2020 Vision: Unity or Christianity is a Puzzle (1 Cor. 12:4-7)
Unity in the Church
As members of the body of Christ, we can be compared to a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece has protrusions and indentations. The protrusions represent our strengths and the indentations represent our weaknesses. The beautiful thing is that the pieces complement one another and produce a beautiful whole (Greene, 202).
Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, partly because the Christians were arguing and fussing about who was the better Christian: 3:3-4; 1:11-12. Paul deals specifically with their arguing relative to spiritual gifts in chapters 12-14, which are a unit.
The theme for our first-Sunday of the month sermons is: 2020 Vision. What is most important to us as a church belonging to Jesus Christ? What should our focus be as a church? The list is growing as we move through the year:
January - We need to honor God.
February - We need to glorify Jesus.
March - We need to listen to the Spirit.
April - We need to worship.
May - We need to reach into our community.
Here is a definition of the Swartz Creek church of Christ based on what Scriptures teach. “The Swartz Creek church of Christ exists, by the blood of Jesus, to share the gospel with the lost, strengthen the weak, encourage the members, and worship God, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
I have recently had a sermon on unity in the church: Hell’s Foundations Quiver at the Shout of Unity. But, this lesson is a little different perspective than that one and it certainly needs to be a part of our discussion on who we want to be as members of the Lord’s church. So, let’s take a look at what Paul had to say about unity in the church in Corinth…
UNITY - chapter 12:
Just as each piece of a puzzle is important, so each member of the body of Christ is important and can minister to the other members of the body.
Paul introduces his discussion in verse 1: spiritual gifts. Relative to unity, Paul points out, from the Godhead, that even in diversity, there can be, and should be unity (verses 4-6).
The one church is composed of many parts: Everyone has gifts - verse 7 - “each one”; verse 11 - "distributing to each one individually.” In the same way that Jesus gave in the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:15).
In Ephesians 4:16, Paul writes to those Christians: “the whole body, fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
Sometimes I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again.
If you cannot preach like Peter,
If you cannot pray like Paul,
Just tell the love of Jesus.
And say He died for all.
There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole.
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.
This was an old spiritual from the black community at least as far back as 1854.
When we were baptized, in obedience to the Spirit, He made us into one body (verse 13). This diversity in unity is illustrated by the human body (12:14-17). These parts have their role, notice in vest 18, “as God desired.”
I have done some mountain climbing in my high school days. For safety reasons, mountain climbers rope themselves together when climbing a mountain. That way, if one climber should slip and fall, he would not fall to his death. He would be held by the others until he could regain his footing.
The church should be like that. When one member slips and falls, the others should hold him up until he regains his footing (Greene, 194).
The members who are less visible tend to be less honored or less respected but they are no less important; in fact, they might be more important (12:22-24).
Many years ago, two students graduated from the Chicago-Kent College of Law. The highest ranking student in the class was a blind man named Overton. When he received this honor, he insisted that half the credit go to his friend Kaspryzak. They had first met one another in school when the armless Kaspryzak had guided the blind Overton down a flight of stairs. This acquaintance ripened into friendship and a beautiful example of interdependence. This blind man carried the books that the armless man read aloud in their common study, and thus the deficiency of each individual was compensated for by the other’s ability (Greene, 196).
The preacher is perhaps the most visible member of the congregation but not by any means the most important. Cleaning the building, emptying trash, cooking meals, mowing the lawn, taking care of other matters around the building, who teach Bible classes, take care of the financial matters.
But what about that Christian who prays earnestly and faithfully at home for the sick. That Christian who frequently checks on those who are sick and even visits them. That Christian who encourages others in the name of Christ and teaches them slowly but accurately the true ways of the Lord. The more important members are really those who truly live out the Gospel in their every day lives.
So… the first piece of the puzzle is unity. And the church is united, or should be united, to the extent that our talents are used “for the common good” (12:7) and the “same care for one another” (12:25). When one member suffers, all suffer. When one is honored, all rejoice (12:26).
LOVE - chapter 13:
Just as, when one piece is missing from the puzzle, its absence is very obvious and damages the picture, so also is the whole weakened when we are absent from the body of Christ.
Christians are like embers, together they glow. Apart, they grow cold. When you are absent from worship, our fire is just a little bit diminished. When you are present, the fire that is Christian fellowship glows warm and bright.
Love is the second piece of the puzzle. Paul begins chapter 13 talking about the importance of love in contrast with miraculous gifts and non-miraculous spirituality (13:1-3).
He then defines love (13:4-8). Then he sets in contrast “love” with these miraculous gifts about which the Corinthians had been arguing (13:8-10). The greatest of the non-miraculous virtues is love (8:13). Love recognizes the importance of all the members of the church and does not elevate either self or others beyond what is appropriate (Rom. 12:3, 16).
Love also recognizes the importance of encouragement…
ENCOURAGEMENT - chapter 14:
Just as, when each piece of a puzzle is in place, any one piece is not conspicuous but blends in to form the whole picture, so it should be in the body of Christ.
It seems that the Corinthians believed that speaking in foreign languages was the best spiritual gift and that those who do so were somehow more spiritual Christians or more beneficial to the Kingdom of God.
But Paul argues that in fact, prophecy is a better spiritual gift than speaking in foreign languages. One who speaks in foreign languages, speaks only to God and therefore “no one understands” (14:2-5).
We see then that the purpose of the worship assembly, for that is the context of chapter 14, relative to mankind, is for encouragement / edification.
Speaking in foreign languages, if there is no one present to translate, is like someone unskilled playing a flute or harp - it makes sound but not music - 14:7.
Again, the purpose of worship is to make known the manifold wisdom of God so that the worshippers will be edified (14:9). But the purpose is for edification (14:12). If one worships in a foreign language, he may be edified but the other person is not (14:17-19).
This is especially beneficial for the non-christian who attends our worship service - they are especially in need of spiritual encouragement (14:24-25). Notice too, verse 26. In contrast with what we hear being practiced in Charismatic and Pentecostal churches today, Paul emphatically says that if there is no one who can interpret the foreign languages, then the man should shut up and sit down - 14:26-28. Why? Because the purpose of worship, relative to man’s spiritual needs, is to be taught and encouraged - 14:31.
Again, notice that in the context of this discussion of speaking in foreign languages and prophesying in the worship of the church, women are to be silent (14:34-35). Then again, we see in 14:40 that in the worship of the church, all things are to be done decently and in order - why? Because the third piece of the puzzle is encouragement.
The captain of a Greenland whaling ship, at night, was surrounded by icebergs. He expected to be ground to pieces. Morning dawned and he sighted a ship at a distance. Into a boat with some men, the captain picked his way through the lanes of open ice towards the mysterious-looking craft. He hailed the vessel - “Ship Ahoy!” Through the porthole, he saw a man, evidently the ship’s captain, sitting at a table as if writing in a log-book. He hailed again, but the figure did not move. He was dead and frozen.
The captain boarded the ship, found the sailors, some frozen among their hammocks, others in the cabin. The last entry in the log-book said they had been drifting in the Arctic Seas for 13 years - a floating mausoleum, manned by a frozen crew.
Souls today who have refused the Divine offer of life, have forsaken the church, the center where they could be warmed with holy influences. Instead, they are drifting in the chilling regions of the Arctic darkness and frost (AMG, 210).
One of my favorite animated movies is the Dreamworks movie about the life of Moses: Prince of Egypt. In one scene in that movie, Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, sings a song that pictures what I’m talking about:
A single thread in a tapestry
Through its color brightly shine
Can never see its purpose
In the pattern of the grand design.
And the stone that sits on the very top
Of the mountain’s might face
Does it think it’s more important
Than the stones that form the base?
So how can you see what your life is worth
Or where your value lies?
You can never see through the eyes of man
You must look at your life
Look at your life through heaven’s eyes.
Indeed, we need to each look at each other’s life through heaven’s eyes. When we do, we will see that every person is important to God and every Christian is important to the church.
Take home message: We need to maintain unity in the church of Christ through love and encouraging each other.