The big picture

Last Sunday night there was a combined church service at the Civic Theatre headed up by Tak Bhana of Church Unlimited from Auckland.  The ground floor of the theatre was filled with Christians of all manner of denominations.

And it reminded me that so often we get so busy doing our own thing for the Kingdom of God in our own little patch that we forget the bigger picture: within our city, region and nation.

Sometimes we get so focused on the ministries and issues that we face as a church, that we forget that we are part of a wider body, called the kingdom of God.

Occasions like this combined service/prayer meeting remind us that are part of a larger body.

Easter camps for Christian kids do the same thing: they show that there are more Christians than you can shake a stick at, and it lifts our minds off the immediate around us.

Paul used the analogy of us being part of the body of Christ. 

1 Corinthians 12

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. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 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. 16 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. 17 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? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 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.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

27 Now you (plural) are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

 

When we use this passage in an individualistic sense, we read it wrong. In the last verse, the ‘you’ is plural, as it is in most of Paul’s letters.

 

We can rightly use it in our own congregation sense, but it applies equally and perhaps more so to the city-wide church, or region wide church, or the nationwide church or the worldwide church.

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.

This verse 12 forms a summary of the rest of that long passage I read.

The human body is a unit just as the body of Christ is a unit.

The human body has many parts, with necessary diversity in its members and so has the church of God.

The parts of the human body work together as one, with a dependent mutuality as each part fulfills an important function. Likewise, the body of Christ has a diversity of parts functioning together for the greater good).[1] 

I think however that this last point is one in which we as the wider church do not do so well. The mutual dependency bit. The working together bit.

The fable of Menenius Agrippa, by the first-century Roman historian, Livy has the same theme and the same conclusion

In the days when man’s members did not all agree amongst themselves, as is now the case, but had each its own ideas and a voice of its own, the other parts thought it unfair that they should have the worry and the trouble and the labour of providing everything for the belly, while the belly remained quietly in their midst with nothing to do but to enjoy the good things which they bestowed upon it; they therefore conspired together that the hands should carry no food to the mouth, nor the mouth accept anything that was given it, nor the teeth grind up what they received. While they sought in this angry spirit to starve the belly into submission, the members themselves and the whole body were reduced to the utmost weakness. Hence it had become clear that even the belly had no idle task to perform, and was no more nourished than it nourished the rest, by giving out to all parts of the body that by which we live and thrive, when it has been divided equally amongst the veins and is enriched with digested food—that is, the blood.[2]

To bring this back to the church.  Every denomination, every congregation has a call to do and be the part that they were established by God to be and do. We do not all have to be the same; in fact it would not work if we were all the same.

One commentator describes it like this: Unity, not unvarying uniformity, is the law of God in the world of grace, as in that of nature. As the many members of the body compose an organic whole and none can be dispensed with as needless, so those variously gifted by the Spirit, compose a spiritual organic whole, the body of Christ, into which all are baptized by the one Spirit.[3]

The danger we encounter when we decide that there is a certain way that we do church, is that we think all parts need to be like us, and if they are not like us then they are wrong.

1 Corinthians 1:10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”

This is not a new problem obviously, but it still exists when we as churches compare among ourselves.

 

A magazine in 1994 told about superstar tenors Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti performing together in Los Angeles. A reporter tried to press the issue of competitiveness between the three men.

"You have to put all of your concentration into opening your heart to the music," Domingo said. "You can't be rivals when you're together making music."

That's also true in the church. We need to concentrate on making the music of God.  Just as in an orchestra, not all instruments are playing the same notes, but together the sound they make is a symphony.

Romans 12

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you (plural) not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us

Our mission in this church is to reach out to the poor and disadvantaged, and we would like to think all churches would do the same but they don’t have to.

There are churches equipped to reach out to students; there are churches equipped to reach out to Philipinos; there are churches equipped to reach out to Chinese; there are churches equipped to reach out to the rich or to the elderly.

They are not wrong, they are different.

But we are not in competition, we complement each other.  We all serve the one God

We can be brothers without being identical twin brothers.

Ephesians 4:4

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you (plural) were called to the one hope of your (plural) calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.


Imagine if all the churches in Invercargill worked together to promote the Kingdom of God, imagine how powerful that would be.in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

In a Peanuts cartoon Lucy demanded that Linus change TV channels, threatening him with her fist if he didn't. "What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?" asks Linus.  "These five fingers," says Lucy. "Individually they're nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold." "Which channel do you want?" asks Linus. Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, "Why can't you guys get organized like that?"

A violent illustration but you get the picture. We are more effective if we work together for God’s purposes.

Colossians 3:15 If the foot says, "Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body," it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, "Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body," it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; or again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.

15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you (plural) were called in the one body

So, what is the big picture?  The kingdom of God reigning in this city, in this region, in this nation and in this world. And all of us contributing to bringing that kingdom into being.

Let your kingdom come, here on earth as it is in heaven.



[1] Lowery, D. K. 1 Corinthians. In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 533)

[2] Harrisville, R. A.  I Corinthians (p. 211).