Koinonia – Fellowship – part 6 – The Body
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on .
During the talk, 1 Corinthians 12:12–27 is read from the NIV (New International Version) by John Giles.
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- [00'00"] Introduction
- [02'07"] 1 Corinthians 12:20–27
- [05'52"] Church
- [13'33"] The Body of Christ
- [25'33"] Closing prayer
…. Fill him with your Holy Spirit as he ministers to us this day, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Thank you, Moira. Over the past few weeks on Sunday mornings we’ve been looking at the theme koinonia, and how Paul in the New Testament uses this interesting word in a variety of different ways. Much of the time it can be interpreted as fellowship, but we’ve discovered it can also mean other things: participation, communion, community, amongst other things.
One of the things we haven’t really talked about so much is koinonia as church. Because well, it isn’t, and it is – just to confuse.
As a church we are a community. We are, and have, fellowship. We are Jesus to one another and to the world around us. We are built, as humans, we are built for relationship, one towards another and towards God.
But that’s not quite what church is, I wonder? As we’ve seen, anybody can belong to a social group, but there’s something more special about the church than we often give it credit for.
The church is the Body of Christ and, to end our series, I’d like us to to look at this this morning. And so I’m grateful to John wherever he is, there he is, who’s going to come forward and give our reading from 1 Corinthians chapter twelve. Thank you, John.
1 Corinthians 12:20–27
The reading is from 1 Corinthians chapter 12 verses 12 to 27.
12The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
14Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, 25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.
27Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
Thank you, John, thank you.
If we had time I’d do a little video – I think we’ll skip over it, Neil. Because it’s the one that, you know the tune, you know the song, when you’re at school: your head bone’s connected to your neck bone and your neck bone’s connected to your shoulder bone and that’s what gets results, I think is what the advert said. But I’ll spare you that one today.
You are the Body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.
I think we have something very special here at Main Street. There is something very unifying, something pleasantly agreeable, something loving and peaceful, and wanting what’s best for God to work amongst us, our town, and our world.
There’s something very special here and I’m grateful for every one of you, every one of us, for this moment in time to love one another and to reach into our community in a range of different ways. Because I think that’s what the church is for.
In preparing for this message I read bits of a book called The Great Spiritual Migration by a chap called Brian McLaren. In it he suggests, I think I’ve mentioned before, that the purpose of the church is to be schools of love, a school of love. If Christians can’t love then what chance do people who don’t know Jesus have? I like that idea – school of love. To put one another before ourselves. To want what is best all the time for somebody else. To say sorry. To stop and think before we act. To show love through compassion. To care.
When I arrived at Main Street all of those ten months ago, I looked at our Facebook. It said something like, ‘Through our program of activities we hope to share the love of God in Frodsham.’ I must say I was a little taken aback. Is that why Jesus really came? So that we could have a program of activities? To merely be sociable people together? Perhaps to find out how Christianity might be attractive enough for people to perhaps to come to church on a Sunday? Has the Church that Jesus came to serve and to save been reduced to some activities in an old building that maybe somebody might visit? Forgive me.
I fear, I wonder, and I fear, that one of the downfalls of the church in the twentieth century was church programs. Part of my own Christian experience, growing up in a church at the end of the twentieth century, was that I had a duty to serve, a weekly attendance at this thing called church to have Biblical truths taught to me so that I was spiritually fed to face the week ahead.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am so, so grateful to people like Auntie Vera and others, not my real auntie but you know what I mean, church aunties, for my Sunday school teachers, for their love, their patience, their input that helped me learn portions of the Bible. And, in my own time, to make a commitment to Jesus as well.
In 1988 you may remember the Lambeth Conference reported that people were starting to leave the Church of England. And so it was decided to make the 1990s the decade of evangelism. Sadly, that was a flop.
People didn’t want to come to church. The British religion in numbers website, brin.ac.uk reports that the decade of evangelism reported that there was a drop in every diocese across England – between twelve percent and thirty percent. A decade of evangelism in the Church of England? I don’t think it really worked; it seemed that more and more people didn’t do church.
This Christendom model may have suited generations of Christians for hundreds of years. Didn’t seem to be working any longer, certainly in the late twentieth century. And by Christendom I mean the formation or the formalization, perhaps, of our faith into a hierarchical, overly-religious, bureaucratic, highly organised structure whereby the church expects people to come to meet God and find fellowship. Not easy when people in church often talk about the world out there and then, perhaps in the next breath, explain how lovely it would be for those people to come in here.
When Emperor Constantine became head of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, Christianity became the favoured religion of the Empire and everything changed. As one commentator wrote, Christianity moved from a being a dynamic, revolutionary, social, and spiritual movements to being a religious institution with its attendant structures, priesthood, and sacraments.
This switch has been to what we have known to be church over the past 1,700 years or so. We still think of the church and its mission in perhaps these terms, and many churches operates in this way. I think perhaps not Main Street, so much.
Yet when we look at the New Testament, we find that Jesus talked about the church only twice: once in Matthew chapter 16, once in chapter 18. We find that Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of Judaism for being too legalistic. We find that Jesus spent time going to parties, being with tax collectors, and sinners. We find that Jesus was trying to turn the world away from the strict formalities of the time, ensuring that everybody was always welcome in his kingdom. And then we find that Paul, through his New Testament writings, aims to shake this new community with Christ at the centre, and not power or institution.
Right at the start of Christianity we find fellowship. We find believers devoting themselves to Bible teaching, meeting together, sharing meals in one another’s homes, praising God, praying, and having everything in common. And this thing that Paul talked about in 1 Corinthians 12 that that John read so well earlier, is an active living breathing organism. Paul is eager that Corinthians should understand how every single member in the Christian family matters as much as the next. In doing so, he’s taken the metaphor of the body which was well known in in the ancient world as a picture of civic society. And Paul made it do a new job.
The Body of Christ
The body a unit made up of many parts
we remember that Paul writes to the Corinthians because they just couldn’t work out how to be a fellowship. Arguments, immorality, mistaken theology, being unwelcoming even to those within the community. Paul writes to the church to get them back on track and in 1 Corinthians 12 he’s talking in the context of Communion, how to gather in worship, and now he’s talking about spiritual gifts. The problem with the Christian church in Corinth seemed to be that everybody wanted the most explosive gifts, they wanted the most extrovert invisible things to say that, hey, God loves me the best. And Paul writes to say that all these gifts, all the gifts, are there to honour God and given by the Holy Spirit for the common good
and so there should be no one-upmanship on who had the most exuberant gifts to show off because they were all there for the community of faith. And this is where Paul says the body is made up of many parts, a unit made up of many parts: eyes, nose, heads, feet. He starts by making a comparison between the human body and the community of believers. At first we find Paul is talking almost theoretically where he tells his readers that the body is made up of many parts and that, because one part isn’t the same as another part, it doesn’t mean that it ceases to be part of that body.
Then in verse 27, right at the end, Paul comes in and says that you, you, are the Body of Christ. He makes a statement. It’s no longer a theoretical thing. You, you, you are the body of Christ. So no more squabbling about who’s got the eye or the nose or the foot. You are all one unit, one body, many parts, different gifts, different abilities, but we can’t do without you, your personality or your gifts. We don’t have time to look at these, this whole raft of spiritual gifts, this whole list, today but there are more, both here in 1 Corinthians but also in Romans chapter twelve and Ephesians chapter 4 verse 11.
You are the Body of Christ. Christ is the head, we are the body. He has the ideas, we, filled by His Spirit in us, put them into action.
Saint Teresa of Ávila wrote these words about the body, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
We are the Body of Christ, and wherever people have united themselves and come together this is the Body of Christ. The Word Church literally means ‘to call out’, it’s a gathering of people the Body of Christ was never a building look back to the dedication of Solomon’s Temple and the Spirit of God filled an overflow the building.
I don’t think it was ever God’s real plan that he dwelt in a building. It was always that God lived with people and that people lived with God It was always that the body was a living breathing organism, not just a building made out of bricks or even one of the finest gold and jewels.
So you wherever you go we where ever we go are the Body of Christ. Together we are the body of Christ. As a body we’re not just to a group of people who belong to Main Street Community Church, we are Main Street Community Church. The word ‘member’ that Paul talks about here actually means ‘limb’ or ‘organ’. It’s a living, breathing, active bit of who this gathering is.
And so he’s right when he says, if one part suffers we all suffer, the whole body suffers. We are hurting right now. Because, both individually and as a corporate of a group, we are hurting because we have lost dear Sue. We were sad and we were unsure of things when Martin and Sue and Sue and Rick moved away. Because we are a body. And when bits of bodies come away it hurts because that’s what bodies do. They’re designed to work together and so when something disrupts it, the body goes all out of kilter until there’s healing or restoration.
As church gathered or scattered, being filled with the very presence of Jesus we bring the presence of Jesus to others. As Jesus was able to bring wholeness and restoration to situations and people in a variety of ways, so we now, the body of Christ, that collective living organism, have the breath and body of Christ to do likewise.
The body of Christ, Paul’s favourite analogy for the church, is to be Christ in the world. That’s what makes our faith community different from a social group. We are to be Christ on earth. Christ as the head, we is the body as a group of believers joined with other believers across the world. As 1 Peter 2 says, you – we – are a holy nation, a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God. So that we may declare the praise of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.
He continues, once you were not a people, now you are the people of God. Dear friends, live such good lives among the pagans that, though they may accuse us of doing wrong, they may see our good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. The body of Christ, young and old [ aside: hello, you have some rope. You alright? Good! ] We are the Body of Christ, the gathering of people, the community of Christ. It was never about buildings or structures, vicars or institutions; the church was always about mission. It was always about a living body of people sent on a mission from God to live such good lives that others may glorify him.
It was always about following Jesus. It was always about joining in with what he was already doing.
It was always about being family with others who wanted to do the same. It was never about statements of faith or whether you are you have stood up to, you know, the best of it. It was always, always about this gathering of people, now known as church, to be missional, to be sent to be little saviours, little christs, it was all about, always, always about the Incarnation, about God becoming human, about God being with us and us Being with God.
We have Jesus as our model and our guide and our example. He became human and lived with us. He knows what it’s like to be human but was without sin.
He became human and lived with us. That’s why we celebrate Christmas, God with us, and then we celebrate Easter and Pentecost to show that there is nothing that can hold us from the love of God, not even death itself, and although Jesus is no longer with us in human form we have his Holy Spirit living in us as if we were his body
I don’t think Jesus ever hoped or desired that the church would be a dispenser of religious goods or services. I rather suggest he wanted people to be part of community, a fellowship of people who wanted to love God and love others, a community where the lonely, the widows, the orphans found a family. A place where God would be the father of the fatherless. A place where people from all walks of life would learn to love, a place called the Kingdom of God where people are loved and made whole and included.
We have the word community right at the heart of the title of our church, Main Street Community Church. I wonder what it means. I wonder what it means for us. I wonder what it means for you. I wonder what it means for those around us. I guess the litmus test is actually not about us but, if we weren’t here, who would amend our loss?
Main Street Community Church, the Body of Christ in the centre of this town. Let’s serve our community. Let’ serve one another with love and compassion. Let’s go into the world, into our everyday lives, to teach the world to love. Let Main Street Community Church be a place that’s not only a community church but a people who show the world the love of God. Let us love God. Let us love one another. Let us love God by loving one another. Not just in this room but wherever we happen to take Jesus who lives in us by his Spirit.
Christ has no body but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which he blesses the world. Yours are the hands, the feet, the eyes. You are his body. You are the Body of Christ.
Thank you that you call us to be in community with one another.
We thank you for Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Although this was a bit of a telling off for them, this is a reminder to us that we need to love not just each other but the world, in very practical ways. Father, thank You for the Church, thank you for what it has been what it stood for through the ages and, as we recognize that perhaps there’s some form of move for it to be a little bit different, it may be that we actually just getting back to the roots.
Lord God, would you please help us as we continue to strive to look for what church means here at Main Street. Would you help us and guide us. Would you help us not to fear what the future may be but would you help us and hold our hand as we discover what you have, what exciting things you have, for our future here.
Thank you that you’ve reminded us this morning that you have chosen us, not that you need us but you’ve chosen us, to be the hands and the feet and the nose and the everything else that makes up that body. Would you help us to be that body that you call us to do, and I pray all of this in Jesus’ name,
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Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission.