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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Your Part in the Church, which is Christ’s Body
Text:LD 21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Communion of Saints
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-01-30
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 135:1,2                                                                                    

Hy 1

Reading – Romans 12:1-8; 1 Corinthians 12

Ps 125:1,2

Sermon – Lord’s Day 21

Hy 61:1,2

Ps 134:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, it’s striking, in a way, that the church is included in the Apostles’ Creed. There it is, in the ninth article, “I believe a holy catholic church, the communion of saints.” Seeing the church here is remarkable, because the rest of the creed is all about God. Here we confess our faith in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It’s about God’s being and persons, his saving works. Throughout the creed, we’re in exalted company.

But when we get to this article, we downshift dramatically. ‘Oh, it’s only about the church,’ someone might say. Because the church can seem so ordinary. We think of the people who make up the church, and how we don’t always agree with them, and sometimes we don’t even like them. And it’s always easy to be critical of the church.

Then we should remember something basic, that for all its imperfections and flaws, whose church is it? Whose handiwork? And we confess that it is God’s work, and Christ’s church. If it was only an earthly project, it’d never last. But the church has a firm foundation, and its Builder and Architect is God.

This is why Scripture speaks so highly of the church. The church is Christ’s bride and his chosen flock. The church is the Spirit’s temple, the Father’s family, and the pillar and bulwark of the truth. How else does Scripture describe the church? As the Body of Christ: He is our Head, and we are his members. There’s a comfort in that identity, and a calling. There’s great promise, and great obligation. This is our theme from Lord’s Day 21,

We belong to the Church, which is Christ’s body:

  1. unity in our glorious Head
  2. variety among all the members
  3. necessity of individual service

 

1) in the body of Christ there is unity in the glorious Head: What’s a body without a head? It’s nothing. Basic anatomy says that for all the limbs to operate and for the various systems to work, you need constant direction from the head. So the Catechism is right to begin teaching about the church in this way: “I believe that the Son of God…” (Q&A 54).

We don’t begin by taking a survey of what’s agreeable to all the church members, or considering what the culture around us would have us do or say. No, who is the Head of the church? Who’s in charge? The Son of God!

Jesus Christ is in heaven, managing all things in the universe, yet ever concerned about his people down here on earth. The Son of God is preserving “for himself…a church chosen to everlasting life” (Q&A 54). Christ is busy with his church, and notice He’s not even doing it for us and our salvation, in the first place. He’s doing it for himself, for the praise of the Triune God. The church is an instrument for his glory.

The LORD has put many splendid things in his creation so that people see and marvel: ‘Surely this is the great work of God!’ In the same way, Christ wants people to see the church and to marvel, ‘Surely this is the Lord’s marvelous work! See how they love each other, and how they worship, and stand together. Who but God could do this?’

The church is the signature project of Christ, and it’s closely wrapped up in his own identity as Saviour. When He was on earth, Jesus spoke often about “his people” or “his sheep,” those blessed ones for whom He’d lay down his life. Not because we first loved Him, but because He loved us. Not because we chose Him, but because He chose us. In grace, He’s made us his own. And He’s brought us so close that we can even be called ‘his body.’

In that familiar image, we see an amazing picture of unity. A head and body are one, in the fullest possible way. Their purpose is the same. Their life is the same. So for Christ and us. Because He’s our Head, we share in who He is, in his power and his Spirit.

The Catechism touches on this in Q&A 55, when it asks what it means to be part of the body. And it says “that believers, all and everyone, as members of Christ have communion with him and share in all his treasures and gifts.” The key phrase is ‘communion with him,’ or fellowship. For think again how entirely the body depends on its head, that it couldn’t even survive without the connection. Because of our link to the living Christ, we have life!

We’ll come back to Christ’s gifts a bit later, but for now we look at the next article of the creed, explained in Q&A 56. It’s about forgiveness. For among all of Christ’s treasures and gifts, the greatest is certainly this: that “God, because of Christ’s satisfaction, will no more remember my sins…but will graciously grant me the righteousness of Christ.” Notice the unity again, how the righteousness of Christ, established by his own obedience and suffering—that righteousness is now shared with us!

To be sure, standing on our own two feet, this body will be so weak. If you had to picture the church as a human body, imagine what kind of body we’d be. Maybe a decent looking body on the outside, but one suffering from untold aches and internal pains. We’re a body that has its share of illness and disease, a body that has healing to do, and a lot of growing still.

Yet we’re a body that enjoys the attention of an almighty personal trainer, daily being ‘gathered, defended and preserved’ by him. The church is a precious body because it is a forgiven body. Though we once received the diagnosis of death, God has declared us to be fundamentally sound. By faith, we’ve all been made righteous in Christ.

So then, as the body of Christ, we are defined by two important relationships. First, we have a glorious Head, who is Jesus our Saviour. We want to serve and submit to him, and we want to trust him with our whole life.

And second, we have our fellow members. By being united to Christ, we are united to one another. The Catechism calls this “the unity of the true faith” (Q&A 54). That’s what believers share, what binds us together in strength: the gospel of the Son of God.

If you believe in Christ, then you’re a member of him, in community with your only Head. And what about everyone else? It’s simple, really: If they believe in Christ too, then you are in community with them. Whether you like it or not, you are joined to them.

This is an important point for understanding what fellowship is. A lot of the time when we talk about fellowship, we put an equals sign between fellowship and social events. We come together for a church event, or we have a cup of coffee after the worship service, and we call that fellowship: “That was great fellowship.” And these are good things, things to promote and enjoy.

But we should see that our fellowship together in Christ is something that already is. It’s not a luxury, or a special event, but it’s a reality. It’s not a goal to aim for, but a certainty that needs to be worked out. If we both believe in Christ, then you and I are already in community with each other. By faith in Christ we are a body, many members connected to one another—only now the question is what this body will do. The question is whether we will live in the unity that we have. Will we just talk about unity, or will we actually experience it?

By our vital connection to Christ by faith, there is also a vital connection to one another. Paul has much to say about this in 1 Corinthians 12. That’s because the church in Corinth was internally divided. Some were exalting this spiritual gift over that one, this ministry over another, and saying that the rich deserved better treatment than the poor. Everyone was equal, of course, but some were more equal than others. But Paul insists on unity, like in verses 4-5, “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord.

Like the human body has so many different parts, there’s also many believers in Christ. We are people with all kinds of backgrounds and abilities and strengths and weaknesses, but in Jesus and his Spirit we are unified. In Christ, we function together—that is, we are meant to function together. For example, Paul says a bit later, “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it” (v 26). Because Christ has brought us together, the joy or suffering of one is the joy or suffering of all the others. And the gift of one is a gift for all the others.

 

2) in the body of Christ there is a variety among all the members: One quality of the church that the Catechism highlights is that it is catholic. It is universal. This means the church isn’t narrowly based, restricted to a certain kind of person, or country, or culture. No, the Son of God has been busy with his church “from the beginning of the world to the end” (Q&A 54). That’s a really long time. What’s more, He’s been gathering it “out of the whole human race” (Q&A 54). That’s a really big pool of people. So when we look at the church, we can expect to see great diversity.

Diversity is seen in the church at a global level, and also at a local level. Globally, think of how true believers in Christ belong to so many different cultures around this world, and speak so many different languages, and tell such diverse stories about what Christ is doing among them. By his Word, Christ gathers a people for himself in many places. The book of Revelation gives a beautiful picture of a church made up of many tribes and tongues and peoples (7:9).

And locally too, the church is diverse—as diverse as the human body. Scripture says that “a body has many members” (1 Cor 12:12). Think of it, you’ve got four limbs: two arms, two legs. One each of a brain, a nose, and a mouth; two eyes, two ears; 206 bones, more than 600 muscles, and 900 ligaments. More than 7000 parts, many so very different from each other. Yet together they’re a cohesive whole: “All the members of that one body, being many, are one body” (v 12). In the same way, there is one church, joined in Christ.

Yet diversity presents challenges, doesn’t it? The Corinthians were judging each other harshly, and sometimes we judge each other too. Maybe we think highly of our gifts and position, consider ourselves more useful than others. We find it hard to accept people who have different views on things that are important to us. Pride is always an enemy, and so is a lack of love. We link up with those who share our opinions, or those who have pleasant personalities, but we might avoid several others in the church.

Paul illustrates how dangerous is this thinking, imagining if our body parts did the same. For example, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (v 21). Of course, that’s madness—God gave to the foot a certain function, to the eye another, and God said both belong, for both help the other.

In the same way, diversity is necessary in Christ’s body. It’s by God’s good design, so that each member can contribute something of benefit. The Corinthians, instead of fighting over who was more eloquent, or who could heal more prolifically, should have celebrated their diversity of gifts. And among us too, the Holy Spirit works a variety of gifts. Because every part belongs, He works his gifts among every member, you and me and everyone. He works his gifts among the old and the young, the women and the men, the shy and the outgoing. He makes us all well-suited for a task—not for every task, but one where we can serve effectively.

When he writes to the Romans, Paul speaks again about the gifts of the Spirit. And in Rome, as in Corinth, as in this congregation, “[We have] gifts differing according to the grace that is given us” (Rom 12:6). God in his grace has equipped each of us as we are, some with one gift, others with another—all to serve the unity of the church to the glory God’s name.

It’s in this spirit that each of us must use our gifts: “He who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness” (Rom 12:7-8). This is but a sample, only a glimpse of the kind of diversity there can be in Christ’s church: teaching, leading, giving, exhorting…

There are many different duties that people are busy with in our church. It’s everything from taking care of the lawn, to preparing the liturgy sheet, to paying the bills, to making sure there’s a glass of cold water on the pulpit. And it’s only just a fraction of what happens in church life—just the ‘official and organized’ things.

For there are countless ways in which the body of Christ is active, so many ways in which the members are using their gifts during the week, month by month. Younger ones who try to contribute to good discussions at Bible study club. Deacons who faithfully reach out with compassion. Brothers who take the time to mentor other brothers over a coffee. Sisters who are quick to drop off a meal at someone’s place. Others who are materially blessed and can give generously and widely. Another who takes the time to write cards for countless birthdays every year. Another who visits those who are shut in.

The point is, each part has its function in that place God has put us, with the gifts God gave us. And Scripture insists that every member belongs. In the human body, maybe no one knows yet why the appendix was included. You can snip it out, and nobody notices. But that cannot be said of any member in the body of Christ.

Can the young people serve? Definitely. Do the elderly have a place? For sure. Are the little children important? Certainly. Men and women, boys and girls, rich and poor, healthy and sick, educated or not—we each have our place through the unity that is ours in Christ. For just remember that we already share the most important thing: one Lord, one faith, one Spirit, one baptism, one God and Father of us all.

There can be great beauty in this diversity of the church: so many different members, gifts and strengths, yet everyone working in a way for which they’re well-suited, working together for our Saviour. God is glorified when his people live like who they are: the holy body of Christ. But that identity means we’ve got work to do.

 

3) in the body of Christ there is the necessity of individual service: In your average church, there’s at least a few dozen members. Some churches have less, some have many more. And whenever there’s a crowd, there’s the temptation for some to blend in, to draw back, to let others do our share. Yet this is not how it should be.

For along with everything else that we confess about Christ’s work among his church, we say this, “I believe that I am and forever shall remain a living member of it” (Q&A 54). Right at the end, there’s that personal focus. ‘What about you?’ the Catechism asks: ‘Are you also part of the body in some meaningful way?’

And we should say, ‘Yes, I too have a place. Here is where I’m a living member.’ Let’s take the word ‘member’ in the right way. For we could simply look at it in terms of statistics: ‘My membership is in this particular church.’

But when the Catechism uses the word ‘member,’ it’s alluding again to the body image. We’ve said how God works in each member of the body a different gift. But these gifts aren’t for their own sake. The gift of the Spirit, says the apostle, “is given to each one for the profit of all” (1 Cor 12:7). For the profit of all! That’s the necessity of individual service, to build others up.

Why is this so important? God knows that unconnected individuals never do well on their own—not for long. Being needy is our basic condition as humans. Life is hard for us, for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes we don’t want to accept help; we think we’re fine on our own. But we all have to recognize our need.

We need God, and Christ, and we also need one another in the body. Others have gifts for our benefit. Others have wisdom. Others have strength. God didn’t design us to go through hard things alone, but we were meant to walk side by side. There should be this spirit in Christ’s body: “that the members…have the same care for one another” (1 Cor 12:25). The Catechism follows in the same line: “Everyone is duty-bound to use his gifts readily and cheerfully for the benefit and well-being of the other members” (Q&A 55).

As members of Christ’s church, we need to think about how we can serve those around us. It’s my duty, my task—and I can do it cheerfully, because I know that it pleases God, it blesses others, and that God in turn will bless me through my fellow members.

When it comes to the communion of saints, I know that it’s possible to take refuge in our excuses. ‘But I have an issue with that family—I prefer not to associate with them.’ Or, ‘I’m fine on my own, I don’t really need a community.’ Or, ‘We’re bit different, and we don’t fit in with the rest.’ And there can definitely be challenges to having fellowship because of our past, or because of our character.

Yet don’t our excuses always start to fall away when we submit to God’s Word? For God tells us that every member has a role. God tells us that we have a role. The body thrives when all and everyone does their part. So again: What about you? What are you doing as a living member of the body? How will you demonstrate an active love in Christ?

It’s for good reason that right at the end of 1 Corinthians 12, God points us to the greatest gift, the Spirit’s gift of love. For what’s the sense of spiritual gifts if they’re not used in love? Why bother with God’s blessings if they’re not employed for the good of others? Paul is very bold in chapter 13, because he says that a spiritual gift is actually useless, if not exercised with love. The most eloquent speaker, the richest giver, the most knowledgeable leader—if he or she doesn’t have love—they’re no better than a pounding jackhammer.

No spiritual gift, or church office, or special opportunity, or particular talent has worth if you’re using it selfishly. But if we have love, we can do so much. It’s actually the one gift we all need. We might only be in Grade 6, but we can care. We might only be making minimum wage, but we can give. We could be 87, and a widow, yet still be active in loving the body of Christ. We could be a young woman in university, or a young man learning his trade, and find ways to be busy with Christ’s church. Because we can all show our fellow members a love that is patient and kind, a love that is humble, a love that cherishes the truth and endures under suffering.

It’s to the glory of Christ our Head when we live like this, when we live as a diverse but unified and active body of living members. Christ owns us, we are his work, and He calls us his church to live for his great praise!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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