Imagine with me for a moment your foot throwing a fit and refusing to help the body walk. Perhaps it had rather be a hand or do nothing at all. Try as the body might to get the foot to work along with the body as it has been designed to do, it will not cooperate. Eventually, the disgruntled foot detaches itself and slinks away, dragging itself forward by its toes.
Sounds silly, doesn’t it? But, we see similar scenarios play out in churches all the time.
There are reasons upon reasons to love the Bible. One of them certainly has to be that God vividly illustrates spiritual truth with common stuff. He gets down on our level and helps abstract things make sense. One that is so clear and helpful is the metaphor of the local church as a human body.
God through Paul makes this vivid illustration in 1 Corinthians 12. Apparently, the Corinthian church had been struggling with division and jealousy over spiritual gifts and ministry in the church. Some weren’t pleased with the gift and subsequent ministry they had been given. They wanted something else, something “more.” They were ready to just give up. Others, because of their high gifting, had begun to look down upon those who didn’t share their gifting. They had begun to believe that they could live without the “lesser” ones. They were ready to tell the others to get lost.
It was nothing more than a parade of pride. The whole church was crumbling because of selfishness on both sides. In 1 Corinthians 12, God begins to encourage that church and every church by driving them to humility and helping them see each other as essential to the health of the body.
In verses 1-13, God is seeking to humble us in three ways.
First, He begins by pointing out that even our saving faith is enabled by God through the Holy Spirit. God writes through Paul:
- Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware.You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
Focus in on v3, and notice closely what is being said it. Without the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we will say that Jesus is accursed (ie, a liar and a fake), but with the Holy Spirit’s ministry in our lives, we will say that Jesus is Lord. These two sayings—accursed and Lord—are opposites and lead to opposite destinations. “Accursed” leads to Hell while “Lord” leads to Heaven.
We would all say “Jesus is accursed” and split Hell wide open but for the grace of God enabling us to say “Jesus is Lord.” As Paul says, “No one CAN say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit,” (emphasis added). It’s impossible to make such a profession of faith without the enablement of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, all who believe owe their salvation to God. It’s not because we’re smarter or holier or more tender than other people. It’s because God has graciously worked in our lives and enabled saving faith in us. This truth is meant to humble us to our very foundations. You’re not in the faith because of you. You’re in the faith because of God!
- Have you come to terms with giving God complete credit for your salvation?
Secondly, God humbles us by helping us understand that once He saves us and makes us a part of the church, spiritual gifts are given to us by God as He sees fit. This truth is clear from 1 Corinthians 12:11, But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. You have the gift you have because God decided to give that one to you. Therefore, to question your gifting is to question the wisdom of God. It’s to say, “God, I believe you’ve made a mistake.” In our right mind, we wouldn’t dare utter such blasphemies, but in the midst of frustration, we often do. We must be humbled and rest in the fact that God knows better than us in how to use us for His glory.
Furthermore, this truth is meant to burst our bubble. Often in our pride, we think our gifts say something about us, but in reality, they speak only to God’s greatness and God’s grace.
- Do you trust that God knows best and is able to equip the Body of Christ for maximum gain and glory?
- Are you deflecting the glory away from yourself and toward God?
Finally, God humbles us by pointing out that spiritual gifts are given to us not just for our own gain, but for the gain of others also. God gives varying gifts to people as He sees fit, but there’s not a variety of purposes behind those gifts. There’s only one, and that is to edify everybody around you. Paul says it this way in 1 Corinthians 12:7, But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. My gifts have been given to me by God to benefit you, edify you, bless you, and not to glorify me. It’s God’s power working through me. Honor Him! When we realize this great truth, we are rightfully humbled and ready to be used in the body.
- Are you using your gifts to build yourself up, or are you using them to build others up?
- Are you using them to the maximum of your ability?
In v14-26, God is seeking to help us see each other as essential to the health of the body.
First, God wants us to see that every person in the local church is an essential part of the body regardless of gifting. The foot is just as much a part of the body as the hand even though the foot is not a hand, (1 Cor 12:15). The ear is just as much a part of the body as the eye even though the ear is not an eye, (1 Cor 12:16).
The same is true in the church. The usher is just as much a part of the body as the pastor even though the usher is not a pastor. The regular church member in the pew is just as much a part of the body as the chairman of finance even thought the regular church member in the pew is not a chairman of finance.
Paul goes on to point out in 1 Corinthians 12:17 that if we were all eyes, how could we smell? We need some noses around here, which brings me to the point at hand. The gifting that you have been given is essential to the body. Even human body parts that seem useless have some sort of function behind them. We need each one, and to lose one is to cause the body trouble. Be very mindful of this reality if you consider leaving your local church.
- Have you considered the impact your absence or your inactivity would have on your local church?
Second, God wants us to see that you have been placed in your church for a purpose, and to neglect that purpose is to handicap the body and to be disobedient to God. Paul clearly says, But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired, (1 Cor 12:18). Friend, you are not in the church you are in by chance. It is God in His providence who superseded your placement, and what God supersedes, He has a purpose in. Therefore, to neglect His purpose for you is disobedience. God put you there to do a job, and when you refuse to do it or run from it, you rebel against your Lord and Master. Serious stuff!
From the church’s point of view, however, the church is handicapped when you refuse to do what God has gifted you to do. Picture for just a moment a person whose arm stops at the elbow. They have no forearm or hand. Can this person function? Sure she can. Will this person struggle? Sure she will. Things that she could do if she only had that hand, she will not be able to do.
It’s the same thing in the church. When you hold back your gifting, you handicap the church. The church could do more if you’d only join in and do what God has gifted you to do!
- Are you holding back in the ministry of your gifting at your local church?
- Do you realize that to do so is to handicap the local body?
Third, God wants us to see that we should never be so arrogant to say to a member, “Go on! Get out of here! We don’t need you anyways!” unless that body part is cancerous. When somebody begins to talk about leaving our local churches, we often well up with the prideful attitude of “who needs ‘em.” That mindset runs contrary to Paul’s here in 1 Corinthians 12:21-24a:
- And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it…
In other words, the eye can’t say to the hand “Go on! Get out of here! We don’t need you anyways!” To do so is foolish because each body part is essential. To do so is to set the body up for handicap as I mentioned above.
So, why do we say things like this to those leaving our churches? We say it because we’re disappointed, hurt, or feeling rejected. We say it because we’re trying to save face when inside, we’re broken. We say it because we might really believe that we don’t need them, but the Bible says that we are deceived.
- Has arrogance crept into your life concerning certain individuals in your church that you think you could do without?
The only time we should say, “Go on! Get out of here! We don’t need you anyways!” is when that body part becomes cancerous. When a person becomes so negative toward the church that they can’t see any good in the church, they need to go. When a person continually stirs up strife, they need to go. When a person leads people astray morally or theologically and will not be corrected, they need to go. These people have become cancers, and they’ll spread throughout the entire body if they are not gotten out of there.
Finally, God wants us to see that when a part of the body is struggling, we should nurse it back to health. Listen, church life can be difficult and frustrating. There’ll be friendly fire and enemy fire. People will most likely be wounded or become discouraged along the way. These people need tender loving care. Keeping in mind that tender loving care is not always pleasant (having a bone set is painful but is still tender loving care), we must do what it takes to get that person, that body part back to health.
Paul admonishes us to suffer with our fellow members of the body and to rejoice with them as well, (1 Cor 12:26). That means that we help each other along. We bandage each other up, put lots of triple antibiotic on each other, and care for one another back to health. Remember, the body needs that injured hand. That’s why Paul elsewhere tells us to encourage the fainthearted and to help the weak, (1 Thes 5:14).
- Who in your congregation is struggling and needs some tender loving care so that they’ll be restored back to service?
Hey, Mr. Foot, hang in there and be a foot to the best of God’s gifting to you for the glory of God and the common good of the body.
And, Mr. Hand, help Mr. Foot along because you need him just like he needs you.