A supply preacher for a small town Texas church came in early on Sundays, preached a sermon to the congregation, and then left after lunch. One Sunday he arrived earlier than usual, so he sat down at a local donut shop, opened his Bible and went over his sermon notes. A man sitting down the counter said, “You a preacher or something?” “Yes,” he replied, “I preach at the Christian Church here in town.” The man got excited and said, “Hey, I’m a member of that church.” The church was small and the supply preacher knew all the regulars so he said, “I’ve been preaching there for about three months and I’ve never seen you there.” The other fella gave the preacher a strange look and answered, “I said I was a member of that church. I never said I was fanatical about it!”
Ok, so here’s the question. Would you feel like your hands were fanatics if you woke up every day and they were still attached? How about your feet? Would you think your liver was over-the -edge “too committed” if it stayed in place and did its job, day in and day out? How about your eyeballs?
If you answered no to all of those questions, then you are still in your right mind. It has not left you. So, get this. The church is compared to the human body in the Bible. Paul uses a metaphor to compare each individual member of the church to an individual body part: an eye, a foot, an ear, a hand, even a head. (Which gives us assurance that he is speaking in this chapter, 1 Corinthians 12, about the local church body, not the universal church, for which there is one head: Jesus.) The church is also compared to a flock of sheep. That’s why Peter wrote to the elders of the church and said, “Shepherd the flock which is among you.” No shepherd goes out and just finds random sheep and feeds them, or worse, takes them home as his own. That could get a man arrested. No, the shepherd knows the sheep that belong to him, and they know him as well.
Here’s the point, three of them in fact. One, we need to be connected to one another in the church just like the feet need to be connected to the body. Connected feet stay healthy; disconnected feet die. The body needs the feet, also, to do its work effectively. The body cannot do all that it is designed to do when one of its members is not able to carry its weight, so to speak. In the same way, the church needs its members to be there, be committed, and do what they have been uniquely gifted by God to do, for the sake of the gospel.
Point number two, the body is in this together, for good or for bad. The Bible says, “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.” Don’t believe it? Smash your thumb with a hammer this afternoon, you know, just as a biblical experiment. See if the whole body doesn’t suffer along with it. See if the whole body doesn’t stay awake half the night with the thumb. It is the same with the church. When one member is suffering, either because of willful and unrepentant sin, or because of trials and tragedy, the whole body is affected. That’s when the body also does some of its most important work, to heal the offending or the suffering member. That’s where point three comes in.
The members of the body care for one another. Just like your right hand acts in kindness toward your left foot by removing a splinter. The local church cares for its own. The church also reaches out to those who are not connected and invites them to meet Jesus, and to join the local body.
Church membership matters. You don’t have to be fanatical about it. But you do need to get connected.
My favorite place at the Myrtle Beach marathon several years ago was the pre-race expo, and especially the bumper stickers that were for sale. One said, “If you find me on the road, please drag me across the finish line.” Or, “If you can read this, I’m not in last place!” Or, “This IS my race pace.” The next morning, I saw people holding some of the same signs, and many others. Some were signs of encouragement for the 6,000 runners who passed by. Some people were just trying to be funny, and they were. Like the guy just a half a mile into the race whose sign read, “One. Lousy. Parade.” Then there was the lady holding up a sign about 10 miles in that said, “My husband knows a shortcut.” Or the one that said, “The Kenyans finished an hour ago.” Some were meant to be funny, but just were not. When I was in the most pain of the race, around mile 24, I passed a guy standing on the side of the road whose sign read, “Is that all you’ve got?” The most encouraging sign I read said, “I am exactly .3 miles from the finish line.” That was a sight for sore legs. The only sign that was better than that was the one I ran under that said, “Finish.”
Paul holds up a sign in his first letter for Timothy, who was a sometimes fragile, sometimes discouraged young pastor, that says, “But you, O man of God.” Man of God! “Timothy,” Paul seems to say, “Remember who you are. You are a man of God.” I wish we could know somehow what effect that had on Timothy. Did he break into a huge grin when he read that? Or did he break down and weep in relief and thanksgiving?
More importantly, would the testimony of God and his word be the same for you? What is your identity? Are you a man or woman of God? Would you be able to say with confidence that you are one of his “peculiar people,” as Peter refers to believers? If you are born again, having been purchased by the peculiar and unique manner of the blood of the Savior on a cross, you are a man of God or a woman of God, no matter your age. You have been made to “stand” because of what Jesus Christ did, not because of anything you have done or ever will do. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”
How are we able to stand? By grace. How do we get grace? Through faith. But where does faith come from? Through our Lord Jesus Christ. What is the result of this grace applied to our lives? We have peace with God. How? We have been justified (declared just and righteous, because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us). What can we do as a result? Rejoice in hope of the glory of God!
This is why Christians around the world celebrate the risen Savior every day. Jesus Christ hung on a cross for six hours one Friday, was dead and buried from 3 p.m. Friday until sometime before dawn on Sunday, and then he rose from the dead. He appeared to Peter, to the other disciples, and to more than five hundred at once.
Do you know Him? If you do, then you know what many in the world can only dream about. You know who you are. If that is “all you’ve got,” as the sign declared to my weary soul on a Myrtle Beach street, then that is plenty. It means that you are standing with the One who conquered sin, death, and the grave. There’s no better finish line in all the world.
“Religion begat prosperity and the daughter devoured the mother.” Kent Hughes explains Cotton Mather’s quote by saying that when a person comes to Christ by faith and is born again, his life is turned upside down. Old bad habits are replaced with new good habits of faith and love and hard work and gratitude. He becomes a better worker and manager of resources as he lives out the Scriptures, which results, often, in economic prosperity. The tragedy is, in many cases, “new prosperity and material wealth devour the same Christianity that gave them birth — especially in the second and third generations.”
This is why Paul in Scripture gives a stern warning to all who are “rich in this present age.” By the way, if you are tempted to stop reading because you don’t think you are rich, consider this. The average household income in Alamance County is around $43,000 per year. That income is in the top 1.72% worldwide, which means we are richer than more than 98 percent of the world. What should we do about it? According to Paul there are attitudes to avoid and actions to adopt.
Avoid being arrogant. It just goes with the territory that those who have look down on those who don’t have. If you live in a house, you look down on those who live in a trailer. If you live in a trailer on your own land, you look down on those who live in an apartment! And so it goes. But we are commanded in Scripture to put away arrogance and a haughty spirit. After all, “what do we have that we did not receive?”
Avoid trusting in uncertain riches. The more we have, the more we have to fight against finding our security, and even our sense of self-worth, in our possessions. This deadly downward spiral never ends well and can only be corrected through repentance and acknowledging God as the owner of everything, including the very breath in our lungs. He alone is worthy of our trust.
The actions to adopt begin with this simple command: “do good, be rich in good works.” I knew a dear lady who is with the Lord now, but she used her income and her nice home to show hospitality to people she knew who did not know Christ. She would invite several couples over for dinner and a conversation about things of faith. I know a couple here in town who own several properties that they invite people going through difficult trials to live in for a while, as they teach them to manage their money and their lives in a way that is healthy and productive. You know people like that as well. Are you one of those people who lives on less so that you can help others who have legitimate needs?
Paul then says to us we should be “ready to give, willing to share.” It is sad that though Americans have the largest incomes in the world, we also saddle ourselves with the most debt. As Dave Ramsey says with a smile, “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t even like!” Why not put yourself in a position where you are ready to give by getting out of debt as quickly as possible, while at the same time beginning to give to the work of your church, to global missions, and to local needs?
Don’t get devoured by your own prosperity. I believe that those who learn to give will one day be met in heaven by the beneficiaries of their giving. That is worth the sacrifice.
A man that looked like he could play defensive end for the Panthers approached me after a meeting two weeks ago in Chisinau, the capital city of Moldova. One of the things I had taught that evening (with my son, Caleb) was how important it is for a man to pray with and for his wife, out loud, often. Even daily. We talked about the privilege and the responsibility a husband has to love his wife, and that includes praying for her. I told a story of how God had humbled me years ago, when Cindy was going through a trial. I knew that it was not enough for me just to pray “in my head” or in private, for her. She needed to actually hear me praying for her more often. She needed me, and God wanted me, to speak Scripture over her as I cried out to God for her. It was humbling and at the same time, it was one of the best days of our marriage when I decided to obey the Lord in this.
I told the men that night that I know most Christian husbands do not pray out loud for their wives. Some are afraid they might say the wrong thing. Some are embarrassed to be that vulnerable. Some are too busy. Some just refuse to do it. We reasoned with the men from Scripture about the position we have in the marriage. If we are to be like Christ, who is seated at the right hand of the Father, and is always interceding for his bride, the church, shouldn’t we enter into this ministry as well?
This man looked down at me and said, “How can I humble myself? I am too proud to pray for my wife out loud.” He was asking how to humble himself while he was in fact humbling himself! I saw in this man two ways that we walk out humility. First, when we voluntarily confess sin, we are humbling ourselves. It is one thing to “be humbled” when your sin is exposed by someone else. It is quite another to own it, confess it, and turn away from it. Second, when we ask for help, we are humbling ourselves. The man said, “Help me.” He was a man who had heard truth from God’s Word that had produced personal knowledge of the Lord that he had not had before. He was broken over his disobedience and he wanted to do the right thing. Now, true humility was proved out that night if he went home and humbled himself before his wife by asking if he could pray with and for her. Only the Lord and that couple know whether that happened. I believe it did, and that their marriage is stronger now than before.
Contrast that example with another listener who approached me after a seminar in the city of Orhei. This woman, a mother and a grandmother, told me through our translator, that she vehemently disagreed with me about training and disciplining children. I reasoned with her from Scripture for several minutes, and got nowhere. Another man who was standing there observing all of this said to me, “There’s no way she will listen to you. She doesn’t listen to anybody.” That would be indictment enough. But after I was pulled away to talk to someone else, this woman continued to bend the ear of the translator. He also pointed her to the Bible. She finally said, as she turned and walked away, “I don’t care what the Bible says.”
It is the same in Moldova as in America as in every place on earth. Those who humble themselves before the truth of God’s Word come to a greater place of joy and freedom than they have ever known. Those who walk away from the truth continue stumbling through the darkness.
Humility changes everything.