The Body of Christ

  • Series: Single Messages
  • Author: Ray C. Stedman
Read the Scripture: Romans 12:4-5
Romans 12:4-5

4Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

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This morning, we are spending a little time together here, in the last few minutes of this service, on a theme I think is of transcending importance. You know the first thing that a new convert discovers when he comes to know Jesus Christ is the glory of the new light that's been imparted to him. I have had the privilege these past few weeks of speaking to many who have come to know Christ in the Crusade and in every case the thing that has impressed these new converts is the strange things that have happened to them within. There is an awareness of new forces, of new desires, of new urges. And of course, it is just the bearing out the truth that the Bible has long said, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." (2 Corinthians 5:17 KJV)

There is a second thing that they quickly learn. That is, that they not only have a new life themselves, but they share it with many others. They discover quickly they have become a member of a new society. They have become part of a new body. They've become members of the church of Jesus Christ. Now, I am not talking about signing any kind of a membership blank, or joining a local church all over the world. I am talking now about becoming part of that great body of Christ called the church. I think we need to change our definition of the word "church". To us, you know, churches, we think of as building oftentimes. We say, "I am going to church today." That means I'm going down to a building and sit there for awhile, to sleep, or listen to a message, or something, and that's going to church. Or we think in terms of an organization, or a collection of units in the denominations we call a church.

Now, you won't find anything of that in the New Testament. The New Testament does not speak of churches in that way. When it speaks of the church, it speaks of that one body born at Pentecost, and growing through the ages, as men and women are born anew by the Spirit of God and added to this new creation being formed, that the Bible calls the body of Christ. Now that is the church. It exists today all throughout the world wherever men and women have come into new life with Christ, they are made members the body of Christ, by a process that the Scripture calls the baptism of the Holy Spirit. You do not feel it. You never know when that takes place. There is no excitement, there is no kind of expression. There are no lights that flash, bells that ring, or tingles that run up and down your spine. When you exercise faith in Jesus Christ, in some mysterious way that no man fully understands , there come flooding into your being the very life of Christ, and also you discover that you share that life and are united with a great organism that the New Testament calls the body of Christ, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I think it is very significant that when the Lord wants to explain to us what this new society is like he takes our body as an example. The most marvelous thing in the whole universe today is the human body. There has never been discovered anything more intricately complex, more marvelous in its harmony and design, more wonderful in its amazing capacity, than this human body of ours, the most amazing thing in this far flung universe of God. It is rightly said that the human body is God's masterpiece of creation. You remember in Genesis after He had made all the heavens and the earth and fashioned the world and all the things there in it, then He came to the climactic moment when He stooped and took the dust of the earth and formed a body from it. And into that body He breathed the spirit of life and man then became a living being. .Now that was God's masterpiece. After He had made man, He ceased creating. He rested. He stopped His work.

And now you see, the New Testament tells us God is creating a new being. A new man so to speak. So Paul says of the church, we are God's poem is the word he used; God's masterpiece, God's creative act, now being fashioned into this new body called the church. Now I do not understand this. I do not know how this works. I do not know anybody who does. But I can testify , as many of you can testify, that there is some reality to the truth of this. It really exists. How can we, twentieth-century Americans, living thousands of years after the first Christians were here on this earth, be part of the same body and share the same life that they had? Well, I do not know. Nor do I know how it can be true, as doctors and scientists tell me it is true, that every single cell in my body as it stands here today was not in existence seven years ago. There isn't a single cell left that was here in my body seven years ago, and still I have the same body today. Every seven years they say the total makeup of the human body changes and all the cells die and it is renewed every seven years and still it is the same body. I do not understand it; yet it works that way. And all through these intervening twenty centuries of Christian life , Chrisians have been coming and going . They've appeared on earth and departed the body and gone away to their reward to glory and heaven and still the same body exists here on earth. It's an amazing thing, isn't it, when you think of it like that. This morning I'd like you to think with me together, briefly, about this wonderful organism, the body of Christ.

Now there are four passages, each passage empasizing different parts of the body. I can't spend much time on each. You're going to have to take these and study through yourselves. But I want to point out these four passages and show you the special emphasis each one gives about this special organism you have now become a part of, the body of Christ.

The first passage is found over in Romans 12. I'm not taking it in the order in which it appears in Scripture, but I'm selecting my own order here for my own purposes. In Romans 12 you'll find the apostle Paul talking about the body of Christ. We had it read this morning. I'll just call your attention to two verses out of it, verses 4 and 5.

For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.(Romans 12:4-5 KJV)

Now, in that section, we see Paul is emphasizing the unity of the body. All over the world wherever Christians are they are members of the same body, and we have the same life. Now, that's the first thing to notice in this passage. We're one body in Christ. The same life in every cell of my body in human life , isn't it? The same life pervades every part of your body, and so in this body of Christ we have the same life in every part of it. It is the life of Christ.

You remember when the Lord was with His disciples, in the Upper Room before he went to the cross, in the l6th chapter of John, Jesus said, "a little while and ye see Me no more" . What did this mean? He meant He was going to the cross, and then in a little while John would never be able to lay his head upon His breast again. Peter would never again be able to walk beside Him along the sea of Galilee. They would never again hear Him teach the multitudes as He taught before, never again sleep where He slept with them, and eat with Him, and talk with Him. A little while and they would never be with Him in the flesh as they were with Him before. Then he goes on, " yet a little while and ye shall see me". What did He mean by that? He means that when the Spirit of God that comes, on the day of Pentecost, He would be closer to them there than He was before the cross. Now, that's an amazing thing, but it's true. You know, it's quite possible for a man or woman today to know Jesus Christ more intimately, more personally, more thoroughly than any of His disciples ever knew Him before the cross. It's the experience of thousands today. Have you ever noticed in the New Testament how His disciples never understood what He said before the cross? How many times He said things and they didn't know what He meant; they went right over their heads, they puzzled over them, and they wondered about them, and they asked questions about them and they just didn't know what He meant. But when the Spirit of God came upon them, breaking in upon their amazed minds and understanding, and they begin to see all that He said, and all that He talked to them about, all of it begin to fit into the picture. From that moment they were different. They saw with His eyes and they spoke with His courage and they were aflame with His light. Now what was the difference before and after this event? Well, you see, after Pentecost they were sharing His life. They were members of His body then. They were drawing wisdom, courage, and power from the head; and He in turn was feeling all the taunts, all the insults, all the blows, and all the suffering, they were suffering in the flesh. They were all one life together.

Have you ever noticed how concerned your head is with what happens to the rest of your body? You ever get your toes stepped on? Physically, I mean. You know what happens, do not you? Down there where the injury is, the minute your toe gets stepped on, your head reacts. Your mouth opens and you shout, "Hey, get off!"or something like that. Maybe your eyes water a little bit, and your ears redden, and maybe your hair even stands up a little bit. I do not know. But the whole body is concerned about those little toes down there at the foot. Why? Because you have the same life in the toes as you have in the head. You're all one body. You know, it's amazing how the Bible tells us the head is concerned about all the rest of the body in this wonderful organism of the church. We share His life.

You remember that delightful story of the dear lady in Scotland who came to know Christ and some of her friends were twitting her about her faith. "Why, Auntie, you can't possibly believe that Jesus Christ has given you eternal life? What if He should let you slip? What if you come to your deathbed and He can't hold you and you slip right through His fingers?" She looked at them and she said, "You need not worry about that. I won't slip through His fingers. I am one of His fingers." And that is the truth of it. How can you slip through His fingers when you're part of His body? You share His body, you're part of His life. You know, Paul said something important. He said not only are we one body in Christ, but we're members of one another. Does that make you gasp a little? To think that you're sharing, intertwining life, with every other Christian on this earth today; to know that you are all members of one another. That's why Paul says over in Corinthians that when one member suffers, all suffer with it. If one of the members of your body is sore, if you get a sore finger, for instance; you can't let it suffer like a water-tight compartment and let the rest of the body feel strong. It all suffers together, you see. So, in the body of Christ, if one suffers, all suffer. If one is honored, all are honored. You can see that so clearly in this Billy Graham Crusade. You know how the honor and attention and focus that has come to Billy Graham has been transmitted, to some degree, to all Christians everywhere. And we have an open door to men's hearts, more than we ever had before, simply because a man of God, like Billy Graham, was able to grip the attention of the world. If one member is honored, all are honored with it. Likewise, if one is digraced, all are disgraced with it. Now, that is true of your actions. You are part of the body now, and if you suffer or are disgraced, to some degree. We all share the same life.

That is why it is nonsense when you hear, "Well, I'm going to be a Christian, but I think you can be a good Christian without ever having anything to do with church, or without ever going to church." Well, you'll be a Christian because you share the life of Christ, but you can't be a good Christian, a growing Christian, and be separate from the life of Christ in the church. I think it's like this story I heard of a man out in a lifeboat in the sea and the boat had been leaking. He got an idea if he bore a hole under his seat the water would drain out. So he proposed his idea and everybody else objected. He said, " do not get excited, what's it your business. I'm just going to bore the hole under my seat, not under yours." If you think you can live your Christian life outside of contact and fellowship with others, you are just as foolish as he was, because we are all members of one another. We need each other.

You perhaps heard of the pastor visiting a member of the church who hadn't been out for a long, long time. This was a wise pastor. He greeted the man at the door, and didn't say a word about not seeing him for a long time. They went in and sat in front of the fire. As they were talking, the man he was visiting got kind of unrestful. He just had a guilty conscience. Finally he said, "You know, I know why you came. I haven't been to church very much, but you know I believe you can be a good Christian without going to church. That's what I'm doing." The pastor didn't say a word. He reached out and got the tongs and reached into the fire, and got a coal that was aglow, ablaze with light. He separated it from the rest and laid it out on the hearth and as they sat and watched, it began to lose its fire and to fade. The glow was gone and at last it turned to a black lump before their eyes. And then the pastor got up, took his hat, and said, "Thank you, I'll be going." He didn't say another word. As he walked to the door, the man said, "Pastor, I see what you mean, I'll be out at church next Sunday morning." You see, we share life together. We need one another.

Now you get that stressed in this second passage that Paul takes up over in I Corinthians 12. We had Romans 12, now this I Corinthians 12. This is a great chapter, I haven't time to dwell on it at all. I'll just read to you several verses out of the middle of it that have to do with this theme. Beginning with Verse 13,

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, [That's the way this begins.] whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members everyone of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet: I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary. (I Corinthians 12:13-22 KJV)

I could read on, but I want to stop there. You read the rest of it yourself, will you? You see his argument. We're all one body, but we're not all the same within this body. How silly it would be if these bodies of ours were just one big leg. That's all! Just one big leg! It would be a leg, you see, but nowhere to go. What if our bodies were one big eye, and all we could do was see. How helpless we would be! Or suppose we were nothing but one big wiggling tongue. And all we did was talk all day long. Well, you see how silly it would be. The purpose of the body would be defeated.

Yet how often you hear Christians complain because other Christians are different than they are. Well, they ought to be different. The body needs different kinds of members in it. It wouldn't be a body if it didn't have that. I often think when I hear of this kind of things of that old nursery rhyme:

Some like it hot
Some like it cold;
Some like it in the pot
Nine days old.

That's how different we are about our desires, you know. Some like Bible study, some like evangelical preaching, some like loud prayers where everybody prays together, some like to read out of prayer books, some raise their hands when they worship, and others sit still as a statue and think it sacrilegious to wiggle a muscle. We all need each other. We here at Penisula Bible Church need the Pentacostals, we need the Presbyterians (believe it or not), we need the Baptists, Quakers, and African Methodists. We need all of them. They compliment us. We fill our own part in the body, they fill theirs; and we need one another.

You notice the argument of the apostle, "The eye cannot say of the hand, I have no need of you". You know, what if our eye did that in our physical bodies? All the eye can do is desire something. How frustrating it would be to see something that you desire but have no hand with which to reach out and take it. So the eye can't say to the hand, "I have no need of you". The eye needs the hand, as the hand needs the eye. And then he says this, and I think Paul was trembling when he wrote this, "Neither can the head say to the feet, I have no need of you". Who's the head of this body? Why, it's Christ Himself, resurrected living Christ, seated on the throne in glory; and Paul says that the head cannot say to the feet, "I have no need of you". Some of you might be feeling you're the feet here this morning. Sort of lowly and unimportant, maybe covered with dirt and unattractive, and you feel that, "if all I am in the body I'm just the feet; Paul said, the head up there in glory will never look down and say, "Look, I have no need of you". He says, "I need you! I need you! Just as you are, I need you!"

Will you notice verse 18, "But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him." That is, He chooses what part of the body you're going to be. You do not exercise choice in that respect. You're right where He wants you to be if you are in the body of Christ and He designates the functions you are to fulfill. It isn't our choice, but His. I think we need to hear that in these days when so many Christians are overpowered with the impact of the Billy Graham Crusade. I find many young Christians who think if they're not doing what he is doing they're not effective for God. That's not true! I think Billy Graham is the lips for God in the world today. He is the voice of God. He's part of the body that our lips are, where people see them move, and hear the voice, and are affected by it. That's important in the world today. But so are the silent members of our body. All necessary, all equally valuable in God's sight. What a terrible body it would be if the body were nothing but lips, that's all. We need ears and eyes and hands and feet and organs of every type. So it is in the body of Christ. Now, these are simple truths; but I hope you will deal with them simply.

Now let's move on quickly to another passage, Ephesians 4. Now this passage is emphasizing administration of the body. He says, starting in verse 8,

Wherefore He saith, When He [speaking of Christ] ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." (Ephesians 4:8 KJV)

And He gave some apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come into the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13 KJV)

Now, you see here, he's talking about what makes the body work. He names certain offices. You can call those the muscles of the body of Christ; apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. What are they for? Well, they are to obey the orders of the head and direct the activities of the body; and thus the whole body is directed, you see. It's not the muscle that does the work. It is the hand that is reaches out and grasps things. But it is the muscles that move the hand. You may be part of the hand of Christ, reaching out to other people; but you are to move under the direction of these administrative ones in the body who are the muscles that respond to the direction of the head, you see. Fortunately, the body is not all muscle. Some of us think ours is, from the neck up anyway. The body is all controlled by muscle, but the orders always come from the head. I like the way Dr. McGee puts it. He says, "Doctors tell us muscles wait for orders from the head to the nerves before they act. If you touch something hot, the fingers send a message up through the nerves to the brain. The message says, "You know, it's hot down here" and then waits until the message comes back from the brain that says, "Get out of there!" So you get out of there. You move!" The muscle does not act on its own. It waits for orders from the head. How perfectly God has designed our bodies to illustrate this truth in the church of Christ. We're to wait until we get orders from our living head as to where we are to move, what direction our work is to take, and all. Then the whole church is to respond as those within the church in positions of authority, seeking the mind of the Lord, understand what the head wants. You see this illustrated in Acts 13, that wonderful chapter, where the church at Antioch, were waiting before the Lord, and the Spirit of God said, "separate unto Me Paul and Barnabas unto the work for which I have called them" and the Spirit, the head of the church, was directing there what the church was to do; and the whole church responded there. That's the administration of the body.

Now, one other last chapter here, and you'll understand that I am handling this in a very cursory fashion this morning, I can only touch the high spots; but in another great passage, probably the greatest of all, when it comes to the truth of the body of Christ, is the 17th chapter of John's gospel, you'll find our Lord Himself setting forth the purpose of the body. This is wonderful! I want you to listen as I read these words.

Jesus says,

Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me. And the glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them; that they may be one, even as We are one: I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me. (John 17:20-23 KJV)

Now, what's the purpose of the body? There's a great deal we could spend time on in that passage; but you will notice it twice. Jesus gives the purpose for which He will form this new and marvelous thing, His body. Verse 21, "that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me", and again in Verse 23, "that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me". That's the purpose of the body. Have you ever noticed that when Jesus came into the world He was born in a human body; we could say that was the body of Christ in that day. The body born of Mary and cradled on her breast. The book of Hebrews tells us that He came into the world He paused on the threshhold of this world and He said something. This is what He said, "sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not", speaking to the Father. That is, these sacrifices that have filled in the Old Testament days, they do not mean anything to You. Then He said these words, "But a body hast Thou prepared Me". Now you tell me that that was His body that was sacrificed on the cross, and you're right; but there's something more there. You find all through the gospels that Jesus constantly had a sense of limitation about the body of His flesh. Remember He said, "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and oh how I am straitened until it be effected". That is, how I am limited and how I am circumscribed, how I am hemmed in here until it is accomplished. You remember when the Greeks came to see Jesus. It says that He hid Himself from them. Why? What made Him angry on the way to the tomb? He said on that occasion, " a corn of wheat must fall in the ground and die first" , then you'll see what's in that. He wouldn't let the Greeks see Him until He'd been freed from this body of the flesh. You remember on the way to the tomb of Lazarus, John tells us that He was moved with emotion. The Greek there means He snorted with anger, like a horse. He was angry. He just cried out in anger. Why? Because He saw this awful enemy, death. He wanted to lay hold of it that thing, but He could not do it right then; other than raise Lazarus up from its grasp. But He was looking forward, He was anxious, He was crying out for the cross so that He might lay aside the body that He came into the world with. Oh, He took it again, when He went into glory., but He took that body up into heaven; and He's waiting for the formation now of a new body, you see, with which He's going to accomplish all the work He ever dreamed of on earth. Now, that's the body we're talking about today. That limited human body of His was laid down in death, resurrected afterward, and was raised into glory. It's now in heaven.

But on earth, where is the body of Christ. Well, He has a body. It's a body that can reach the world. It's a body that has arms and feet, and eyes and lips, and tongues and ears; and with it Jesus longs that the world may know and believe that the Father has sent Him. Now, what is your body for? Isn't it to express your personality, to reveal your character, and your thoughts, and the spirit's cravings within you. If your body is unable to respond, how can you make yourself known to someone else? Your body is the means of doing that very thing. We sometimes hear of cases of total paralysis of the body. What a tragedy they are! The spirit within is still strong and keen. The mind is still quick and understanding. The desires are still strong, and the personality is vivid and resolute within. But you look at somebody totally paralyzed and you can see the agony staring out of their eyes, as they realize they are unable to express themselves. They're hemmed in, they're limited by the unresponsive body in which they live. You know, Paul says, "Now ye are the body of Christ and members in particular", and when every member of the body of Christ is at work, alert, doing its prescribed work, sharing the same life, working together in obedience to the head; it is then the world begins to know who Jesus is.

Hasn't this been made clear to us in this great campaign? Why is it that miracles are accomplished today that were never possible before Billy Graham and the Crusade came here? Because it was the first time that the body of Christ in the Bay area began to unite together and to show forth the united testimony of the sharing of the life together. It is that which has created the atmosphere that has allowed the world to see the glory and the beauty of Jesus Christ.

Now shall it all end after Billy Graham leaves or will we not realize that every other Christian around this area, or around the world, wherever we come into contact with him, is part of our own life. We're members of one another. And as we treat them like that, the world will begin to take note that on earth, among human lives, the revelation of the person of Jesus Christ, the body of Christ at work. May we bow in prayer.

Prayer:

Our heavenly Father, we thank you for the marvel of this wonderful body that Thou hast constructed among men. Lord, we thank you that we are privileged to be a part of this; sharing the life with our Lord Jesus Christ, our great head. Now, make us aware, Lord, of our part. Help us to be active and at work; remembering that no only is the whole church the body of Christ, but within our limited sphere, we here in this building this morning are the body of Christ; and as individuals we go out and are in contact with the world. We are to them the body of Christ as well. Make us aware of this, that the Lord Jesus may be made clear and plain in these days. In Jesus' name, Amen.

(Grateful appreciation to Ellie Leitch for transcription - August 2006)

Title: The Body of Christ Author: Ray C. Stedman
Series:Single Messages Date:June 8, 1958
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