Finding Community In ServiceErwin W. Lutzer | January 6, 2002
Selected highlights from this sermon
Trying to do things alone can have some negative consequences. After all, God created us as social beings, each with a gift to be used to serve the Body of Christ.
In this message, Pastor Lutzer goes through seven gifts given to the Body of Christ and reminds us that we cannot serve Christ in a vacuum and serve Him effectively. We need the Body of Christ and it needs us.
One of the great problems that exists in the church (I think, particularly in America, though in other parts of the world), is a spirit of independence, a feeling that we can get on alone without the rest of the Body of Christ. Well, you know, working alone, trying to do the job alone, can have some tremendous negative consequences.
I like to read this story once in a while, and it talks about the difficulty and what might happen if you try to do the job alone. Just listen. It says,
I am writing in response to your request for more information concerning block 11 on the insurance form, which asks for cause of injuries, wherein I put, ‘Trying to do the job alone.’ You said you needed more information so I trust the following will be sufficient.
Now you have to follow this, folks.
I am a bricklayer by trade, and on the date of the injuries I was working alone, laying brick around the top of a four-story building, when I realized that I had about 500 pounds of brick left over. Rather than carry the bricks down by hand I decided to put them into a barrel and lower them by a pulley, which was fastened at the top of the building. I secured the end of the rope at ground level and then went to the top of the building and loaded the bricks into the barrel, and swung the barrel out with the bricks in it. Then I went down and untied the rope, holding it securely to ensure the slow descent of the barrel.
Well, as you will note on block 6 of the insurance form, I weigh 145 pounds. Due to my shock at being jerked off the ground so swiftly, I lost my presence of mind and forgot to let go of the rope. Between the second and the third floors I met the barrel coming down. This accounts for the bruises and lacerations on my upper body. Regaining my presence of mind again I held tightly to the rope and proceeded rapidly up the side of the building, not stopping until my right hand was jammed in the pulley. This accounts for my broken thumb.
Despite the pain, I retained my presence of mind and held tightly to the rope. But at approximately the same time, however, the barrel of bricks hit the ground and the bottom fell out of the barrel. Devoid of the weight of the bricks, the barrel now weighed about 50 pounds. I again refer you to block 6 concerning my own weight.
As you would guess, I began a rapid descent. In the vicinity of the second floor I met the barrel coming up. This explains the injuries to my legs and lower body. Slowed only slightly, I continued my descent, landing on the pile of bricks. This accounts for my sprained back and internal injuries.
I am sorry to report, however, that at this point I again lost my presence of mind and let go of the rope. As you can imagine, the empty barrel crashed down on my head. This accounts for my head injuries.
I hope that this answers your concern, and please know that I am finished trying to do the job alone.
Well, that’s what happens when you do the job alone.
I’m beginning a series of messages on the topic of community, about which the Bible has much to say. But why should we be interested in community and in connectedness?
There are several reasons. First of all, it’s because even before the Fall, God created us as social beings. The Scripture says that it is not good for Adam to be alone, and that was before sin entered into the world.
I can imagine that there is someone here who says, “You know, I don’t need other people. I’m an individualist.” And they begin to think that community is for weak people who have needs. And I say to you today community is not for the weak. It is not because of weakness. It is because of design – the way that we were created. That’s why we need community.
One day I was meditating on what it would be like to be confined to a planet for the rest of your life with enough food, with enough water and all the things that you need for survival, but you are totally, completely alone, cut off from other humans and cut off from God. Now you don’t have time in this message to meditate on that, but do that sometime, and you will agree with me that that would be hell to exist alone. We all need connections. The other reason is because we belong to the new community. We are members of the Body of Jesus Christ.
Now I say this to you with deep conviction of spirit. If you are alone, if you are disconnected from the Body, even if you are a born again Christian, but you have no friends, you are not exercising any gifts, and you are not entering into the fullness of what Jesus wants you to experience. The Bible says in Colossians 2: “Being knit together in love that ye might attain to the fullness of Christ.” There is something about the Body that helps us in our spiritual growth and that helps us to enter into the fullness of Christ.
On Thursday I was with eight friends. We spent the day together. It’s part of a revival network, and what a delightful time we had together. And some of those folks really knew how to pray, and we were on our knees a good part of the day, praying together. David Bryant was there. He’s in charge of concerts of prayer and has been part now of a national prayer network, and that man knows how to pray. I have to tell you that I was invigorated. I was challenged. I left saying, “Surely this is something of what heaven is like.” That atmosphere cannot be created anywhere else except among members of the Body of Christ. I say to you today, you need the Body.
You know it used to be that we’d use the nuclear family to illustrate what the church should be like in its relationships. But with the demise of the family (the breakup of the family), the church now has to model family life in such a way that it helps those who have come through difficult families, who have gone through divorce and difficulty and children who have been abandoned, and those who have been raised by other relatives and so forth, who sense these deep needs of disconnectedness. And that sense of oneness can come about no other place except in the Body of Christ, which we all need.
In this series I’m going to be pointing out that the Body has within itself the resources to heal itself. Just like my body has the power to heal itself when it has a cut, in the very same way, those who hurt can be healed and helped within the Body. But it can’t happen as long as we are disconnected from one another.
There’s another reason and that is that the church is to be a community to impact the world. “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love one toward another.” Now sometimes we might think that we show our oneness by having a great rally and having all the churches together in a stadium. And that’s true. We do see our oneness there, but it’s not just there. It’s in human relationships. It’s in the way in which we relate to one another, the way in which we love one another, the way in which we care for one another. That’s the way the world is impressed - by our love.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, I’m not that interested in relationships.” Wait a moment! Salvation is a relationship. Prayer is a relationship. The family is a relationship. And if you do not have strong relationships, as I mentioned earlier, you can’t enter into the fullness of that which belongs to Christ.
Now with that introduction I want you to take your Bibles, because we’re going to get right down to the nitty-gritty here. In Romans 12 Paul discusses this oneness, and three of the four messages in this series will be from Romans 12. In context he talks about the sovereignty of God. In chapter 11 he ends with that marvelous doxology: “Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways.” And he ends in verse 36: “From him and through him and to him are all things to be glory forever and ever.” What a marvelous crescendo of praise to God!
And then he says, “I urge you brethren because of the mercies of God, present yourselves to him.” I’d love to preach on verses 1 and 2, but I’m not going to do that today. I’m going to have to hurry to verse 3. But first of all see the connection in the passage. He says in the last part of verse 2 that we should renew our minds that we may prove what the will of God is, which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Now listen up, those of you who are still looking for the will of God. Paul is going to tell you now what the will of God is. It isn’t as mysterious as you think. It isn’t a revelation that comes down out of heaven, because notice the connectedness of the passage. Verse 3: “For…” That word for connects it to the will of God. And then notice the word “For” in verse 4. “For just as we have many members in one body…” So he’s going to discuss the will of God, so if you’ve come wondering what it is, you’ve come to the right place.
Now let’s look at what the text says. Verse 3: “For I say through the grace given to me, to every man…” I’m reading this from the New American Standard. I think the NIV says “every person – every individual,” and that’s good. That’s good because that’s obviously what Paul means.
Now sometimes when we’re talking to somebody we say, “You know, I’m going to say something to you, but don’t take it personally.” Well, today I’m going to say something to you and I want you to take it very personally – very personally, and that is Paul’s admonition. He says, “A man should not think of himself more highly than he ought to think.” Let’s just stop there. Paul is saying, “If you know what the will of God is, know who you are and do not have illusions of grandeur, but think of yourself soberly. Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think.”
I can’t move past that verse without commenting on it. You know that most of us don’t have a good appreciation for who we are. I’ve lived long enough to know that in human relationships almost always, for example, an employee sees his importance and the quality of his work to be much better than those who supervise him. Not all the time! But oftentimes we’re just so unrealistic in terms of who we are, and I’ve known people who have bragged about gifts and abilities that they simply did not have. We need to be able to be realistic in our assessment. Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think.
Now, what God often does is He brings people into our lives who help us know who we really are. Wives perform that responsibility with a great deal of ability and oftentimes regularity. Don’t they, you guys? You know, I remember hearing about a preacher who apparently preached a good sermon. That happens occasionally, I suppose, and somebody came up later and said, “You know, your sermon was so good. I think that you are one of the greatest men in America.” And that lodged in his mind, and on the way home he told his wife about what this woman had said. And she was very silent, but he pressed on and said, “Honey, how many great men do you think there are in America?” And she said, “Well, I don’t know the answer to that but I do know it’s one less than you think there are.” (laughter)
We’re not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. But now notice that we are to think soberly or with sound judgment. This is a definition of sanity. The Greek word that is used was used of sane people. If you are insane you think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. That’s why there are insane asylums filled with people who believe that they are Jesus Christ or Napoleon. They don’t know really who they are. I want you to know today that spiritual growth is understanding who we are. It is understanding our sinfulness. It is also, though, understanding God’s grace, because if you only understand your sinfulness you’re going to be in defeat and discouragement, and you’re going to have an inferiority complex. Remember that old line about the psychiatrist who said to this person, “You know, you think that you have a problem because you have an inferiority complex. You don’t have a problem; you actually are inferior,” he said. (chuckles) And so the Scripture says that what we need to do is to think sanely.
I can only testify from my own life that what God is doing within me is constantly showing me that I’m a much greater sinner, standing in much greater need than I ever realized. That’s part of the development. But then you lay hold of God’s matchless grace.
You know, Dr. Alan Redpath, who was pastor here at The Moody Church during the sixties for nine years, said that long after he went back to the British Isles and became a pastor there that when he experienced his stroke, as he was recuperating, within himself he began to see anger, and lust and hate and insecurities. And he said that lying there he came to the conclusion that the only good thing about Alan Redpath is Jesus Christ.
And that’s really knowing who you are. You say, “Oh no, that’s depreciating who you really are.” No, it’s understanding that, because it’s coupled with grace that God takes unworthy people who in themselves have no good and He does something wonderful with them. That’s the message of the Gospel.
Now, with that background I want you to notice very quickly three connections in the passage that are going to help us see its relevance to community and to whoever you are that’s listening. I’m speaking directly to those of you who are here at The Moody Church, particularly those of you who call The Moody Church your church home, or at least you attend here with some degree of regularity. But if you are a visitor, or if you are listening by the radio, what you need to understand is, I want you to connect with the people of God in your community and in your church. Whatever that body may be represented in your situation, it’s important that we have these connections.
Let’s look at it. First of all, we are connected to the Body. Verse 4: “For just as we have many members in one body, and all the members do not have the same function, so we who are many are one body in Christ.” We are connected to the Body. The analogy is the human body. Paul says, “Just as your body has many members, and yet is one.” That’s true of the Body of Christ.
Now if you are looking in a mirror, what do you discover about the members of your body. First of all, I think you realize that it would be a bad idea to have members of your body walk away. There would be dire consequences. What if your thumb were to say, “You know, I am sick and tired of those other four fingers. I don’t get the same publicity that they do, but furthermore, we don’t work together very well anymore.” Well, thank God your thumb, even if it could say that, has no alternative, because the other alternative is unthinkable. It’s a bad idea.
Now listen up. We think to ourselves, “Well, you know, just because we’re connected spiritually with one another, and not physically, we can walk away.” And yes, we can. We can go from church to church. We can leave Moody Church if we don’t like it because there’s another church down the street. Or you can leave that fellowship and you can go to another fellowship, and you can, but listen to me carefully. If you are disconnected from the Body, if you are this strong individualist who thinks you don’t need other members of the Body, it is gruesome and there are dire consequences.
That’s why I like to keep telling and retelling that story about a man in Canada who went into the fridge in a doctor’s home to get himself something to eat, and saw that human hand wrapped in a piece of plastic, and lost his appetite. There’s nothing wrong with a human hand. You brought two of them with you today. Most of you did. Many of you are watching my two hands right now. Cut off from the body, it’s gruesome! And you cut off from the fellowship of believers, that independent Christian! Could I say it? Perhaps even a church sampler! I want you to know today that you hurt, and so does the Body hurt because we are members one of another. You can’t walk away from the Body without it being gruesome.
Also, as you look in the mirror you can see that we share the same head. Don’t we? All the members of my body, most of the time, take their cue from my head. And we function as a unit. If I’m sitting down at my computer and I’m doing some typing, as I try to do from time to time, I am totally coordinated. My feet are cooperating. They’re not going anywhere. My fingers are cooperating. My elbows are cooperating. From time to time my brain even cooperates. My mouth cooperates. It’s shut. It’s not talking. And so everything is working together.
You know, elsewhere the Apostle Paul made that statement. He said that we all are different, and he said, “What if the whole body wanted to be an ear? What if the whole body wanted to be an eye?” The only think it could do is watch television all the time. Or catch this one! You’ll relate to this. What if the whole body wanted to be a tongue? (chuckles) Paul says, “Then where would the hearing be? Where would the seeing be?”
Now we all fit somewhere within this body. We are connected to one another, aren’t we? In fact, that’s the next connection. We’re connected to the body so obviously we’re connected to one another. That is very evident. Now, what the Apostle Paul does here (and I hope you are taking notes today) is he lists seven of the gifts. These are the major gifts. These are the motivational gifts. These are the gifts that you and I have been given. Some have been given more than one gift. And I need to say this. This applies to women just as much as it does to men. I see nothing in the New Testament that limits the gifts to men. It applies to women. Women have certain functions within the church in terms of leadership that the Scripture comments on, but when it comes to gifting, it is distributed throughout the Body. So I want everyone to listen.
I remember Bill Gothard giving some of the characteristics of these gifts. I’m going to give you some characteristics and help you decide right here today where you may fit within the Body. Let’s list the gifts.
First of all, prophecy! A prophet is someone who speaks forth the Word of God. They have a tendency to make quick judgments. They have an uncanny ability to smell hypocrisy a long ways away. They just like to cut right through it and they see hypocrisy. Now there are some problems with prophets and that is that sometimes they find it a little more difficult to see their own need. They see it more clearly in the life of others. They also, though, are sometimes impatient, because when they see injustice, they want an answer right away. They want it taken care of. That’s the gift of prophecy.
The gift of serving! Those are people who see practical needs and meet them with joy in service. Now listen up, you servers. There is something about you that I’d like to tell, and that is that oftentimes you will disregard your personal health, and your personal welfare just to serve. That’s the way a servant is. The person with the gift of servanthood finds it so difficult to say no that sometimes they just get worn out serving. But they also need to have affirmation. They need to know that they are doing things right. That’s the way God wired those who have the gift of service.
The next is teaching. It’s the desire to validate truth. It’s the desire to be systematic in the communication of truth. Research! Accuracy in reporting! Always concerned about information! Teachers are oftentimes so information oriented that I’m reminded of the little poem that we used to have when we were growing up:
Ram it in, cram it in,
People’s heads are hollow.
Ram it in, cram it in,
Make sure there’s more to follow.
Teachers are content oriented.
Now listen! Number four is exhortation. Exhorters motivate people to maturity in Christ. They’d like to give precise steps on what you have to do to change behavior. They long for a positive response on the part of people. Exhorters like to look into people’s eyes because they need to know that they are connecting. They just cannot be disconnected when they are teaching or preaching. They desire harmony within the Body, and they are always working toward unity and harmony because they know that spiritual growth can’t take place without it. That’s the exhorter!
Well, let’s go to the gift of giving. It’s the ability to discern wise investments so that more money can be given away. Givers are motivated to give with the Lord’s prompting. Sometimes they resist. They resist appeals given by men, but they love to give, and they are usually very frugal. I remember being at a camp this summer, and a man came to me and said, “You know, my wife and I love to give money away.” Now that’s music to a preacher’s ears. I listened up at that point. But you know, there’s no doubt that he had the gift of giving. Very frugal! They live very simply. Why? It’s because they love to give money away. And to them frugality was proof and really a part of who they were so that they could give more away. God bless them! They have a tendency, also, to judge others by their use of money.
Now, I can imagine somebody saying, “Well, thank God that I came to Moody Church today. I don’t have the gift of giving and that means I don’t have to give. Here I’ve been giving all this time and I don’t even have the gift.” (chuckles) Oh no, I’m not going to let you go on that one. No, no, no! Listen carefully. All of us must exercise all gifts at some time or another. When I talk about the gifted process, God gives us one basic gift but then we have to exercise all of them as God gives us ability. But some are uniquely gifted in areas.
Administration! That’s the ability to visualize the final result of a major undertaking, to break down long term goals to achievable tasks, a willingness to endure hardship and criticism to see that those goals are accomplished, and the ability to inspire others, to lead them, to see the steps needed, and to take people along until the project, whatever it may be, is accomplished. That’s a marvelous gift that some people have.
Number seven is the gift of mercy. People with the gift of mercy often are those who themselves have been deeply wounded and hurt, and so they pick up hurt people. Hurt people are attracted to them. They find them out. Somehow they almost just seem to be able to pick up their scent, and pretty soon they’ve attached themselves to people who are in need. They are always attracted to people who are having mental, emotional or physical distress, and there’s a tendency on the part of those who have the gift of mercy to avoid firmness (That’s the word that I want.) in relationships. They also can’t say no. They are scandalized by any injustice where anyone is hurt. That’s the gift of mercy.
What is Paul saying? He’s saying, “Look, folks, we are connected one to another, and what we need is we need all the members of the Body functioning.”
During the past months and years we’ve had a lot of new people come to The Moody Church. Some of them have become members. Some of them have not become members. And we suspect that there are many who come on Sunday morning, for example, and we don’t exactly know whom they are because we don’t see them the rest of the time during the week.
Let me speak to you very candidly. It is God’s intention that we interact and work with other members of the Body who have other gifting. The prophets should be working with people who have the gift of mercy. It almost tears them apart to see it, but what has to happen is we need people with the gift of giving working with the people with the gift of administration. We need exhorters who are up against people who may have the gift of serving. And therefore we need one another. That’s why you cannot serve Christ simply in a vacuum, and serve Him most effectively. It doesn’t mean that you have to serve within the walls of this building. We have small group ministries, and by the way, you are going to hear about our ministries before this series is over. But it’s important that the ushers work together, that the Sunday school teachers work together, that those who are in charge of parking work together and that those with the gift of helps have opportunities to work in so many different areas here at the church and minister together. Why? It’s because that’s where the Body grows and comes together and develops and matures in Christ.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, you are getting very inward. Is all that you are just thinking about is the Body itself? Aren’t you concerned about the world? It is only when we are healthy in relation to the Body, which the New Testament emphasizes so much, it is then that we become more effective in reaching the world. You see, we can’t do it alone, and so it’s God’s intention to bring people together.
When we function together, that’s when things begin to happen - when you have those who have the gift of administration and the gift of exhortation and the gift of prophesy, and we work together and we put up with one another – lovingly put up with one another. Sometimes you are at a meeting, and you know, we have a difference of opinion. Somebody says, “Well, I think this,” and somebody says, “I think that.” And we think there’s disunity. No, there’s no disunity. It’s everyone looking through a situation through his own eyes and his own giftedness and the way in which God wired him. And so we learn from everyone, but we work together for the glory of God.
And I say it to those of you who perhaps have been attending for a long while, “Come! Buy into what we’re doing. Come to the membership seminar. See who we are as a church. Let’s do greater things together for the glory of God.”
And here at Moody Church we often have people come who have been hurt by the Body because sometimes the Body can hurt. If you haven’t been hurt by another Christian, you’re probably very, very young. (chuckles) And so there are people who say, “You know, I’m just here to heal.” That’s fine, but how long is it going to take you to heal? You know, it is often said that if you get burned drinking hot milk, after that you even blow on yogurt. So there are many people who are just saying, “You know, I’ve been hurt and I don’t want to get involved in the Body.” Well, listen. You have to take the risk of getting hurt again, but get involved in the Body of Christ because we need you, and you need us.
And so God has brought us together that we might work together for the good of the Body, for the protection of the Body, because my body is very protective of its various parts. I’ve often said, “You know, if you stumble on a sidewalk, your arm is willing to be broken to protect the head. It doesn’t say, ‘Now how much is this going to cost me if I’m going to put out myself to cushion this fall?’ No, it says, ‘Look, I’m willing to be smashed for the good of the head.’” That’s the commitment we are called to today. And so I don’t want to be too hard on you, but I do have to say that there could be some people listening who are saying, “Look, preach to me. Sing to me. When I am sick, visit me. Take care of me.” But you have nothing that you are contributing and you are withholding yourself from the Body that needs you.
The function of the body! How wonderfully and marvelously we are put together! You know, if I have something to do, my feet carry me where I need to go. My eyes guide me so that I get there, and when I arrive it’s my hands that actually do what needs to be done. And so we function together.
And Paul is saying, “Look, just look at yourself in the mirror and then say, ‘Is this the Body of Christ at Moody Church?’” People say, “Well, you know, I’m a member of the invisible church.” Well, needless to say, I have never seen the invisible church. No, you are a member of the Body of Christ but you function within a body that is localized in space and time. And this Body happens to be at LaSalle Street and North Avenue in Chicago, so come with us and let us see what God would do among us as we grow together for the glory of God.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, this has been a wonderful experience, but how do I become a member of this Body? You keep talking about the Body of Christ. And by the way, next week we’re going to talk about how the Body can heal itself, and if not next week, then the week after. But you know, you say, “How do I become a member?” Well, it’s through faith in Jesus because, you see, when Jesus died on the cross, He died that we might have a sacrifice for our sins so that we can have fellowship with God, and that Jesus can meet all of our requirements before God on our behalf. Twenty-four hours a day God demands perfection from me if I am to be in fellowship with Him. Twenty-four hours a day Jesus keeps supplying what God demands, and that’s the Gospel. And I invite you to believe in Christ. You will become a member of the Body and begin to function the way in which God intended.
Let me ask you. Would you pray to God and say, “God, where do I fit within the Body of Christ?” We’re going to give you some opportunities to respond to that question, but pray about your commitment to the local Body.
And our Father, we do want to thank You today for your faithfulness. Thank You for the diversity of the Body. Thank You for the diversity of color, the diversity of economic background, the diversity of educational background, the diversity of giftedness. Lord, we delight in seeing these differences come together under the good hand of God, but Lord, there’s a job to be done here in Chicago. We pray that You might do what I have no hope of doing, and that is work within lives that they may be committed where You have led them for the glory of Your name we ask, Amen.