This Is What An Authentic 21st Century Church Is Supposed to Look Like
(1st Corinthians chapter 12, verses 14-31)
Today I will conclude chapter 12 of 1st Corinthians in my ongoing blog about the writings of the apostles (to get a copy, visit this link, guaranteed virus-free). Last week in part 1, you will recall how the apostle Paul was explaining to the 1st century church at Corinth about the many different functions of various church members, and how they are interrelated to one another. He described the gifts of the Spirit as they are applied to the various church members, with no one gift being more important than any other. In the conclusion of chapter 12, the apostle Paul compares the church to the human body as he analogizes the two. So let’s start up where we left off last week, beginning in verse 14.
“Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body’, it would not for that reason cease to be a part of the body. 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 cease to be a part of the body. 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? But in fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts but one body.” (1st Corinthians 12, verses 14-20)
Now let’s go back to last week’s study for just a minute. You will recall Paul the apostle naming the “gifts of the Spirit” as being wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in tongues (other languages), and the interpretation of tongues. When taking them in context like I am doing in the above Scripture, it is clear that Paul meant multiple things are happening all at the same time within the true Church – the one that’s not a corporation or a social club. Not everybody can be a pastor, or an elder, or a deacon; not everybody can have gifts of healing and of miraculous powers, nor do all speak in tongues, or interpret, and not all prophesy either. But each part within the church is absolutely indispensable to each other, and each part is an essential part of the whole body of Christ’s church. And, as Paul the apostle wrote, the various parts of the body of Christ are arranged exactly as God wants them to be. That is all part of His good, pleasing and perfect plan for each of us, according to his most excellent will. Let us now continue at verse 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!’. On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1st Corinthians 12, verses 21-26)
Each part of the true Church of Jesus Christ is interdependent on one another, and all work in unison for the edification of that Church. There is no such thing as a one-man band in authentic Christianity, but instead the church possesses a “team spirit” that is Spiritual in nature. And there is total equality among the membership so that “its parts should have equal concern for each other”. And so we see that, in the spirit of true Christianity, everyone has an equal standing within Christ’s church, and no one is higher or better than anyone else. This is why equal protection under the law is part of the US legal code passed by Congress back in 1965. It is based on the Bible, as Rev. Dr. King correctly pointed out repeatedly during the civil rights era, prior to and in the days leading up to the day of his assassination.
I have one more comment about this passage before I move on. Paul wrote in verse 22 above, “those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts we think are less honorable we treat with special honor”. The work of those within the Church who are weaker, presumably meaning those persons of lesser stature either because they are new or because they have spiritual or personal issues they are working out, counts for just as much as a long-time member who has grown strong in his or her relationship with Christ. There is no such thing as a pecking order or a hierarchy in a church filled with true followers of Christ. Authority is distributed laterally among the membership, and Christ is the sole head of the church.
And then there is the part about those who “we think are less honorable, we (should) treat with special honor”. Remember what Jesus said in the four Gospels about, “Those who put themselves first will be last, but the last will be first”, and again when Jesus said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted”? Jesus was clearly referring to the rich and the poor, and to those in positions of power and influence, and to those who crave it. And so the parts of the church, the very poorest and most insignificant members of the church, who seem to be the least ‘honorable’, should be treated with special honor.
Social and economic position count for nothing in the true Church, but passion for Christ is everything. If any of us should die tomorrow, we can’t take anything with us. Our cars, clothes, furniture, houses (if you are lucky enough to still own one of those), our jobs and all our friends and loved ones are going to be left behind when we go home to be with the Lord forever. In the end, our relationship with Jesus Christ is the only thing that will remain of what we once were. It is that very relationship that sets apart God’s people from the rest of humanity. And now allow me to wrap up the remainder of today’s study.
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.” (1st Corinthians 12, verses 27-31)
Each member of the Body of Christ has their function, and it will invariably be the one thing that they do best within the overall structure of the Church. The best way to find out what your ministry is, or what function you serve for the glory of Jesus, is to first pray about it. Assume nothing, and do nothing on your own that you have not prayed about previously. In other words, don’t do anything without talking to God about it first unless you are absolutely sure that your will and God’s will are synchronous. God will open the right door for you, he will do so at precisely the right time, and He will do it in the right church.
So if you find yourself in a church where there does not seem to be any place where you can be a helping member, or even where you fit in for that matter, this is a sign that you need to look elsewhere for a church you can call home. Keep seeking and let God show you the way. Let the Holy Spirit lead you to where you belong, because if it worked just fine for me, then it will for you too. In the meantime, follow the apostle Paul’s advice and “eagerly desire the greater gifts” of the Spirit. God has the perfect place for you in his Church, and the supreme sacrifice of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected is what allows us to have this special relationship with Him. No one place within the church is more important or valuable than any other, nor is any one single person, not even the pastor. No matter what Spiritual gift you may have, it all counts equally as much in the true church of Christ. And if it counts equally within Christ’s church, then all is equal in the sight of God. In next week’s study, we’ll be moving on to chapter 13, ‘the love chapter’.