Where Do I Belong in the Church?
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Where Do I Belong in the Church?

1 Corinthians 12:12  (ID: 2183)

In 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul compared the members of a church to different parts of the body. As different parts of the body have unique roles to fill, so each church member has an important function. In this sermon, Alistair Begg challenges us to consider our function, our commitment, and our fulfillment of the role that each of us is called to as members of the Christian church.

Series Containing This Sermon

What Is the Church?

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 23901

Sermon Transcript: Print

Father, as we study the Bible, it is a serious and wonderful business. None of us is interested in just hearing the ruminations of a man’s mind. We do want to learn the Bible. We want to be students of the Book. We want to be better informed as a result of our studies, but we don’t simply want information. We want an encounter with you, the living God. We want to be different because we’ve studied, and so we pray that you will fulfill the purposes that you have as we turn to the Scriptures now. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Our focus this morning is going to eventually be on this matter of the body of Christ. I say eventually because I want to fill in some blanks that I think, or gaps, that I have left. And I didn’t do so purposefully, but I, in reflecting upon the previous two studies, felt that I need to close the ranks, as it were, or close the loopholes that I’ve left in the minds of some people. We’re going to eventually get to verse 27, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”[1] We’re going to see this morning that God has designed our bodies, and the design of our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church, every part dependent on every other part—whether it’s the parts we mention or the parts we don’t, whether it’s the parts we see or the parts we don’t see—all have been purposefully put there by God, and each one is of significance.

And so the question that is before us, our third question in our series is: “How do I” or “Where do I belong in the church?” Where do I belong in the church? The previous question as of last Sunday was, “Who is in charge of the church?” And we sought to answer that by saying it is that all authority resides in the Lord Jesus Christ himself. The first question we asked was, “Who or what is the church?” And in some of the response that I have since picked up to that, that in part triggers what I think is the necessity of backtracking for a moment or two and showing you that the nature of the church is something far more significant than the way in which many of us conceive of it. We have said that the church is a people. It is, if you like, a community of people who owe their existence and their solidarity and their distinctiveness from all other communities to one thing only, and that is to the call of God. If we miss that, then we’ve missed the very foundational element of how it is that God has determined from all of eternity to have a people that are his very own, and it is so vitally important that we recognize this. As we said a couple of weeks ago, that the church is not a human invention, but that it is a divine institution; and that when we look for the origin of it, we have to look back into eternity, realizing that God is then seeking to call out people for himself.

And indeed when you think about this great purpose of God, you look just at the very first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis, because it’s there in the book of Genesis that God comes first of all and calls out Abraham. He calls him out of his homeland, which is Ur of the Chaldeans. He calls his family again from Haran, and he calls them to go to another country and to leave his people in order to be made into a great people, and he says this very enigmatic thing to him. He says, “And Abraham, as you obey my call and as you go where I’m asking you to go, through your descendants, all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”[2] Now anybody in reading the Bible and reading the book of Genesis with a modicum of intelligence is going to have to immediately say, “What in the world does this mean?” and secondly, “How is it that God would fulfill the promise to Abraham that through the descendants of Abraham, this would have an impact on all the nations of the world?”

Now this promise, this covenant that God established with Abraham, he then confirmed to his son Isaac, and then in turn to Isaac’s son, Jacob. And when we talk about God as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Jacob,” and as we speak of him as a God of differing personalities and as a God of succeeding generations, we’re simply recognizing the way in which the Bible establishes this foundational element, whereby God is calling out to himself a people for his very own. Jacob, you will recall, died in captivity in Egypt, as did his son, Joseph, and I hope that at least some of you, who were present for our series in the life of Joseph, will remember the way in which Genesis ends—with the death of Joseph and with the instructions that he gives to those who will look after his demise. He says, “And I want you to carry my bones up from this place.”[3] And Joseph died at the age of 110, and after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt, but his great concern was that he would not be buried in Egypt, but that they would take his bones along with them because he was moving towards a destination.

Moses then stands on the stage of human history and is given the responsibility, as the descendant of Jacob’s son, Levi, to go to Pharaoh and say, “Let my people go.” He does that, and we have the exodus from Egypt. And then we have the word of God—and I’ll just quote it to you so that there’s no doubt about it—in Exodus 19:4and following on Mount Sinai, and God says, “This is what you’re to tell the house of Jacob, what you’re to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. And although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’” I want you to notice that phrase, “kingdom of priests and holy nation.” We’ll be returning to it. You then discover that the covenant that God has made is ratified, that the law is then given to his people. You will notice that the law is given after the exodus from Egypt. It is not given in order that they might be redeemed, but it is given to a redeemed community in order that they might then know how God intends for them to live. And with the covenant ratified and the law given, then the tabernacle worship is established.

Remember that through all of this, God has promised to bless all the nations of the earth.

Later on, you discover that the land which they have possessed is overrun. It is conquered. Later on you discover that they demand a king, and a monarchy is established; and you don’t have to go for very long before the whole mechanism ends in disaster, the reason being that God’s people have broken his covenant. They have rejected his law, and they have despised his prophets. If that has a fairly contemporary ring to it, we ought not to be surprised. The real challenge that faces his church in these days is right along the same lines: rejecting God’s law, despising his prophets, and breaking his covenant by our disobedience. As a result of this, the judgement of God falls; and after the disestablishment of the monarchy, you have the second Babylonian captivity. The people of God are carried away in chains. They’re taken into a foreign land. They say, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept as we remembered Zion.”[4] God does not abandon his people. In due course, he’s true to his promise to bless them. He calls them out of Babylon in the same way that he had called them out of Egypt, and he restores them to their own land, and you can read that in Jeremiah 16.

Now remember—and this is the key thing, and this is why I am reminding you of this—remember that through all of this, God has promised to bless all the nations of the earth. And the question is always, as you go down through the line of the Old Testament, “How is this going to happen? How is God going to bring this to fulfillment?” And all of it, you see, comes to pass in the Lord Jesus Christ, because the call of God to Abraham’s family from Ur to Canaan, the call of God to the descendants of Jacob from Egypt and out, the call of the remnant out of Judah from Babylon, all of these calls are a foreshadowing of what is about to take place in Jesus. And you see, it is imperative, dear ones, that you read all of your Bibles, that you read the Bible all the way through, that you don’t become just a New Testament–reading Christian. Because if you read only the New Testament, it’s like attending the second act of a two-act play; and having missed the first act, you bother everybody around you by saying, every time a character comes on the stage, “Who is he? Who is she? Why is she saying that? What’s she doing here?” And the answer is, “If you had got here for the first half, you wouldn’t be asking all these silly questions,” and so the kind of individual who only reads the New Testament will find himself saying, “But I don’t understand. But I don’t understand. There’s a missing link here. There’s something here that I have missed,” and of course, you have. Because all of this is pointing forward to a better call, to a greater redemption, and to a richer inheritance, and that’s why God has given us all of this in the Old Testament in order that we might create, if you like, a sense of expectation, so that as you come to the end of Malachi and you stand, as it were, on one side of the testamental divide, and you look out into the intertestamental period, you find yourself saying with all of the prophets, “Well, where is he who is to come, who will redeem my people, Israel? Where is this one that will come out of Bethlehem? Where is this great prophet? Where is this priest? Where is this king? Where is this ultimate exodus? Where is this fulfillment of God’s promise?” And through the death and the resurrection of Christ, God’s purpose to call out of the world a people for himself to redeem them from sin and to cause them to inherit the promises of salvation is brought to fulfillment.

And so the church is God’s people, his ecclesia, e-c-c-l-e-s-i-a. Kaleó, the Greek verb “to call.” Ek, the preposition “out of.” His church is the “called out of” ones. Called out of where? Called out of the world in order that they might be the possession of him. Called out of darkness into light. Called out of the burden of his wrath into the beauty of his mercy. Called out of lostness and waywardness into purposelessness and into joy and so on. And when you read the Bible, you find that the reference is almost constantly to this. Now I don’t want to belabor the point, but I do want to make it. For example, Romans 1:6. Paul is writing to the church at Rome. How does he address them? Verse 6 of Romans 1: “And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.” “What is it then that makes you so distinctive?” he says. It is this, that you have been “called to belong to Jesus Christ.” So that this idea of involvement in the church, of belonging to the church is, as we’ve endeavored to see, directly tied to being included in Christ; and that in the same way, when Jesus called his disciples in Mark 3:14, it says, “and he called the twelve to be with him that they might go for him.” And the call into the church is first of all, a call to Christ, and it is a call to union with Christ. It is a call to faith in Christ. It is a call to a relationship with Christ. Have you heard that call? Oh, I can call people to church membership, to an external affiliation with an entity, and to suggest that you might sign your name here or do this or that or the next thing—and it’s not wrong to do that, indeed, we do that and we identify ourselves with those who have done so, and purposefully—but the only significance that is to be found in that is grounded in the fact that God, from all of eternity, has been calling to himself a people who are his very own. When he writes to the church at Corinth, he says the very same thing, in 1 Corinthians 1:9: “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” So we’ve been called to Christ, and as a result of being called to Christ, we’re called to one another; and that’s why so much of the emphasis of the Bible is on the corporate nature of what it means to know God.

Now, let me just give you one other reference, because this could be tedious. 1 Peter 2:9. When you get there, you’ll say, “Well, I know this verse very well,” which is good. 1 Peter 2:9, and Peter says to those scattered believers to whom he writes in Pontus and Cappadocia and Bithynia and Galatia, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” Does that ring any bells for you in relationship to what I just asked you to remember from Exodus chapter 19? Remember he says, “I have borne you up on eagles’ wings and I have made you a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”[5] Isn’t this quite staggering, that Peter should then take the very same phraseology and apply it, not to ethnic Israel, but to apply to those who have been included in Christ? Why would he do this? Because the lights had gone on for him, and he understood as is clear in the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, that this is the fulfillment of what the prophet said, “that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh and that I will write my spirit into the hearts of those who are my own.”[6] So he says, “You’re the chosen people. You’re a royal priesthood, a holy nation of people belonging to God, in order that you might declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”[7]

And through the death and the resurrection of Christ, God’s purpose to call out of the world a people for himself to redeem them from sin and to cause them to inherit the promises of salvation is brought to fulfillment.

Now, if we can summarize that, what he is saying is, “God has called you to be a worshipping and a witnessing community.” So, the people of God are to worship, and the people of God are to witness, and all of this worshipping and witnessing takes place, as we said last time, under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is both the head of the church, he is the foundation upon which the church is built, and all of the metaphors that we discover in the New Testament, all of the pictures of the church, reinforce this, reinforce not only the authority of Christ, but reinforce this continuum that runs all the way through the Old Testament. For example, if you read the Old Testament and look for references to the bride and the bridegroom—and let me help you—in Ezekiel 16 and Jeremiah 2, Jeremiah 31, Isaiah 62, and so on, you will discover that God there uses the picture of Israel as his bride. If you go to the references in the Old Testament of the vineyard, you will discover again that God speaks of his people in that way, in the 80th Psalm and Isaiah 5. If you go to the issue of flock and shepherd in the Old Testament, you will realize that God speaks again of his people—in Isaiah 40, for example, in Psalm 80—in these terms. And in each case, it emphasizes the fact of God’s saving choice. He chose his bride. He planted his vineyard. He shepherded his flock.

Now, when you come into the New Testament, what do you discover? You discover that the Lord Jesus stands, as it were, on the Judean hillside, walks amongst the Jewish people of his day, picks up these exact metaphors, and applies them—where? To himself. You understand why the Jewish people were so concerned? “Who can say this, save God alone? Who does this man think he is? Why would he make such outlandish claims? He claims to be the bridegroom, and those who follow him are his bride?” Yes. “He claims to be the vine, and we are the branches?” Yes. “He claims to be the Good Shepherd, and we are the sheep?” Yes. See this amazing continuity? God from all of eternity is putting together a people that are his very own, and that’s why it is no small thing to say, you know, “I’m a member of the church.”  It is a mysterious thing. It is a wonderful thing. It is far bigger than a tiny plot of land on the corner of Pettibone Road in the middle of you know, Bainbridge, Solon, Chagrin Falls, Aurora, wherever the dickens we live. It’s much bigger than that, you know. No, no, it goes way back, and it goes way forward, and it goes way around the world. Why? Because of God’s saving plan.

Now, when you add to that the other metaphors—and I’m not going to deal with them all—but there are four that are the primary metaphors in the New Testament; and when you add them, you discover that it reinforces not only the relationship [that] God has established with his people, but it drives us to the implications of that relationship for our relationships with one another. One of the things that militates against the discovery of church in America is individualism, is that we think of everything in very individualistic terms. It has a plus, but it has a minus. It has the plus of freedom. It has the plus of endeavor. It has the plus of all of those things. It has the minus of isolationism. It has the minus of saying, “I really don’t need anybody at all.” It has the minus of saying, “You know, I’m my own man, and this is my own destiny, and I’ll be blowed if I’ll be involved with anybody else. This is my project. This is my life. I did it my way.” Well, when you read the New Testament, you discover that one of the great pictures is that of a kingdom. A kingdom. That’s a real problem again for folks who’ve rejected the monarchy. “Well, we don’t have kings.” I got news for you. Yes, you do. Yes, you do. No earthly king or potentate. Nobody riding around here on a big white horse ordering people around, living in a palace, but we have a King—Jesus. That’s why we sing, “All Hail, King Jesus.”[8] And the really significant issue for us is that we are members of his kingdom. We are kids of the kingdom. Colossians 1:13: “He has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, even the forgiveness of our sins.” You see how all of these things are interwoven. It is as we discover who Jesus is and why he died upon the cross that we recognize the dreadful nature of our sin. That it is abhorrent that we should try and go our own way, that we should try and live our own lives, that we should try and establish our own righteousness before God. And we look at the cross, and we see a man dying on the cross, a man of perfection dying on the cross, and we say, “Well then, why would a perfect man ever die upon the cross? Why would it be a sinless man who dies upon the cross? Surely it should be a sinful man who dies upon the cross.” Now you’re thinking—yes! “So, would a sinless man die for sinful men and women?” Yes. “Why?” In order that he might do for us what we could never do for ourselves, namely establish a righteousness before God that would be acceptable and in which we might be included. Now, when the lights go on in the life of a man or a woman, they say, “Well then, I long to know this forgiveness.” That’s where it starts. Not, “Oh I think I’ll go and join, you know, St. This or Mr. So-and-So’s establishment.” No.

We Are Fellow Citizens of the Kingdom

Do you have a passport? What does it say on it? You’re proud of your passport, aren’t you? You’re thankful for your passport, and so you should be. It is well respected around the globe. There is hardly a country in the world you’re unable to travel. But if you and I travel together on our passports, we will constantly be divided. There will be forms that you’re asked to complete that I don’t compete, and vice versa. As soon as we reach the point of entry into another country, we will be immediately divided. It will say on the U.S. passport, “Holders go here,” and the holders of European commissioned passports, “Go there.” It will only celebrate our distinctions. What is it that brings us together? The fact that there is only one King, and he’s Christ, and that we have been made kids of his kingdom, and that that is a more significant truth than any earthly passport than we can hold. That is a more significant truth than any other element that divides men and women from one another. Whether it is social status, which is anathema in the church. Or should be. “Well, of course we don’t associate with Mr. So-and-So, because Mr. So-and-So, you know, he wears his hat backwards. I wear my hat forwards. And this is the forward-hat group and you’re in the backward-hat group, you know.” “This is the black group. This is the white group.” I thought this was church. “Yes, but this is …” No, there’s no ‘yes, but ...’ Either we’re in the kingdom of the Son that he loves—which has got nothing to do with the color of my face or my bank balance or my abilities, and has everything to do with the righteousness of Christ—or else the whole thing’s a fabrication. You see, we don’t have to argue for the unity of the body of Christ. The invisible body of Christ is united. To be placed in Christ is to be placed under his headship, and the challenge of our journey is to see these physical expressions and local expressions of the invisible body conforming to that standard, which God has manifest for us in the kingdom of his Son.

We Are Brothers and Sisters in the Family

In the same way, we’re a family. God has put his Spirit within our hearts and we cry, “Abba, Father.” Who do we say Father to? The same person. So that means that we’re brothers and sisters with all of the pluses and all of the minuses that go with that. All of the challenges. All of the responsibilities. Loved ones, only the Holy Spirit can create this in a company of people. You can walk in here like you’re getting on the Hertz rent-a-car bus. You can sit looking straight in front of you, going to who-knows-where, and call that “church,” but I’m going to tell you, it’s not, and until God by his Spirit breaks down all of that significant externalism and isolationism and disengagement and chucks us all together, as it were, as brothers and sisters in Christ, then we’ve never even begun to scratch the surface of what’s going on. No wonder church is a drag for so many people, because it is like riding on a Hertz rent-a-car bus! In fact the Hertz rent-a-car bus has got more fellowship than the average local church, because at least you sit looking at one another. ’Cause you don’t sit in rows, now I come to think on it. And somebody bangs you with their bag, breaks your knee. You say, “Oh, for goodness sake, why are you doing that?” They say, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.” You say, “Don’t worry, I shouldn’t have reacted in that way,” and now we’re long lost friends. But not this. You understand what we do in this room, this is an opportunity for instruction. This is not “church.” This is not what “church” is. This is an opportunity to teach the church on a regular basis so that we might get everybody in one room and all say the same things. But this is not it, so, you don’t come in here for an hour and fifteen minutes saying, and then go out and say, “I went to church.” You went in a building that comprises an opportunity for the church to gather, and in this gathered church, all of these people have the same king, and all of these people have the same dad, and that is what brings the point of unity. Not a shared interest in a certain style of worship. Not a shared commitment to a certain way of life. Not a shared commitment to a political party or involvement in some particular way. All of that can be done without Jesus. All of it can be done without Jesus, and, frankly, is done without Jesus. But you can’t have a kingdom without the king, and you can’t have a family without the father, and you can’t have a building without the bricks. And we are living stones. The focus previously was on a temple; the focus now is on a spiritual temple. Jesus Christ is the only foundation. The focus was before on the Shekinah glory, hovering as it were over the Ark of Covenant, over the Ark of Meeting. What’s the focus now? Jesus says, “I’m going away. And I will send my Holy Spirit, and he will come and live within you.”[9] So God is building now a temple that isn’t made with hands.

We Are Parts of the Body

And also—and this brings us to where we’re supposed to be, with hardly any time to go. This helps us to understand why you would even use the picture of the body. This is Paul’s most prominent picture. It’s the only one that doesn’t have an Old Testament equivalent. Christ is the head of the body as we saw last time. It is as a result of Christ that the body has growth. It’s as a result of Christ that the body has guidance. Now I say to you again that the reason for rehearsing all of this is to make clear the mutual relation and the mutual duties which God’s people have. We are fellow citizens of the kingdom. We are brothers and sisters in the family. We are living stones in the building, and we are parts of the body.

Now, just to rehearse that says to me, I think we’ve got a lot of discoveries to make in this department, don’t you? Let me go through it again. We are fellow citizens of the kingdom. Do you feel more of a sense of connectedness with those who are your fellow citizens in the kingdom than you do with any other group of people? Do you have more of a sense of affinity with these who are your brothers and sisters than with any other group? Do you feel yourself more attached as a living stone and more attached as a part of the body? Because, you see, the responsibilities, which God has entrusted to his church, he has entrusted to the whole church; and this comes home forcibly in the portion that we read.

Now, let me say it before we close, just one or two things about this whole body metaphor. It’s a straightforward picture. There’s really no difficulty in understanding it. You read verse 12 through to the end of the chapter, and you realize that it takes many different parts to make up one body. You recognize that these parts inevitably differ from each other. You recognize at the same time, when you think the analogy through, that although the parts are different, it doesn’t impair the body’s basic unity. It actually enhances it. You think about it, and you realize that every part has a function to perform. At the same time, you recognize that some parts appear to have a more important function than others, and you also recognize that each part needs the other and can’t dispense with it. Now this is something that even a child can understand. In order to accomplish his work on earth, Jesus had a body of flesh and blood. In order to continue to accomplish his work today, Jesus has a body that consists of human beings, namely you and me. And the question is, “How does the invisible God become visible?” Well, in part he becomes visible as a result of the relationships that are established amongst those who are truly Christ’s.

Everyone Needs to Assume His or Her Responsibilities

Well, how does this body then function effectively? The same way your physical body functions effectively: by each part discovering its function. Number one: everyone, each part, needs to assume his or her responsibilities in the church. The average church has twenty percent of the people doing eighty percent of the stuff. We may be at twenty-five percent, but I can guarantee you we are not at thirty percent. Twenty percent of the people doing eighty percent of the stuff, and the average church in terms of giving has twenty percent of the people carrying eighty percent of the giving. If, for example, someday those of you who are inclined in terms of accountancy, take a realistic figure that is represented in our church gathering, then give to it a realistic, very nominal figure for earning capacity. Divide that nominal figure of earning capacity by ten. So let’s say you take and you say, “Well, we have 800 people,” and then you take a nominal sum, that is—and I haven’t done this at all so I don’t even know what it comes out to—and you have a nominal sum, let’s say it’s $30,000, and you take the $30,000 and you take that and you divide it by ten, which gives you three. And then you multiply it by 800, which gives you what? 2.4 million. So that’s what you would have if you just had people making $30,000 a year, giving $3,000 a year times a number of somewhere around 800. Then go ahead and factor in the fact that many people are making twice and three times that and go on from there, and then figure this: that 20 percent of the people carry 80 percent of the financial load, and then ask yourself where you are in the process. It is impossible for the church to function effectively unless each member assumes their responsibility. The responsibility to participate. The responsibility to take their place. The responsibility to add their voice. The responsibility to commit themselves and their resources because they’re members of the same kingdom. They are members of the same family. They are stones within the same building and so on. There’s just a total rightness to it. There’s no reason for major discussion. The brother gives the sister the money for the gas because they need the money for the gas—one has it, doesn’t have it—that’s the way it goes. The sister helps the brother, and so on. That’s family. That’s the way it is. There doesn’t need to be a big discussion about it. It’s just what happens when you understand family. Everybody knows, “I have a part to play.”

It is impossible for the church to function effectively unless each member assumes their responsibility.

Are you assuming your responsibility here at Parkside Church, if you’ve committed yourself and identified yourself as a member? Don’t kid yourself into thinking that you can exempt yourself, just because you believe that other people have an unjustifiable place of prominence, or because you think that your place is one of obscurity. Do you think God got it wrong? I mean, do you really think that your nose should be where your left knee is? Do you think that would be an improvement? “Well,” you say, “you could smell things that are closer to the ground.” There’s no question of that. Blowing your nose would be a little different and so on. If you think about it, there’s an amazing symmetry to the human body, and he argues, he says, the design of the human body in the way it functions is a picture of the way the body of Christ is to function. Here’s the question—not does brother “X” have too prominent a spot, or do I have too obscure a position—the question is this: “Am I in the place that God has put me to fulfill the function that God has given me?” That’s your question if you’re committed to the body of Christ. That’s your first question, your middle question, and your last question. There are only three questions on this particular test: number one, am I in the place that God has put me to fulfill the function that God has given me?

Everyone Needs to Accept His or Her Limitations

Secondly, if we have to assume our responsibilities, we also need to accept our limitations. Accept our limitations. Some of us have a problem on the one side—we don’t want to do anything. Others have a problem on the other side—we want to do everything. Remember the kid at school? When someone says when we need this done, said “I can do that.” We need to go over here, [and he’d say], “I can go over there.” We need to take this down the court, “I can take it down the court.” Oh, shut up. You can’t do everything. You’re a pain in the neck. Sit down. If you’re reading the Harry Potter books, the girl is Hermione. She can do everything—study everything, go everywhere—and eventually becomes tiresome. And within the body of Christ, there is no one individual who can do everything, no matter how godly they are, no matter how gifted they might be. And that’s what Paul is saying here. The body’s not made up of one part, it’s made up of many parts. If the foot should say, “I’m not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,” it doesn’t get out of being part of the body. If the ear should say, “Because I’m not an eye, I don’t belong to the body,” it wouldn’t, for that reason, cease to be part of the body.[10] Now, you don’t need to be a genius to figure this out. Any child can work it out. An ear has severe limitations when it comes to the task of threading a needle. You try and thread a needle with your ear. If you can do that, see me immediately after the service because I will have you featured, not only here, but also on the David Letterman Show. An eye has a limited role in a telephone conversation. You see somebody pick up a telephone receiver, stick the hearing part of it in their eye, and you’d say, “We’ve got a major problem here. This person doesn’t know what they’re doing at all.” Now when you get a grip of this, it’s very liberating because it frees us from the fear of other peoples’ criticisms, ’cause one of the biggest pains in the neck in the local church is that everybody understands what everybody else is supposed to be doing. Have you noticed that? Everybody can figure it out for everybody else, but they can’t figure it out for themselves. “Oh, I know where he’s supposed to be. Oh, I know what she should be doing. Oh, I know—why, tell my brother to help me! Why am I in here by myself, you know? Tell my sister to help me! Look where you’re supposed to be. Weren’t there? You’re supposed to be there!” Who made you the judge, for goodness sake? We have just said there is only one authority, and it’s Jesus. Who got you up on the throne, pastor? Elder? Nursery worker? It’s important for you and I to be where God wants us to be even if it’s not where people expect us to be. It is important for you and I to be where God wants us to be even if it’s not where people expect us to be, and one of the greatest tyrannies in the local church is living trying to fulfill the expectations of other people, and forgetting that we’re supposed to be fulfilling the commands and demands and opportunities and privileges that are given to us by the Lord Jesus, who never gives bad advice and who never puts us in the wrong spot.

And within the body of Christ, there is no one individual who can do everything, no matter how godly they are, no matter how gifted they might be.

For example, Luther was a bull of a man, a bluff and a hearty fighter. Look at his face in all of the pictures of Luther. He may even be in the thing there for Parkside, I don’t know. He was the other week, and you look at him and you go, “Whew, don’t mess with Luther you know. Ninety-five theses, nail them on the wall. Look out for Mr. Luther.” Here comes Luther. Who’s the little guy with Luther, the little guy coming along like this? “Hey, Martin, don’t say that. Don’t say that, Martin!” (“I’m going to reform the church … I’ll reform the church!”) “No, don’t do that, Martin! Don’t, you’ll get us in worse trouble than last week! Don’t do that! Don’t do that, Martin!” Who is this little guy? Philipp Melanchthon, funny little man, frail little man, scholar, genius, sensitive soul. Luther, by himself? No Reformation. Melanchthon by himself? No Reformation. Luther and Melanchthon? Beautiful. The bulldog and the scholar. Together. Not Melanchthon trying to turn Luther into himself, or Luther constantly saying to Melanchthon, “You know, I wish you’d pick it up, you little wimp. Stand up here, and let’s get the Reformation going.” No, Luther says, “Melanchthon, thanks. You saved me again. Thanks, Melanchthon. Thanks for saying that. Thanks for helping me. Thanks for the caution, ’cause I was about to go completely crazy again. I was going to hammer even more nails up on the door.”

What’s he saying? Neither of them could have fulfilled the function alone, but together they shook the church. There’s nothing more damaging when parents begin to say to their children, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” And we’re not talking character now. “Why can’t you be like your sister? Why can’t you be her? Why can’t you be him?” The person closes their bedroom door and says, “I would have thought it was perfectly obvious why I couldn’t be—because I am not.” And we’re not talking now about “in the nature of kindness” or whatever else it is. But it’s saying, you know, “Your brother was a great athlete, and all you do is sit on your rear end in here playing those dumb video games. Why can’t you be like your brother?” “’Cause I can’t catch a ball. ’Cause my knees do this when I run. ’Cause I look like the village idiot when I’m dressed up in those dumb clothes that you’re supposed to wear.” Do you know how many a life has been hampered, crushed, hindered, just squeezed into nothingness as a result of that? And you know how much that happens in the body of Christ? But let me tell you this. Jesus, the king, the head, the Father, the Lord, the master will never come to you with that kind of line, because he made you exactly as you are, in order that he might use you exactly as he planned.

Each of Us Must Recognize the Role That is Given to Others

Finally, each of us needs to recognize the role that is given to others within the body. The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” You see, you’ve got two problems that he identifies: the group that’s going around saying, “I don’t need you,” in verse 21; and the others that are going around saying, “I don’t belong,” in verse 16. That’s the story of the church. You go in the local church. You, someone says, “Well, come on now, we want you to step up.” “Well, I don’t belong. No, I don’t belong.” The other person’s over here saying, “Hey, I don’t need you. Get out of here. I can do this on my own.” And Paul hits both sides. He says to people who say “I don’t belong,” he says, “Of course, you belong. You were put in here by he who is the head of the body. You’ve got a part to play.” To the person who goes around saying, “You know, I don’t really need you.” He says, “Why don’t you sit down for a while, because you do need the other person.” The extrovert needs the introvert. The impulsive need the cautious. The inspirational need the analytical. The mystical need the practical. The old need the young. The prominent need the obscure. And what a perfect picture. The great thing about this message is you can all go home and do your homework. All you need’s a mirror, and you can do it fully clothed or in whatever posture of dress you like, but you just go home and take a long, hard look in the mirror. When you have finished your convulsive laughter, which will be an expression of genuine humility, ponder the mystery of the human body. Look at this, you know?

I was yesterday with Sue. We were somewhere, I can’t remember, we were in a restaurant I think, and I said to her, “Look at that man. Look at that man’s back,” I said. ’Cause he had his back to me, and she had her back to him, and he had a back, you know. He had too many backs. He had everybody’s back, including mine! I looked at him, I said, “There’s my back, you know. That’s what I should have. Why has he got one of those, and I got one of these? I can’t carry stuff the way I should. Look at him. He could carry a house. Look at that man.” Anybody prepared to have their feet photographed, and we’ll put them up here on the screen in the 6:30 service? Just your feet. Now, some of you ladies, presumably, the answer is “Yes,” because you spend money getting them painted, which is interesting, ’cause I’ve seen a number of your feet. Shoes are a good idea. But you look at them, and yet every single one of them is exactly where God wanted them to be. Even the one that’s like this, you know, where you’re looking for the toenail. “Is there a toenail on that thing? What is that? Is that a toe? What is that thing? Do you have four or five toes?” You say, “What are you going to do with those things?” I’m going to walk on them. I’m going to dance on them. I’m going to go wherever I can go with them. Every single part crucial.

You know the future of Parkside Church? It’s for you to sit down and say, number one: “Am I committed to this place?” My brothers and sisters, the good, the bad, the ugly, knowing everything I know. The good, the bad, the ugly. Knowing that there are no perfect churches. Knowing that there are no perfect pastors. Knowing that there are no perfect elders, for there for sure, are no perfect members. Knowing all that I know, then, am I committed? If I am committed, then have I discovered my function? And if I’ve discovered my function, am I in my place to fulfill the function that God has given me? And if not, am I part of the 80 percent that is content to ride the back of the bus while the other twenty percent jump on and off at forty different stops trying to take care of everything? And am I prepared then under the prompting of the Spirit of God to move from this majority position to the minority position, in the hope and prayer that if enough do, then the majority will become the minority, and the minority will become the majority, and Cleveland will reverberate with the impact of the gospel?

Father, out of an abundance of words, we pray that your voice may be heard as we think about these most practical issues; as we think about the wonder of your redeeming love from all of eternity; as we think of what it means to be included in Christ and united with him. Build into our hearts a fresh discovery of what it means to be within your kingdom, to be stones in your building, to be members of your family, to be sheep in your flock, to be branches in the vine, to be part of the body. And may our renewed study and discovery in this respect enable us to be better equipped to live in such a way that we might be the worshipping, witnessing community you have designed for your church to be. And may the grace of the Lord Jesus and the love of God our Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with each one, today and forevermore. Amen.

[1] 1 Corinthians 12:27 (NIV 1984).

[2] Genesis 12:1–3 (paraphrased).

[3] Genesis 50:25 (paraphrased).

[4] Psalm 137: 1, 4 (paraphrased).

[5] Exodus 19:4–6 (paraphrased).

[6] Acts 2: 16–21 (paraphrased).

[7] 1 Peter 2:9 (paraphrased).

[8] Dave Moody, “All Hail, King Jesus” (1981).

[9] John 14:15–17 (paraphrased).

[10] 1 Corinthians 12:14-16 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.