MISUNDERSTANDING IS EASY:
UNDERSTANDING IS HARD
Alan Smith, in "Thought for Today," shared this hilarious, real life newspaper ad
that appeared four days in a row. Mr. R.D. Jones was trying to sell a sewing machine.
For sale: R.D. Jones has one sewing machine for sale. Phone
948-0707 after 7 p.m. and ask for Mrs. Kelly, who lives with him cheap.
Notice: We regret having erred in R.D. Jones' ad yesterday. It should
have read "One sewing machine for sale cheap. Phone 948-0707 and ask for Mrs.
Kelly, who lives with him after 7 p.m."
Notice: R.D. Jones has informed us that he has received several
annoying telephone calls because of the error we made in the classified ad yesterday.
The ad stands correct as follows: For sale--R.D. Jones has one sewing machine for
sale. Cheap. Phone 948-0707 after 7 p.m. and ask for Mrs. Kelly who loves with him.
Notice: I, R.D. Jones, have no sewing machine for sale. I smashed
it. Don't call 948-0707 as I have had the phone disconnected. I have not been carrying
on with Mrs. Kelly. Until yesterday she was my housekeeper but she quit!
What an incredible illustration of two truths. Truth one: it is hard to communicate
understandably. Truth two: established thinking always distorts new information.
- When the writers of the New Testament attempted to teach congregations the
concept of the church, they were teaching them a new concept.
- Established thinking distorted this new concept.
- The writers used numerous images that everyone understood as they
attempted to teach new Christians this new concept.
- For example, they compared the church to a kingdom (Matthew 16:18,19),
an old concept that everyone understood quite well.
- They also used the images of a bride (Revelation 21:9); a flock of sheep
(1 Peter 5:2); and the household or family of God (1 Timothy 3:15), all old
concepts very familiar to everyone.
- Three times, one of the writers, Paul, used the image of a physical body as
he tried to teach three different congregations the concept of the church.
- Each of those three times, Paul addressed a different problem.
- All three lessons make some of the same points, but each lesson to each
congregation has a different focus and a different basic emphasis.
- Let me focus your attention on each of the three lessons. I invite you to follow in
your Bible as I discuss each lesson.
- Paul used the image of the physical body to teach a lesson to the church in
Rome (Romans 12:3-8).
- Paul's basic lesson to these Christians in Rome: just as there is enormous
diversity in a physical body, there it enormous diversity in the church.
- What reality was Paul addressing in the church in Rome?
- This congregation was composed of Jewish Christians who had lived
by the law of Moses and non-Jewish Christians who had worshipped
- These Christians came from backgrounds that were in total contrast;
they were completely different people.
- Their differences made adjusting to and accepting each other a
horrible, demanding experience.
- Paul stressed these lessons:
- Every ability that every one of you have came from God; therefore, do
not exaggerate your importance to the church.
- Different body parts have different abilities and perform different
functions; yet, each part uniquely benefits the body.
- My fingernails and my knee caps have no similar function.
- But both fingernails and knee caps provide my body unique
- Whatever you are able to do, do it well for the benefit of the body.
- Paul used the same image, the physical body, to teach a different lesson to
the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).
- This was Paul's basic lesson to these Christians: all parts of a body are
interdependent (every part depends on every part).
- What reality was Paul addressing in this congregation?
- Most of the Christians in this congregation were non-Jews, and they
had fairly common backgrounds.
- However, they were competing with each other as they tried to prove
who had the greatest spiritual significance.
- They were abusing the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit gave them by
using those gifts to compete against each other in the congregation.
- The Holy Spirit gave each one on them a gift to use to bless the whole
- By using the image of a physical body, Paul stressed these lessons:
- Diversity of function and diversity of ability exists within a body for the
good of the body.
- A body is not composed of identical parts.
- No part of the body is independent; every part of the body needs and
benefits from every other part of the body.
- If all parts were identical, there would be no body.
- Every part of the body should have "the spirit of reciprocal concern"
(Richard E. Oster, Jr., 1 Corinthians: The College Press NIV
Commentary, page 306) which is illustrated by the body's response to
pain--that is the way we should respond to each other.
- In these lessons, Paul placed a heavy emphasis on God's design.
- God designed the body to be interdependent.
- God's gifts to members in the body came from God's spirit.
- God made the body for unity, not for division.
- God gave individual's gifts so that the individual could serve the body.
- All this exists by God's design; it is not a matter of choice or
- Paul used the image of a physical body to teach a third lesson to the
congregation at Ephesus (Ephesians 4:11-16).
- This was the basic lesson to the Christians at Ephesus: every spiritual
role that God established in the church has the God-given responsibility
to benefit the church.
- The reality in that congregation: they did not understand God's purposes
in the church.
- In that ignorance, we have a lot in common with them.
- In their society, a person used existing groups to advance himself--you
used the group to promote yourself, to win honor, to gain prestige.
- You did not exist for the good of the group; the group existed to create
opportunity for you.
- We have a similar problem--the group exists to honor and respond to
"my rights"; "my rights" are more important than the group.
- Paul used the image of the physical body to teach these lessons:
- All divinely established roles exist to accomplish two divine objectives:
(a) to equip Christians to serve, and (b) to build up the body of Christ.
- This is a continuing objective because it seeks unity of the faith, unity
of knowledge of Christ, and spiritual maturity.
- The congregation must be committed to creating a spiritual
environment that will encourage all Christians "to grow up in every
aspect of Christ."
- I want you to focus on a specific point that Paul made in Ephesians 4:16.
- This is the statement: "...from whom the whole body, being fitted and held
together by that which 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
- Practical question: how can all this diversity come together in a manner that
permits a body to function?
- Just because you have a lot of different parts with just as many different
functions does not mean that you have a body.
- Something has to fit all these parts together and bind them together in a
way that produces a body and in a way that allows the body to function.
- The body parts must fit and be knit together in a way that lets the body
function productively, not just jerk in spasmodic, useless motion.
- Paul's illustration is powerful--he focused them specifically on the joint.
- For the sake of being clear and simple, consider a knee joint.
- A leg muscle and a leg bone have nothing in common.
- They do not look alike; they are not made of the same material; they
do not have the same function.
- The muscle and bone have only one thing in common: each is in the
- Yet, every time the leg moves, the muscle and the bone work together.
- When the body walks or runs with balance and control, they work
- How is that possible? They are fit together, knit together, bound together at
the joint by something that is neither bone or muscle; by ligaments.
- If the ligaments did not tie them together, the muscle and bone could not
- Cut the ligaments, and you make the joint useless by destroying the
function of both the muscle and the bone.
- Without the ligaments, neither the muscle nor the bone benefit the body;
walking or running becomes impossible.
- Misunderstanding is easy; understanding is hard.
- With all the diversity we are supposed to have in the church by God's own
design, something must fit us together, knit us together, and bind us together.
- If something does not fit and knit us together, we just jerk and jump around as
we function very poorly--at our best!
- By God's design, we are to equip every Christian for service, to strengthen
the body, to pursue unity of the faith, to pursue unity of knowledge of Christ,
and to pursue spiritual maturity.
- But that can happen only if something fits, knits, and binds us together.
- There is only one person who can fit and knit us together: Jesus Christ.
- We are his body.
- He is the spiritual ligament that fits us and knits us together.
- But every single one of us must choose to let Christ fit us to and knit us to the
- Being a living, functioning part of the body of Christ really is not about:
- What I like.
- What I prefer.
- What I would stress.
- What I want.
- Being the body of Christ is about helping serve God's complete purposes in
And that is hard. It is very hard in our American society. It is hard because for
decades we have heard that the central issue of life is "my rights." Everyone of us,
from old to young, have been trained to think about "my rights." That is one powerful
reason that "what I like, what I prefer, and what I want" divides so many congregations.
"I have the right to make the congregation be what I want it to be." We Christians have
been trained to be more concerned about our desires than God's purposes.
But it is as wonderful as it is hard. God designed the church to function like a
body. By God's design, the church must be diverse. Being the body of Jesus Christ
has the glorious potential of using every type of person to help achieve God's eternal
purposes. If we will let Christ fit us and knit us together, God can work through us to
accomplish eternal good beyond our imagination.
When Christ fits and knits us together, we function for God as we accomplish
His purposes in incredible ways. When we do not let Christ fit and knit us together, the
church does not function; it merely jerks about.
The body grows up into the perfect head of Jesus (Ephesians 4:15-16).
The imperfect body must be trying to develop to support Jesus Christ, the Head.
Are you growing in such a way to support the Head?
No matter who you are, God wants you in the body to achieve His eternal purposes.
Once you become a part of the body, you should always be developing and maturing.
Are you a healthy part of His body?
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 3 May 1998
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