“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 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.
The squirrel was a natural 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 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 frustrated and ineffective. 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 grow the Church, the Body of Christ.[i] We were planned for God’s pleasure. This is our deepest need, our first and most fundamental purpose in life. To know God and enjoy him forever. Our second purpose in life is to discover we were formed for God’s family. In his family we find a place to belong., a place to serve and be fruitful, a place to grow.
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 therefore involves belonging and not just believing. In Romans 12 we learn about this second purpose – discovering our place in the Body of Christ, about our spiritual gifts and place of service.
1. Our Church family helps us grow up together
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your proper worship as rational beings. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)
First note that Paul describes us as brothers and sisters. We are a family. Secondly notice he urges us to sacrifice – to offer our bodies – that is our time, our energy, our talents, our lives, as living sacrifices. Third, notice he defines Christian service as an act of worship. There is no contradiction – no contrast between worship and service. The one is defined by the other. Indeed you cannot do one without the other. So what has your week been like?
Sacrificial? Holy? Pleasing to God? An act of worship?
On Monday I was in Bethlehem helping to plan the next international Christ at the Checkpoint conference. In 2010 we had 300 participants. In March this year we had 600.
In 2014 we are planning on a thousand participants. That was Monday. Tuesday I joined a peaceful demonstration alongside other evangelical Christians protesting the bombing of Gaza. I got tear gassed which was not pleasant. Bethlehem Bible College kitchen gave away all its onions to help protestors neutralise the effect. Was that a political act or Christian ministry or both? Wednesday I made a video for Tearfund about pollution in a Palestinian village caused by the nearby settlement. And together with two Tearfund staff we nearly got ourselves arrested for doing so. Thursday I spent the morning reviewing pastoral care with our team, supervising staff and meeting the Pastors and Wardens in the evening. Friday I made page 6 of the CEN. And yesterday we had an amazing seeker friendly Murder Mystery Play thanks to Scott and our talented team of Neanderthal actors. In terms of influence for the gospel then, besides the hundreds who came to events led by our dedicated Children’s, Youth, Student and Adult Pastors and their volunteer teams, this week, we had over 3,000 unique visitors to our websites, 25,000 hits on our videos, of which 1,400 were viewed from start to finish. A good week? Next week will be very different but the intent will be the same – to encourage each one of us to be living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. The Apostle also says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2). The process is metamorphosis. John Ortberg says, When we serve, “Old patterns of pride get disrupted. We discover our strengths and come face to face with our weaknesses. Failure leads to fresh encounters with grace. Risks lead to fresh experiences of trust. And sacrifice leads to transformational impact. That is why Jesus said,
“on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of death will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18).
The church is indestructible. That makes the church dangerous – a threat to competing powers and authorities. Or at least the church should be dangerous. The problem is we don’t always think biblically. What do we say to our children as they leave for school? “Take care”. What do we say to someone going on a journey “safe travels.” Why do we do that? Is that a sign of faith or fear? What if we said “Take some risks today son” “Live dangerously honey” “Be reckless dad.” I don’t know about you but I increasingly want to be dangerous. Some of the most dangerous people I know are in their 80’s. Why, because they’ve figured out this passage. They have nothing to lose. I want this church to be on Satan’s hit list. I want to be a serious threat to the forces of death and darkness in this world. I want to make a significant impact for Jesus. If that makes me unpopular in certain quarters so be it, get used to it. Adversity builds character and resistance builds muscle and hot water keeps me clean. The gospel message to the world is – if you oppress, if you exploit, if you abuse, you are on notice. You will be exposed. You will be defeated. The gospel will overcome because the church is indestructible and Christ is Lord and King. One day everyone will kneel before Jesus. The choice we have is to kneel willingly now at the cross or unwillingly then at his judgement seat. The arc of history bends toward justice. Because Jesus is coming soon. That is why the apostle James says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7). He will flee. He will flee. Live dangerously because the church is indestructible. It will outlive this universe, and so will you, if you trust in Jesus and invest your life recklessly as a living sacrifice. Our church family helps us to grow up together – renewed and renewing, transformed and transforming.
2. Our church family identifies you as a true 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 you simply 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. Our church family helps us grow up together. Our church family identifies you as a genuine believer.
3. Our church family is your 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 bestows spiritual gifts in order that we can uniquely serve one another in a local church (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. It is as simple as that. 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 (and here is a useful one from CWR http://www.cwr.org.uk/doc/pdfs/Basicgift.pdf) – 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 invest at least an hour a week in one of our serving teams – in an area of ministry you feel passionate about and comfortable with. If God is speaking to you today, take the Ministry Team Challenge and book a time to see Paul or myself. You will not regret it. Notice how the passage says 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 how is as important as the what. The gifts or the spirit glory God when they are channeled through the fruit of the Spirit. The Apostle Peter summarized this lesson in this:
“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)
We are saved to serve. “We are created for community, fashioned for fellowship, and formed for a family, and none of us can fulfill God’s purposes by ourselves.
Our church family helps us grow up together.
Our church family identifies you as a genuine believer.
Our church family is your primary place of service.
One of my elderly heroes, who inspires me to live dangerously is Tony Campolo. He once asked “why do we tip-toe through life, only to arrive safely, at death?” (repeat).
Lets not tip-toe this week, lets run. Let’s live dangerously. Let’s live extravagantly.
“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of [our] faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
[i] an adaptation from a story from the book “What You Do Best In The Body of Christ” by Bruce Bugbee.