I recently had to stop in the road because two little dogs had dashed into the street. One crossed the road, but the other got confused and was wandering. I prayed for the poor things, but then I realized what they’d been after and was floored.
A large dog was jogging beside a woman. He stayed right at her side, never seeming to even notice the little yapper that was chasing after him. He never broke stride, never looked away. He was doing EXACTLY what he’d been trained to do.
And he was carrying his own leash. Literally. He held it in his mouth as he jogged down the sidewalk beside a woman who obviously had total trust in him. And the two made me think.
In a sense, we’re all like that dog. God calls us to run along beside Him, but though He gives us a guide (the Word and the Spirit) that He could use as a leash to control us, He ultimately leaves the decisions up to us. What do we do? What do I do? Do I actively choose to walk faithfully beside Him, not turning to the right or left?
“I go late because I don’t like the music.”
“I don’t like how our preacher seems to preach the same message every week.”
“I want to make my kids happy. They want a church with a better youth group.”
I’m pretty sure that, after decades of actively serving God, I’ve heard it all. There’s one big problem with all of these statements – the word I. Want to know a secret – that isn’t a secret? Church isn’t about us, what we want, or what we like.
I mean, seriously. Do you think every Israelite man wanted to make the trip to Jerusalem to worship as they were commanded to do? Man is the same throughout the ages, so I’m pretty comfortable saying, “No.” Some of those men didn’t want to make the trek to Jerusalem just as surely as many men today don’t want to make the trip to church on Sunday morning. So why did they go?
Because they knew it wasn’t about them, that it was about God and the worship He deserves as God. No matter how many miles they had to walk hauling livestock for sacrifice, no matter how much they hated crowds and noise, no matter how long they would have to wait in line, no matter if they knew going in that they wouldn’t enjoy themselves at all…IT WASN’T ABOUT THEM.
In 1 Cor. 12:18, we are told that God plants us in the church as He wills. We want to pick and choose our churches like we select our food at a buffet. God wants us to attend the churches He has selected for us. And yes, we may at times disagree with His choices.
We may think the church is too far away, we may not like the music at all, we may resent parents letting their kids be noisy in service, we may feel we could have found a better sermon on TV… None of that matters. What matters is that God has told us, “Here. This is your spiritual home. LIVE in it.” If He hasn’t told you that, didn’t lead you to the church you’re in, go talk to Him about it. Now.
If He did lead you to your current church, He put you there for at least one reason. Just like a good gardener studies soil content, sunlight, and other factors before setting a prized plant in the ground, God carefully selected where He planted you. If you dislike things about where you are, don’t whine about it to the other plants or, worse yet, try to dig up your own roots and move. Talk to Him about it.
You may well – probably will – be surprised by what He has to say. He may be pointing out needs in the church that He wants you to help meet. He may be working on expanding your horizons of what you like. He may point out that you don’t eat only two meals a week and shouldn’t rely strictly on your pastor for your spiritual nourishment. He might simply explain that it’s time you get over your self because church isn’t about you at all.
It’s about Him. It’s about bringing our week-wearied bodies to the sanctuary as a sacrifice of worship. It’s about lifting our hearts to Him in worship and praise whether the song is a hundred years old or ten minutes old. It’s about intentionally ignoring distractions and focusing on what He is trying to say to you – not only through the sermon, but through every part of the experience.
When we shift our focus off ourselves and whether or not someone in pre-worship fellowship took the chocolate-covered donut we wanted, and turn it to the One who is the whole reason we are on this planet in the first place, our walks with God will change radically.
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Christ’s body, like our bodies, consists of many parts, and God created each part to serve a purpose; I Corinthians discusses this at length. A friend once told me that she had discovered what part she was – Christ’s nose hair. She said it laughingly, but a brief anatomy study reveals that, in a way, she was right. Nose hair acts as a filter, preventing that which is unacceptable from entering the body. This woman has tremendous discernment and walks in spiritual authority at a level beyond that to which most Christians would aspire. When demons have been known to tremble in your presence, you do help to protect the body from unwanted entry.
Each of us is called by God to serve a unique purpose, to fill a position in His body – in the local church. I Corinthians 12:18-20 says, “But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” There are many parts – many of us, the individuals who make up the body of Christ – and each part is both uniquely necessary and necessarily unique. Just as God did not create the human body with nothing but eyes, tongues and hands, He did not create the body of Christ with only pastors, choir members and ushers. No, the body of Christ (and each local church body) is made up of many parts, many people. Us.
But it is not enough to acknowledge that we are each a part of the body. No, we must also discover which part of the body we are. Note, I do not say we must decide which part we are. No indeed, for I Cor 12:18 states clearly that, “But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” (emphasis mine) God has a unique plan for each one of us and it is our responsibility to seek Him and find out what that plan is. If we presume to decide for ourselves what function we will fill in the body of Christ, we make a gross mistake. Just as an elbow does not have the option of deciding it would rather be a hand, we do not have the option of changing our God-given assignments.
Over the years, I have repeatedly witnessed the results of this very thing, people attempting to choose their own assignments rather than seeking God’s direction. The music ministry is typical; many people join the choir not because God has called them to that position, but because it is where they want to be. Fortunately, most of these misplaced members eventually realize they have put themselves into the wrong position and, hopefully, move on to the place of God’s calling. How much easier would church life have been on them if they had gone straight to God for their assignments instead of telling Him where they had chosen to place themselves? Indeed, how much better would it have been on the choir and music ministry if they had not put themselves where they were not called to be…and how much easier on the ministry that had anxiously awaited their arrival? An elbow that tried to be a hand would create a multitude of problems; one who is called to be an usher, yet tries to be a nursery worker, can do the same.
Yes, it is imperative that each of us, as members of the body of Christ in general and our local church bodies in particular, find out where God has called us to fit in and GET THERE. My place, for 28 years, was in the music ministry. I served wherever the head of my ministry asked me to serve, from choir loft to church office, and I will dare say that I filled my spot well. I have, in the past, likened myself to a ball bearing, the part that makes everything run smoothly while remaining, itself, unseen. Looking at my reference verse, I suppose I would say that I fell into the, “held together by every supporting ligament” category because ligaments are absolutely necessary for the proper running of the body, supporting everything from their unseen position. Interestingly enough, it occurs to me that they are also nurtured and sheltered there, protected by all the visible things that cover them.
Had I ever wanted to be one of those visible parts? Of course! I have an ego and fight pride like everyone else. Like many who love to sing and end up joining a church choir, I had my moments of wanting to be a front line member (one of those few who are on the main stage), but the main platform was not my called position. Understanding this, I chose to put down the flesh whenever it would raise this topic. Interestingly enough, long after I conquered my flesh in this area, God arranged for me to fill in as a front line member for one service. Had I cherished any lingering thoughts of the main platform they would have been squashed flat that night. Everyone said I did well enough, but like an elbow trying to be a hand I felt grossly out of place. Dear God, never again…please.
Today I am on staff at the church, so my position has changed dramatically. No longer in the music ministry, I run our coffee shop and Info Table instead, but I am still a supporting ligament, still just doing my best to keep things moving smoothly and with excellence. I love being where God has called me to be!
…grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Ephesians 4:14 begins, “Then we will no longer be infants…” and verse 15 says, “…we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” This whole passage, Eph 4:14-16, talks about us maturing, growing up and refusing to remain babies. Any pastor will tell you sadly that there are too many spiritual babies in the body of Christ, too many spiritual babies in his church. Verse 16 reveals one of the great evidences, an obvious indicator of whether one is a mature or immature (baby) Christian.
…grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
The emphasis, of course, is mine.
According to this Scripture, the growth, the maturity, the building up in love comes as each part does its work. Not only must each part of the body of Christ and, obviously, the local church body, work (which is a rare enough thing in most churches), but each must do its work – not that of another part (someone else’s work). Each of us is a part of the whole body and every one of us has God-given work assignments. Only when we walk in submission to Him and do the works that He assigns do we really grow and build ourselves up in love. Furthermore, only when we each do our own work does the body grow and build itself up in love. When we fail, the body fails; if I, as a supporting ligament, choose not to do my assigned work, all that I support is hindered, handicapped and slowed in its growth.
Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
Under his direction
These first three words are the key. We must submit to Him as part of His body, completely under His direction. If we won’t be under HIS direction, totally submitted to HIM, why do we call ourselves Christians? To be called a Christian is to be called Christ Like, and Jesus Christ was so completely submitted to His heavenly father that He willingly took the unimaginably horrendous path to the cross.
So, as we are under His direction…
the whole body
The whole body, every part of it, is “fitted together perfectly.”
is fitted together
This phrase is in the passive voice, which shows that it isn’t the body that is doing the fitting together. The “fitting together” is being done to the body by God. (I Corinthians 12:18, KJV But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him.)
When we are under His direction, allowing Him to fit us together—letting Him put us where He wants us instead of insisting on putting ourselves where we want to be—we will be fitted together perfectly.
as each part does
Every part of the body has work to do. If a part of the human body refuses to work, the whole body suffers. The same is true of Christ’s body. We are not just here to be. We are here to do. (Ephesians 2:10, KJV, For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.)
its own special work
God gives each of us work to do and we can either do that work or not do it. If we choose to do our work, we are free to choose whether to do it well or poorly. If we choose not to do our work, we are free to choose whether to do nothing or to do someone else’s work instead.
We’ve a world of choices and only one is acceptable—to do that special work that God has set aside specifically for us. To do anything else is to fail Him, the body, and ourselves.
This even holds true when we decide to do ‘extra’ work. While being faithful to our own special work, we might still have enough time that we choose to go help another part of the body as well. This can be a wonderful thing, but if we move against His direction, stepping out on our own accord, the whole body will suffer.
This is not to say a man cannot be active in more than one ministry. If God directs him to serve in multiple areas, God will also orchestrate his service. If, however, he chooses to serve in multiple ministries against God’s direction, he is asking for trouble to visit not only him, but every ministry he touches.
We each have our own special work to do and He expects us to do it and do it with excellence!
it helps the other parts grow
What a gift! Can anything greater be said of a man than that he helps others grow? No. Here is a promise, a result, worth working toward!
And, to consider this from the other side, if this member of Christ’s body chooses not to be under His direction, not to fit in his assigned spot perfectly, not to do the special work God has assigned specifically to him, then he will inevitably hinder the other parts in their growth.
How much better it is to do what we know to do and do it in the way God intends!
so that the whole body is healthy
This is one third of what should be our goal, and is God’s goal, for the body of Christ—that we as the body be healthy and growing and full of love.
Unfortunately, though many individual churches are healthy, this cannot be said of the church as a whole, at least not here in the United States. Many churches have experienced splits and too often church members are not surprised when they learn of other members’ immorality. One can also find church buildings for sale in this nation that are available for purchase not because the churches have grown too large for them, but rather because they’ve died.
Obviously, if the church as a whole is not healthy, it is also not growing. I was somewhat surprised at one point, though I wasn’t too very shocked, to hear my pastor say in a sermon that the church in the U.S. has not grown since the 1970s. If this is true, something is obviously wrong.
and full of love
This, perhaps, is the saddest thing of all. God is love; you would think that His church would necessarily be full of love, but in how many churches will you find no gossip, no murmuring, no backbiting, no complaining… If a church is truly full of love, there is no room for these things.
So we, the body, fail the test. We are not fitted together perfectly, with each part doing its own special work. Why?
Because too many of us have never learned the difference between being a volunteer and being a called out, chosen one—the difference between one who casually offers, “I’ll do it,” knowing he has the option of quitting later, and the one who answers the call of his Lord, fully prepared to do anything and everything he is told to do. If the church is to be healthy, to grow and to be full of love, we as individuals must grow up first, moving beyond “I’m only a volunteer!” and into “I am a called out child of God who will fulfill my destiny!”