2020 Vision – Church Body ~ 20200119 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
01/19 Vision – individuals experiencing the gospel together in community (Romans 12); Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200119_church-body.mp3
We’ve been looking at vision, God’s vision for the church, what it means to be a healthy church, and how we can grow more and more into what we were meant to be.
So far, we’ve seen from Matthew 16 that the church is Jesus’ church, a gathering of Jesus followers built on the identity of Jesus and the offense of the cross, united into one body by the Holy Spirit through the new birth. If each local church is composed of individual believers, then a healthy local church is made up of healthy believers. We’ve seen from Colossians 3 that followers of Jesus live by faith, we are to keep our thoughts fixed on God and his glory, we are to live in love and forgive as we have been forgiven; we are to be those whose lives are saturated with the word of God and with prayer.
We are going to spend our time today primarily in Romans 12. Our focus will be the church as the body of Christ. The church is made up of individual believers, and as individuals, we each bring something to the table, something to the body. We are individuals transformed by the good news, but we are meant to experience the gospel in community.
Established on a Gospel Foundation
Let’s just dive right in and look together at Romans 12.
It is essential to stop right here and pay attention to the ‘therefore’. That’s a connecting word, and it reminds us that we are jumping in at the end of a letter. ‘Therefore’ tells us that everything that is said here in chapter 12 is built on the foundation of what was said in the first 11 chapters. God is righteous. We are all sinners, and being unrighteous, we all deserve the just wrath of a holy God. But that same God of holiness and justice is also a God of compassion and love, and he sent his only Son to be the propitiation, the wrath-absorbing sin-bearing substitute for us. In this way God can uphold his own righteous integrity and fully punish sin, while at the same time declaring guilty sinners righteous, justified, as if they had never sinned, credited with Jesus’ own perfect righteousness.
This gift of God’s own righteousness comes to all who believe, who simply take him at his word, trust him implicitly, cast themselves completely on his mercy, entrust themselves to his care. (Rom.3:23-25
Service is Worship
Our response to God’s astounding mercy ought to be worship. Remember, Christians sing! Singing is one of many forms of worship.
This verse points us to another act of worship. Present your bodies as a living sacrifice. A sacrificial animal was an animal that belonged to the worshiper, a flawless animal, a valuable animal, one of his best, and he would give it to God. Ownership was transferred to God. The animal was no longer his own to do with as he willed; it belonged to God. Some sacrifices went entirely up in smoke, as a fragrant aroma pleasing to the Lord. Some sacrifices were eaten, both by the priests and the worshipers, a feast enjoyed in God’s presence. You no longer belong to yourself. You were bought with a price (1Cor.6:19-20; 7:23).
Notice, the ‘you’ is plural; you all. ‘Bodies’ is plural. Each of you individually are to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice. In joyful response to God’s stunning mercy and grace, I gladly surrender rights over my body to the Lord. This is worship. And although the ‘you’ is plural and ‘bodies’ is plural, the ‘sacrifice’ is singular and the ‘worship’ is singular. As one body we each offer our bodies as a singular act of worship to the Lord.
Service is worship. What we do with our bodies on Sunday is worship. The teachers who teach our children’s church and serve in the nursery are worshiping. Those who volunteered to come yesterday to clean the church, that was an act of worship. What we do Monday through Saturday is meant to be an act of worship. Going to work and earning an honest living so that you can provide for your needs and the needs of those who depend on you, so that you can give generously to God, that is worship. Raising your children to love and fear and follow Jesus, that is worship. Preparing a meal for your own family, or for someone in need, that is worship. Calling someone or getting together to encourage or to pray or to simply spend time with, that is worship.
Colossians 3 told us to ‘seek the things that are above’ (v.1); to ‘set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth’ (v.2). To ‘let the word of Christ dwell in you richly’ (v.16). We need a complete metamorphosis in our thinking. We need to be entirely renewed in how we evaluate and process and plan. It feels natural to follow the world’s patterns, to define success by the world’s standards, but our aim is no longer to please people. We are to seek to do the will of God, to do what is good in his estimation, to be acceptable to him, to please him in all things. As followers of Jesus we think in new categories, we set our minds on things above.
Here’s a monumental metamorphosis in our thinking.
From the playground at recess to the job market, we are taught to make much of ourselves, to inflate our abilities, to show ourselves bigger than we are. We make ourselves out to be larger than life, and then we have trouble sleeping because we are concerned someone might find us out.
But this is deeper. This verse is saying that we are inclined to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. We actually believe that we are better than we are. We think that we are OK. We think that we are better than others, that we don’t sin as much as others, that in some way by our own efforts we can please God. We don’t like to think, and it is contrary to how the world teaches us to think, that we are not enough. That we are fundamentally flawed, in desperate need of help, in desperate need of the gospel. I am a sinner, I deserve death, and my only hope is in the rescue that only comes through Jesus. We are to think about ourselves with sober judgment. This requires grace, supernatural grace, God’s grace.
I am not enough. I am part of something bigger than myself. As a follower of Jesus, I am a part of a body of believers. We are inextricably connected to one another in Jesus, and we need each other. Paul uses the human body as an illustration. If you understand anything about how the body works, you know the respiratory system is inextricably linked to the circulatory system. The lungs bring in a fresh supply of oxygen to the blood stream. The heart pumps the oxygenated blood around to the various parts of the body to keep the organs and tissues healthy. By the way, the heart is a muscle that needs oxygen that the lungs supply, and the lungs only work when the chest muscles are supplied with blood from the heart so they can expand to take a breath. They are inextricably interdependent. Neither works without the other.
We tend to downplay our own importance to the body. I’m not really that important. If I don’t show up, nobody will even miss me. Paul wrote earlier to the Corinthians.
Eyes and hands are essential. But feet and ears, well they look kind of funny and often stink. We can probably get by without them. Or can we? I sometimes hear people say ‘Well, I don’t really fit in, I’m different, I don’t feel like I belong.’ It’s precisely because you are different that we need you. No one else does what you do. You bring something unique to the table.
There can also be a frustration on the other side, where a person is gifted and passionate about something, and is frustrated that everyone else doesn’t share that same passion.
You have probably been wondering why we are sitting in a circle today. That was not my idea; it was suggested to me by one of you as a visual illustration of the body. Jesus is at the center, he is the head. He brings us together. We gather around him. And we are all sinners, hurting, broken, daily in need of the gospel, of God’s amazing grace. Daily we need forgiveness, and we need to forgive one another. There is not those who serve and those who come to be served. There are not some who are essential and some who are expendable. Every body part is unique, perfectly designed for its own distinct role, and no other part can take its place. None of us on our own is enough. We are meant to function together, to complement one another. We are all part of something bigger than ourselves.
Gifts That Differ
Every believer in Jesus has experienced God’s grace. We each have been given a gift we didn’t earn and don’t deserve. We have been uniquely equipped to serve others. As an act of worship, we are to present ourselves as a living sacrifice to God, to use as he sees fit. We have each been given gifts, and we are to use them through love to serve one another.
Notice all the attitude words? Zeal, cheerfulness, genuine love, abhorring evil, brotherly affection, not slothful but fervent. Our attitudes matter. Grudging half-hearted ‘I guess I’ll do it because no one else will’ service is not pleasing to the Lord. You see, when you discover who God made you to be, there is passion and joy in being who you were created to be and doing what you were designed for. There is satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment. And we need each other to help each other discover those unique gifts and passions.
...But Not Yet
I find it interesting where he goes next.
He talks here about tribulation, difficult circumstances; and about persecution, opposition from people. And I asked, is he switching subjects here, moving from life within the body out to life in the world? As followers of Jesus we expect persecution from the world. He definitely moves out to talk about that in chapter 13. And that is at least included in what he says here. But these instructions come in the context of body life and all mixed in with ‘one another’ language. We find joy now in service, but we rejoice in hope. Hope is something that is anticipated but hasn’t been fully realized yet. There is joy in service in the body now, but it is not yet as it is meant to be. There is also tribulation, and even persecution. We live in a community of redeemed sinners undergoing sanctification. And even redeemed sinners sin against one another. That is why we are commanded to forgive one another. Don’t be surprised by opposition, even when it comes from within the body, even when it comes against you using your God given gifts. Live in harmony with one another. That means you don’t all have to sing the same note, but that you do work together and complement one another. There will be times when well meaning fellow believers will seem to be working against you, criticizing your best efforts, frustrating your gifts. Be patient in tribulation. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Live in harmony with one another. If possible, live peaceably with all.
In chapter 15 he has more to say about body life and bearing with one another in love, and so today we will close with his prayer from 15:5-7.
Lord, make it so, here, in this body, your church, today!
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org