CHAPTER 15-THE CHURCH AS THE BODY OF CHRIST
#Ro 12:4,5 1Co 12:14-27
Text: #1Co 12:27 "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular."
The word church in our English Bible is a translation of the Greek word ekklesia. This word literally means, what is called "out". It comes from a compound word-ek which means out; and kaleo, to call. A better translation of ekklesia would be assembly since it is applied to people who are called out to form an assembly.
In the Greek New Testament ekklesia occurs 115 times. It is translated church 112 times and assembly 3 times in the King James version. The word church has a religious connotation, but the word ekklesia itself has no religious meaning. And that is why ekklesia is translated assembly 3 times in Acts 19. Here it is used of the Greek political assembly and also of the unlawful assembly or mob gathered against Paul and his companions. At Ephesus, Paul had preached against idolatry, saying there were no gods made with hands. This preaching was hurting the business of those who made little images of the temple of the goddess Diana. Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen raised a mob against Paul. After a great uproar and much confusion the town clerk finally restored order and then dismissed the ekklesia or mob. He tells the complainants that they should have brought their case before the lawful ekklesia or assembly, which was the Greek court. If our translators had uniformly translated ekklesia they would not have had to change from church to assembly, but would have used assembly in every instance.
Jesus was not coining a new word when He said to Peter, "Upon this rock I will build my" (#Mt 16:18) ekklesia. He used a word familiar to both Greek and Jew. The Greeks had their ekklesia, which was an assembly of citizens of a free city called out to transact public business. The Jews had their religious ekklesia or synagogue. And so Christ distinguished between His ekklesia and others by using the pronoun MY. He was saying in effect, I am going to have MY ekklesia which will be different from the ekklesias you are familiar with.
The word ekklesia (translated church 112 times and assembly 3 times) occurs only 2 times in the gospels. In #Mt 16:18 when Jesus says "I will build my" ekklesia. He uses the word in the abstract and institutional sense without particularizing or locating it. Just as we might speak of the American home, or the American boy, or the American bride, without referring to any particular home or boy or bride. In #Mt 18:17 Christ used the word ekklesia the concrete sense of an actual assembly to which one might tell his grievances. And so when Christ's ekklesia as an institution takes on concrete form and becomes operational it is an actual assembly of His followers in organized capacity.
Whenever you find the American boy, or home, or bride, it is a boy or home or bride. And so when you find the body of Christ on earth it is always a body of Christ, that is, a local assembly. That is why Paul called the church at Corinth a body of Christ, a body with many members.
There is more and more being said today about "One church in one world." This means one big church made up of churches of all denominations. But such a thing is utterly foreign to Scripture, so far as Christ's church or assembly is concerned. Such an idea is retrogression and not progress. It reverses the missionary program. In the early days Christ's church as an institution found expression in one church, the church at Jerusalem. Under persecution the members of this church were scattered. They went everywhere preaching the word and wherever disciples were made a church was organized. And some years later we read of the churches of Judea. When the church at Antioch sent out Paul and Barnabas as missionaries, we soon read about churches of Galatia and other provinces.
If and when we have one church in one world, who is to be the head of this one big church? Will the head be Christ or AntiChrist? I venture the prediction that it will be a man living in a big house in the city of Rome. Let no Protestant ever suppose that the Roman system of a graded ministry with the supremacy of the pope will ever be relinquished or compromised.
We usually think and speak of the church as a witnessing body of believers with a worldwide commission to preach the gospel to every creature. The church is to be interested in lost humanity throughout the world. Missions are essential to the perpetuity of the church and the church that does not have missions on its heart has the death rattle in its throat. Stop the missionary program and the church will soon become a relic of the past. If new members are not added by missionary endeavour the gates of hades the unseen realm of the dead will soon swallow up the church. And so Jesus Christ implied missions when He said the gates of hades would not prevail against the church. We are rightly urged to lift up our eyes and look on fields white unto harvest. But in this message we shall turn our eyes inward to see what Christ intended the church to do with respect to its own members. And now let us think of our church as a body of Christ and apply scriptural principles in the ministry to our own members.
1. We are one body, but many members. No member of the human body is the whole body and no member of our church is the whole church. And no member is the head for Christ is the head and master. He made this plain when he said, "One is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren" (#Mt 23:8). Headship belongs only to Christ and this means authority. Our pastor is our leader but not our master. Paul made the same point when he wrote, "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake" (#2Co 4:5). And Peter writes that the elders or pastors must not lord over God's heritage. Dr. Eades used to say that the pastor had three duties when acting as a shepherd. He is to feed the sheep, fleece the sheep, and flog the sheep. And all these things were to be done by preaching the word. The pastor is not a man with a big stick; he is a man with a big book. Dr. Pettie preached to his church on the subject of money. One of his men who did not like to be fleeched said to him after the sermon, that he ought to fleece the sheep. The doctor said, "Well, I believe in feeding the sheep and I have tried in my sermons to feed the sheep, but I also believe a well fed sheep ought to be of some value in wool and mutton. "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (#2Ti 3:16). "An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law" (#Ro 2:20).
2. All our members are on the same footing so far as salvation is concerned. All the saved have been born of the same Holy Spirit, redeemed by the same blood, and have a right to membership in the same body of Christ. One Sunday morning in our capital city, Charles Evans Hughes and a Chinese laundry girl walked the same aisle to join a Baptist Church. In receiving them the pastor remarked that the ground is level at the cross. In #Ga 3:28, Paul says "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus."
3. All members are not equal in talent and importance, but all are important and are needed. In the human body the members which seem to be more feeble are nevertheless necessary. And those parts we think to be less honorable are treated with greater honor. And so it should be in the body of Christ. And now let us consider some of the weaker members and some of the less honorable members of the body of Christ to see how they are to be treated.
3a) Some of our members are shutins; they are too feeble to assemble with us. But they are needed and we should make them feel that they are wanted. Our sick and helpless and sorrowing people furnish us a field for sympathetic and loving service. They are a challenge to us to demonstrate the spirit of Christian sympathy and compassion. The spring of compassion would soon dry up if we did not have the poor and weak and helpless with us and among us. Paul says that we are "distributing to the necessity of the saints; given to hospitality." (#Ro 12:13). I want to commend all our members who minister to the poor and sick and sorrowing. And I want to thank all of you who have been so helpful to me and mine in our recent infirmities.
3b) There is hardly any doubt that we have some members who are in a backslidden condition. They are out of fellowship with Christ and the church and have lost the joy of salvation. We should not rejoice in their backsliding, but we should see in them an opportunity to demonstrate the Christian spirit. "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (#Ga 6:1).
3c) And we have some members who are of an ugly and contentious spirit and hard to live and work with. But all such who are saved are entitled to membership. They give us the opportunity to demonstrate the Christian spirit in dealing with our enemies.
Paul says, "If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink, for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." (#Ro 12:20,21). I expect most of us throw away many opportunities to demonstrate the Christian religion at this point. We think we are wiser than God and that to get even with an enemy is better than loving him.
Back in October last year I had a paragraph in the church bulletin dealing with the patience a pastor must have. I quoted a pastor in Florida who said that when he learned that one of his members did not like him, he would determine to win that man by loving him and showing him special kindness. I was also told of a man who made this confession. He said something like this: "Our minister had one trait which you do not often find anywhere. He never seemed to remember an injury. I was prejudiced against him when he came to us and often spoke disparagingly of him and sometimes even bitterly. And I knew he was informed of it all. But he always treated me as though I were his best friend. It breaks my heart now to think of it and if I ever meet him in heaven, I will throw my arms around his neck and beg his forgiveness." The comment I made on this was that we cannot do in heaven what we should have done on earth.
A few days after the bulletin was mailed out, I received a letter from a pastor in another part of the state. In this letter he said in part: "Several weeks ago I began reading your paragraph on the qualities a pastor should possess. I have received a challenge from each of them, but I am writing this letter to thank you especially for the one this past week. It helped me to make a decision that kept me from making a mistake." He went on to tell of a certain man in his church who had been very ugly and mean towards him and he was about to lose all patience with him. After praying much Saturday night, I came to the study Sunday morning and found the Madisonville Bulletin open on my desk. I began to read your paragraph and took it as a message from God. And with His help I shall try again to win this man. "Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves."
``And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will (#2Ti 2:24-26). "And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you''(#Eph 4:32).
"Is thy cruise of comfort failing?
Rise and share it with a friend
It shall serve thee to the end.
Love divine will fill thy storehouse,
Or thy handful still renew;
Make a royal feast for two.
For the heart grows rich in giving;
All its wealth is living grain;
Scattered, fill with gold.
Is thy burden hard and heavy?
Do thy steps drag wearily?
God will bear both it and thee.
Lost and weary on the mountains,
Wouldest thou sleep amidst the snow?
And together both will glow.
Art thou wounded in life's battle?
Many stricken round thee moan.
And that balm shall heel thine own."