As winter approaches we read all kinds of suggestions of utilizing fuel and making our dwelling places warm. Here are a few pointers for keeping warm in church:
* Rush to the front of the church to avoid the draft in the rear.
* Invite your neighbors and friends, sit on one row, and don’t leave any spaces between each of you.
* Seat yourself near the pulpit; much hot air is emitted from that area.
* Fuss and fume when you don’t like what the preacher says.
* Wait for an unfamiliar hymn - then watch the sparks fly!
* Let the Holy Spirit fill you, it will warm your heart and body.
October 20, 2002 1 Corinthians 12:14-20
“Unity, not uniformity” (pt. 1)
A first grader went on her first day to a newly integrated school at the height of the segregation storm. An anxious mother met her at the door to inquire, "How did everything go, honey?" "Oh, Mother! You know what? A little black girl sat next to me!" In fear and trepidation, the mother expected trauma, but tried to ask calmly: "And what happened?" "We were both so scared that we held hands all day."
It seems that young children have the wonderful ability to see past how we are different and allow the ways that we are the same to draw us together so that we can help one another. Unfortunately, as children mature into adults, society teaches them that those who do not fit a certain pattern are not equal in value and are therefore to be ostracized and pushed down or away. Uniformity is prized, and diversity is avoided unless of course you’re talking about your financial portfolio. This has two effects on children. The children that do not fit the pattern tend to think of themselves as inferior – of less value, less to contribute and less of a future. The children that fit the desired pattern tend to get a superior attitude. “I’m better than you are. Move out of my way.”
There have been many times throughout history when men came up with what they thought was the perfect pattern for human beings. And whenever someone didn’t match that pattern, they would exclude them…or exterminate them. That’s what Hitler did when he decided that the Arian race was the only race that deserved to live and proceeded to destroy all those who didn’t fit this pattern. This kind of thinking can also be seen in the way that white people have treated black people and in the way that men have treated women – looking down on them and treating them as second-class citizens because they did not match a uniform standard.
We want everyone to be the same. We want everyone to look alike. We want uniformity. But God, in His creativity didn’t make us all alike. This idea from our society that uniformity is the goal that we are seeking after is nothing new. People that are different and don’t match some man-made standard have always been treated with a lower level of respect…even in the church. We want people that sing like us, think like us, believe like us and act like us.
That’s what the Corinthian church wanted too. That church “was divided where it should have been unified and tried to be uniform where it should have been diverse.” – John MacArthur Because the church was not uniform, and the members of that church had different gifts from one another, some of the people believed the lie that they were inferior to the rest of the group. Others had the opposite reaction. They considered themselves to be superior because they thought that they were of greater value to the church. In verses 14 – 30 of 1 Corinthians 12, Paul teaches that all the parts of the body of Christ are equally important. Neither an inferiority complex nor an attitude of superiority are appropriate responses for the people of God.
This morning, we are going to look at the first of these responses – the inferiority complex – and see 4 ways that such an attitude hurts both the individual and the church as a whole.
1. A spirit of inferiority prevents the parts from recognizing the value of their service. (vs. 15-16)
In the verses that we looked at last week, we discovered that another name for the church is the body of Christ. We are the means for Jesus to accomplish His will and mission here on earth. In this body, there are many parts just as there are in your body. You have hands and feet; eyes for seeing and a nose for smelling. In Christ’s body, we function as different parts of His body, and the part that we are is determined by the spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to us. If you have the gift of mercy, then you are a hand reaching out to other people to help meet their needs. If you have the gift of prophecy, then you are a mouth proclaiming the message that God wants the world to hear. If you have the gift of evangelism, you are part mouth and part foot. The foot carries you to people outside the walls of the church, and the mouth opens to tell them the good news of Jesus.
Just as in your body, some of the parts are more easily seen because of the function that they have, so in Christ’s body, some parts are easily seen, and others stay in the background. They go unnoticed and sometimes unappreciated. And since no one pays much attention to them, they begin to feel inferior to the rest of the group. They get down on themselves and their ministry. That was what was happening at the Corinthian church. Some of the Christians there were belittling themselves because they were not one of the parts of the body that they considered to be more important and more significant. Their gifts were not of the more showy types like the gifts of healing, tongues and prophecy, and consequently, their role was more “behind the scenes”. They had a spirit of inferiority.
A spirit of inferiority will eventually give way to a spirit of envy. They started looking around at the other parts of the body and the roles that those other parts were serving in. They started thinking about how nice it would be to be that other part. “If only I were hand instead of a foot, everyone would stop putting all this pressure on me. If only I was an eye instead of an ear, I would be able to help decide what direction the church goes rather than always being clogged up with wax.” They saw worth in the other person and their contribution to the body, but they couldn’t see their own worth. It didn’t matter how good of a part they were or how important that part was. They were never satisfied with the gift and the job that God had given to them.
The same thing can happen here at New Life Baptist Church. There are some jobs that are more easily seen and therefore get more attention and more pats on the back. When someone sings a beautiful song, they receive gratification from the “amens” or the applause of the congregation. The teacher of the adult Sunday School class has the attention and the admiration of the people that hear him. But what about those people who count the offering each Sunday morning. No one ever applauds the job that they do. Or what about the person who stays in the nursery watching over the little ones or the person that teaches the children in junior church – who notices them? And when you are that person, it is easy to get discouraged. It is easy to believe the lie that just because you are unnoticed, you are in some way inferior, and your job is less significant. It is tempting to think that if you had a more prominent job, then you would be more important to the church. Can I just tell you right now that each and every one of you are extremely important to the health of this church. And when you properly exercise your gifts whatever they are, you contribute to the growth of this body. Your response to the spiritual gift that God has given you should be to glad for it and faithfully use it rather than wishing that God had given you something different.
Since they had no control over what gift they received and could not have the gift that someone else possessed, many of the Corinthian Christians were practicing spiritual amputation. They were saying something like this: “My gift is second-rate and unimportant. I have nothing to offer, so why participate? If I can’t serve the way that I want to serve in a role that I feel is significant, then I’m going to take my marbles and go home.” Because they could not serve the way that they wanted to, they chose not to serve at all. They chose to cut themselves off from the body. That attitude does not reflect humility. It is self-centered, selfish, and an affront to God’s wisdom and love. - John MacArthur
Just because you say you are not a part of the body does not remove you from the body. You didn’t put yourself into the body – Jesus and the Holy Spirit did that - and you certainly can’t amputate yourself from the body. Once you have Jesus as your Savior, you are a part of the body forever. You can stop using your gift and pretend that the job that God gave you is not your job anymore. But “disclaiming responsibility does not remove it. Refusing to function as part of the body does not make us any less a part of the body or any less responsible for ministering within it. We have no right to remove ourselves from our God-given responsibilities just because we are dissatisfied with what we are and what we have.” – John MacArthur
Our oldest member is Garnet Palmer. She’s 92 years old. Many years ago, Garnet had a stroke that paralyzed her right arm. Garnet still has her arm, but it is totally useless. It refuses to work. That arm can’t do what it was designed to do, and it has become a drain on the rest of the body. It is still alive, so it uses nutrients that could be going to the rest of the body. When Garnet needs to lift it, she has to use her other hand to do it, so the left hand is doing twice the work that it was designed to do. That arm is dead-weight.
Whenever you choose to not use your gifts to function in the area God gave to you for whatever reason, you don’t remove yourself from the body. You become dead-weight for the body to constantly have to drag around with it all the time. You become a drain on resources that could be going to productive parts of the body.
A spirit of inferiority prevents the parts from recognizing the value of their service and causes them to not use what God has given them to meet the needs of the body.
2. A spirit of inferiority prevents the body from having all the resources that it needs. (vs. 17)
What would the body look like if the whole body was arms, or noses, or ears? Get a picture of it in your head. But the body has many parts and a variety of parts because there are many different jobs that need to be done. A body that was composed of all the same part could not possibly function.
If all Christians had the same gift and served in the same capacity, they might be great at doing that one thing. One huge nose could smell things really well. But since the church has many different functions, it needs different parts in order to be able to meet all of God’s expectations of the body.
When different parts of the body allow their spirit of inferiority to cause them to stop exercising their spiritual gift, then the body begins to suffer. The body needs all the resources that God has given it in order for it to fulfill the role that God has for it.
Every year, beginning with the falling of the leaves, Tammy’s voice betrays her. It decides that it doesn’t want to work anymore or at least not at full strength. So all the rest of Tammy’s body may be present in front of her class, but if her voice is not there or if it is not active, it will be impossible for her to teach. One member refusing to work inhibits the whole body from completing its mission.
In the human body, other than the brain, what would you say is the most important part? Would you say the heart? Or the liver? Or the lungs? The closer it gets to 12:00, the more people there are that would say that the stomach is the most important part. If we are talking about staying alive, you could probably find some parts that are more important than others. Your body can stay alive without a foot or an eye. But remember, we’re not just talking about the human body; we’re talking about the body of Christ. And we’re not just talking about a church that is still alive; we’re talking about a healthy church. For the church to be healthy, all the parts of the church have to be present and working together just as the Designer planned. When it comes to health, every part is important, so no part is any less or more important than any other part.
Every person that is here brings with them a resource that is necessary for the health of the whole organism. God has made you just as you are so that you will be in a position to meet a specific need of the body. Not everyone is able to be a Sunday School teacher to children. Not everyone has the outgoing personality to be a greeter as people come in the door. Not everyone has the patience or the strong stomach that is sometimes necessary to work in the nursery. Not everyone has been gifted to understand music so that you could be the sound board operator. But someone has each of these abilities, and as that person serves in his God-given capacity, the church is empowered to be all that God intended it to be.
In a certain mountain village in Europe several centuries ago, a nobleman wondered what legacy he should leave to his townspeople. At last he decided to build them a church.
No one saw the complete plans for the church until it was finished. When the people gathered, they marveled at its beauty and completeness. Then someone asked, "But where are the lamps? How will it be lighted?" The nobleman pointed to some brackets in the walls. Then he gave to each family a lamp which they were to bring with them each time they came to worship. "Each time you are here the area where you are seated will be lighted," the nobleman said. "Each time you are not here, that area will be dark. This is to remind you that whenever you fail to come to church, some part of God’s house will be dark." -- Church Bulletin Bits
A spirit of inferiority prevents the parts from recognizing the value of their service, and it keeps the body from receiving all the resources that it needs.
3. A spirit of inferiority prevents the parts from acknowledging the sovereignty of God. (vs. 18)
God does the arranging of the parts. God is in control. God has a place where you fit just right. This isn’t Mr. Potato Head where you can arrange the parts however you want according to what mood you’re in.
A panel of Women debated on what they thought was a perfect man, a guy who was ‘with it’. You would have thought they would have decided upon some actor or athlete even a wealthy tycoon. They decided that the perfect man was MR POTATO HEAD. 4 Reasons: ‘He’s tan, he’s cute, he knows the importance of accessorizing, and if he looks at another girl you can rearrange his face.
We don’t have that option with the body of Christ. God has already determined who is going to be what part and where that part is going to be connected to the body. But the believers at Corinth and believers today question whether or not they have been placed in the right position in the body. They either think that they have been placed in a position that is inferior to where they really belong, or they think that God is calling them to do something that they are inferior to ever be able to handle. In questioning God’s gifting, they are questioning both the wisdom and goodness of God. They are implying that God has made a mistake. God doesn’t make mistakes! He’s got you right where He wants you. He’s attempting to send you to the place where your gifts can best be used. But we question God, and we refuse His commands for action. “Questioning our spiritual gifts is questioning God, and not using our spiritual gifts is disobeying God.” Who knows better where you fit into the body – you or God? (Rom 9:20-21 NIV) But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ’Why did you make me like this?’" Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?
“[These Christians at Corinth] did not see their gifts rightly because they did not see the sovereign God rightly. They had not received their gifts by accident or whim.” God had a purpose and a plan. But they were unwilling to yield themselves to that plan. They were unwilling to submit themselves to the sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Two weeks ago, we looked at verse 1-11 of this chapter. We saw that when spiritual gifts are used properly, Christians will be united, needs will be met, and Jesus Christ will be lifted up as Lord. When a Christian refuses to use their gift, the real problem is not with the gift. The gift is not too small. The real problem is that they don’t understand how big God is. God is big enough to gift them how He wants and then to command them to use that gift in the way that He wants. When we balk at this, then we refuse to accept the Lordship of Jesus over our lives.
The Christian who refuses to use his gifts for ministry “is disobedient and denies God the right to use him in the way He intends and for which He has gifted him. When we refuse to follow God’s will and God’s plan we deny His authority and Lordship as well as His wisdom and goodness.”
Some people look at their physical bodies and question God’s goodness and wisdom in how He put them together. (illus. Girl who had brown eyes and prayed for blue eyes. She became a missionary to a group of Indians. One day, as she was looking at her brown eyes in a mirror, she realized that if God had granted her request, the Indians that she was working with would have never accepted her because they all had brown eyes.) God has put each of our bodies together just the way that is perfect for us to prepare us for the job that he has for us to do. God has put the body of Christ together perfectly too. We dare not question His authority. Instead, we must yield to that authority.
A spirit of inferiority prevents the parts from recognizing the value of their service, it prevents the body from having all the resources that it needs, and it prevents the parts from acknowledging the sovereignty of God.
4. A spirit of inferiority prevents the body from functioning as a unit. (vs. 19)
My body is composed of many parts. The only way for all those parts to function as one unit and be productive is if all those parts are “directed by one will. One will tells each part of the body to do what it is best designed and equipped to do, and consequently they work in marvelous harmony together.”- John MacArthur
But a spirit of inferiority causes the individual parts to substitute their will for the will of the body’s head. They will cease to do their work, and the whole body will cease to function as a unit. When one part of the body refuses to do its assigned task for whatever reason, it also means that those who are willing to work will not be able to accomplish everything that God had intended. The body will become unproductive. For example, if the hand is willing to work, but the muscles and ligaments in the shoulder and arm refuse, there is only so much that the hand will be able to do. It will take longer to accomplish it, and it will get much more tired doing the work than it would have if everyone had done their part.
When people remove themselves from active service in the body, it is because they are selfishly thinking only of themselves rather than looking out for the body. Spiritual gifts were given for the common good of the body (vs. 7) not for the good of the individual.
I remember watching a TV show called “That’s Incredible”. On that show, they sometimes would show video of a person who had been born with no arms. They would show that person using their feet to feed themselves and do other intricate tasks that hands normally would do. The body had adapted to the absence of its needed parts. When the hand doesn’t do its job, the foot can do that part, but it can never do it as well as the hand could have because it was not designed or equipped to do that job. And since the foot is tied up doing the hand’s job, the foot can’t be doing what it was designed to do.
Within the local body of believers or the church worldwide, 90% of the work that is done in a church is done by 10% of the people who attend. That says that 90% of the body is dead weight. How many of you could accomplish what you need to do with only 10% of your body functioning properly? “If most of the [church] congregation is inactive, the active members must do work for which they are not equipped…The only way the church can function properly is by [every person] using the Spirit’s gifts in the Spirit’s power.”- John MacArthur
When rescue workers were going through the rubble of the WTC, they found a lot of body parts and very few intact bodies. It was a horrible job to do. And then the medical examiner had the task of matching up body parts through DNA testing. It is a grotesque image to have in your mind, and I intended to make it as grotesque as possible. The thought of parts separated from their bodies, flopping around all over the place is the same grotesque image that God sees when He looks at some local churches and when He looks at the body of Christ worldwide. God wants all the parts united into one body working under the power of the Spirit and the direction of Jesus Christ.
A spirit of inferiority hurts the parts, and it hurts the body. “No Christian would be better off, or happier, with a showier or more prominent gift. We cannot be happy except with what God has given us, because He gives each and every one of His children the very best possible.” – John MacArthur, p. 314-316
A poor couple went hunting for a Christmas tree a short time before Christmas. After finding only trees that were too expensive, they found a Scotch pine that was okay on one side, but pretty bare on the other. Then they picked up another tree that was not much better—full on one side, scraggly on the other. They were pretty inferior really. She whispered something to her husband, and he asked if $3 would be okay. The salesman figured neither tree would be sold otherwise, so he agreed.
A few days later the salesman was walking down the street and saw a beautiful tree in the couple’s apartment. It was thick and well rounded. He knocked on their door and they told him how they worked the two trees close together where the branches were thin. Then they tied the trunks together. The branches overlapped and formed a tree so thick you couldn’t even see the wire.
"So that’s the secret. You take two trees that aren’t perfect, that have flaws, that might even be homely, that maybe nobody else would want. If you put them together just right, you can come up with something really beautiful." - Mike Royko, One More Time (University of Chicago Press, 1999), pp. 85-87; on PreachingToday.com
That’s exactly what God does with us. He takes us with all of our weaknesses and our inferior nature, and He binds us together with other inferior Christians to make the beautiful body of Christ. God has made you just as you are for a reason. No ministry is insignificant or unimportant when it is empowered by God and when it is done to bring glory to the name of Jesus.
The world wants us to be uniform. God has made us unique. But God does have one pattern that every Christian is supposed to match. That pattern is Jesus Christ. God doesn’t compare us to one another to see if we live up to His standard. He compares us to Jesus. When compared to Jesus, all of us fall short of God’s expectations. All of us are inferior. All of us are sinners. But God loves us anyway, and God wants to change us to be more like Jesus.
You may be here today, and you may have realized that you have never become of a part of the body of Christ. You do that by accepting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord of your life. If you would like to become a part of that body this morning, then you come to me when we start to sing.
Maybe you’re here, and you’ve been refusing to do something that God has called you to do. You’ve felt inadequate. You felt like God surely must have made a mistake when He called your name. God doesn’t make mistakes. Yield to His lordship today. Don’t fight the place and the gifting that God has for you.
How many of you would say today, “Lord, I don’t know exactly what my gifting is or what part you’ve called me to be in your body, but Lord, I’ll do whatever you want me to do.” If that’s you, would you let it be known by slipping up your hand.
You may be here today, and you’ve been experiencing those feelings of inferiority. You’ve been tempted to just quit what God has called you to because you don’t feel it’s making a difference, and you just don’t feel qualified to do it anymore. If God put you there, don’t quit. Don’t give up. Be faithful to fulfill that role that only you can fulfill.