Romans Lesson 121 - The Puzzle Has a Designer
God designed the Church like a puzzle and He has given us each a special place in it. Have you discovered yours yet?
“The Puzzle Has A Designer”
It as in 1760 that John Spilsbury created the very first Jigsaw Puzzle.
He was a London engraver and mapmaker. He came up with the idea to mount a map onto a piece of hardwood, then, using a fine jig-saw blade, he cut around the borders of each country, creating many different pieces.
His plan was to create an educational tool that would be a fun way for children to learn geography.
By the mid-1800’s, jigsaw puzzles had become wildly popular; helped along with photography and engraving. Advances in printing methods allowed the prices to come down and the production to go up.
Today, tens of thousands of jigsaw puzzles are created every year by taking a photograph and mounting it to a piece of cardboard. Then, through a process of applying the right amounts of heat and pressure, it is prepared for being cut into hundreds of uniquely designed pieces.
I found it interesting that during the Great Depression, of the last Century, the jigsaw puzzle would sold incredibly well. Even though money was in short supply, the appeal of the puzzle was that it brought so much enjoyment for a small price, and it could be played over and over again.
Adapted from web citation:jigsaw2order.com
The sciences have come along, in the meantime, after conducting various experiments and studies, they found that working a jigsaw puzzle reduced stress.
Not for me.
It increases mine!
I can look for about 3 minutes for a piece and feel my blood pressure rising.
My wife on the other hand, loves working on them and finds them to be almost a relaxing diversion.
The only kind I could ever do, were the kind we had when our children were young – you know, they had big wooden pieces with little knobs on top for you to hold.
You couldn’t miss it . . . those are fun.
For those of you who enjoy putting together a puzzle, you know there is one thing that helps more than anything else as you put the pieces together.
It is to look at the picture on the box.
We’re about to discover that a local church is much like a puzzle.
They’re all a little different. Some puzzles have more pieces than others. They come in all shapes and sizes.
I learned that one of the smallest antique puzzles is the size of a matchbox. Then again, some puzzles today are created to glow in the dark. Some puzzles look like small boats, some like miniature horses, dolphins and airplanes, with moving parts. Some puzzles stand upright as replicas of castles and famous landmarks like Big Ben and the Taj Mahal.
But no matter what the puzzle looks like . . . no matter what size or shape it takes and no matter how many pieces are used to form it, every puzzle was created and produced by some designer.
So the church universal and every single local church has been designed, down to each individual, by our Great Designer and Lord, Jesus Christ.
And the Apostle Paul is about to inform us that every person has a place inside the puzzle – in fact, you could say that every person is a piece of the puzzle, designed by God to bring glory to His name and advance His redemptive purpose on earth.
So . . . just as a puzzle designer and manufacturer helps their clientele by printing the picture of the puzzle on the top of the box . . . so our Great Designer has put a picture of the church inside the Bible for us to study.
I can’t think of a better time to study this truth than now.
At a time when our church has experienced unprecedented growth and expansion, it’s a perfect time to study the picture and follow the Divine Design for the church of our living Lord.
Let’s look a the entire picture Paul provides for us in Romans chapter 12. Follow along as I read the entire paragraph, beginning with verse 3, through verse 8.
3. 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. 4. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5. so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6. 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; 7. if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; 8. or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
Now, before we try to identify the pieces in the puzzle; before we try to find our own place; and before we compare this picture with our own church which assembles at 6051 Tryon Road, Paul says, in effect, stop and think!
This puzzle requires, first and foremost, the right perspective.
Notice verse 3 again. That’s as far as we’re gonna get anyway.
I agree with one commentator who pointed out that it is remarkable that God crowds into one sentence the same word, 4 different times.
William R. Newell, Romans (Moody Press, 1938), p. 458
It is the Greek word for “think”.
And Paul isn’t talking about intelligence, or your mental state – he’s talking about your attitude . . . your mind-set.
Four times, the Greek word, “phroneo (to think) appears in this verse.
Twice in the first phrase – “I say to every man among you, not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think.”
Before we’re even told any information about the pieces in the puzzle, we’re warned to adjust our thinking so that we’re not superior to anyone, but servant-minded toward everyone.
Paul is saying to the Roman church, “Nobody inside your puzzle is a prima dona.”
There are no big shots in the body of Christ.
So before Paul gives us anything about the gifts and their operation in the church family, he warns us to approach the subject with the sensitivity of humility.
This past Christmas I purchased the ultimate jigsaw puzzle for my wife, Marsha. It was a large canister. On the top, sealed with saran wrap were the pieces of a puzzle; inside the canister was popcorn. Was that great or what?
She could do the puzzle, and I could eat the popcorn.
Wasn’t that a special gift?
I can tell you, as I shopped for a puzzle that Christmas, I looked at a number of them. Boxes galore . . . including that special discovery – the popcorn puzzle.
I never saw on one single box any warning labels that read:
Do not attempt this without the proper mindset.
Do not attempt this puzzle without humility.
Puzzles have a way of humbling me anyway . . . if I didn’t start out with it, I got it along the way!
And yet, the surprising thing is, before Paul tells us anything about how God has put the church together, we get this warning.
You’d better be thinking right about yourself – or you’ll never get the puzzle right!
That’s exactly what Peter meant when he wrote, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. (I Peter 5:5)
Without humility, you will experience a malfunction of ministry.
Paul warned the Corinthians as well, “Is there anything [anybody can] discover in you that you [can] take credit for? Isn't everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God? So what's the point of all this comparing and competing?” (The Message: Paraphrase of 1 Cor 4:6-7)
It isn’t really surprising then, that Paul would begin a discussion on the ministry of believers within the church with a warning to have a mindset of humility.
Before there can be true genuine, Christ honoring service, there must be a true, authentic attitude of servanthood, right?
Paul delivered this same challenge to the believers living in Philippi when he wrote, 3. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4. do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6. who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7. but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant.
You say, “that’s great – that’s the Lord for you . . .” Oh no, you missed verse 5 – This attitude [which was in Christ Jesus, have this same attitude within yourselves.”
He had it . . . He modeled it . . . now the church is to practice it!
Have you ever listened to the descriptions of products in the advertisements – I have read that we are confronted by thousands of them every single day.
This product is better, superior, the best, the only, especially made, one of a kind, sophisticated, exciting.
Ever noticed how the church in America advertises along the same lines; dynamic, exciting, inspiring, .
Ever notice how Jesus Christ described Himself with His own words?
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am dynamic, I am inspiring, I am miracle working . . . no! For I am gentle and humble in heart. (Matthew 11:29)
What kind of self-advertisement is that?!
Donald Trump would have fired Him!
You want to be gentle? You want to be humble? Then . . . you must want to be a loser!
Our culture today looks down on true humility. It rewards brash, self-centered, ego building, self-promoting, self-exalting ambition, right?
Adapted from John McArthur, Romans: Volume 2 (Moody Press, 1994), p. 159
We’re cheering on a generation to follow, not the example of Jesus Christ, but the example of Diotrophes who, described by the Apostle John, “always had to be first!” (3 John 9)
No wonder we have to have our mind-set radically altered after we’ve entered the church – the Body of Christ. No wonder our thinking has to be revolutionized and renewed.
By the way – the word Jesus Christ used for “gentle” was praus, which was used in the New Testament of a wild stallion that had been tamed. It speaks of strength under control.
Charles R. Swindoll, Improving Your Serve (IFL, 1993), p. 117
Not a wimpy, doe-eyed brunette who always looked sad and at a loss for words.
In fact, it’s the same Greek word which is translated, meek. Meekness is not weakness – it is power under control.
The Lord Jesus Christ was Divine power, under Divine control.
The Lord said He was gentle and that His heart was humble.
That word “humble” in the original language referred to the small and insignificant services by which one could help another person. It was a servants word.
Ibid, p. 118
Illustrated perfectly when the Lord wrapped himself in a towel so that he could teach all His big shot disciples an unforgettable lesson.
True greatness is not being served . . . but becoming a servant.
Nothing dynamic here . . . no headlines here . . . nobody oohing and aahing . . . no just a basin of water and a towel.
You want a place in the Body of Christ?
Then reach for a towel and look around . . . there are plenty of people to serve . . . there are plenty of dirty feet to wash.
But it will require that you think differently about the church.
Paul provides the warning in verse 3:
We’re not to think too highly of our ourselves (this is an attitude of superiority). In fact, in this first appearance of the word “think” it has the prefix from which we get our word, hyper.
In other words, Paul is saying, “Don’t be all excited about yourself . . . don’t get all hyper about you . . . settle down.
Now, let me add that if this is true, and it is, then the converse is implied and equally true. We are not to think too highly of ourselves, and we are not to think to lowly of ourselves.
One is self-admiration and the other is self-depreciation. Neither one honor God or encourages anybody in the Body either!
I agree with Graham Scroggie, the wonderful British expositor, now in heaven, who wrote 52 years ago, in his wonderful little book, Salvation and Behavior, these insightful words, “Self-admiration is pride and conceit, which is bad for oneself, unjust to others and throws the machinery of Christian life and work out of gear. On the other hand, self-depreciation neither honors God, encourages ourselves, nor blesses others. (now follow this) The person who over-estimates himself will try to do what he cannot do; the person who underestimates himself will not try to do what he can do, and in both cases the work [does not get] done.”
W. Graham Scroggie, Salvation and Behaviour (Pickering & Inglis, 1952), p. 81
We’re not to run around saying, “I’m good at everything” or “I’m good at nothing.”
Neither way of thinking will edify the Body or advance the glory and cause of Christ’s church.
So what’s the solution?
Well, you might expect Paul to tell us to stop thinking about ourselves altogether.
But, believe it or not, the solution Paul provides is not to think either less of ourselves or more of ourselves; his solution is for us to begin thinking Biblically about ourselves.
Paul write in the middle of verse 3, “not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think, but to think so as to have a sound judgment.
Sound judgment is a compound word, again, containing that same word, “think.”
Think about yourself in such a way that you have sound thinking.
The word means to “keep the proper measure; not going beyond the set boundaries; to be reasonable and sensible.”
Fritz Rienecker/Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Zondervan) 1976, p. 377
In other words, thinking within Biblical boundaries will keep your thinking balanced about ourselves.
And what does the Bible say about us?
Two things in this verse that directly relate to helping us find our place in the puzzle:
Number One: everything we have received is the result of God’s grace
Paul begins verse 3 by saying, “For through the grace given to me, I say to every man among you.”
In other words, the only way Paul could have ever been a spokesman for God, and the only way he could then challenge every man among them – literally every member of the Roman assembly – is by virtue of the grace of God.
Paul wrote constantly of God’s grace.
To Timothy, he wrote, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service; even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. And yet I was shown mercy . . . and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant. (I Timothy 1:12-14)
Paul never completely recovered from his conversion.
Do you know why any one of us could ever claim to belong to God? Only by His grace – for we are saved by grace through faith, not of ourselves, it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8)
Do you know why any one of us could ever claim to be forgiven by God? Only by His grace, for where sin abounded, grace abounded more. (Romans 5:20)
Do you know why any one of us could ever claim to belong somewhere in the picture puzzle of Christ’s church?
It is the grace of God, Paul emphasizes here in Romans 12:3.
The Apostle Peter agrees and writes, “As each one has a received a special gift, use it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” (I Peter 4:10)
Everything we are that is good and everything we have that is good is related to the grace of God.
And that is the second way we are to think about ourselves:
Number Two: everything thing we do is the result of God’s gift
Paul writes in the last part of verse 3. we are to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.
Would you note that Paul did not say, God has allotted to each a measure of . . . knowledge, skill, personal charisma, physical appeal, personal dynamic . . . no . . . God has measured out to each of us – faith.
What Paul means here is that God has dolled out the correct measurement of faith – that is – just the right amount you need to trust Him and serve Him.
But listen, not only has God given to all believers the equipment they need to serve Him, God has given to all believers all the equipment they need to contribute to His cause.
You say, “That’s too good to be true . . . I don’t believe it.” Then you’re not thinking correctly and Biblically and within the boundaries of Gods’ truth!
This is what God says about you! He has given you the measure of faith to fulfill His design.
Take it by faith! Accept it! Act on it!
You have a place in the puzzle!
What does that look like?
Well, as we wrap up this first study on how to find your fit in the Body of Christ, let me just make some observations that will be rather obvious analogies of a local church.
1. First, in a puzzle, all the pieces in a puzzle are either directly or indirectly interlocking.
Everyone fits together in the puzzle.
Paul will make that analogy crystal clear in the next few verses.
But let me encourage you . . . some pieces may rub a little tighter than others. Sometimes you have to press a little harder in places, than others . . . the pieces seem to want to slip out of their place.
Reminds me of two women who had a hard time getting along in the church at Philippi. You remember Paul having to get onto these ladies in the church, named Euodia and Synteche – he actually wrote a word of challenge in his letter – something that must have surely embarrassed them, but evidently it was something that was needed. Paul wrote, I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. (Philippians 4:2)
In other words, Euodia and Syntyche, get along. J. Vernon McGee renamed them, Odious and Soontouchy . . . how funny!
Get along! You might have to shave a little off a corner to fit smoother . . . just remember, iron sharpens iron . . . you will eventually interlock!
But it’s going to take humility . . . that’s why Paul starts with that challenge to our thinking.
You can’t be a big shot. No one piece of the puzzle can demand more space . . . or elevated space. The table is level.
I want to come back to this idea in a moment, but let me move on here to my second analogy:
2. It isn’t always easy putting the pieces of the puzzle together.
Have you noticed that some parts of any puzzle take longer to put together than others.
If we were to spread out the pieces of a puzzle on this pulpit after the service, and 7 or 8 of us gathered around to put it together, we’d all immediately look for the corner pieces, right? Then from there we’d move on to locating the frame – those border pieces with one straight edge – their easy to spot.
Sooner or later we’d finish the easy stuff and we’d have to work our way into the interior.
Finding your place and fit in the service of Christ’s church is sometimes easy, and sometimes it’s just hard work.
Sometimes it’s inspiration, and other times it’s perspiration.
Frankly, we more naturally tend to think, I want to go to church for what I can get – social interaction, programs I like; activities that meet my needs, people I know, traditions I’m comfortable with – and the driving question can easily become, “What can the church do for me?”
And so we arrive with our mental check list as we check out a church –
parking space – check
friendly usher – check
plenty of seats to choose from . . . on the back section – I don’t know – looks kinda crowded back there
climate control – check
music I like – check
good message – double-check . . . smile!
Isn’t is easy for this kind of thinking to creep in . . . and no wonder.
We’re surrounded by the dominant world-views that hound us and deliver to us what we really want to hear:
If it works for me, then it’s good
If it satisfies me, that’s good too.
Adapted from Tod E. Bolsinger, It Takes a Church to Raise A Christian (Brazos Press, 2004), p. 43
No wonder Paul doesn’t even begin to address the issue of us serving one another without beginning with a challenge to the way we think.
Our thinking has to radically change for us to get to the place where we ask, “What can I do for somebody else?”
3. Here’s another analogy: A puzzle piece never demands it’s place; it merely surrenders to the Designer’s placement
It’s true. No puzzle piece ever said, “I don’t want to be there in the puzzle – I don’t want to be a clump of grass – I want to be one of those fluffy clouds! Hey, I don’t want to be that guys nose. Not there . . . Forget it, I’ll make my own picture!”
No . . . this puzzle has a Designer!
And the Designer has plans . . . remember? You’ll find that his plans are pure and pleasing and perfect.
4. Since each piece of the puzzle has been designed, there is no such thing as an insignificance piece to the puzzle!
Every piece counts!
In fact, it takes the entire puzzle to reveal the completed picture.
You ever put a puzzle together and discovered at the end of your labor, a missing piece
You look on the floor, under the board, in your seat.
Listen, when there’s a piece missing – there’s a loss of accomplishment . . . a loss of enjoyment . . . an empty feeling.
And so you crumble all the pieces up and throw them in the box.
In this analogy to the church, everybody loses when someone is missing. The church suffers loss of complete effectiveness, the world loses the benefit of our full testimony!
Not to mention that the missing piece of the puzzle, is missing what they were designed by God to contribute.
What will it take for everything to come together in this puzzle called the church?
Paul answers . . . humility, self-sacrifice, and an entirely new way of thinking Biblically about ourselves and one another.
A new way of viewing ourselves and each other!
I read an illustration of this kind of shift in thinking.
When the starter fired the gun, the contestants sprang out of the starting blocks, and even the casual observer could tell something was different. This was the Special Olympics.
It was special in that the contestants were developmentally and physically disabled. But it was special for a far greater reason than that. It was special because of the way this hundred-meter dash was run. The runners moved down the track shoulder-to-shoulder. No one ahead, no one behind. Suddenly one of the young women sprawled headlong on the t rack and turned over in some amount of pain and embarrassment.
The rest of the contestants moved on for fen meters or so, but then, without any communication among themselves, they all stopped, turned around, and jogged back to their fallen friend. They picked her up off the track, comforted her, and then arm in arm they ran together to the finish line.
Citation: Jim Dethmer, “The Gift of Mercy,” Preaching Today,.com
No one came in first place . . . but then again, they all came in first place.
How different is that . . . but how refreshing and selfless.
No wonder Paul challenges us at the very outset of this discussion on how to serve together in a local body of believers, to start thinking an entirely new way . . . where everyone wins. . . where everyone finds their place of equal significance in the puzzle, where every piece is fitted together by Divine design.
And we all, interlocking together, reveal to one another and the world, the picture God designed us to exhibit.
And God’s name is glorified . . . His cause is advanced . . . and His sons and daughters find fulfillment and accomplishment and purpose, as they find their fit in the Body of Christ.
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