Romans 12: 4&5 “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 who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
The great exhortation at the beginning of this chapter is to be presenting our bodies to God as an act of spiritual worship. “This is not my body any longer, Lord. It belongs to you. It has been purchased by you. I am not my own. Behold, I am thine!” This is a command from God just like any of the Ten Commandments. It is no option – “Should I present my body to God or not?” No. We have to do it if we have received the mercy of God. And so in one great definitive act at the beginning of our Christian lives we consecrate ourselves and our bodies to the Lord. Who does this? Every Christian without exception, not the super-Christian but the mere believer. Then, in a million little acts of dedication, for the rest of our lives, we give ourselves to the Lord. For example, we have a headache, and we find ourselves saying a prayer as we swallow an aspirin. We start a long journey and we need our eyes to be alert and to have good co-ordination of hands and feet, and we pray, “Take me safely on my journey.” We find a mole or a lump and we commit that concern to God and ask him should we go to the doctor or not? We are getting older, and more tottery, and we are aware of the frailty of our bodies and we pray about them more. All through our lives there is this movement, this giving to God our hands and eyes and senses and desires. We are constrained to do this by this conviction that our bodies belong to the Lord. Who better, in all the universe, to be Lord of our bodies than ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’? You can trust him with your bodies. You can’t entrust your bodies to the older boys who talk to you about girls, or to those agony aunts who prescribe advice in the daily papers, or to the writers of teenage girls’ magazines, but you can entrust them to the Lord Jesus. You will get most delight and satisfaction and usefulness out of your bodies if you present them to Jesus and ask him to help you to worship him in your bodies and through every action of your bodies as long as you live.
Then having begun the chapter by impressing on us this figure of the body Paul turns it in a new direction. “Each of us has a body with lots of different parts and functions,” he says. “You all know that, and please keep that in mind, but let me use the human body as a picture of our relationships within the congregation to one another.” You can understand that can’t you? It is very simple. We are members of this body that meets together every Sunday. We really are one body aren’t we? You look around and this is what we are. We are not big enough to have two congregations in the mornings. What you see now is what we are, the Christian body that worships God here, one in our beliefs, one in our commitment to living a holy life. One Lord, one faith, one hope, one church.
Yet as you glance around then the one thing that immediately strikes you is how different we all are from one another. We are not like a big sheet of postage stamps, each figure identical to every other. We don’t practice mass weddings in football stadia with 500 couples all dressed identically and all getting married on the same occasion by the same great leader. We don’t wear the same uniform. We are all different psychological types. Some of us are private people. Others are ‘people’ persons, outgoing, and anxious to communicate with others. Some are a bit melancholic while others are bouncy. Some left school at 14 while others might be professors at the university. In age and beauty and wealth we are all different. Some are single and others are members of large families.
I am bouncing along and saying everything that is obvious, what you’ve heard a hundred times before. Let’s stop and consider one difference, perhaps the major difference in this congregation, the difference between the old and the young. I have a word for the old members; thank you for becoming hi tech, for learning to text your grandchildren, for thinking for yourselves, for not hinting that all change is bad, for not losing your reverence in worship and seriousness about following Christ, for not slipping into apathy, just surfing along, doing a little bit and sitting back. Thank you for not going off each week-end to your cottage in North Wales and walking the beach and saying, “It’s time for the young people to take over.” The young people are not wanting that from you. They appreciate what you do, your presence, your work, your praying, your financial support of the congregation. We do appreciate that. I also have a word for the young members; thank you for the respect you show for the old, for listening to them, for having them as your mentors. We are glad of the energy and vitality and teachability and discipleship of the young, but we are so glad that that is in the older members too. Some of our officers are also amongst the most enthusiastic people I’ve ever met. I wish we could all catch what they’ve got.
Old and young are all in the same body of the church, and we all belong together, but we are different members of that body. We are as different as the kidneys are from the teeth or the hands from the lungs; different members in one and the same organism, all with various functions. Every one of them needed. Thank God for the diversity of the body of Christ. I know a youth leader called Ron who was teaching this truth to a group of young people and he wanted to impress this on them as vividly as he could. This is what he did; he got a basketball and he painted on it very well an eye, a huge pupil, the retina, the white, the little veins of blood.. It was a great likeness; a big white eyeball; he was a real artist. You know that the human eye is arguably the most beautiful organ in the body, but only in proportion and in coordination with all the others parts of the body. Then he wrapped up the eyeball in a blanket as if it were a baby and he took it to the young people’s meeting and he said to them, “What do you think of my baby?” and pull aside the blanket. They’d take one look at it and say, “Oh . . . gross.” He then taught them about the church being like a body which has many different members. He asked them, “What if your girlfriend were merely one big eyeball? You took her out on a date and you went to McDonald’s and she was there sitting opposite you in a booth, one enormous eye staring at you; nothing more. What a date that would be!” We have to have many different parts to our bodies, and so too in every congregation there must be many different members and they are all inter-related inter-dependent and necessary.
So Paul is using this analogy of the church as body. He could have compared it to a temple, with Christians as stones in a temple. That is done in the New Testament, but not here. He is reminding us here of the living body, that it is not a dead structure but an organism, moving, breathing, blushing, manifesting electric impulses, full of activity, nervous energy, capable of bursts of phenomenal power, jerking a huge weight high in the air. The body’s various organs and parts all have life and they are co-ordinated to enable the whole body to keep functioning. Now, here is a man, and he spends his weeks and months lying in bed. He is as motionless as a temple. He is doing violence to his body isn’t he? His muscles are wasting away. His bones are growing brittle. He was never made – he was never given a body – to lie in bed or lounge on a settee
all day. The body is meant to be active. That is the challenge. Are we manifesting the activity for which we were created? Is every part of the body doing what it should do? If your knee joint isn’t working properly than it affects much of the body’s functioning.
Now I have explained the text for the first time; I have given you an overview of it and so let’s read it again; “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 who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (vv.4&5). So let’s go into it in more depth;
- IT IS IN JESUS CHRIST THAT WE ARE UNITED.
We are not a united congregation because of the fact that I have been here since the Flood and have imposed a uniformity upon you and if people don’t toe the line I cut their heads off and then excommunicate them. We are not united in me. We are not united as being a bourgeois middle class congregation. We are not that; concerning our social class, and finance, and intelligence, and tastes we are a wide range of people. We are Radio 4 listeners, Radio 3 listeners, Radio 2 listeners and even . . . Radio 1. We could be Classic FM and Radio Cymru in one household. We have a range of political views. Music and politics and personality are not the factors that keep us united.
We are united in Jesus Christ. See those two tiny words in our text, “in Christ.” “We, though listening to many radio stations and voting for different political parties, are one body in Christ.” Paul is speaking about both the entire universal church (every believer in Christ who has ever lived) as the body of Christ, and he is also speaking about the local congregation. As an example of the universal church there are his words in Ephesians 1:22-23, “[God] put all things under [Christ]’s feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” That’s the spiritual, universal church of all believers through the ages, the sum total of all the elect of God, the body of Christ, as the Saviour said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Then, as an example of each local church also being the body of Christ, he says in 1 Corinthians 12:27 to that church in Corinth, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” You and me, gathered here in a congregation today, such ordinary people, we together are the body of Christ.
Think of it! Imagine living in Jericho 2,000 years ago and seeing the Lord Jesus entering the city. You hear he is coming and you wait to see him in the flesh, dancing on tip toe. Here he is! You look at him, and reach out and touch him as he passes, and hear his voice as he speaks, and you see his face. Jesus in the body is in your town. You see him touch the leper and cleanse him. Christ in the body in front of you. Then, when God comes to describe a gospel church he does so by calling it ‘the body of Christ.’ We are the body of Christ in Aberystwyth. This ordinary congregation of men, women and children is in the sight of God the body of Christ. Can you believe it? You’d better believe it. I am a member of the body of Christ, and all our fellow members, often limping and staggering along, are attached to Jesus Christ. He is our head and we are his body. Don’t make it a pretty picture and de-impact it. This is the greatest reality of all, that the Son of God has a spiritual organic body consisting of people he knows and cares about deeply who are each attached to him – his body! So this truth becomes part of our thinking. It stops me short. It makes me ask, why am I grumbling and whinging about these church members? They are Christ’s body. How can I disdain or hate Christ’s body? How could I take Christ’s body into a brothel and join it to a harlot? It is an enormous challenge. Where is the dynamism and life and vitality and purity commensurate with us being the body of Christ?
How do I become a member of the body of Christ? I believe into him. I become joined to him by savingly entrusting myself to him for ever as my Prophet, Priest and King. He comes into my life and he makes me his home. We are as close as a husband and a wife, no longer two but one. We are as close as the branch of an apple tree is to the tree itself. In regeneration we are all joined to Christ; not just some of us, not special gifted leaders in the church – not the hyper Christians but the ordinary believer. You cannot be a Christian without being in Christ, without being a member of his body; “so we, though many, are one body in Christ” (v. 5).
What this phrase “in Christ” means is that in the new birth a union is established between Christ and yourself in such a way that everything that is in Christ can be shared with mere believers and will be shared with them. Everything that Christ is, and everything that Christ possesses, that can be shared will be shared with his body. There are of course some attributes that can’t be shared, his deity, his eternal Sonship, his unique God-defining attributes (like omnipotence and omniscience and eternality and omnicompetence). But everything else that the God-man Jesus Christ is and has is yours in him. We have all been given the right to be called sons of God and so his heirs, joint heirs in Christ. What Christ will receive we will also receive. His inheritance is also ours. Where he is, in the midst of the throne of God, so one day that’s where we will be too, seated in the heavenlies in him. God loves us as he loves him; all the honour and blessing that God has given Christ he gives to us too; “Let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).
Consider the blessings that come to us in Christ. We receive grace in Christ. Our redemption is in Christ. We are justified in Christ. We have forgiveness of sins in Christ. There is no condemnation in Christ. We are a new creation in Christ. We have eternal life in Christ. God supplies all our needs in Christ. We have every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ. We will be presented to God perfect in Christ. We cannot be separated from the love of God in Christ. All that he has and he is he has and he is for us. Those are the privileges of the mere Christian, and we experience all these privileges corporately. You cannot compare a church to a large bag of marbles, so that if one mar
ble is lost it hardly makes any difference – the bag is just a little smaller. You have to compare the church to a body, and in a body all its members even mysterious parts like the tonsils and the appendix are needed. “So we, though many, are one body in Christ.” Redeemed together. Justified together. Forgiven together. Created anew together. Every need met together. Loved by God together. Perfected together. Seated in the midst of the throne and living forever together, and all of this glorious unity is created in Christ for the whole church and is to be for the glory of Christ the head. We are to say, “Jesus Christ is some Lord and Saviour!” Not only has he saved us but he has brought together a group of different men and women like this and united us into this loving, caring, holy body.”
Let us never trivialize the glorious body of Christ! It cost God the life of his Son to create that church. And what you share with those persons sitting around you in Christ is a life and an inheritance and a union so great and so profound that it surpasses the value of all other human relationships and all inheritances. It can never end. I will be Iola’s husband for a season, but I will be her sister for ever. That’s the first thing to see, that the foundation of the unity of a congregation is that we are united in Jesus Christ; we are his body. God has baptized every one of us into him. So it holds us together in the hardest times, and we can work together though we are very different in our personalities, gifts and backgrounds.
- WE ARE MEMBERS OF ONE ANOTHER IN THE BODY OF CHRIST.
“So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (v.5). I think the emphasis must be that each member individually belongs to all the others. That is how the New King James and the English Standard Version translates it. I wonder why that word ‘individually’ was dropped from the New International Version? So what is the contribution that this word ‘individually’ makes to these words? It is emphasizing that there is no one in the body that each individual Christian does not belong to. I don’t mean that we are personal friends with each fellow member equally. I do not think that that is required or that it is possible or that the attempt is worthwhile. In terms of friendship we are obviously going to be closer to people of our own age or those with whom we share a common background, or interests. But we are members of one another; we are indebted to one another, to deem them great people, better than we are. We will bear their burdens, support them and pray for them and love them in the name of Jesus.
Each of us belongs, in that sense, to everyone in the congregation, and yet that doesn’t minimize or disrespect our own personhood and identity. There is a name for a woman who belongs to every soldier in the garrison and it is not nice. She has lost her nobility and purity by belonging to just anybody. She is no longer special. We don’t belong to people like that. No one wants to drink from the cup of coffee that everyone in the cafe is drinking from. We want our own cup. Each member belongs to all the others, in utter purity and honour and respect, our own individuality undamaged. Some of the people in church may be important men with a high standing in the community, and in the church we respect that. They belong to us but we show honour and are reverent towards them. Stuart Olyott tells of a private in a regiment who became a Christian and went to the same Bible study group as his father on the base. His father was a major, and this young Christian immediately became very familiar with the major and call him by a shortened form of his first name. It was not good. He could not do that in the British army and had to be privately told so. Stuart’s father belonged to every Christian, and the young private belonged to every Christian but that does not mean that the social distinctions and the protocol are to be ignored.
It is a great thought that I really and individually belong to the body of Christ. I belong to John Bunyan, and I belong to William Tyndale, and I belong to Joni Eareckson, and they belong to me. That is the sort of person I am. I mix with those Christians; we are joined together. We are in the same body. Then I think we discover how unique and special we are – when we become members of Christ’s body. “You want to know who I am? I belong to every other believer. I am theirs and they are mine. But I also belong to the King of heaven; I serve him; I work for him; I live and die for him. I fight on behalf of the Lamb and his fair army.” Remember in Shakespeare’s Henry V the King’s inspirational speech before Agincourt;
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly, on the vigil, feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
The surviving soldiers will return and live to old age in England, but ever their boast and privilege will be that they were part of the army that fought at Agincourt under Henry V. By themselves they were a mere farmer or miller or thatcher or blacksmith living in a tiny thatched hovel amidst tens of thousands of other such artisans, but their true individuality, what makes them stand out in their parish amongst all the rest, is that they fought for King Harry. They were archers or lancers or broad-swordsmen standing shoulder to shoulder with the other English soldiers in France. They belonged to their fellow warriors. There saw wounded brothers and they lifted them and carried them off the field of battle. They dived into a melee and delivered someone from the swords of the enemy. “I fought with Henry at Agincourt!”
I am taking that picture and saying that our individuality as believers is discovered not in our isolated Christian triumphs and attainments but it is experienced in relationship to Christ and his body. “I was called by God to serve him. He knew me and chose me before the foundation of the world. He sought for me and he found me. He came to indwell me and has kept me since that time I am no longer a stranger in this world. I know God and I know the people of God. I belong to them, to all my fellow brothers and sisters. Martin Luther, John Wesley, M’Cheyne, Spurgeon and a hundred million anonymous men and women. We are all in his body, the body of Christ.” Paul is telling them, “I am part of you. You are part of me. My individuality – my personal identity – cannot be known except in my special relationship to you, a relationship with the whole church which will last, world without end, Amen. My true individuality cannot be known except in union with others in Christ in giving ministry to them and receiving ministry from them. It is as you love and serve your fellow members and as you are loved and served by them that your own individuality is known.
You meet people who suggest what a wonderful sacrifice they’ve made going to church every Sunday ‘without fail’ throughout their lives. That is sacrifice? Isn’t that delight? The early apostles truly made a sacrifice. They gave up a well-paid job in the tax office, became unemployed to go with an itinerant preacher, or they left their father’s fishing business. Once Peter was reminding Jesus how much he had given up to become one of his disciples. “Peter said to him, ‘We have left everything to follow you!’ ‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus replied, ‘no-one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mk. 10:28-30). A Christian may be an orphan but in the body of Christ he finds mothers and fathers who are concerned for him. A Christian may be an only child but in the body are his brothers and sisters in abundance. A Christian may never marry and have children but in the congregation are friends and children whom she loves and who love her in return.
Think of how this new relationship immediately showed itself when the Spirit of God fell upon the disciples at the day of Pentecost. It was not a pattern of caring for one another that began to develop after fifty years. That is how the monastic movements and nunneries began, they developed and gained in structure and ‘super-Christians’ entered their ranks. It was not like that in the early church but from the beginning we are told, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods they gave to anyone as he had need” (Acts 2:44&45). They knew it if a member called Abraham had a broken leg and couldn’t work as a labourer for a few months. Yes they knew it. “One of our members is in need.” If Hannah had lost her husband, if Isaac had bills from the physician for his children’s illnesses that he could not pay, if Nehemiah were in debt and threatened with losing his house then the early church saw to it that this was known amongst the membership and steps were taken to help because they were members one of another. We share everything. We share evangelism. We share in the work of giving and receiving. We share gifts. We bear one another’s burdens.
Is this display of concern and affection a mere option? Or is it an indispensable evidence that you have presented your body a living sacrifice to God? Remember what the Lord Jesus says of the Day of Judgment, that he will know how members of his body had been treated. He has been making a record of deeds of love within the body; “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Matt. 25:34-40). “You did that to the members of my body and so you did it to me, because you cannot separate the head from the body.”
Think of how the apostle Peter had to learn that every member of the body of Christ is different and has different gifts and performs different services. There is a division of labour in the church. It isn’t given to each member of the body to do everything that the body does. It isn’t given to the eye to do everything that the body has to do. Anyone who tries to do everything would be a hideous distortion. There is a division of labour within the church of Christ. Other members of the body need to be exercised.
Do you remember when Peter learned this lesson? He had been recommissioned by the Lord Jesus, challenged about his love and told to feed his sheep, but Peter still had some of old Peter in him. He turned to the Lord, and was looking at John, and he said to the Lord, “Lord, what do you want that man to do?” Now is there any indication that there had been some envy or a tinge of green eyes in Peter before the crucifixion? Did Peter resent the fact that Jesus especially loved John, that he was the one who was always leaning on the Lord’s breast, and he was a little jealous of this? So, he turned to the Lord and asked this question, “Lord, what do you want that man to do?” The Lord’s answer was quick and quite stern. He said to Peter, “What’s that to you, what I intend John to do?” That is, “That’s none of your business, Peter. You feed my lambs and follow me. I shall also give him a job to do.” Peter was being taught that the body has many members. We all don’t have the same functions, but the functions that others do are necessary to the life of the body. The differences between a Peter and a John are not like differences between singers or dancers on Saturday night TV competing with one another for the top prize. Peter and John and Paul are not contestants. The elders and deacons are not trying to beat one another, rather there are differences in a congregation’s gifts just as a body has different organs and members all of which are needed, and we are all trying to serve and help the whole body through the difference functions that different members of a body has. There are no losers, and no runners up and none have to drop out early.
All of us will discover this; God gives us a vocation, but we don’t all have the same vocation, and so we need one another. We are members one with another, not just of this church, but of other churches and groups as well, and we need each other in the body of Christ.
What did Peter have to learn? To think of the whole more than of the parts; it is difficult to do so, but the analogy compels us to think like that. If Peter starts thinking of himself and how he
functions, and then he looks at John in the same way as another individual and how he functions then he has lost sight of the whole. What, after all, is the central and most essential glory of the human body? Isn’t it the balance and the harmony of the various parts? Every part is dependent upon every other part; the all interact and they all help one another. The body needs Peter, but Peter needs the body. The body needs John and Peter, and they both need one another and all the members of the body. We need every one of you. Please function as God has gifted you in the body.
An acquaintance was driving along and he caught up with a large removal lorry and he sat behind it for a while and he read its advertisement. It said, “Any Load – Any Time – Anywhere.” Now we can make that the slogan of our congregation only if every one of you is a true member of the body of Christ, and also members of one another, fulfilling your calling and exercising your gifts in his body.
8th February 2009 GEOFF THOMAS