We live at a time when developing a healthy body is big business. Diets abound. We have all seen the ads that tell us how to lose the pounds in just weeks. Exercise equipment of some form is a staple in most homes. Television shoes encourage fitness. On a nice day you will see people walking, bicycling and running (without anyone even chasing them). And if all else fails there are a host of Surgeons who make a very nice living doing cosmetic surgery. We have become much more nutrition conscious. And all of this is because we have finally realized that the way we care for our body will largely determine our enjoyment of the later years of our lives.
In 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 Paul likened the church to a human body. The human body is a complex and intricate organism. There are countless parts of the body and they are all important to our health and vitality. Paul uses this analogy to teach us some important truths.
UNITY- We Are One Body (12-13)
Every part of our human body was designed to work in synch with every other part of the body. The heart was designed to pump blood and receive blood from all the other parts of the body. The lungs were designed to distribute oxygen to the bloodstream. The nerves send messages from the brain to various other parts of our body. These distinct parts of the body are useful as they cooperate with all the other distinct parts of the body.
This is a great picture of what a church should be. Paul reminds us that when we professed our faith and were baptized we weren’t just joining a particular church; we entered the ONE body of Christ. Everyone who has trusted Christ, whether Jew, Greek, rich, poor, male, female, black or white were brought to life by the SAME Holy Spirit. We are all part of the same body. We are inter-related. This is why there is an immediate, and the world would say, uncanny bond between Christians who meet for the first time. We are family members who are getting acquainted.
This has at least two implications for us. First, the idea that we can stay close to God without involvement in the church is a myth. There were a series of movies in which John Rambo (a character played by Sylvester Stallone) was a former military man who is called upon to take on an enemy single-handed. Rambo does what armies had been unable to do and rescues soldiers that have been left behind. It is a common theme in the media. Jason Bourne, James Bond and even Jack Bauer take on the whole world singled-handedly and win. It is entertaining but very unrealistic. Even the most skilled individuals need the help of others.
In the human body when a cell or organism decides to “do their own thing” the body is in trouble. Cancer is caused by formerly healthy cells that become renegade cells.
This reminds us that a detached Christian is a Christian who is in trouble. We have all heard people say, “I feel as close to God on the golf course as I do in the church.” A person who says these things may feel as close to God on the golf course as they do in the church because their relationship with God is shallow and they are as close to God on the golf course! . In Hebrews 10:25 we are given this command, “Do not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” We need each other for encouragement and growth in discipleship. Much of what it means to be a believer requires us to interact with other believers.
Second, Christians of different churches should be working together and supporting each other. One of the biggest criticisms of Christians is the variety of churches. People are understandably confused by all the different churches that all seem to think the other guys are wrong. This is a valid criticism. We are much too prone to divide rather than to work together. We should be united by our dependence on and commitment to the Christ who was God in the flesh, who gave His life as a payment for our sin, and who gives His Spirit to transform those who put their trust in Him.
We should be looking for ways to build bridges. Unfortunately over the course of time some churches have abandoned core beliefs. To be fully united would require that we negotiate on truths such as the deity of Christ, the authority of Scripture and the way of salvation. That’s something we cannot do for it is a denial of the essence of our faith. It would be like giving away our children so we could get along better with the family next door who doesn’t like kids.
DIVERSITY – There are different parts (14-20)
Though we are one, we are also unique. In verse 14 we read, “Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.” Paul argues that just as the body is made up of a variety of different parts that do different things but all serve a common purpose, so the body of Christ is made up of individuals with different gifts that all contribute to the one body.
God created us with different roles to play in His family. Some roles are very visible, some are not, but like the parts of the body, all of them are important.
Think about a movie you might see in the theatre. There are only a few “stars” or main characters in the movie. Their names are the advertisements. However, there are often hundreds and thousands of others who make the movie what it is. There are all the people behind the scenes working on lighting, sound, costumes, cinematography and editing. There are also all the extras in the movie who fill the scenes and make the movie feel real. These people are not spotlighted, but the movie couldn’t happen without them.
The same is true in the church. Think about all the people it takes to put together just a Sunday morning worship time: Speakers on the platform, Musicians, Songwriters who wrote the music, Custodians and others who get the church ready, People to run sound, take up the offering, serve as Greeters, take care of the Nursery at 8:00, 9:15, and 10:30, Sunday School and Children’s Church leaders, someone to run off the bulletin, and all those people who provide the resources we use to prepare for the message and classes. That is just Sunday morning! For the church to do its job lots of people have a role to play.
We need to be careful of defining Spiritual gifts too narrowly. Some of you perhaps are frustrated. You live a good distance away or you work a shift that makes it impossible for you to fill the gaps that need to be filled in this church. Some just don’t have gifts that seem to meet a need we have right now. You need to expand your thinking. The body of Christ is not just the believers that worship and serve in the Union Church of La Harpe. It is about building His kingdom and not ours.
God has called us to show mercy and compassion to the hurting, he’s called us to encourage the weak, to champion the cause of justice, to share the truth of the gospel with those who are lost. God may have called you to do something outside of this local body. It is imperative that we not be paralyzed because of what we can’t do. Our challenge is to find out what we can do. God is the master strategist. He has given gifts and placed people right where they need to be. Part of the adventure of living is watching to see God’s plan unfold.
TWO PROBLEMS IN MAINTAINING BALANCE (14-26)
There are two different problems that often happen in the church.
Feelings of Inferiority (14-20)
Paul imagines the parts of the body talking to one another. Suppose a foot said, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body.” This foot sees itself as having a menial job, and concludes that it is not really necessary. Suppose an ear concluded that it was not as significant as an eye. And what if the liver said, “No one ever sees or thinks about me, so it really doesn’t matter if I do my job”?
Paul is counting on us being able to see the absurdity of such statements. A hand, eye, ear, foot, nose, liver, mouth by itself cannot do much. It is only as these parts work together that a body lives.
Imagine the fan in your computer stopping because it feels it is not significant because it isn’t part of the circuit board . . . the computer would burn up. Think about a gear in a clock that decided it was too small to have any significance. The clock would no longer keep accurate time. Think about the custodian at a hospital who stopped work because they believed they were unnecessary. The environment would no longer be clean and in some cases, sterile.
You are placed where you are by God because He knows just what is needed. Just as every bolt in a vehicle is there for a reason, God has placed you in this congregation for a reason. You are meant to play a significant role in the work of His kingdom whether you realize it or not.
Feelings of Superiority
The flip side to this is found in verse 21. Paul said, “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” There is a tendency for those who are in positions of visible service to feel that they are superior to others.
Paul uses the body analogy again. He said the parts that seem weaker are really indispensable. Our internal organs do their work unseen by us but that doesn’t mean they are less important. There are parts of our body that we cover up not because these parts are insignificant but because these parts are so significant that they need to be protected and guarded.
A true public servant in the White House serves at the pleasure of the President. Ideally, they are not there to exalt themselves, they are there to serve the country in whatever way is needed. It is the same with soldiers. They dig ditches, go on patrol, or storm a beach that’s under heavy fire because they know they serve a plan and a purpose that is bigger than they are themselves.
There is no reason for anyone to feel superior to anyone else in the body. No service should be beneath us; no person is unworthy of our attention. We do not serve ourselves. We serve at the pleasure of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
DESIRE THE GREATER GIFTS
Paul counsels us in verse 31 to eagerly desire the greater gifts. At first this sounds like it is the opposite of what Paul has been saying. Paul tells us that God has given a wide variety of gifts. The first gifts given were the apostles, prophets, and teachers. These foundational gifts are used to pass on the truth to others. As the church grew God gave gifts that helped care for those who had come to faith. However, I don’t believe Paul is telling us to seek to be an apostle or prophet.
At the end of verse 31 Paul says, “and now I will show you the most excellent way.” From here Paul goes into a discussion of love. Paul does not point to a particular title we should seek. . . he points to the attitude of love. When we get to chapter 14 we will see that the Corinthian church appeared to have been divided because of the gift of tongues. Apparently, some people were viewing this gift as a sign of spiritual superiority (as some have also done today). Paul told the Corinthians that instead of looking for those gifts that give us a personal experience we can flaunt before others, we should be craving gifts that more effectively build up the body. Gifts that serve others in love are the greater gifts Paul wants us to seek.
In times of disaster people rally from all over. These people don’t come onto the scene and say, “Unless I can drive the bulldozer, I’m outta here!” You don’t here people saying, “I want to serve over by the television cameras”. People aren’t running around saying, “I’m in charge and I don’t need your help.” Instead people who arrive on such scenes ask a very simple question: “What do you need me to do?” Ego is absent. Status is unimportant. The only thing that is important is addressing the crisis. If the need is to pick up garbage, that’s what they do. If sick and wounded need care, that’s where we give our energy. It is no accident that it is in these times when people forget themselves and work together that we often talk about the greatness of the human spirit and the goodness of man. It is in these times that we most recognize the image of God in those around us.
As we approach the great need that exists in the world for the message of the gospel, we need this same attitude. We should be saying to the Lord, “What do you need me to do?” rather than asking “What’s in it for me?” If everyone simply did what they could do, the Kingdom of God would advance more forcefully.
Chuck Colson has written,
One of the great paradoxes I’ve discovered it that every element of the good life depends on pure and often sacrificial giving, or losing one’s self.
We are not given spiritual gifts and jobs to do because God has a huge “To Do” List and needs help getting it taken care of. Frankly, God could do what He wants done without our help. He gives us responsibility because He knows that this is how we grow. He knows that by serving Him and serving each other we will discover the satisfaction and the joy of living that comes to us only when we take our eyes off ourselves and begin to look to Him. As we learn to serve Him we discover the exhilaration of life.
If we will do what He has given us to do we will be enriched and His people will be healthy and make a powerful impact in a lost world. But there is a flip side. If we don’t use these gifts our spiritual strength will diminish and we will grow spiritually weak from lack of exercise.
A person who is in a hospital bed for a couple of weeks finds out how quickly muscles atrophy. This is one of the reasons why nurses in the hospital force you to get up even when you don’t want to get up. If you had to be confined to bed for a few months, you would need physical therapy just to walk again. You might think you could just hop out of bed and get back to life . . . but it doesn’t work that way. In order for our muscles to remain strong they must be exercised. In order for faith to remain strong, it too must be exercised.
Let’s get practical. How do you find what it is that God has called you to do? Let me give you some simple steps,
- Search the Scriptures. Find out what it is that God wants His people to do. Become acquainted with God’s mind and heart.
- Ask God to show you where He wants you to serve. Pray with a heart that is willing to do whatever He calls you to do.
- Look at your passions . . . what matters most to you in the work of God’s Kingdom? Do you have a heart for kids? Are you concerned about reaching people who are outside the church? Are you concerned for those who are hurting? Do you feel strongly that the church needs to do more in the area of outreach, fellowship, or study? Is there a ministry, a group of people, a project you feel strongly about? These things you have a passion for are probably the place God wants you to serve.
- Look at the opportunities you have been given. Look for open doors. You don’t have to say yes (and probably shouldn’t say “yes”) to every opportunity. You need to decide what is most important. Satan desires to keep us so overloaded and busy that will never have time to do the things that have eternal relevance. However, God does open doors to show us where He wants us to serve. Watch for those opportunities.
- Step out in Faith. Experiment. We can’t know what it is that God has called us to do unless we take a step out of our comfort zone and try something new. As John Ortberg has written: “you will never be able to walk on water until you get out of the boat.” So, dare to get out of the boat! If you think there is some way you might be able to serve . . . volunteer and give it a shot.
- Get feedback. Sometimes other people can see what God has called us to do better than we can ourselves. Ask friends and family for feedback and listen to what they have to say. You may find that there are things you aren’t suited for and you may discover that your friends see your spiritual gifts and abilities much more clearly than you do. Sometimes things we think are no big deal are recognized by others as very significant things.
It is not important that you have some “label” for your spiritual gift. What is important is for you to be an active part in the body of Christ. If you don’t know where God wants you to serve, work hard at being faithful in the everyday things of life. Treat others with kindness, look for ways to encourage those around you, tell others about your faith, pray for those you know are in need, greet a visitor, thank someone for their service, or let another go ahead of you in line, speak softly to someone who seems to be churning. You have no idea the difference you may be making. Jesus said the one who is faithful in little things will have the opportunity to be faithful in bigger things.
The human body is an incredible masterpiece. It is amazing what a body can do when all the parts are working together as they should. It is a brilliant analogy of the body of Christ. If we stay healthy by doing what needs to be done and serve to the best of our ability, God will accomplish more through us than we dared to dream possible. And I believe when we do this we will also enjoy our lives in a way the world will never understand.