(All Saints’ Sunday) There are gifts of fellowship in the church.
There are gifts of outreach in the church.
(Christ the King) Christ is the head of the body, the church.
The Body of Christ
Everyone has a body, and it is a gift from God! As the psalmist says, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psa 139:14). When we think of all that goes into our being—miracles of sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell; miracles of walking, running, breathing, sleeping, healing—all of it is almost too unfathomable to comprehend.
Even Jesus had a body. This in itself is a mind-boggling piece of theology, that the one through whom all things were created took on flesh, became incarnate, and was embodied for a few decades in human history. But Jesus’s body was crucified, died, and was buried. And ultimately, three days later, was resurrected (talk about a mind-boggling piece of theology!). This same Jesus, in his resurrected body, ascended to the right hand of God the Father, from where he will eventually return one day in order to judge the world. But here’s another key piece of theology we often miss—
Jesus still has a body on earth.
This is different from his resurrected body which resides in heaven. Instead, this is his mystical body which is here in our world, and it’s called the church. As the apostle Paul describes it, the church is Christ’s body which is made up of many members (just like our own physical bodies) but has a unity of purpose (also like our own physical bodies). And, like our own bodies, it is no less miraculous and no less of a gift, but each member has been gifted in different ways for the sake of the overall Body.
Over the next few weeks, we will be looking at different gifts Christ has blessed his Body with. But for this World Communion Sunday, let us realize that, as we partake together of the Lord’s Supper—the very body and blood of Christ—we are not partaking alone, or only with those present with us in the room, we are partaking with all of God’s people around the world and across the ages. Together, we don’t just partake of the body of Christ, we are the Body of Christ in the world.
Examining the Gift of Worship
Christ has one mystical body in this world and it is made up of all who follow him (Eph 4:4). But, because we come from different tribes, tongues, and nations, Christ’s body is very diverse. The Spirit utilizes this diversity by granting differing gifts to each member of the body so those gifts might be utilized to make the body whole (Eph 4:7, 11-13).
While the broader body of Christ is meant to be whole, we believe each local expression of Christ’s body—that is, the local church—is also meant to be whole. There seems to be basically five areas where each local church needs to continue to grow in its health and wholeness: the area of worship, of formation, of fellowship, of care, and of outreach.
Let’s examine more closely that first area. To worship the one true God is a great gift and privilege. In fact, because the church is a spiritual entity, if it fails in worship, it fails at being a church. And yet, for as important as worship is in the life of the local church, this is also one of its most highly divisive areas. Individuals disagree and local churches split over meanings and styles of worship. Some people prefer reverent and quiet worship, the type which allows them to hear personally from God and process their encounter with him. This is good, for even in the apostle’s letter to the Corinthian church, he acknowledges, “God is not a God of disorder, but of peace” (1 Cor 14:33). However, other people prefer to be more emotive and expressive in their worship. This is also good, as we see worship in the temple included “stringed instruments,” “trumpets,” “flutes,” “tambourines,” “clashing cymbals,” and even “dancing” (Psa 150:3-5).
The fact is, both styles of worship are appropriate and both can co-exist, as long as we recognize them as preferences. Preferences do not give us license to look down at others who have preferences different than our own, they should instead allow us to understand each other better and learn new ways in which to worship together.
So, how are you spiritually gifted to help your local church in the area of worship? How can you encourage others whose preferences are different from your own? How is the Lord calling you to build up his body?
Let us mature together, growing and attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
“Think of Me…Always”
In 1986 the musical The Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway and soon became a hit. During the song, "Think of Me", a young woman named Christine reflects on the memory of childhood friends, singing, "think of me, think of me fondly, when we've said goodbye. Remember me, once in awhile, please promise me you'll try". Wouldn't it be nice if we could always remember everything about the past, including the advice people gave us, the education we received, and the decisions that shaped our lives? Sadly, because of the crazy, busy world that we live in, it is easy to forget things, and it becomes harder and harder to slow down and think upon what is really important. This reality of life applies to our lives of faith and our relationship with God.
This is why the Bible repeatedly reminds us of who God is, what he has done, and how we can be formed and grow in our relationship with him and others. This is vitally important to know, so we can rightly live among God’s people and reach out to the lost and hurting. Out of all of the books of the Bible, Deuteronomy might give us the most reminders of God’s character and his call to his people. Moses spoke these words from God to the people as they waited on the banks of the Jordan River before crossing into the Promised Land. They needed to be reminded of God’s commands so that they could live faithfully in the land.
Therefore, Moses takes every opportunity to retell the people of God’s law and the importance of following him in everything they do. In fact, it is so important that the people love God and obey his commands, that Moses tells them to “fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads” (Deut. 11:18). The passage goes on to say that in addition to this, they are to teach them to their children, talk about them constantly, and even write them on the doorposts and gates of their houses (vs. 19-20). While some have taken these verses literally, tying boxes containing Scripture to their foreheads and arms and houses, the main focus is for the people to never stop thinking about God! They are to continually mediate on God and follow his word, doing it all in love (v. 22).
May this call from Moses to God’s people over 3,000 years ago, be the same one that we follow and live by today!
1 John 1:1-7
There is a billboard off a major road here in Sheboygan County that is sponsored by the Foundation for a Better Life campaign. On it there is a quote from Garth Brooks that reads "When there is only one race and that's mankind". It ends with the words "Love is in you". While we might not always agree with all of the public service announcements we encounter every day, it seems that this one got it right. People are different in many ways and represent a variety of opinions, beliefs, attitudes, and cultures, but there are a couple things that we all have in common. One is that we are all humans, created in the image of God, with the ability to express and experience love.
As Christians, these same truths apply. Did you know there are tens of thousands of Christian denominations in the United States alone, from charismatic ones to very traditional, from small to large, and from new to old? And these denominations consist of hundreds of thousands of churches, and millions of members from a large variety of backgrounds. That being said, all of them proclaim, or at least should, that there is one Lord, Jesus Christ. It is out of his great love for us, shown most fully on the cross, that we can love others. These truths bind us all together and make it possible for us to fellowship together despite our incredible diversity. When this happens, it is a beautiful, God-ordained event.
In the book of 1 John, the apostle writes to believers who were being confronted by false teachers and heretical ideas that threatened to tear the church apart (2:18-19; 3:2-5). Therefore, he exhorted them walk in the truth of the Gospel, and to follow God's command to love one another (1:5-7; 2:3-6). By doing so, they could expose the false teachings, grow closer to God and each other, and be lights to a dark world. On the other hand, if they continued in their sin and did not love their sisters and brothers, then they were liars, blinded by the darkness. John says that what he and the other disciples had known, heard, and seen from Jesus – that he was eternal life and Word made flesh (1:1-3, cf. John 1:1-18), was what he had proclaimed to them in the first place. It was this shared belief that kept them part of God's family, so that they could fellowship together as one body under God, and have their joy be made complete (1:3-4).
Despite our differences, there is nothing like fellowshipping together. We are the Church and God abides in us when we truly love him and love one another.
Examining the Gift of Care
As we have been suggesting for the past few weeks, there are about five key areas where the Spirit’s gifts need to flourish for us to be healthy local churches. Other than the gifts of worship, formation, and fellowship, the area we can turn our focus to this week is the gift of care.
This gift builds naturally from the previous three—to worship the Creator-Redeemer God is to love him and love our neighbors; to be formed in the way of Jesus is to follow the path of incarnational-presence and sacrificial-servanthood; and to have fellowship with one another is more than just having fun, but also caring for one another in our times of need.
The fact that God’s covenant-people are called to care for one another is nothing new. In Exodus, while God is giving his torah, explaining to his people how they are supposed to live, he emphasizes that they are to take care of foreigners living among them, and widows, and orphans, and the poor—e.g., those who are most vulnerable and in need—because God is “compassionate” and expects his people to be as well (Ex 22:21-27). In the Gospels, Jesus declares that those who follow him will be known to the outside world by their love for one another (John 13:35). And in his letter to the Romans, the apostle instructs the churches to “share with the Lord’s people who are in need” and to “practice hospitality” (Rom 12:13).
At the end of the day, if all of our worship, all of our Bible education, all of our fellowship together never leads us into the Lord’s compassion and a sense of call to care for our sisters and brothers in the church, we have missed the point. May God be glorified—and the watching world edified—by the way we care for one another.
Have you ever given much thought to the doors you walk through every day? Doors are an important part of structures and they come in a variety of colors and sizes. They are also very old. Researchers believe they have discovered some dating back to the early part of the Bronze Age (3,000 BCE)! Despite this, a door's value depends on how it is being used. A closed door provides protection from a variety of dangers including, intruders, wild animals, and inclement weather. It also gives privacy and mark-off special areas. On the other hand, an open door welcomes people in and allows for entrance into new and different spaces.
Figuratively speaking, open doors produce new opportunities and experiences. If life was only filled with closed doors, there would be no chance to meet new people, begin a new job, or play a new instrument. Therefore, we thank God for these open doors that make life more interesting. At the same time, from the Christian perspective, there is something even more important than this. We believe open doors give us opportunities to spread the Gospel and God’s love to a lost and hurting world. Seeing and responding to these needs is the responsibility and call of God’s children. A great biblical example of this is when the apostle Paul asked the church in Colosse to pray for him and his colleagues, that God would grant them an open door to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ (Col. 4:3).
That truth was to proclaim the “mystery of Christ”, which was the riches of God’s mercy to the Gentiles, that they might also receive the hope and redemption found through Jesus Christ (Col. 1:26-27). Thus, Paul was asking them to pray that he may get more opportunities to preach this message to more people, with boldness and clarity. Not only that, but he went on to give the Colossians directions in how they should witness – that they should be wise in speech and make the most of every opportunity. This was while Paul was a prisoner in Rome (1:24; 4:3-4), and therefore, was a powerful call to utilize the open doors God gave them to do outreach and evangelism.
The call to pray that God opens doors to proclaim his gospel still applies! What is we woke up each day asking God to give us (and his Church) opportunities to help and serve others? What if we then took advantage of these opportunities and proclaimed the truth and love of Jesus Christ?
Christ Is the Head of the Body
We have been examining five key areas where Christ, through his Spirit, has gifted the church to live and thrive in its local expressions. That means each local church should have gifts that manifest themselves in the areas of worship, formation, fellowship, care, and outreach. These gifts should be exercised and matured for each local church to bear witness to Christ in healthy, functional ways. This then presumes that Christ has “one body and one Spirit” (Eph 4:4), which is the mystical and universal church, made up of each local expression of the church.
As we continue to struggle through the complex idea of Christ’s body at work in this world, we eventually have to come to the logical conclusion of that idea: namely, that Christ is the head of this body. In that sense, while each local church makes up a part of Christ’s body and isn’t the sum-total of his body, so each local church doesn’t have complete autonomy to do as it pleases. We are all connected to Christ, therefore we are all accountable to Christ. This is what unites us, this is what gives us our boundaries, this is what sets forth our mission.
One of the clear places this is spelled out for us is in Ephesians 4. There we find that Jesus gave the leadership to the church (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers) “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (4:12). Therefore, as we learn God’s word together, as we grow in wisdom for the navigation of this life, as we better share a common life in communion with one another, and as we exercise our gifts in community, we mature “in Christ,” until we attain “to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (4:13). This is God’s ultimate goal, as it says earlier in this letter: the “mystery of God’s will” (1:9) is “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (1:10).
If this is God’s purpose, we the church have the privilege and pleasure of growing into the headship of Christ right now. So join us weekly. Grow in faith. Exercise your gifts. And let us live out the joyful reign of Jesus together.