September 13, 2009

Belonging

Last week I introduced you to Central Baptist.s new mission and vision. Our mission is to create a place where spiritual seekers find a place to belong, learn the Christian faith, and serve unconditionally. Spiritual seekers are people who are open to what God is doing in their lives and in the world around them. In this sense, we are all spiritual seekers—we wouldn.t be here if we weren.t. One of the purposes God has designed this church for it to help these people find a place to really belong. In doing this we look forward to creating a place where people matter and are empowered to engage their world for Christ. But what does it mean to belong? More importantly, what does this mean in the context of our mission and vision? How can we really find a place to belong in the body of Christ and specifically this arm of the body of Christ? In the most general sense, to belong to something simply means being a member of some group. We all belong to the human population by virtue of being human. A number of folks in this community belong to the Ruritan Club. If you look through my wallet, you.ll find that I.m a member of the State of Virginia, the Hallmark Gold Crown Club, and Sam.s Club. But as we said, these are all very general senses of belonging. They don.t help us much in our quest to understanding belonging at Central Baptist Church. A bit more specifically, belonging carries a sense of being classified properly. For example, all the husbands in this room belong to the male half of the species; the wives to the female half. This doesn.t help us either, though, because we can comfortably belong to a larger group like this without really being comfortable with our God-given identity. Getting closer to where we want to go this morning, belonging can carry a sense of being in the right place and being accepted there. Belonging to Sam.s Club is great, but other than contributing forty dollars a year to their operating expenses and purchasing obscene amounts of diapers and baby formula from them, they couldn.t care less whether I.m a member there. I.m accepted there because of a little piece of plastic with my picture on it. I.m not accepted because of anything inherent in who I am. On the other hand, Nick Watts is an accepted member of the Chowan College football team because he.s a good football player and they won.t win as many games without his playing. There is something about who he is that they want. He is needed. Now we are getting down to the real key of belonging for Central Baptist: being needed and fulfilling a specific role in something.

But there is one hang up we have to address before we can get much further. All the groups we.ve talked about belonging to so far are not fundamentally spiritual groups. The church is and we are talking about the church this morning. And as Paul makes clear in the passage we are going to take a look at together, being a part of the church means being a representative of Jesus Christ on earth. This is not something to be taken lightly. Now, different churches around the world have different requirements for being a member. Some are very loose—you need only show up once in a while; some are very demanding—you need to be there regularly, give faithfully, be involved in ministry somehow, and sign off that you believe as they do. Some are theologically open—you can believe anything you want; others are closed—you need to conform rigidly to their interpretation of Scripture. But none of these things are what I want to focus on this morning. They are important things to talk about, but are better suited for another time. This morning I want to focus on what it actually means to be a part of the body of Christ; to belong to a church; to belong to this church. This is something that matters in every church. It is also something about which many believers are decidedly unclear. Therefore, let me spell it out for you right out of the gate. Belonging at Central Baptist Church has to do with being the person God made you to be and using the gifts He.s given you in order to see His kingdom expand. And these spiritual gifts, which will talk about in more detail in a little while, are given to us to fill a specific role in the body of Christ. Put all this together and with our mission and vision in mind, belonging means being who God made you to be in the body of Christ. So, with some words that the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth found in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 as our guide (turn there with me), let us explore together how we can be who God made us to be in this body.

Well first things first. One of the themes we have hit on several times already in this process and in much of our time together thus far is the fact that the body is a unified whole. This is true and very much important for any church to grasp, but if we hammer away solely at this point we run the risk of missing out on something important in the nature of this unity. You see, in our culture we hear a number of calls for unity among the American people, but all too often these are really calls for uniformity. True diversity is not tolerated by our culture very often. Yet this is not to be the picture of our churches. The church is never depicted in the Bible as being a completely homogenous group. Instead, it is consistently seen as a place where a variety of different people from different backgrounds and different cultures with different tastes, styles, and preferences all come together with a single purpose—to glorify Jesus Christ and expand His kingdom. In fact, the best illustration of this unity is given by Paul. Take a look at the beginning of our passage with me starting in v. 12: “For as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body—so also is Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. So the body is not one part but many.” Paul recognizes something important here: we.re not all the same. We.re male and female. We.re Cooks, Clays, Crocketts, and Cobbs; Harrisons and Henshaws; Bishops and Branzelles. We.re senders, sharers, speakers, and servers. We may be a fairly homogenous group in some sense, but our preferences and personalities, our abilities and aptitudes run the gamut. And that.s a good thing. This passage is incredibly well-known as a call for unity in the body yet it begins with a frank statement that we are very different. The body of Christ is composed of a manifold of people and that.s how it was always intended to be. Only in the church do we find a collection of people who otherwise would have very little to do with each other—like Jews and Greek or slaves and free people—drawn together under a common banner: the Spirit of God. In the church the Hatfields and the McCoys can come together and worship their Lord as siblings united in the same Father.

But I.m getting ahead of myself a bit. I want to make sure that Paul.s illustration is as clear as possible. He uses the illustration of the human body here. There is no question that the human body is a unity. Though sometimes people may wonder where my head is, as a point of fact, it.s always connected to my shoulders. I suspect that not many of you have ever encountered the problem of having a body part decide that it was going to go out on its own. No? Good, that.s because the body is a unified whole. But how many parts make up the body? Well, Lever soap is for all your 2,000 parts. By some estimates we have between 75 and 100 trillion cells in our bodies. In other words, we have a lot of parts. And all of these are different parts too. Yet the body is still a unified whole. All those different parts work in glorious harmony with each other for the betterment of the body. The stomach.s job may be to digest food and the lung.s to facilitate the introduction of oxygen into the blood stream, but both need each other. This is what Paul means by this analogy. And he.s going to stay with it for the rest of the passage. The point in this introduction to the verses, though, is to remind us that we are all different from each other and that.s an okay thing. What.s important is that we are working together for the betterment of the body. Now, some of you might be saying to yourselves: “This is nice and all, but it doesn.t seem so terribly relevant.” Well, if belonging means being who God made you to be in the body of Christ, then an important part of that is understanding and being okay with the fact that God made you different from me. Though they.re cousins, Keith Henshaw is different from Kevin Henshaw. Though they.re sisters-in-law, Ann Clay is different from Louise Clay. They are part of the same body, but they are not the same person.

Now, Paul next spends some time addressing a couple of problems that can creep into a healthy balance of unity in diversity, but I want to stay with this idea of diversity in the body just a bit longer. Jump with me to the end of the chapter starting in v. 27. Beyond simply different personalities, a key piece of this diversity is the fact that God gives each of His children gifts designed to further the work of His kingdom on earth. These are called spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are specific skills and abilities given to believers for the benefit of the church—God.s primary instrument for kingdom work. Many of these are things that non-believers might be skilled at doing, but it is the context of kingdom work and the filling of the Holy Spirit that makes these different. Paul gives a list of several of these spiritual gifts here. Let.s take a look at it together: “Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it.” Okay, got that? You are the body of Christ. We together make up the body. And we are individual members of it, not a collective mind. Let.s continue: “And God has placed these in the church…” In other words, you and the gift God has given you are here for a reason. Continuing: “…first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, next, miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, managing, various kinds of languages.” This is not, I repeat, not an exhaustive list of the gifts God gives. If you don.t see yourself here, don.t worry. This particular list of spiritual gifts (and there are others in the Bible) show the gifts important for planting a church in the order in which they become necessary. The point for us, though, is that there are a number of different gifts God gives to people. The next thing Paul says, or asks, rather, is important: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets [or preachers]? Are all teachers? Do all do miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in languages? Do all interpret?” The Greek of these two verses includes a little word—me—that assumes the answer to each of them is no. God neither gives every gift to any one person, nor does He pack a church with an overwhelming number of people with the same gift. Paul is rounding out what he said at the beginning of the passage here: though there is one body of Christ, it is composed of a number of people with different gifts and abilities. This was the intention of God and it glorifies Him when each part uses his or her gift as intended by God. Simply put: Belonging means being who God made you to be in the body of Christ.

Now, that.s the ideal and what we should make our aim. But there.s a problem and though you already know what it is, I.ll tell you anyway. The problem is that we are human. In spite of the fact that those of us in Christ are redeemed, we are still riddled with a sinful nature that rears its head at the most inconvenient of times. Though this glorious, God-inspired diversity yielding to unity is the ideal, we place importance and value on things based on how they look to us. And the reality is that some spiritual gifts are more obvious and more glamorous than others. They absolutely do not differ in their necessity to the body, but let.s be honest, some just look cool. Well, all of this assigning importance based on what we see creates a couple of problems that can lead to disunity in the body: discouragement and pride. We feel that our gifts aren.t a glamorous or important and so we disconnect from the body, taking our valuable contribution with us. Or, we feel like we do have one of the more visible gifts and look haughtily on other giftings. At the heart of these verses, Paul addresses each of these issues head on. Let.s look together at how he does this and what it means for us.

One of the discussions you will occasionally see when reading about the human body is that there are a number of parts the body doesn.t really need. Things like the tonsils used to be taken out as a rule. But as medical science has improved over the years, the general practice nowadays is to leave all your parts in you unless something goes bad. For instance, I don.t happen to have my tonsils because they joined the other side and were trying to kill me. But just because something is technically dispensable, does that mean it is unimportant? Actually, the reverse is true. The reason tonsils are no longer taken out as a standard medical practice is because immunologists realized that things like the tonsils and the appendix have important roles in helping the body fight off diseases of various sorts. The point here is that every part of the body is there for a reason and is therefore important to the body. Just because the spleen isn.t as visible and easily noticeable as are the hands doesn.t make it any less important. This is Paul.s point in the next few verses of our passage. Read with me again picking back up in v. 15: “If the foot should say, „Because I.m not a hand, I don.t belong to the body,. in spite of this is still belongs to the body. And if the ear should say, „Because I.m not an eye, I don.t belong to the body,. in spite of this it still belongs to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?”

Okay, let.s leave the world of our illustration for a minute and move into the world of reality. Last week we were introduced to a new vision for the church. That.s a big deal. It may not have come across clearly then but let me reemphasize it here and now: the task we have before us is a big one. The adventure of becoming who we were created to be is an epic one. Like preparing the parsonage last summer, it.s going to take all hands on deck in order to see this vision through to reality. In this great task, then, there are no unimportant people when it comes to fulfilling God.s vision for this church. Thus, one of the key aspects of belonging at Central is the fact that people here are needed and appreciated. In fact, if you are involved with a ministry of this church or are serving this church in some capacity stand up or raise your hand. The reality is that just about everyone in this room needs to be on their feet or with their hand in the air. Give yourselves a hand. Each of you helps to make this church happen and will have an ongoing role in seeing our vision through to fulfillment. There is something inherent in who you are that we need here in order to be successful in the task God has set before us. Keep reading with me to see why: “But now God has placed the parts, each one of them, in the body just as He wanted. And if they were all the same part, where would the body be? Now there are many parts, yet one body.” You are here because God put you here. If God put each of us where He wants us in the church, how could we possibly doubt that we are able to make a vital contribution to the church.s mission and vision?

To do so says to God that He doesn.t know what He.s doing. That.s a pretty bold thing to say to the Creator of the Universe. Furthermore, Paul is clear here that each member of the body has a role to play. If you belong to Jesus, you have a gift from the Spirit given to help the church with its mission and for your blessing. So trying to say that you must not have any gifts doesn.t work either. Belonging at Central means that we want you for you and nobody else. It means that we want to help you become fully who God made you to be. This will be to our mutual blessing and joy. Belonging means being who God made you to be in the body of Christ.

Let.s move on to that second issue. Though I suspect that not nearly as many people here run the risk of falling into this mindset—which is itself a blessing—this is a good reminder all the same. Take a look at the next section with me starting in v. 21: “So the eye cannot say to the hand, „I don.t need you!. nor again the head to the feet, „I don.t need you!. On the contrary, all the more, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are necessary. And those parts of the body that we think to be less honorable, we clothe these with greater honor, and our unpresentable parts have a better presentation. But our presentable parts have no need of clothing. Instead, God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the less honorable, so that there would be no division in the body, but that the members would have the same concern for each other. So if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” It.s easy to forget about the things that go on behind the scenes in any organization, particularly when they are done well. Because of this, we equate visibility with importance. I mean, who really thinks about things like the toilets being clean, the paper supplies being stocked, the sanctuary being ready for the service each Sunday morning, and so on, unless they aren.t getting done. Yet as it turns out, the church can.t really run very well without those. I mean, people aren.t going to come worship here very long if the first time they go in the bathroom the creature from the Black Lagoon reaches up out of the toilet to grab them. But for most of us tasks like this—which God undeniably gifts some people to do—fall prey to the trap of out of sight, out of mind. It.s a totally natural thing for us to do given our fallen nature, but it.s the opposite of what God intended. It.s Jesus. first and last principle. Paul argues here that God designed these “unpresentable” parts to receive greater honor than the rest. Now, I don.t want to be unnecessarily crude, but let.s take Paul.s example here for how he intends it. You know what the “unpresentable” parts of your body are. We go to great lengths to take great care of them and protect them because though they are socially unpresentable, they.re awfully important. We cannot, of course, run to the opposite extreme of showing them undo honor as our culture is wont to do today, but we give them appropriate honor and care so that there is a healthy balance among all our members. Now I know that somebody is going to leave here and tell their friends that the pastor at Central thinks people with more service oriented gifts are like our private parts, but that.s neither what I.m saying nor the point of the illustration. The point here is that spiritual gifts which may seem less important because of their lack of glamour and visibility—things like administration, encouragement, hospitality, prayer, mercy, or serving—are in fact just as and often even more important than the more visible things like teaching, preaching, and leadership. We certainly can.t go without those last three, but without the first six the place would fall apart. The key here is being who you were made to be. In fact, belonging means being who God made you to be in the body of Christ. The reason for this is unity. It.s so that each one knows they are integral to the larger task of kingdom advancement through our mission and vision. And when we get this down, we will be even more a family than we are today. We will truly mourn and rejoice together.

Yet there are three foundational gifts that make the r