When I was small, my granny had a Victorian writing desk which had lots of little drawers inside it, stuffed full of old photos, (including glass lantern slides of granny in her big hat, and long dress, on the beach at Arbroath as a young woman) ration books, letters. And a number of wee envelopes with locks of my Mum’s and her brothers’ hair. Somehow that was different to the photos and the ration books. The hair was organically connected to my Mum and my uncles. It had their DNA in it. The Church is like that.
Paul uses a number of pictures for the Church. Can you think of some? The other ones, like God’s field, and god’s building are like the photos in my granny’s desk. This one, the Body of Christ, like the locks of hair, is different. It has a “specially firm grasp of reality” says Professor F F Bruce. The Church is Jesus’ body because it has Jesus’ DNA in it.
In the Old Testament, God embodies his covenant relationship with his people in a colourful place to worship, in a system of sacrifices, in circumcision, in a land flowing with milk and honey. Then, when messiah came, he came in a physical body. The word became flesh. And then, he left a bunch of people to be his body, to embody his life in the power of the Spirit in the physical world. Twice in our reading Paul mentions “the body, his body, the Church” (v 18, 24). To be “In Christ” is to be in that “Church” which is his body. And that’s what I want to explore this morning. What it means for the church to “be his body”.
Firstly, it means we are well-connected . Jesus is god. “Image” in verse 15 does not mean Jesus “looks like God.” It isn’t about being a copy, but about being the visible face of the invisible God. This is what we are connected with. We are made “in the image of God” – like a reflection of who he is. But Jesus becomes human, takes our God-like human flesh, and fills it with the very nature of God.
To be “In Christ” is to be connected with the eternal. the Creator of all things, the one in whom all things hold together. We are connected not just with the story of a man who was crucified and rose again. We are connected with the person of the Creator of all things. We are connected with the Being without whom the universe would dissolve into chaos.
We can be confident because we are so well-connected.
Second, it means we are under authority . Jesus is head of the Body (the Church). Quite simply, he is in charge. In January this year my friend Keith Short said this: “If the Church is the Body of Christ, it should look like Jesus; it should reveal God.” He is right, 100%. The church is energised by Christ’s power and is the instrument through which he carries on his work.
Thirdly, it means we are reconciled . Jesus is the reconciler. Paul uses a unique word here. It looks as if Paul made it up by sticking a “from” in front of the usual word for reconcile. A bit like us sticking “mega” or “hyper” in front of a word.
• He reconciles all things to the Father. Our reconciliation is part of the bigger plan of God bring everything into line with his will…
• Reconciliation is through the blood he shed on the cross.
• Reconciliation brings us from into relationship with God and therefore into relationships with each other (See Ephesians 2. 14-18) Which neatly brings us to how we play our part in the Body.
Fourthly, it means stewardship . Playing our part: Paul speaks about his own ministry (the word is diakonia which means “table-service”) in the Body (the Church). He says he became a servant of the gospel (v. 23) and a servant of the Church (v. 25). Think of a waiter in a posh hotel: does he serve dinner, or does he serve people? Answer , “Both”. (Joke: Once, a steak pie walked into a pub just before closing time: when the barman saw him he said “Sorry, mate, we don’t serve food at this time of night!”)
So Paul serves the Good news, and he serves the Body, by God’s commission – which literally means stewardship – given to me for you. That’s the way all ministry is supposed to work. Something given, by God, to me, for you. Something given by God, to peter, for the fellowship. Something given by God, to Natalie, for all of us.
Specifically, Paul is presenting the word of God in its fullness the mystery of Christ (Messiah) in you (Gentile people) the hope of Glory. You can’t separate service in the Church from Mission beyond it.
So, fifthly, it means Mission . Let me ask you, what is “Lacking in Christ’s Suffering” (v. 25)? In terms of dealing with our sin, nothing: the Price is Paid! We are reconciled. In taking our sins Jesus was fulfilling the role of the “Suffering Servant” (Isaiah 53. 4-5). But God says quite clearly in Isa 49. 3, that the Servant is Israel, God’s people. And he promises that the Servant will be “A light to the gentiles” (Isaiah 49. 6) And that became Paul and Barnabas’ text as they went on mission among the gentiles (Acts 13. 47)
The Suffering Servant in Isaiah was the people of God. Christ, Messiah, became the suffering servant, taking the place of a rebellious nation. But now, the people of God, the Church, are again the Servant.
Paul is talking about Mission. What is lacking and still to be paid, is the sacrificial cost of engaging in mission. Paul rejoices because through his suffering, people were converted and added to the church.
We are Christ’s body: amazingly connected with the living God. Called to obey Jesus the head. Reconciled, saved. Called to serve one another. And called to continue his mission. I was challenged this week talking to someone who felt sad because she constantly hears preachers telling her she’s got to share her faith; but I’m not sure they tell her how to go about it; and I wondered if I sometimes do the same thing. The living Christ calls us to be the bread he uses to show himself to our world. So for a few weeks we are going to be looking at how we do that. We will use the acronym “Bread”: Blessing others; Reliance on the Spirit; Eating; Attentiveness to Jesus; and Dialogue, conversations.
© Gilmour Lilly May 2019