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Why the Church Is Like a Puzzle

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 12:3–6

It is not uniformity but unity that is needed in the church, the body of Christ. As diverse members of that body, we have each been uniquely gifted to contribute to the unity of God’s family to His ultimate glory.


Back in 1762, John Spilsbury, an English engraver and mapmaker, created the very first jigsaw puzzle. He came up with the idea to mount a map onto a piece of hardwood, then, using a saw blade, he cut around the borders of each country, creating different pieces. His original idea was to create an educational tool that would be a fun way for children to learn geography.

Well, neighbors and friends wanted one too. And the creation of the jigsaw puzzle would become known around the world. Today, thousands of jigsaw puzzles are created every year by taking a photograph of something and then gluing it to a piece of cardboard. Then it’s cut into hundreds of uniquely designed pieces.[1]

Today, medical science has conducted various experiments and studies and found that working a jigsaw puzzle reduces stress. Well, not for me. If I have to look for a puzzle piece for more than a minute, I can feel my blood pressure rising. My wife, on the other hand, loves working puzzles and finds it absolutely relaxing.

The only kind of puzzles I liked putting together were the kind we bought for our little children years ago. They were made of large wooden pieces with little knobs on top for you to hold. Now that is my kind of puzzle.

For anyone who likes puzzles with 300 or 500 little pieces, there’s one thing that helps more than anything else, and that’s the picture on the box—it shows you what that puzzle is going to look like when it is finished.

That puzzle is the result of some creative designer who had an image in mind for the completed puzzle. That reminds me of the local church today. The members come in all sizes and shapes, but they have the same divine Designer—the Lord Jesus Christ.

As we sail back into Romans 12 today, Paul is going to show us the picture on the box—the picture in the Bible—of what the church will look like when the pieces are put together the right way.

First, he shows us a picture of unity here in verse 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.

In other words, without humility, you will never have unity.

He then describes this picture further: “For as in one body we have many members . . . so we, though many, are one body in Christ” (verses 4-5).

Twice Paul uses the expression “one body.” The church universal consists of all born-again people from every continent and every generation during this dispensation of grace—the church age—which is now 2,000 years old. And we are all one body—one bride—in Christ.

But we develop around the world in local bodies—local churches. So, the New Testament will talk about the church in Jerusalem or the church in Ephesus or in Corinth.

It is in the local assembly where we must practice unity! But let’s just admit right away that we are naturally divisive and critical. We so easily get our feelings hurt and think the worst of others. Frankly, we drift toward disunity, not unity.

Beloved, apart from humility and the work of Christ in our midst, as our Chief Shepherd, we are never going to get along and we are never going to stay together.

Unity is like fine China; it is beautiful but fragile. You need to protect it. Paul wrote to the local church there in Ephesus and encouraged them to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

Now here is the second picture of what the puzzle ought to look like. Not only do we have the picture of unity, but now Paul gives us the picture of a family.

In the latter part of verse 5, Paul writes that we are “individually members one of another.” Now, grasping that is a tough assignment.

It is one thing to say, “I belong to Jesus Christ,” but it is another thing to say, “I belong to you.” But that is exactly what Paul means. We belong to one another as believers—we are in the same spiritual family. Have you ever thought about the fact that your spiritual family extends way beyond your biological family?

We are all the bride of Christ, who is our Groom (Ephesians 5:31-32), and we are children of God (John 1:12), so it is no surprise that Paul gives us a picture of the church that is really more like a family portrait.

In fact, Paul will advise Timothy, a young pastor, to treat older men as fathers, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as his own sisters (1 Timothy 5:1-2).

Would it not revolutionize the way we act in church if we fully understood that we are family? This is what the church should look like.

So, we’re to maintain the picture of unity and family. Now, third, the church is also a picture of diversity.

I am not referring to doctrinal diversity or moral diversity—as if everybody is to choose how they want to live. No, Paul is writing about the fact that even though there is unity in the church, there is practical diversity within the body, based on the gifts and talents and occupations and personal tastes of everyone in the body. Paul writes, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (verse 6).

The truth is, we tend to avoid people who are not just like us. We naturally hang around people who like the things we like, have a similar education or career or social standing in life. Then we come to church and think everybody ought to be like us. We make the mistake of thinking that “church” means we all think the same way about everything—how to educate our children, what music to listen to, what hobbies to pursue, what books to read, what clothes to wear, what schools to attend.

Beloved, there is a difference between unity and uniformity! Uniformity does not allow for diversity. Paul writes here in the last part of verse 4, “The members do not all have the same function.” And again, in verse 6 he says we have “gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.”

This does not mean that some have more grace than others. Paul is saying that because of God’s grace, we have been given unique and different gifts. We look at life differently. We feel differently about life. We have different roles in the church. Some people see the need for teaching children, and some people want to help set up the chairs. Some people at our church help guide the traffic, and others wait to greet visitors who arrive. That is what they have been equipped—designed by God—to do to help the church gather and enjoy the Lord’s Day together.

I remember reading about little Jamie, who tried out for the play at his elementary school. His heart was set on being one of the characters in the play. His mother was afraid he would be disappointed if he was not chosen. On the day the parts were awarded to the children, Jamie’s mother went to pick him up and brought some cookies along to cheer him up. But Jamie rushed out to the car, glowing with excitement, and said, “Guess what, Mom. I have been chosen to cheer.”[2] Oh, if we only had this kind of joy in what God has chosen for us to do in His church—even if we have been chosen to just cheer other people along.

This is what the puzzle of a local church should look like: a picture of creative diversity, a picture of a loving family, a picture of humble unity in Christ. Who would not want to join a church that looked like that?

[1] “The History of Jigsaw Puzzles,” Wentworth Wooden Puzzles,

[2] More Perfect Illustrations for Every Topic and Occasion, compiled by the editors of (Tyndale House, 2003), 267.

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