Being the Big Toe (Romans 12:4, 5)
Topic: Romans Passage: Romans 12:4–12:5
Being the Big Toe
Romans 12:4, 5
(One Body: Each Party Working Properly)
November 13th, 2016
I. If You Could Be Any Part
Have you ever wondered how many parts there are in the human body? Well, fear not. We need only consult the “Terminologica Anatomica”, which is the international standard on human anatomic terminology.
The American Association of Anatomists explains the "Terminologica Anatomica" lists more than 7,500 named, human body parts, as of November 2014. The list includes dozens of organs, more than 200 bones, hundreds of muscles, nerves, blood vessels and microscopic structures.
Okay, with this in mind, let me ask you this: If you could be any one of these 7500 parts, which one would you be? An eye? The spinal cord? A blood cell? The spleen? Well, let me suggest that, at least for this morning, you imagine yourself as a big toe. I know, I know. I know it isn't the body part you would have picked for yourself, but humor me, okay?
So what is life like as a big toe? How do you see the world? For what do you live?
Keep this image and these questions in mind as we turn over to Romans 12.
II. The Passage: “One Body in Christ” (15:1-4)
This morning we are focusing on verses 4 and 5 of Romans 12. Let's listen once again to the verses we began with this morning. As I read these, think about how they speak to you as a big toe. This is what Paul writes...
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function,  so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
So in these verses Paul is explaining for the Romans something about their identity as the church, as the people of God. You may remember the last time we talked about the identity of the church, back in September, we were looking at I Peter 2:9. But here, Paul speaks to this “chosen race”, this “royal priesthood”, this “holy nation”, and helps them, and subsequently us, understand how the church is like...a human body.
Now there are actually a number of aspects to this analogy. So let's look at three of those aspects , and as we do, I hope you will consider what God wants to teach you, as a big toe, about your identity. So first of all, this analogy teaches you something about...
1. Your Incarnate Identity (v. 5a)
Did you see what Paul said in the first part of verse 5? As a big toe, you are not simply part of just any body. You are part of “one body in Christ”. But what exactly does that mean?
Well, one of the wonderful things about Paul's anatomical analogy is that this is not the only place he uses it. Paul also uses it in Ephesians 4 to explain diversity and unity in the church. But the Apostle's most extensive treatment is found in I Corinthians 12. And it's in that chapter Paul gives us more details about what it means to be “one body in Christ”. I Corinthians 12:12 and 27...
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ... Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
So when Paul states we are “one body in Christ”, he is saying we are one as “the body of Christ”. You are not simply a big toe. You are a big toe in the body of Jesus Christ.
This is your incarnate identity. No, you are, of course, not the actual big toe of Jesus' resurrected, glorified body. Scripture tells us that raised and transformed human body is now at the right hand of God in heaven. But just as God the Son took on flesh (incarnate) and was born in a manger and was manifested in this world in the person of Jesus, so too is Jesus now manifested in this world, in flesh, through us His church.
And so as one of Jesus' big toes, you have a glorious calling and responsibility. Your purpose as His big toe is as big as God's purpose of redemption and transformation and life through Jesus Christ. Have you ever thought about a big toe in such lofty terms?
But there's more here. In Romans 12:4 and 5, Paul also wants you to grasp...
2. Your Interdependent Identity (v. 5b)
Remember what Paul said. He explained at the end of verse 5 that even though there are 7500 different parts of the human body, though we are diverse, though we are “many” as God's people, we are still “individually members one of another”.
All the parts of the human body are interconnected, aren't they. I don't walk down the street with my disconnected ears or fingers or appendix rolling five feet behind me. Every part is connected, interconnected in the body of Christ. Paul expands on the significance of this in I Corinthians 12...
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”...But God has so composed the body...that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (12:21, 24-26)
Your life as a big toe ultimately makes sense as a part of the whole. This is obvious from the simple fact that you would know something is wrong if you saw a big toe laying in the road.
And in I Corinthians 12, it is clear the implications Paul wants his readers to draw from this analogy: they must acknowledge and embrace the reality of their life together. Your healthiness as a big toe is directly connected to the healthiness of the rest of the body. In the same way, your spiritual healthiness is directly tied to the healthiness of this faith family. This is why Paul begins this discussion in Romans 12 with these words. 12:3...
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
When I think too “highly” of myself, “more highly than [I] ought to think”, I am like that eye who says to other parts or to the rest of the body, “I have no need of you”. If by God's grace, through faith in Jesus, you have become one of God's children, then your life with this faith family cannot be one of independence, but of interdependence.
But notice that Paul also wants you, a big toe, to understand something about...
3. Your Individual Identity (v. 4)
Look again at what Paul wrote in verse 4. He said...For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function...
It is absolutely critical that we embrace our interconnectedness with God's people, that you embrace the role God wants the church to have in your life. But it is also critical you understand something about your distinctiveness within the body; to understand that every single part matters, because every single part has an important function.
Again, Paul expands on this I Corinthians 12. Listen to verses 14-18...
For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?  But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.
And in Ephesians, Paul drives home this same point:
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ [there's healthiness!],  from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)
There it is! The healthiness of the body, the growth of the body, depends on each individual part functioning as it was designed to function. All of us need you to be the you God made you to be, to be the big toe, for His work in and through our church family. This is why Paul goes on in Romans 12 to explain these different functions. Look at Romans 12:6...
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;  if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching;  the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
In fact, these “gifts” are an essential part of the discussion in all three of Paul's 'body analogy' passages: Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4. Every blood-bought, born-again, Spirit-filled follower of Jesus has been given a spiritual gift or gifts. Paul says this about those gifts in I Corinthians 12...
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;  and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord;  and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
So within the church family, we find a variety of “gifts”, acts of “service”, and ministry “activities” that are manifestations of God's Spirit. Do these passages contain exhaustive lists of gifts, service, and activities? I don't think so. Paul's point is to drive home the reality of diversity in the body, not catalog all the ways the Spirit works through us.
So whether you know it or not, He works through you, the big toe, “for the common good” of God's people. I found this statement about the big toe online. The writer states...
The big toe carries the most weight of all the toes, bearing about 40 percent of the load. The big toe is also the last part of the foot to push off the ground before taking the next step. A nine-toed gait is less efficient, slower and shorter...
The big toe matters, doesn't it? You matter. Each one of you matters in this faith family.
III. Decapitation Temptations
So what do you think now about being the big toe? Do you see how important you are? Do you understand how God wants to use you? Do you recognize that you are needed and that you need every other part of this local church body?
Now let's be clear: As you think about this amazing analogy as a follower of Jesus, you do not need to pray, “God, make me a part of your body” or “Please give me a spiritual gift”. That's already happened. If you belong to Christ through faith, then you already belong to the body of Christ. Paul said this in I Corinthians 12:13...
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
The moment you were redeemed, and the Spirit of God filled you, and baptized you into the death and resurrection of Jesus, and covered you with the pure white robe of Christ's perfection, the moment you became a new creation, by grace, through faith, is the very moment you were spiritually baptized into the body of Christ.
And it's the moment you received what ever spiritual gifts God wanted to give you; it's the moment He equipped you for your specific and special role among God's people.
So if you are a Christian, the biggest struggle does not involve finding a way to become a part of the body. The biggest struggle is often learning how to embrace, learning how to walk in step with what God has already done.
And that doesn't necessarily begin with identifying your spiritual gift or gifts. I believe it begins by simply stepping up and stepping out in service. When you look for ways to help, when you look for ways to connect, when you look for ways to let others into your life, when you look for ways to minister and be ministered to, to bless others and be blessed by others in this church family, as you do that, God will begin to show you your 'big toe-ness', or your 'femur-ness', or your 'eye-ness', or 'eyebrow-ness', or even, your 'kidney-ness'.
Whatever part of the body He has made you, He will help you fulfill your amazing role for the common good. And as you do that, you WILL build up and be built up. Doesn't that sound wonderful. Living on purpose among the people of God's purposes?
But don't forget the flip side. As long as you resist that genuine service and real connection, you will struggle. Why? Because you will be trying to live out of step with reality. It would be like me trying to go down an 'up' escalator, not wanting to admit the steps are going a different direction. But when I accept what God has done and will do, I don't have to fight anymore. I can let God take me higher into His purposes, even though it can be scary.
Let me finish this morning by reminding us about a couple of temptations that will try to entice us away from the reality of life in the body. It's a little gross, but I'd like to call these “decapitation temptations”, because they deal with the very reality we heard about it in Ephesians 4:15...we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.
We are the body of Christ. But at the same time, Christ is also the head on that body, that is, He is the one who directs the body. The head is in charge!
Though it is not possible in reality, each of us can be tempted to imagine that head severed or disconnected from the body. This happens in two ways. First, we can be tempted to just see the head and not the body, that is to focus on and celebrate and attempt to follow Jesus apart from His body. Second, we can be tempted to just see the body and not the head. That is to focus on and celebrate and attempt to deepen our relationships with one another, but with no real reference to Christ.
The first “decapitation temptation” is the temptation to individualistic devotion. The second is the temptation to Christ-less socializing. Neither is what God designed us for, and neither leads to growth, to the common good. It is only when we are growing in knowing Jesus will we be growing in knowing one another.
Wherever you are with Jesus this morning, the invitation is the same. Come and find connection. Come and find purpose. God has a plan and a design for you. May God, by His grace, help each one of us, whether you're toe or a tibia, may He help us live in the reality of the body of Christ, of Jesus Christ revealed in us and through us.
More in The Essentials: One Body
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May 14, 2017Soul Care and Submission (Hebrews 13:17)