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. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should 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 should 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 be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
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." On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12:12-27, ESV)
True or false, the church is a volunteer service organization?
Church is the "ecclesia" the called out assembly, so to be in a church you need two things; one is to be called by God, and two is to assemble together, but many misunderstand the concept of assembled as just gathered (I went to church on Sunday) but in reality it means arranged and combined in a specific way for a particular purpose.
Based on our research of 557 churches from 2004 to 2010, nine out of ten churches in America are declining or growing at a pace that is slower than that of their communities. Simply stated, churches are losing ground in their own backyards. . . .
We can blame it on the secular culture. And we often do.
We can blame it on the godless politics of our nation. We do that as well.
We can even blame it on the churches, the hypocritical members, and the uncaring pastors. Lots of Christians are doing that.
But what I am proposing that we who are church members need to look in the mirror. I am suggesting that congregations across America are weak because many of us church members have lost the biblical understanding of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ.
(Rainer, I am a Church Member, 5-6).
Before we jump into this text let us be reminded of the context of the passage. The first letter to the church at Corinth was written by Paul as a way of reprimanding them for the practices they were allowing within their church. In short, Paul uses this letter to point out what was wrong with them and then teach them what is right. The topic he covers varies from spiritual gifts, to the Lord's Supper, and factions within the church. Overall, Paul wants the believers in Corinth to understand that there is a proper way for a church to conduct itself and Paul is giving them that model.
In particular to our passage Paul is redressing the concern he broached in chapter 1. There he states, I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ." (1 Corinthians 1:10-12, ESV). The divisions that are mentioned here are also highlighted in chapters 12-14 with special attention made to spiritual gifts. Apparently there were believers in the church who were touting their particular gifting as being the gift and division then occurred. In the middle of this discussion about who is better in the church Paul presents us with an illustration of how the church exists.
The Church has Many Members
We live in a place that still has cultural Christianity. Growing up I have seen people come to church for business, politics, and social status. And if you go to a really big church this is amplified due to the local celebrity status of Mega-church pastors. One Mega-church recently dis-invited about two thirds of its members. They looked at the records and found that one third of their families did all the giving and volunteering, and asked the others to get in or get out.
We must have a definition of a church member that sees its benefit beyond itself and exists in an outward functioning manner. This is where Paul's analogy of the body in 1 Corinthians 12 is extremely helpful. Notice what he says in verse 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. Illustrations are often the best teachers and it is especially true in construing a correct construction of a church member. The body is appropriate not only because the analogy works, but because we all have one. All of us have (or have had) these various parts: hands, feet, arms, eyes, mouths, etc. So as we think through what a church member is let us do so by contemplating our physiological selves.
In verse 14 Paul mentions the diversity of the body but highlights that there is necessity in diversity. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should 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 should 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 be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?
Some people disqualify themselves from active church membership because they don't think they have one of the high-profile gifts like teaching or singing. But your body has more interior parts that go unseen then, those that get all the attention. People write poems about eyes not livers, but people function pretty well as blind, but you can't survive without your vital internal organs.
We must affirm with Paul that God has beautifully and perfectly built us together, But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. Practically speaking, this verse means that even though everyone has a different gifting (and maybe even not the one most desired at times) each gifting is necessary for the church to operate as God wants. John Calvin states it well on how the diverse members of the church are to work together, "each member ought to rest satisfied in its own station, and not envy others." Calvin goes on to show the result of those who do not rest satisfied, "That member, therefore, which will not rest satisfied with its own station, will wage war with God" (Calvin, 1 Corinthians, 409-10).
But as we affirm the necessity of diverse gifts and callings we also need to expect diversity in service. If God is fitting the church for service with each one he calls, what ministry did he have in mind when he called you? The inescapable conclusion of diversity is that it is there of necessity as a part of God's plan, so we must embrace diversity in service so we don't waste God's gifts, allowing the uninvolved to stay uninvolved.
The Church is One Body
The second part of what Paul wants to show us in the illustration of the body is that we are not only many different members, but we are one body. In verse 13 we are reminded that we have all been baptized into one body . . . and made to drink of one Spirit. Many scholars disagree about what Paul is particularly referencing here (some say water baptism, some spirit baptism, some say the Lord's Supper), but it is clear that the common unity that the church has is its connection to Christ, as the end of verse 12 shows—so it is with Christ. Paul could have said "church" here, but he said Christ. This is the completion of the picture of the body, for we must remember that our unity is found in our commonality, which is in Christ. We are the community of the faith, whom God has called, and we responded in repentance (change your mind), confession (surrender), and belief (trust).
In Colossians 1 we have a picture of Jesus as the head of the body, the church. Paul here is making this same connection to the church and the body, and in both we have our headship in Jesus Christ. Our unity to Him as our Head is most important for us as a church and as individuals. For what Augustine said long ago still is true, "Since we are in Christ, a fruit-bearing vine, what are we out of him but dry twigs?" Our unity is in Jesus Christ alone.
So the relation then between various body members, that are church members, is their relation Christ. That is to say, we are to find unity with one another because we are unified with one another in Jesus Christ. In that unity then we need not be ashamed of our giftings (or purposes in the church) thinking that some giftings are better than others. All giftings are needed for a healthy church body. This is why Paul mentions the relationship to the weaker body parts, On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. All of these body parts, though some weaker or more modest, are integral for the body of Christ to function properly.
Not only can we make that simple statement that we are needed and necessary in the unity of the whole body, but Paul encourages us with the note that God has placed each of us in our positions for His great purposes. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. That unity exists so that there is not division in the body (as the Corinthians had been facing). We must exist as unified members of the body in the way Paul mentions it here. When one suffers all suffer, when one rejoices all rejoice. This is what it means to be unified in one body.
The Church Serves in Love
God can replace anyone at any moment (and often does). What I am saying is that God wants us to do a job in our church and our spiritual health and that of the church depends on us doing our part.
Rainer points out in his book that only about one third of church members actually serve, or are functioning members in their churches. He concludes from this, "But if we are true biblical church members, we will be functioning members . . .
Sometimes people ask, "How can God use me?" I often answer them that they probably already know, for God gives us the desires to do His will. But if you do not know there are many programs that can help you figure out how you can be used and serve in the church. We have utilized in the past spiritual gift inventories, and most recently a program called SHAPE (put out by Saddleback Church). These are tools and by no means are authoritative on where and how you should serve, but they greatly help. In reality, if you are not serving the answer to what you should is to just do something; there is plenty of work to be done.
Second, we must remember that when we serve in the church as functioning members we must do so in love. Following chapter 12 is the famous Love Chapter
1 Corinthians 13. In the same context relating to divisions in the church, Paul presents to us the need to be a people of love. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Though we may think we are serving God and the church sometimes, we must be mindful that all our serving must be done so in love. Love is the unifier of the church and the motive that keeps us serving. It was the motive for Christ to die for us and will always be our motive to "die" for others as members of the church body.
The only true church members are those united by Christ (called) and assembled to serve his purpose.
That's right: membership in the body of Christ, the church, is a gift from God. It's not a legalistic obligation. It's not country club perks. It's not a license for entitlements. It's a gift. A gift from God. A gift that we should treasure with great joy and anticipation. (Rainer 71)