First Corinthians: Some Assembly Required
Topic: As A Body of Christ
When I became a parent, I knew that I would have to become familiar with a lot of new and different things. I had to learn the best way to put on a diaper and how to make sure my kids are secure in their car seat. I had to learn the best way to warm a bottle and figure out the sweet spot of where on my shoulder to put a burp cloth when I burped my little guys. One thing I didn’t really expect I’d have to use very often but did, was my toolbox. Now, I’ve been pretty upfront about this with Y'all: I am not a handy kind of guy. I’m better suited as the guy who stands next to the person who knows what they’re doing and nodding every now and then, or, maybe offering to get them a drink. And I’m fine with that. But having kids has forced me to become well-versed with my toolbox. I swear, only like 1 out of 10 of the things I have had to buy for the boys has come put together. In every other case, I have had to read those awful words when I open the box: Some Assembly Required.
The crib, the play swing, the bouncer, the high chair. I think the top dog of them all – of all the kid things I’ve had to put together – has got to be the swing set in our backyard. It’s a simple two-swing, one-slide swing set, but it came in a box containing what had to be close to 100 pieces. I actually recruited the help of some of our youth group students to come over and help put it together with me. Don’t worry, I compensated them very fairly: All the pizza they could eat. That swing set took us all day to put together. We had to constantly go back and reread the instruction manual, hold up certain pieces together to make sure it looked right, and occasionally come up with some more…creative make-shift solutions. But now that swing set sits in our backyard and brings joy to Isaac, and in the future, Levi as well. And I love the fact that literally every time we go out, Isaac plays on it and says to me, “Daddy, my friends came and helped build my swing set.”
We had to take a whole bunch of different parts – various shapes of wood, plastic pieces, countless nuts, bolts, and screws – and assemble them in just the right order to create something that was meant to bring joy and happiness to a child. Different parts fitting together to produce something meaningful. That’s what we’re talking about this morning.
We’ve got two weeks left in our message series out of First Corinthians. Today, we are looking at a passage that should sound familiar, if this isn’t your first time here. Doug read for us the first half of chapter 12 – the half that focuses on spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are something we’ve been talking about for about a month now. I’m going to read the second half of chapter 12, starting at verse 12.
* Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 *
This chapter of 1 Corinthians works a lot like a puzzle. The first half lays out all the pieces and the second half shows you how they all fit together. In that first half, Paul covers the scope of what is called spiritual gifts. For the past four weeks, we’ve been looking at these gifts extensively in our class in the Great Hall. For this message, I only want to say a couple of things about it. We are told right off the bat that these are gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit, and each gift is a manifestation of the intentions and design God has for the world. In other words, God gives Christ followers innate, unique aptitudes, so that we can bless the world. Second, there is a rich variety of gifts. From administration to prophecy, we hear about gifts of all kinds, but they all fall within that first distinction I just mentioned. Each gift is given by God and for the sole purpose of sharing God’s love. And lastly, take the spiritual gifts test if you haven’t yet. I’ve been saying this for weeks. I said it last week. I can see the names and top 3 gifts of the 80 or so people that have taken it already. That also means that as I look out at all of you, I know who hasn’t taken the test yet. So come on, take the test. We’ve even added the student version of the test to our website for our middle school and high school students.
Let me give you an example of what’s at stake if you decide not to take the test. How many of you like puzzles, like jigsaw puzzles? Ok, a bunch of you. Caitlin and Isaac love them. I’m willing to bet that there are few things more disappointing and frustrating than finishing a huge puzzle only to realize you are missing several pieces. Missing puzzle pieces – that’s what is at stake if you don’t take the test. Because as we continue to try and fashion together the mosaic of God’s call for our church, we can’t afford to have any missing pieces. Don’t be the missing piece. Take the test.
Alright, so in the first half of chapter 12, Paul tells us about all the different gifts – the different pieces of the puzzle – that God has designed. In the second half, Paul shows us the box the puzzle comes in so we can see what it’s supposed to look like. Paul uses the analogy of the human body. All the different parts of the body and yet each holds not only its own unique purpose, but they collectively work together to form the impact and lasting presence of a life. But all of these parts need to be assembled together for that to take place.
Paul is very clear about what we’re building to here. In verse 12, Paul says that all the parts form one body just as it is with Christ. In verse 27 he says this, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” What’s at stake is the physical embodiment of Jesus in this world. What’s at stake is our neighbors and our friends and the strangers we encounter every day being given the chance to see the love and truth of Christ in the flesh. This is why we want you to take your spiritual gifts so seriously. It’s why I don’t want you to be comfortable with your commitment to God being summed up only in the pew you’re sitting in right now. Jesus came to this world, brought unbelievable healing and truth to this place, suffered on a cross, so we might be saved, rose from the grave so that a final declarative truth might be made known to the world, and then we’re told he returned to heaven. But don’t misunderstand. Jesus returned to heaven but he has never left this world. No. Jesus gave us His followers, the Spirit of God, and asked us, called us, to be his hands and his feet and his heart in this world. All of us. Each person, each gift, each part of the body. As Paul reminds us, however, there is just some assembly required.
To achieve our maximum potential, to be everything that we were made to be, we need each other. The church is not a building. Buildings have no life, no breath. They are walls and appliances and foundations. The church is a living thing. An organism. A community. A body. Made up of many parts. Paul says we are supposed to have concern for one another, that if one part suffers than all parts suffer. Consider this: If you fall and scrape your knee, you use your hands to apply ointment and a bandage. You use one part of your body to care for another part. The church, the people of God, are designed to care for and support each other using our unique positions in life and the God-given gifts the Lord has given.
This is why we talk about small groups and why we put so much effort and energy into ministries for our kids and our students. It’s why we do congregational meetings and why we ask you, every week, to fill out the pew pad. It’s why we’re emphasizing spiritual gifts so much right now. And it’s why I’m telling you that we need you. Because there is so much at stake. For you personally. For the church. For our neighborhood. For the plans, God has for this world. If one of you decides you’re too busy or that you’re comfortable only “giving the church” an hour of your time each week, you become the missing puzzle piece that leaves the masterpiece undone. You might be the hand needed to heal another part of the body. You might be the eyes designed to give us sight for what the next 150 years of First Pres will look like. You might be the mouth that speaks God’s will in a difficult moment. You might be the arms meant to embrace the next generation. And I don’t just mean adults with that one. Students, you can be the smile and the hands and the heart of God to our little ones.
We’re all different and so are our gifts. God designed us that way. God’s vision for the church was always one saturated with diversity and variety, in as many ways as we can imagine. I think that’s why Paul goes on at the end of this chapter ticking through the different roles and gifts. Paul is reminding the church of Corinth, reminding us, that none of us are the same and yet that all of us are vital. The way Paul does it is actually kind of tricky. For one thing, it makes us think twice if we’re tempted to think that someone else will just fill in for where we’re supposed to serve. No, not at all. We are not all given the same gifts. And the same goes for those who might feel like their gift isn’t as glamorous or as important as someone else’s gifts. Stop it. Every gift fits with the others, just like the parts of the body. Paul even says that certain parts that we think are less honorable actually have a special honor the other gifts don’t enjoy.
This is God’s great design. This is the movement that Jesus started when He gathered together His first followers and then left them in charge to start the church. The same church that we are. Again, in our hearts and our community – not simply the building. And it takes every single one of us. Different people, different gifts, different pieces, different parts. Unique but designed for community and cooperation.
Yes, there will be bumps and sometimes the parts will get in the way of one another. Sometimes those puzzle pieces will need a little push from God to fit together. And, yeah, it takes work and effort. But what we can accomplish is worth it. Because the alternative not only leaves our own potential untapped. It leaves the church a little less potent, and the example of Christ a little less present. It leaves the puzzle incomplete and missing needed pieces, and it leaves the body without a vital part. We’re all a part of it – this thing God is doing. Even if there is some assembly required.