We Miss You...Are You Ok?
Of all the analogies used in God's Word to describe the church, the one that is most vivid and inspiring is the symbol of the human body. In the New Testament, the church is repeatedly described as the body of Christ. "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular."
1 Corinthians 12:27. Perhaps this is because it is made up of so many diverse parts that work together in harmony as one unit. Or perhaps it is because the same God who created our physical bodies also designed the church.
Yet for some reason it is becoming more and more common for Christians to amputate themselves from the body of Christ. Often I hear people ask, "Does it really matter if I go to church?" or "Can't I survive spiritually without the church?" and "Won't the church survive without me?" As we study some of the similarities that exist between the human body and the body of Christ, I hope you will see how essential it is for Christians to remain attached and involved in the church.
The Body Needs You
It's not an accident that you are called a member of the church. Just as a body is incomplete when its members are missing, so also is the church incomplete without your presence and participation. In 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul uses the analogy of the human body to show that each church member is an integral part of the whole. "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, 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." 1 Corinthians 12:12-14.
Every cell in your body-whether a nerve cell, a skin cell, or a brain cell-contains an identical, highly complex genetic code within the DNA. (DNA is short for deoxyribonucleic acid, and is the genetic material of all cellular organisms.) The point Paul is making in this passage is that members of the church, while composed of many different parts, all share an identical "genetic code." It is identified in Ephesians 4:5, 6: "One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." This genetic code, which is the map for who we are as a people, is identical for each one of us and should permanently bind us together to form one body.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul addresses Christians who feel like their place in the church is unimportant. "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 every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him." 1 Corinthians 12:15-18.
For many years it was a common practice for doctors to yank the tonsils out of anyone who repeatedly complained of a sore throat. Many children before the turn of the century would complain their throat was sore all the time, so their doctor finally decided they had "bad tonsils." Because he was operating under the assumption that they were an unnecessary part of my anatomy, he promptly removed them, thinking that he was doing them a big favor. However, the problem wasn't with their tonsils; it was with their lifestyle. They were eating junk food all the time, and as a result, their tonsils were constantly inflamed. Since then, doctors have realized that the tonsils are not just some evolutionary "vestigial* remnant." They serve a distinct purpose in helping to protect the pharynx from invasion by disease-producing bacteria.
*forming a very small and insignificant part of something that was once much larger.
It's the same way with the body of Christ. You might feel like you're just a tonsil or an appendix-a member that doesn't seem to accomplish anything other than to get in the way or cause problems. But that is never true! God designed that every Christian become an active, thriving member of Jesus' body, and He most certainly has a purpose for you. Paul writes: "Much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked." 1 Corinthians 12:22-24.
A brother in Christ, read about an arctic explorer who lost one of his little toes to frostbite and then walked with a limp for the rest of his life. Who would think that a little toe way down on the outside corner of the body could be so essential to the progress of the whole person?
The next group of people Paul addresses in his analogy have the opposite problem. They attach too much importance to themselves while applying lesser value to others. "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." 1 Corinthians 12:21.
Whether or not we like it, there are people in every congregation who feel like they are the only ones who can do anything. It reminds me of a story I had read, about an arrogant nose. A man got up one morning and was just about to put on his glasses when the nose began to protest. "No more glasses!" it shouted to the man. "I'm tired of this. You hang those heavy contraptions on me all day long. It restricts my breathing and leaves two red dents in my sides. They may help the eyes, but they sure don't help me. No more glasses. I'm fed up! You're not hanging those on me again." Well, the man was a little surprised at this outburst, but he didn't want to make the nose angry so he set his glasses back down on the night stand. Then he got off the bed, and on his way to the bathroom the man smashed his nose right up against the door because he couldn't see where he was going! Until that moment, the nose never realized that it needed the eyes, or vice versa. The same principle holds true for the body of Christ. All the different parts of the body need each other. You can't say that one part of the body or one part of the church is not valuable.
In conclusion, Paul says, "Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." 1 Corinthians 12:26, 27.
Did you catch that? The whole body should be interested in the preservation of every other part. When I get a little eyelash in my eye or even a popcorn hull stuck between my teeth, my whole body is distracted until the problem is resolved. Likewise, it is just as essential that every part of the body of Christ be sensitive to the needs of the other members. The body is not healthy when its members are missing
or immobilized. When you stay home because you think you're not needed, or for any other lame excuse, your spiritual survival is in peril and the whole body of Christ is hindered in some way.
You Need the Body
Another group of believers has become fed up with the church for one reason or another and figures that they would be better off just going it alone. These maverick Christians think they can go off by themselves and still be part of the body of Christ. They don't realize that in order to thrive and be healthy, you need to be part of a church family. Just as any part of your body cannot survive for very long on its own, neither can a Christian survive spiritually on his own.
A brother in Christ has a good friend, who is missing part of his forefinger. When he was a freshman in high school, he accidentally cut it off with band saw. They called in the school nurse to stop the bleeding and then rushed him to the emergency room, which was 20 miles away. When he got to the hospital, the first question the doctor asked him was, "Where is the tip of your finger?" Only then did he realize that it was still in the nurse's pocket back at school. Unattached from the body, that little piece of finger did not survive very long. Likewise, neither you nor I will survive very long spiritually if we are separated from the body of Christ.
As you know, the world is full of crippled, dismembered churches that are missing intricate parts. This leaves the visible body of Christ looking distorted and incomplete. Like that brother's friend, some congregations are able to survive in spite of their handicaps. (Even without the tip of his forefinger, he has learned to play piano, guitar, trumpet, and saxophone.) However, it requires much more effort. Furthermore, any body that has been dismembered is prevented from reaching its fullest potential.
Paul writes, "Now ye are the body of Christ." Verse 27. While it is true that as individuals we are called to reflect Christ, the clearest picture of what Christ is like is revealed through the church as a whole.
If I should scream, "Look, there's a nose!" and you see a nose naturally attached to a person's face, you probably wouldn't find that very shocking. Yet if I should say, "Look! There's a nose!" and it is resting on the dining table, detached from a body, you would almost certainly consider that grotesque. So if you agree that it's morbid for body parts to be separated from the body, what do you think God sees when He looks at church members who refuse to associate with His body, the church? Like it or not, when you separate from the body, you present to the world a distorted picture of Jesus. It is only as we are together that the world gets the right picture. Only then can the full potential of each person's gifts and ministry be realized.
There is yet another reason why you need church fellowship. You need to grow. Many people will say, "I read my Bible, but I don't get anything out of it," or "I come to church and prayer meeting, but I don't see any benefit." Well, I'm here to tell you that you need it-even though at first you might not perceive that you're getting anything out of it.
Consider how parents speak to their newborn baby. If the baby could comprehend everything they were saying, I'm sure he would think, "My parents have really lost it!" because we sometimes say the strangest things to babies! But even still, the baby listens. At first he doesn't understand what they're saying, but he is slowly soaking it in nonetheless. Pretty soon the child begins to recognize a word here and there, and then he starts to appreciate the communication. Parents witness this miracle happening in their homes. They realize their child is understanding what they're saying to him, and now he's trying to communicate back. At first it must have been a bit boring when they'd talk to him. He'd just lie there and gaze around the room. He didn't have any idea what they were saying. The parents continued talking and he kept listening, and eventually he began to recognize their voices and their words.
The Bible is the Word of God, and indeed it is a different kind of language. When you first hear or read the Word, you may have a little difficulty recognizing some of the words and concepts and you might not understand everything that your heavenly Father is saying to you. But as you persistently continue listening, His Word becomes more and more clear.
No matter what our spiritual age, we can't expect to know how to do everything. There is growth involved. Babies must learn through repetition how to get up and walk, how to talk, and how to feed themselves. That's also the way it is with the body of Christ. As we continue exposing ourselves to Christ and other Christians, that growth takes place. "And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment." Philippians 1:9.
Divided We Fall
In John 17 is recorded Christ's prayer for each one of His church members. A major part of His prayer for us was "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." Verse 21. This theme is echoed in John 13:35 as well, where Jesus said, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." Jesus knew that the love and unity of the church would be a powerful part of our witness to the world.
I'm sure that when the devil heard Christ utter these truths, he realized that if the world would believe in Jesus because of our unity, then it stands to reason that the world would disbelieve by our division. And Satan has been working toward that goal ever since.
The devil works like a wolf stalking a lamb. He knows as long as the lamb is with the flock inside the fold, or especially close to the shepherd, the lamb is safe. But if the wolf can chase and scatter the flock from the shepherd and from one another, he can easily bring down a lamb that has strayed off by itself. In the same way, the devil wants to separate from the flock the lambs (baby and insecure Christians who are more vulnerable) so that he can destroy them.
It's been stated that when thoroughbred horses are challenged by an enemy, they will put their heads together and aim their rear legs out to kick their attacker. On the other hand, a group of donkeys will aim their heads outward when threatened and kick each other.
Sometimes the church, when threatened, makes the same mistake as the donkeys. We ought to press together and support one another, but too often what happens is that the devil divides us or gets us to turn our backs on each other. He knows that once we are divided, we become easy prey.
One of my favorite authors has often repeated, "Oh, how many times, when I have seemed to be in the presence of God and holy angels, I have heard the angel voice saying, 'Press together, press together, press together. Do not let Satan cast his hellish shadow between brethren. Press together; in unity there is strength.'"1
The Lord continues in John 17: "And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one." Verse 22. The love and power that God gave Jesus, He gives to His body! You and I are to be as united with one another as are God the Father and His only begotten Son. Now let me ask you a question. How openly and how thoroughly did Jesus and the Father support one another? There was an unbroken union until the cross. "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." Verse 23.
The outstanding message in John 17:21-23 is first of all that the word "one" is repeated four times. I think He says it four times because the church is made up of people who come from every background imaginable and who are as different as north, south, east, and west. There is every stripe and type in the body of Christ, and we need to recognize that our diverse gifts are essential and needed. We can realize our strength and full potential only as we come together, work together, and stay together.
Standing in the Storm
There's a brother who goes to a Christian camp meeting in northern California. This brother states, "it is held at one of the most beautiful campgrounds in North America." On the way to the camp, you drive through a grove of redwoods-the most magnificent giants of all the trees in the world. They're not the oldest trees, but they are the tallest, and very impressive.
Redwoods are unique trees for several reasons. For one thing, they grow successfully only in groves. One of the ranchers near his house in Covelo planted a redwood tree apart from the association of other redwood trees, and it grew very quickly to be hundreds of feet tall. But then a storm came along and blew it right over. This is because the coastal redwood does not send down a taproot. Its roots are only a few feet deep, even though the tree itself might be 360 feet tall. Coastal redwoods survive by growing in groves. The trees spread out their roots and interweave them with the roots of other trees. Then, when the wind comes, they hold each other up because their roots are knit and interlocked together. By themselves, they don't stand very long.
You and I are something like those trees. You might think you're a maverick oak tree and that you don't need anybody else, but you're fooling yourself. Christians need to be part of the church. Just as every cell in the body is fed and cleansed by the blood, we all need the blood of Jesus for power and cleansing. We need to pray for and support one another. Even Jesus longed for that support as He faced the bitterness of the cross. "Then He came to the disciples and found them asleep, and said to Peter, "What, could ye not watch with me one hour?" Matthew 26:40. We need to bear one another's burdens, just as the nose and ears hold up the glasses for the eyes. We need to let our lives, like the roots of those coastal redwood trees, be interwoven with one another so we will have a support system when the storm comes. Woe be to the isolated tree when the storm comes! And the storm is fiercely coming.
As it says in Hebrews 10:25, we need to be firmly committed to corporate worship and assembly as a local body of believers-especially, or "so much more, as ye see the day approaching." Do you see the Day of the Lord approaching? The closer that Day gets, the more committed we need to be in fellowship to the church-the body of Christ, in love and in unity.
I pray the following two verses are not describing your current spiritual status.
2 Timothy 4:10a
For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved* this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica;
*to be well pleased, to be contented at or with a thing
1 John 2:19
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
1E.G. White, Selected Messages, Vol. 2, p. 374.