(Part 1 of 6)
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31
Expectations. Just about everywhere you go in life, you encounter them. At work, there are expectations of you as an employee. You have to be on time, you have to do your job, and you have to work with the people around you. At school there are expectations. You’re expected to study, to pay attention, and to be able to demonstrate you’ve learned a considerable portion of what’s been taught to you. In families there are expectations. They vary from family to family, but they’re there. In marriages there are expectations. They also vary, but some common expectations are that you are love your spouse, and you are to be faithful to your spouse. When you go to a store, you have expectations. You expect them to stand behind their product, and you expect to be treated fairly. When you come to church, you have expectations. You expect the music style to be to your liking. You expect the preacher to expand the word of God fully, but to be finished by noon. You expect top quality programming for your children. You expect others to treat you with respect and to be sensitive to your wishes. You find expectations everywhere. If your child or grandchild joins a sports team, there are expectations. He/she must attend practice regularly in order to stay on the team. All individuals have expectations, and all organization have expectations, except two. These two organizations, these two groups of people, often do not communicate any expectations to the people who belong to them. The first is a country club. In a country club you basically pay your dues, and unless you’re just totally obnoxious, nothing else is expected of you. Just enjoy. The second organization is many local churches. Over the last several decades the expectations of individual church members by the church to which they belong have plummeted. Now there are many congregations that are declining or dying, and one of the main reasons is that they have no expectations of the people who belong to them. Church membership means little to nothing in many congregations, so as a result church members do nothing. From the standpoint of the Bible however, God expects quite a bit of church members. His expectations are realistic, and they are clear. They are well-defined in his word. One thing is very clear in the Bible – the church isn’t a country club. You just don’t pay a bit of money every year, then sit back, relax and do as you please. God expects more of His people. There is a little booklet circulating around First Baptist Church of Nitro entitled, “I Am a Church Member.” What the author does is basically gather together everything the Bible says about the meaning of church membership and puts it one place. It’s really more of a Bible study than book. Through that collection of Scriptures, God is working to turn around declining and dying congregations. People are discovering again what it really means to be a church member. Once church membership has defined meaning and clear expectations, it becomes exciting again and full of life. So I’m beginning a series of messages on what God expects of you, and of me, as church members. The messages parallel the chapters of the book. The first expectation God has of you as a church member is that you participate. Based on the Scriptures, you and I are to participate in three ways.
First of all, God expects me to participate individually. 1 Corinthians 12:18 says, But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. One phrase of that verse is very important. “…God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” What the Apostle Paul is doing here is comparing a church to a physical body. Everyone’s physical body has different parts that have unique functions. Every part is important. Every part needs every other part. Every part is in the body for a reason. Someone may say, “Well pastor, what about an appendix. What part does it play?” The answer is, “I don’t know.”
I do know that if your appendix gets inflamed and infected, you’ve got serious problems. If it ruptures, you could die.” So whatever its purpose may be, its well-being is important to the body. If it’s there, it needs to be healthy. If it isn’t healthy, the rest of the body suffers. The point of this verse is that God wants you, just as you are as an individual, in the body of Christ, the church. He wants you in it, he wants you joined to it, he wants you participating and bringing to it what only you can bring. Verse 20 says, “As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” God expects me to participate lovingly.
Then, God expects me to participate cooperatively. One of the main reasons God expects you to participate is that he’s put someone like you in the church for a reason. He places different people, unique people, in each congregation, because he has a purpose for them. Verses 27-28 say, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.” What you bring for the good of First Baptist Church of Nitro may or may not be listed in these two verses, but the point is that you are important, and your participation is vital. God expects you, and me, to participate cooperatively, with the gifts and the personalities that he’s given. From a Biblical standpoint, there is no such thing as inactive church member. There is no such as a retired church member. God expects you and me to work together with unique gifts and talents. “Well pastor, I can’t get around like I used to do.” Then pray – the church needs more people who are active in praying for the leaders and the other members. Do what you can. “Well pastor, I’m really, really busy with providing for my family.” Is there any better way you can provide for your family than to nurture them spiritually in church? God expects me to participate cooperatively, to join with others. As Paul describes a physical body and compares it to a church, the idea underlying everything he says is cooperation. Everything is working together under the direction of the head, Jesus Christ. When all the members are not working together, it’s obvious that something is definitely wrong with the body. When a physical body becomes slowed and the members aren’t responding as they should to the brain, a disease such as Parkinson’s could be present. When parts of the body begin attacking one another and destroying one another, cancer could the culprit. The point is that something is wrong when the body of Christ isn’t submitted to Christ, or when it is turning inward and attacking. It’s a common sickness in churches, and it’s been happening since the New Testament. Paul wrote to the church at Galatia in Galatians 5:15, “If you go on hurting each other and tearing each other apart, be careful, or you will completely destroy each other.” Cooperation is the sign of healthy church, not rebellion, indignation or confrontation. God expects me to participate cooperatively.
Then, God also expects me to participate lovingly. 1 Corinthians 12, the passage that describes how the church is to function, is followed by 1 Corinthians 13. 1 Corinthians 13 is often called “the love chapter.” It’s read at weddings and often cited in books about Christian marriage. Then comes 1 Corinthians 14, which describes how the church is to function. The problem for many Christians today is that they overlook the primary focus of chapter 13. Chapter 13 is certainly the love chapter, but it is talking about the love church members are to have for one another. 1 Corinthians 13 is all about church! Based on this passage, God expects you and me to participate in the church lovingly. Love is the foundation of church membership. Your love for your brothers and sisters in Christ is more important than the style of music you prefer. Your love for your brothers and sisters in Christ is more important than the area of ministry you favor. It’s about this time in the message that a person tends to think of other people who need to get their act together when it comes to loving. That man or that woman hasn’t been as loving as he or she should have been, and it just isn’t right! So I believe I’ll go and just give that person a piece of mind! The thing is, that man or woman is someone for whom Christ died. He loves him or her just as much as he does you. So realize the change begins not with the other person, but with you. You have no control over how loving other people are. You only have control over how loving you are, and how loving you will allow God to make you. The loving begins with you taking the initiative toward others.
So what does God expect of you and me as a church member? He expects me to participate individually, cooperatively, and lovingly. On the back of your sermon outline insert there is a pledge you can take with me as a member of First Baptist Church of Nitro. At the end of the pledge, if you’d like to sign it and date it, there’s a place for it. If you want to make a difference as a member of FBC Nitro, it begins here and now. If you’d like to read it with me, feel free to do so.
“I am a church member.
“I like the metaphor of membership. It’s not membership as in a civic organization or a country club. It’s the kind of membership given to us in 1 Corinthians 12: “Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27).
“Because I am a member of the body of Christ, I must be a functioning member, whether I am an “eye,” an “ear,” or a “hand.” As a functioning member, I will give. I will serve. I will minister. I will evangelize. I will study. I will seek to be a blessing to others. I will remember that “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:26).