“It wasn’t too long after creation that the animals got together to form a school. They wanted the best school possible; one that offered each student a well-rounded curriculum of swimming, running, climbing and flying. In order to graduate the animals agreed that they would each have to take all the courses. The duck was excellent at swimming. In fact, he was better than his instructor, but he was only making passing grades at climbing and was getting a very poor grade in running. The duck was so slow in running that he had to stay after school every day to practice. Even with that, there was little improvement. His webbed feet got badly worn from running and with such worn feet he would then only be able to get half his grade in swimming. Now average was quite acceptable to everyone else, so no one worried much about it except the duck. Now the rabbit was at the top of her class in running, but after a while she developed a twitch in her leg from all the time she spent in the water trying to improve her swimming. Now the squirrel was a peak performer in climbing, but was constantly frustrated in flying class. His body became so bruised from all the hard landings that he didn’t do too well in climbing and ended up being pretty poor in running. The eagle was a continual problem student. She was severely disciplined for being nonconformist.
For example, in climbing class she would always beat everyone else to the top of the tree, but insisted on using her own way to get there. Each of the animals had a particular area of expertise. When they did what they were designed to do they excelled. When they tried to operate outside their area of expertise, they were not nearly as effective. Can ducks run? Of course they can. Is that what they do best? Definitely not”
Just as every animal has been designed uniquely for survival, so every Christian has been given unique gifts and talents to help the Body of Christ to grow. [i]
This morning we explored our primary purpose in life – to know God through Jesus Christ, to please him, to serve him, to follow him and enjoy him forever. We were planned for God’s pleasure. This is our deepest need and fundamental purpose. Our second purpose in life is to realise that we were formed for God’s family. In his family we can find a place to belong.
In his book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren tells us, “You are called to belong, not just believe… We are created for community, fashioned for fellowship and formed for a family, and none of us can fulfil God’s purposes by ourselves. The Bible says we are put together, joined together, built together, members together, heirs together, fitted together, and held together and will one day be caught up together. “While your relationship to Christ is personal, God never intends it to be private.
In God’s family you are connected to every other believer, and we will belong to each other for eternity... Following Christ involves belonging and not just believing. In our reading from Romans 12 we learn about this second purpose – discovering our place in the Body of Christ.
1. A church family moves us out of self-centred isolation
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” (Romans 12:3)
Listen to Rick Warren on the importance of the Church in scripture. “Membership in the family of God is neither inconsequential nor something to be causally ignored. The Church is God’s agenda for the world. Jesus said, “I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” (Matthew 16:18 NLT). The church is indestructible and will exist for eternity. It will outlive this universe, and so will your role in it.
The person who says, “I don’t need the church” is either arrogant or ignorant. The church is so significant that Jesus died for it… “Christ loved the church and gave his life for it.” (Ephesians 5:25).
The Bible calls the church “the bride of Christ” and the “body of Christ.” I can’t imagine anyone saying to Jesus, “I love you but I dislike your wife.” Or “I accept you, but I reject your body.”
But we do this when ever we think we can live in isolation from other Christians or, “whenever we dismiss or demean or complain about the church…” “The Bible says a Christian without a church home is like an organ without a body, a sheep without a flock, or a child without a family. It is an unnatural state. Today’s culture prizes independence, personal freedom and individualism.
This has created many spiritual orphans, what Rick Warren calls “bunny believers” who hop around from one church to another without any identity, accountability, or commitment.”
“The local church is the classroom for learning how to get along in God’s family. Only in regular contact with ordinary, imperfect believers, can we learn real fellowship” as well as discover our true selves. “Isolation breeds deceitfulness; it is easy to fool ourselves into thinking we are mature if there is no one to challenge us. Real maturity shows up in relationships. We need more than the Bible in order to grow; we need other believers.”
“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” (Romans 12:3)
Being part of a church family will, says the Apostle Paul, ensure that you do not think more highly of yourself. A church family moves you out of self-centred isolation.
2. A church family identifies you as a genuine believer
“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:4-5)
“We are members of His body – the church. We belong to one another. C. S. Lewis notes that the word membership is of Christian origin, but the world had emptied it of its original meaning…” The bible insists that, “the church is a body, not a building, an organism not an organisation…
For the organs of your body to fulfill their purpose, they must be connected to your body. The same is true for you as a part of Christ’s Body. You were created for a specific and unique role, but you will miss … it … if you are not attached to a living, local church. We discover your role in your relationships with others…
Like an organ outside the body, disconnected and cut off from the lifeblood of a local church, you cannot grow up to maturity in the way God intends. This is why how we relate to one another is a good indication of our relationship with God. The apostle John said this,
“If we say we love God yet hate a brother or sister, we are liars. For if we do not love a fellow believer, whom we have seen, we cannot love God, whom we have not seen. (1 John 4:20).
“Biblical fellowship is being as committed to each other as we are to Jesus Christ.” Most Christians can recite John 3:16. Not so many have memorised 1 John 3:16, “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3:16).
“so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:5)
We belong to one another. What a beautiful image of a church.
A church family moves you out of self-centred isolation.
A church family identifies you as a genuine believer.
3. A church family is our primary place of service
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” (Romans 12:6-8)
God not only sovereignly calls us to himself (salvation) he also sovereignly guide us to a local church of like-minded believers, and bestows spiritual gifts in order that we can uniquely serve one another (service).
The word for ‘gifts’ is charismata = gifts of grace. Paul’s assumption here is if you’ve been given a gift – share it.We are saved to serve. And if we don’t serve we won’t grow. The primary purpose of the spiritual gifts is service.
“You will never grow to maturity just by attending services and being a passive spectator. Only participation in the full life of a local church builds spiritual muscle.” “The difference between being a church attender and a church member is commitment. Attenders are spectators from the sidelines; members get involved in the ministry. Attenders are consumers; members are contributors. Attenders want the benefits of a church without sharing the responsibility.” Paul lists a variety of ministry roles – this is not an exhaustive list but it covers the essentials. Prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhorting, giving, leading, mercy. How do we discover our gifts and talents? I used to believe we needed to use diagnostic tools – now I think we should just roll up our sleeves and serve. We discover our gifts by using them. We discern people’s gifts as we see them in action. We encourage everyone who regards themselves a member of Christ Church to give at least an hour a week to serving in some way. If you would like some ideas – talk to Lesley.
Notice how Paul goes on to say as much about how we should use our gifts as in defining them. “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” (Romans 12:9-11). The Apostle Peter summarized this lesson in this way:
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10)
In his letter to the Ephesians Paul reinforces this,
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13)
We are saved to serve.
A church family moves you out of self-centred isolation.
A church family identifies you as a genuine believer.
A church family is our primary place of service.
“We are created for community, fashioned for fellowship, and formed for a family, and none of us can fulfill God’s purposes by ourselves. The Bible says we are put together, joined together, built together, members together; heirs together, fitted together, and held together and will be caught up together. You’re not on your own anymore.” “While your relationship to Christ is personal, God never intends it to be private. In God’s family you are connected to every other believer, and we will belong to each other for eternity.
God created the church to meet your five deepest needs; a purpose to live for, people to live with, principles to live by, a profession to live out, and power to live on. There is no other place on earth where you can find all five of these benefits in one place. God’s purposes for His church are identical to His five purposes for you. Worship helps you focus on God, fellowship helps you face life’s problems, discipleship helps fortify your faith; ministry helps find your talents; evangelism helps fulfill your mission. There is nothing else on earth like the Church!
Why is it important to join a local church family? Because it proves you are committed to your spiritual brothers and sisters in reality, not just in theory. God wants you to love real people, not ideal people. You can spend a lifetime searching for the perfect church, but you will never find it. You are called to love imperfect sinners, just as God does. The local church, our church is a place to belong. That is what we offer. That is what we are called to be. Lets pray.
[i] an adaptation from a story from the book “What You Do Best In The Body of Christ” by Bruce Bugbee.