Perhaps in recent weeks, months, or years you have, like me, been wondering where your place is in all the work that still needs to be done regarding the reunification of humanity. Sometimes, when we have a particular burden on our hearts, God is calling us to be the very answer we wish existed to the problem(s) we observe. Other times, we are so busy expending our energy and efforts in the various areas we feel drawn to that we bypass the vacant spaces that await our awakening to God’s call on our lives to fill them. God’s purpose for the body of Christ is to be the example to a hurting world of what unity is and how His love is to be effectively expressed.
I found myself drawn to the passage that we will study together today. My hope is that, through our deeper exploration of this passage, we can better identify the unique part each of us can play in the larger charge to be the light of the world and embody the love of Jesus through our unique gifts, imparted by the Holy Spirit. The way that we operate in our gifting is how we honor God and bring glory to His name. While this is a popular passage within the church for its identification of spiritual gifts, one additional lens has been used to help us broaden our scope of the message Paul shares. For anyone unfamiliar with him, Paul is one of the New Testament (NT) leaders, called apostles. The heading of the passage in question, “Unity and Diversity in the Body,” already speaks volumes in itself. Let’s dive right in.
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.1 Corinthians 12:12-14 NIV
In these first few verses, we are given an analogy to help us understand the way that the body of Christ, the church, is supposed to identify and operate. We, like a body made up of multiple parts, exist as one overall entity. What we all share as believers is the Holy Spirit, given to us when we accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. This is a gift given regardless of the walk of life we come from.
15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.1 Corinthians 12:15-19 NIV
This is where things take an interesting turn in the text. After setting the foundation for his listeners, Paul then pivots the conversation to get them to identify an ongoing issue within the church. Much like a competition, the people of God have been comparing themselves based on the gifts they possess in what appears to be an attempt to rank their importance. Paul makes a strong point in his example of one part of the body judging themselves by another part, possibly deeming their function to be inadequate. I believe the point Paul is trying to get across is how much each person’s gift is needed to ensure proper function as a whole. If all members were to think, operate, and relate in one particular way then there would inevitably be a deficit due to a missing perspective and/or function. An unfortunate reality is that we are very familiar with what this looks like. Many parts of the modern-day church are hyper-focused on singular aspects of communal need, leaving several areas uncovered due to a lack of resources and/or attention.
Let me take a moment to pause here and widen the scope. Currently, within our global community there is a wealth of opportunities available to us, primarily due to the gift of technology. We are also able to see a multitude of people doing a multitude of things all over the world at any given moment. We are living in an era of information overload. One side-effect of this is the tendency to compare our desire to help, while only in seed form, with the fully-formed efforts of another individual, group, or organization. This comparison often leaves us feeling inadequate, seemingly unable to measure up to the task ourselves. The issue here stems from our forgetting that God created each of us to uniquely express the gifts He’s given. No matter how many people we observe doing amazing work, particularly in areas we may feel called to, there is always room for our unique gift expression.
However, there is one caveat to this, which is the joint-issue Paul addresses in His letter to the church of Corinth, comparison and covetousness. Some of what we desire is not aligned with what or where God chooses to grace us. Verse 18 explains that God identifies and distributes the roles and unique gift expression that each individual possesses. Therefore, it is in our best interest to consult Him regarding where we should focus our efforts. When we choose to use our gifts in unintended areas or pursuits, we are mishandling them and becoming the missing or misplaced cogs in the machine, ultimately hindering its overall effective functioning. Like a cog, we may think that our choice to pursue our own desires independent of God’s intentional purpose for our lives has little effect on anyone but ourselves. Yet, we would be missing the point that our actions have a profound ripple effect and the ability to change the course of history. In other words, we’re more important than we may think.
One of the blessings of walking with God is the joyful expectation that fills our hearts as we dream and pursue the desires that lead us into the very places God has set aside for us. A large part of what helps us get there successfully is the partnership of ambiguity and trust. Ambiguity is usually present until an appointed time of revelation. God, who knows all things, knows when and how things need to be revealed to each of His children. Trusting God’s timing shields us from forfeiting the call during the process. It safeguards us from being overwhelmed by the enormity of our purpose or running ahead without clear understanding of all that needs to happen before we get there. Sadly, so many of us can get side-tracked by others’ fully-realized dreams that we become discouraged before we’ve even begun. Add to that a layer of self-doubt, imposter syndrome, and/or destructive words spoken over us through people whose opinions we value and we have a recipe for unfulfilled calls to purpose and personal choices to go or stay where we haven’t been graced to be.
Okay, now back to the text.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.1 Corinthians 12:21-26 NIV
Here Paul is setting a standard of operations, further impressing that each member has a vital role to play. He highlights the element of division that must be eradicated so that the body of Christ can function at full capacity. This is done through the expression of love, through grace, for one another. When we see that one of our brothers or sisters in Christ is struggling in sin or in their ability to thrive (i.e. downtrodden by life’s struggles) we are meant to be graceful towards them while they heal. Paul says that they are consequential despite their appearance. He makes a similar point about showing honor to those we would otherwise disregard. “Special modesty,” suggests the action of sheltering those who appear out of place. God embedded the body of Christ with the necessary tools to heal itself through the gifts imparted in each member by the Holy Spirit. It is also important for us to understand that the Holy Spirit is known as a paraclete, which is an advocate or counselor (John 14:16, 26, Oxford Languages). This is important because we need to know that we are unable to properly care for one another without the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.1 Corinthians 12:27-31 NIV
Paul drives the point home by clarifying the connection between his analogy and the people he is addressing. I imagine he didn’t want them to be mistaken as to who his message applied to. He then makes a list of several forms of spiritual gifting, seemingly ranked by importance of function before asking several rhetorical questions of whether every person shared the same gift(s). Our journey ends in verse 31, which instructs the listeners to focus their attention on the “greater gift.” The verses that follow this statement highlight the primary gift that each believer is meant to hold close and exemplify with their life, the gift of love.
As we close our time today, I will leave you with a few points of emphasis. The inner workings of the body of Christ must be addressed in order to ensure proper functional representation of Christ within the world around us. We are intended to be an exemplary image of what unity looks like, a blueprint made visible to the entire world. In order to be effective in the work that we aim to do regarding making disciples and spreading the message of Jesus to the ends of the earth, we are going to need to have an accurate view of ourselves and our roles, relate to the shared humanity in others, and put our differences aside in order to embrace unity.
That’s what Jesus did.
‘Til next time.
Song Selection: Bleed The Same by Mandisa, TobyMac, Kirk Franklin