Text: 1 Corinthians 12:1-27
“In Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” —Romans 12:5
The coach at one of my daughter’s karate tournaments was telling me how important each individual’s strengths were to the team. After detailing each of those diverse strengths in every one of his disciplined students, he said, “If I put them all together I’d have Bruce Lee!”
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul uses the brilliant illustration of the human body to relate the importance of Christ-followers working together for the cause of God’s kingdom. Even as every cell in the human body is linked by a common root (DNA code), the parts of that body (or members) look and function differently. There is tremendous diversity in the body of Christ, both in appearance and function, while each member has a shared DNA and a common goal.
The apostle puts it this way:
“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.”
I often tell people, “I might be the armpit, but the armpit still has an essential function in the body.” The text says, “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.’” God has so composed the body this way, with Christ as the head, so “that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.”
This passage is warning us that our individual strengths and gifts should never give us a sense of superiority in relationship to other members of the body or cause us to try and function in isolation; our strengths are meant to supplement the strengths of others in building up the body of Christ. Why is the foot a foot, the hand a hand, or the armpit an armpit? Because “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose” (v18). He designed it according to His purpose so that they could function together for a common good. Therefore the hand can take no “pride” in being a hand, and the foot can take no “shame” in being a foot. Each member serves the all-important intent of its Maker. In the design, we see the wisdom of the Designer: everybody has something, but nobody has everything.
We are at our best when we are fleshing out God’s mission together in community with others. This “Imago Dei” togetherness is realized as we recognize, affirm, and give platform to the unique giftedness of other members in God’s family. As our ministry has shaped missional communities over the years, we have seen that discipleship happens most naturally in the rhythms of “shared life together”— God working through the diversity of people and the variety of gifts in His body. If our heart’s desire is to be faithful to Jesus and his mandate to make disciples of all nations, we will continually seek out ways to foster this missional community “togetherness” in a society that is becoming increasingly more individualistic.
Regardless of the world becoming more individualistic—and as some might add, church models becoming more consumeristic in shaping “me-centered” attendees—our God-given DNA will always be linked to fleshing out Christ’s mission in community together with others.
What are the gifts and strengths that you bring to your missional community? In what ways are you allowing the gifts and strengths of others to help you function more purposefully for the common good in the body of Christ, especially in areas where you may be deficient or lacking in strengths? Detached from the body, the foot and the hand appear to be dysfunctional. But when they work together in harmony it gives them not only the appearance of healthy functionality, but also the true radiance of God’s glory. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.
Lord, You created us for a shared life together with you and your family. We were made for this kind of ‘Imago Dei’ community. Holy Spirit, help us to continue to decipher our own strengths as well as affirm the need for the strengths of others in our lives, that we can faithfully flesh out your ‘bigger-than-self’ mission in the world today. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for personal reflection, small group discussion, or dinner table conversations:
- When have you felt like an insignificant part of a church or organization? When have you felt like you were an important part of a community on mission together?
- In what way are Christians like a human body? (1 Corinthians 12:12-13) What makes Christians unified and dependent on one another? (v13)
- What lessons are there in seeing the church as a human body? (vv14-17) Who arranged the parts of the body of Christ? (v18) Why shouldn’t all Christians perform the same function? (v19) Why should members of the body of Christ not say to each other, “I don’t need you”? (vv21-22)
- Why do people often assume that certain duties/roles in the church are more important than others? What do you think are your personal responsibilities in the body of Christ?
- What difference should it make in your life, and for the sake of community, that you have been given the Holy Spirit?
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