves. It’s like part of the body withdrawing its labour or refusing to cooperate with the other parts, forgetting that each member belongs to all the others.

1 Corinthians 12:14-17,19

the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would 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 would 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 the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?...If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body.

The antidote to these and other behaviours which get in the way of a fully functioning body of Christ is humility.

James 4:6,10

 “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Humility [consists of] a recognition of our dependence on God and a willingness to submit ourselves to him, a realistic assessment of our own character and ability with a curbing of undue ambition (Stephen Dawes).[2]

Humility starts with being thankful, not just for our own unique combination of gifts but also for what God has given to others.

Encouraging each other, and praising God when we see the outworking of his gifts in the life of another, counteracts envy. Humility lies in remembering that on our own we cannot achieve much – we are always fully reliant on God working through us and through other members of the body. We all have our limitations; each part of a human body can only do so much on its own.

God made us interdependent for a purpose as members that belong to a much larger whole.  There is synergy when all the elements cooperate together; in following God’s blueprint, the body of Christ far exceeds what a collection of individuals could achieve on their own. We were made to work together and that is how we work best. We are greater than the parts that we comprise of.  A cake is tastier because of the combination of ingredients. Ever eaten baking powder by itself?

These verses are very important to bear in mind when thinking about our own church. Although they also apply to the wider church, they are lived out in the day-today workings of each church family. And we call it a family for good reason.

Paul states that each member belongs to the others – there’s a sense of ownership and connection between us as individuals. But how do we see this at work within our own church? Do we view it as a Sunday activity, a social club, (a job!) or somewhere purely to think about God that’s detached from the rest of our lives? When we really absorb what belonging to one another means, it connects us all far more than probably most of us feel.  

Throughout the New Testament Paul continually addresses his letters to his brothers and sisters in Christ, and in 1 Timothy 5:1–2 he urges us to relate to one another as mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters.

We all have different experiences of family, and for some of us it might be hard to see family as a positive thing. But in a secure family unit there is a strong loyalty and love that is noticeable in the members’ actions towards each other. When it comes to other members of the church, do we show that same commitment that we see in a loving family? It’s a big challenge to ask ourselves whether we’d be willing to share our belongings and time as if we were sharing with direct family members.

The phrase ‘blood is thicker than water’ is sometimes used to explain the strong bonds and allegiance between relatives. In a healthy church body, love for each other should be even stronger, because those bonds are ultimate. We recognise that we need to take care of every part, and a benefit to one is a benefit to all.

What this could mean for us…

As part of our 40acts challenges this week, let’s consider how we can love the other members of our church family in a practical way. And there may be other things that we need to reconsider about our attitude to church and to other believers.

Maybe, for some of us, it feels as if there’s something holding us back from fully participating in church life. Perhaps church has been a hurtful place in the past and you need to talk and pray through those experiences to allow for healing.  

Maybe you’ve got so many different or difficult commitments in life that church can feel like a burden and another thing to fit into the week.

Whatever your experience, recognise that you are a necessary part of this church. Don’t write yourself off – the church will be missing out on what you have to offer.

On the other hand, maybe you’re the person who takes too much on, who fills in the gaps left by others. Maybe by you doing too much, you rob others from the joy of working in their giftings and take away from the blessing that serving God provides.

How can we as the body of Christ help one another?

It’s always helpful to reconsider the way we view church. It’s so much more than just a club or organisation to contribute to. It’s a living breathing whole body where we each connect to each other. During this week of 40acts, let’s think about how we can demonstrate that bond through our actions, not just today but every day.

Closing prayer

Loving Father God, send us out with your blessing as members of your family, your church, so that we will continue to encourage and uphold one another in prayer and actions throughout the week ahead. May we live selflessly for one another, giving our very best to others and to you. Amen.

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[1] Marva Dawn Truly the Community 71-72

[2] Murray Gow “Humility” Reality August/September 2000 19ff