How do you use the Bible? "What do you mean?" Do you use the Bible? "Yes." How do you personally make use of it? "What do you mean?" Do you limit your use of the Bible to times of high personal distress? Do you use it to study a Bible lesson to prepare for a Bible classes? Do you use it daily, weekly, monthly, yearly?

Does the meaning of a statement in the Bible matter to you, or do you read because you realize the value of reading the Bible? Is meaning determined by personal impressions? When you read something in the Bible, do you let the meaning be determined by what you always have heard?

Do you study the Bible? Are you constantly seeking to deepen your understanding--even if that means thinking about things you never considered before? How do you use the Bible?

The number one reason for abusing the Bible is this: rarely, if ever, reading it in an earnest desire to study the meaning of a statement.

The number two reason for abusing the Bible is this: restricting the meaning of a statement to what you were told to hear instead of letting it speak for itself.

Through the centuries the Bible has been one of the most abused books ever written. Through the centuries people fall to the same temptation when they use the Bible. A situation arises people do not like [it may or may not be an evil situation]. They use the Bible to condemn that situation. If the words say what they want said, they apply the words to the situation they want to condemn. They do not ask, "What was the writer talking about when he wrote those words?" They are not deeply concerned with what the writer meant by the words. The words just say what they want said to condemn what they want to condemn, so they use the words.

  1. In three different letters (Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Ephesians) Paul uses his "body" illustration to explain how people in Christ who are very different relate to each other.
    1. When I was growing up, the number one use I heard of Paul's body illustration was a condemnation of the denominational approach to Christian existence.
      1. The denominational approach to Christianity did not exist in the first century.
      2. In fact, the denominational approach to Christianity would not exist for several hundred years.
      3. That being true, Paul's point had nothing to do with the denominational concept.
      4. So what was Paul saying? What was his point in his "body" illustration?
    2. In Romans 12:3-8, Paul wrote this to the Christians in Rome:
      For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. 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, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
      1. Book context:
        1. The Jewish Christians had a major struggle with non-Jewish Christians in that congregation.
        2. It was a control issue: it involved who was in charge and who was going to say how things were done.
        3. It was an extremely sensitive situation.
      2. Immediate context:
        1. Christians in Rome must have this understanding if they were to be a living sacrifice: in spite of differences, they were one body in Christ.
        2. They must let God change the way they think.
        3. They must come to an understanding of God's will from a new way of thinking.
      3. Four points stand out prominently to me in the reading we just shared.
        1. There is no place for arrogance among the people who belong to Christ.
        2. God had no intention for the Christians in Rome to be spiritual clones performing identical functions.
        3. If they were to be one body in Christ, they had to belong to each other.
        4. Do what God gave you the ability to do, and do it well for the benefit of all Christians in Rome.
    3. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-17, Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth:
      For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, "Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body," it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, "Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body," it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; or again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it.
      1. Book context: this congregation had many Christians with superiority attitudes.
        1. They had four rivaling factions who divided the congregation.
        2. They had a Christian man in an incestuous relationship with his father's wife who continued fellowship with them as though nothing is wrong.
        3. They had Christians going to pagan courts to settle differences.
        4. They had Christian men visiting prostitutes who said this was a perfectly godly practice.
        5. They had confusion and competition when they had assemblies.
      2. In the immediate context, Paul wrote about their rivalry in their use of spiritual gifts.
        1. God gave them the gifts.
        2. God gave them the gifts to bless the whole congregation, not to use as personal possessions.
        3. They were using the gifts as personal possessions to advance themselves personally at the expense of the congregation.
      3. There are four points that stand out to me in Paul's statement.
        1. You Christians at Corinth make a single body.
        2. The same Spirit and the same immersion made everyone of you just one body, and it does not make any difference if you are or are not a Jew and if you are or are not a slave--you are just one body.
        3. God deliberately lets you be spiritually different so as one body you can do many different things.
        4. God made you to need and depend on each other, so take care of each other.
    4. In Ephesians 4:11-16, Paul wrote to the Christians in the city of Ephesus.
      And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
      1. Book context:
        1. The city of Ephesus was a prominent city in the Roman empire located in Asia Minor.
        2. Among the major things this city was known for was the world headquarters for the temple of Artemis.
        3. The temple in Ephesus dedicated to Artemis was the most prominent temple in the world dedicated to that goddess (female).
        4. That religion figured prominently in their economy, their society, the politics, and their every day life.
      2. The immediate context:
        1. Most of the Christians in that city were converted from an idolatrous lifestyle.
        2. The people who became Christians came from diverse backgrounds and ungodly lifestyles.
        3. Producing a congregation dedicated to unity from converts who worshipped idols and lived evil lifestyles before conversion had unique, special problems.
      3. What Paul wrote directly connected with what he said in verses 1-4.
        1. It is connected to urging these Christians to live in a manner worthy of their calling.
        2. It is connected to urging these Christians to be humble, gentle, and patient as they were forbearing with each other in love.
        3. It is connected with his urging them to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
      4. These are the points that stand out to me.
        1. It is obvious in the leadership that God put in place that Christians have different gifts with different responsibilities.
        2. The objective of all these gifts is the same: the equipping Christians to serve--that is the way the body of Christ will be built up in Ephesus.
        3. The specific objectives are these:
          1. Unity of faith [in Christ] which was essential to those who had worshipped numerous gods.
          2. Unity of knowledge of Christ which was essential to those who had worshipped numerous gods.
          3. Spiritual maturity to duplicate the image of Christ.
        4. Why all the emphasis on Christ? He was "the glue" that would allow them to be one body.

  2. In these three illustrations, what was Paul's basic point?
    1. Christians have the responsibility to function with each other as Christ's body.
      1. If they are to be Christ's body, they must respect each other, depend on each other, and accept their differences.
      2. As Christians, they will never be identical [there would be differences between Jewish Christians and non-Jewish Christians].
      3. But as Christians, they would find "oneness" by mutually belonging to each other because they were in Christ.
    2. Understanding Paul's point in his body illustration would solve a lot of problems among Christians today.
      1. I call your attention to something that is pretty obvious: Paul's illustration was not based on worship practices.
        1. Our worship practices are far too often based on personal preferences.
        2. Paul's illustration said Christians must dedicate themselves to something much more important to God than worship practices if they are to be Christ's body.
      2. Since Paul's body illustration is not based on worship practices, on what was it based?
        1. It was based on the way Christians treat other Christians who are different.
        2. It was based on Christians respecting differences in Christians.
      3. That was a whole new way of thinking, especially for Jewish Christians.
        1. God works through differences.
        2. God uses differences in Christ to build up the body of Christ.

As Christians, our differences increase God's opportunities to achieve His purposes.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 14 July 2002

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