We can only be the Church TOGETHER.
1 Corinthians 12:1-31.
People have always been people. And people have always made up the Church. While there is a temptation to romanticize the New Testament church, there is ample evidence that the first generation of the Church struggled with many of the same issues that churches struggle with today.
In the case of the first century Corinthian church, Paul wrote multiple letters addressing some familiar issues: sexual perversion/immorality, self-promotion, and disunity. His response to the latter issues comes together nicely in 1 Corinthians 12 and provides us with a powerful metaphor for the Church.
Paul begins by acknowledging something easily recognized but difficult to reconcile: God has gifted and empowered us all differently. From the 1st to the 21st century, this beautiful diversity has tested the character of God’s people because we are constantly surrounded with people to whom God has given gifts and abilities that we don’t have ourselves.
Amidst jealousy and segregation in the Corinthian church concerning this diversity, Paul wrote to his brothers and sisters to remind them that their uniqueness was by God’s design and for their common good. This line of thought led Paul to a famous metaphor for the Church:
For 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 (1 Cor. 12:12).
As Paul continues over the remainder of chapter 12, he drives home these truths about the Church:
- As the Body of Christ, our unique members complement one another. God didn’t design us as autonomous, independent beings. We need each other so that we can more effectively be who God created us to be and accomplish what God created us to accomplish.
- We are only whole when we are together. We can only fully participate with God’s work in and around us when we’re working alongside one another.
The Corinthians weren’t the only New Testament Church that needed to be reminded of the beauty in the diversity of the Church. In Romans 12, Paul returns to the metaphor of the Church as the Body of Christ. The same truths from 1 Corinthians 12 are confirmed and expounded upon in Paul’s letter to the Romans:
- None of us should think of ourselves too highly. We should all be humble.
- We should appreciate the fact that God is the one who gives faith and grace to all of us, regardless of our differences.
- We should all be who God has called & created us to be. And we should serve each other in the manner God has gifted us to serve.
In this final “Body of Christ” passage, Paul repeats many of his previous points. He also specifically addresses some of the more prominent gifts. This passage is worth noting because these often prove to be the most problematic in the church as they are most likely to incite jealousy and conflict.
Fortunately, Paul lays a very helpful foundation toward understanding how these giftings are to function. First, they are not intended to function alone. Each of these five-fold gifts are unique. They have particular inclinations. They must learn to function together in order to maximize their benefit in the Church. Second, it’s not prominence or recognition that sets these giftings apart; it’s the end result by which they can be identified:
- EVERYONE in the body is built up and equipped for ministry
- EVERYONE becomes increasingly like Jesus
- The WHOLE BODY grows and builds itself up in love
(Excerpt from Reimagining Discipleship)