The Body of Christ

Reading: Ephesians 4.1-16
Whatís a "Church"? Well, thatís an easy one, isnít it? Itís the brick building on the corner of King St and Gloucester Rd. Itís the Buderim Uniting Church. Itís a special place where people meet to worship God. We all know that! Our Family Service meets in the hall. We worship God there too, but lots of other things happen there as well. The church is on the same block of land, part of the same property.

Gil Cann, in his book Liberating Leadership, writes, "Recently I stood on a busy city pavement waiting for a friend. Amid the busy throng of midday shoppers I saw a young mother pushing a stroller with two other small children in tow. As they passed I noticed the small boy point to a large church nearby. 'What's that, Mummy?' he enquired, asking what was probably his hundredth question for the day! His mother looked up at the building and replied wearily, 'That's a church.' I was surprised and saddened at the little boy's next question, 'What do you mean, Mummy? What's a church?'

"Amazingly, not only small boys, but even church members and leaders are often foggy about this very question. If we cannot answer clearly, we will never be able to understand how we can participate in what God wants to do in the world... What, in fact is a church?"

Gil Cann goes on, "A church is neither a building, a denomination, nor a group of people more decent and moral than others. It is a group of people who belong to Christ. They have received new life from him. As a result they lay down their lives for him, for one another and the world around them..."

The Unity of the Body

In today's reading, Paul begins by speaking of the unity of the Body of Christ. Because they belong to Christ, they belong to one another.

He writes, "Do your best to preserve the unity which the Spirit gives by means of the peace that binds you together. There is one body and one Spirit, just as there is one hope to which God has called you. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism; there is one God and Father of all, who is Lord of all, works through all, and is in all" (vv. 3-6).

A couple of weeks ago, we read from chapter 2 where Paul writes about the barrier that had existed between Jew and Gentile, "But now, in union with Christ Jesus, you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For Christ himself has brought us peace by making Jews and Gentiles one people. With his own body he broke down the wall that separated them and kept them enemies. He abolished the Jewish Law with its commandments and rules, in order to create out of the two races one new people in union with himself, in this way making peace. By his death on the cross Christ destroyed their enmity; by means of the cross he united both races into one body and brought them back to God" (vv. 13-16).

This is "the unity which the Spirit gives by means of the peace that binds you together". We do not somehow make this unity and peace - they are God's creation and gift. We are to value and guard them.

Baseball coach, Casey Stengel, commented: "It's easy to get good players. Getting 'em to play together, that's the hard part." And what's true in baseball is also true in the life and ministry of the Christian church.

Paul regards this unity as basic because of who God is. "There is one body and one Spirit, just as there is one hope to which God has called you. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism; there is one God and Father of all, who is Lord of all, works through all, and is in all" (vv. 4-6). We recognise Father, Son and Holy Spirit within the one God.

Diversity of Gifts

While the unity of the Body is important, it is necessary to recognise and exercise a diversity of gifts. I was never one for doing handstands, but I had friends who seemed to be able walk around on their hands for minutes on end - before the reality hit that really their legs were best suited for walking! Of course, paraplegics have to use their arms for mobility and can develop amazing strength and agility. But this substitution falls far short of the ideal.

"Each one of us has received a special gift in proportion to what Christ has given" (v.7), Paul writes. You are part of Christ's body and have a special gift.

"[Christ] appointed some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, others to be pastors and teachers. He did this to prepare all God's people for the work of Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ" (vv.11-12).

There are some with special "up-front" gifts - apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers... But the function of these gifted people is "to prepare all God's people for the work of Christian service." Too often we "put down" what we can do and refuse or fail to use the gifts that God has given us. But the Body cannot be built up on the basis of what the ministers, elders, and others with more conspicuous gifts seem able to do. The exercise of your gifts is important for building up the Body of Christ.

A chaplain who was ministering to a seriously wounded soldier was requested by the dying man to write a letter to his former Sunday school teacher. "Tell her I died a Christian because of what she taught me in that class in church. The memory of her earnest pleas and the warmth of her love as she asked us to accept Jesus has stayed with me. Tell her I'll meet her in Heaven." The message was sent, and some time later the chaplain received this reply: "May God forgive me. Just last month I resigned my position and abandoned my Sunday school pupils because I felt my work had been fruitless. How I regret my impatience and lack of faith! I shall ask my pastor to let me go back to teaching. I have learned that when one sows for God, the reaping is both sure and blessed!"

Never despise your gifts! Come to the Lord with your life and be available for his work in and through you. The Lord calls you! His Body needs you!

The Growth of the Body

Paul goes on to say, "And so we shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christís full stature. Then we shall no longer be children, carried by the waves and blown about by every shifting wind of the teaching of deceitful people, who lead others into error by the tricks they invent. Instead, by speaking the truth in a spirit of love, we must grow up in every way to Christ, who is the head. Under his control all the different parts of the body fit together, and the whole body is held together by every joint with which it is provided. So when each separate part works as it should, the whole body grows and builds itself up through love" (vv. 13-16).

This past week we have all shared a measure of shock at the disaster at Thredbo - and the excitement at the rescue of one survivor, Stuart Diver. His body has been saved from death, but has a long way to go to become functional again. Our concern and prayer follow him and the continuing search effort.

Christ gave his life on the cross in order that his Body, the church, might be saved. However, his purpose was not just salvation but to the end that his Body - united, gifted, empowered - would be functional to do his will in this world. Since he died, rose and ascended to heaven, we (all believers collectively) are the only Body he has here on earth to do his will.

Are you ready, willing and available? His gifting and empowering enables us. Let us love and appreciate one another and always be responsive to his will.

(c) Peter J. Blackburn, Buderim Uniting Church, 3 August 1997
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, (c) American Bible Society, 1992.

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