12For 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. 13For 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. Last week we discussed being one in the Holy Spirit. We are not measured by our gifts, but by presence and working of God who gives those gifts. And the greatest of those spiritual gifts you will remember, is the gift of Faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Today Paul goes on to tell us that being one in the Spirit we are also one in the Body of Christ into which the Spirit baptized us. His starting premise is clear for it is the same as last weeks meditation. God grants unity in the corporate body of Christ, made up of diverse parts with different functions, all working for the common good. It was a point of utmost importance to the church in Corinth who ironically, “not lacking in any spiritual gift”, was yet filled with division. They were divided in large part because of the misuse, misunderstanding, and misappropriation of those “spiritual gifts” and roles within the church to which Paul speaks.
It remains a vital reminder for us today when there is so much temptation to value ourselves and our place within the Church of Christ based upon all sorts of foolish and worldly assumptions and faulty personal reflections. Parts of the body are not present by consensus vote but by the design of the body itself. Parts of the body do not dictate what their role and function will be (nor how they will be measured) this comes only from the will of the head. In painting this picture Paul reminds us of what makes us part of the Holy Christian church, what connects us to each other, and what must always animate our actions and attitudes toward ourselves and our fellow believers.
14For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If 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. 16And 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. 17If 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? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
You don’t have to be a medical student to know that your body is wondrously made from countless parts, smaller and larger, in microscopic neighbourhoods and in larger-interconnected structures. And despite the staggering differences in parts, the head-spinning complexity of their functions, and the place they hold within our conscience and daily life each and every one is vitally important. In biology there used to be a fashionable terms like vestigial organs and junk DNA. These, we were told, are just useless left-over parts of evolution, not really needed. Not serving a purpose. It is precisely the way many people in our culture feel about themselves. Too weak, too old, too sick. No joy, no purpose, no reason for being. No one to love them.
Verses 14–20 of Paul’s body metaphor address those members of the body who might feel inferior and be led to jealousy. It simply isn’t true. Every part is needed and necessary. And guess what? Science is beginning to catch up with what we Christians have known from the day our God created us. He doesn’t make junk. Vestigial organs are not useless left-overs. Time and time again we discover that they actually all have a reason for being and a purpose in the body. Again, there is no junk DNA! The more they study it the more they find that it is all used. Every last bit of it is important. And that holds true for all human beings too.
There is no person so weak, or old, or young, or sick, or lost that they are not loved and cared for by Christ. There is not one individual who is unimportant to the Lord and His church. We are not all the same. We do not have the same gifts or the same roles to play, but it would be foolish to think that we should … or that we could! If your body doesn’t work that way, why would the church. We are all bound by the same Spirit through the same gift of Holy Baptism and Faith but If we were all the same person with the same place and role and gifts there would be no body of Christ.
21The 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.” 22On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Here in verses 21–26 Paul turns the table and speaks to those who might feel superior. You know the good church members, the vital and enviable Christians. The people who have everything together and never seem to fail at anything they put their mind or hands to. The believers we wish to be and expect others to see us as. To those spiritual hot-shots Paul flips all their notions on their head. He deftly turns the more obvious ranking of gifts and members on its head by asserting that the “weaker” parts are necessary, even “indispensable.”
The body of Christ has always shown that it is not like the world around us in that we care for those who are weaker. There is no portion of humanity we view as expendable or dispensable. From the very young (even those not yet born) to be frail and failing (yes even those dying) we uphold their humanity and dignity. Even those who are not yet Christian will find a helping hand in the body of Christ. We want to have the generations mixed in together and receiving from each what they cannot find on their own – wisdom, leadership, vitality, idealism, compassion. We want to hear from the children and the shut-ins. We engage the new and old members alike. We are not the same, but we are all one in the body of Christ.
27Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
Here in verses 27–31 Paul applies the body metaphor not just to our view of ourselves and others but to the reality of the whole church. You all together are the body of Christ, and individually members of it, with a diversity of gifts and functions and offices, but all working together for the sake of the whole. The goal is not in the gifts but in the proper functioning of the whole body, marked by concern for one another.
This is not a precise list of ecclesiastical offices or rigid rubrics for organizational structure, all of which were, at the time, quite fluid and ad hoc, guided by the Spirit’s work “when and where he wills.” But the point is still clear. The body functions when each member fulfills its unique role within the whole. Not everyone can be a pastor and not everyone should. Not everyone leads music or sits on a board. But everyone has their place, and their work and their reason for being in Christ. And everyone of them is vital to the whole.
Whenever we begin to think about our own importance in the Christian Church, the possibility of truly Christian work is choked out by pride. Whenever we, by some false standard, doubt our place within the Christian Church we deny the working of the Spirit and Mercy of Jesus Christ our Lord and Head. But when we remember that all that makes us unique is a gift from God and that we all share one Lord, one faith, one Baptism into this Body of Christ. When we remember that in our Baptism we were given the most precious gifts God can bestow … well then it doesn’t matter so much what your job is in this body of Christ, just so long as we rejoice in the one who is bigger than us all and joins us all together in Christ so we can work with another in the higher gifts of love and service.