Tag Archives: 1 Corinthians 12

Rediscovering the Organism

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
1 Corinthians 12:27 (NIV)

I remember getting the call. There was an emergency meeting of the church elders. I was a young man and had been serving as pastor of a rural church for over a year. As I made my way to the church office for the hastily called meeting I wondered what on earth the problem was.

As it turned out, the problem was me. Apparently, I had not officially gone through the prescribed bureaucratic hoops required to become a member of the church when I was hired. One of the elders had their undies in a bunch because I’d never become a member. I sort of figured that if the congregation hired me, I was kind of automatically grandfathered in. Oh, no. How could I be serving as Pastor of the organization if I wasn’t a member of said organization? We have an existential crisis on our hands, people!!

I did my best not to laugh. At the next congregational meeting I submitted my name for membership, the congregation approved, and that little bit of silliness was put to rest.

The sad thing is that I’ve encountered similar kinds of silliness in the institutional church wherever my journey has taken me. Looking back over my journey, I’m struck at how different the institutional paradigm of “church” that I grew up with compares to the word picture of “the body of Christ” that Paul gives to the believers in Corinth in today’s chapter.

The word picture of the “Body” is a living organism made up of all believers. The church I grew up in was an organization made up of just those who chose to go through membership class, go through interviews with the elders, and accepted the “right hand of fellowship” along with a nice certificate (perfect for framing) during a Sunday morning meeting. In Paul’s word picture, every believer has a spiritual gift and has a significant part to play in contributing to the work of the Body of Christ as a whole. The church I grew up in had a few appointed “ministers” approved by the organization to do ministry. The vast majority of us were little more than spectators and financial support. Paul’s word picture of the Body is inclusive and includes all believers regardless of age, gender, social status, or ethnic background. The church I grew up in was exclusive to those who had a certificate of membership, which is why the elder in my earlier story was horrified by the notion that I was serving as their pastor but hadn’t jumped through the bureaucratic hoops of the organization to get mine.

To be sure, even in Paul’s day the church was struggling to provide some kind of organizational framework for a movement that had gone from just over 100 people to tens of thousands of people in just a few years. Nevertheless, when the organism of the Body of Christ that Paul describes in today’s chapter became an organization and then a political, social, and religious institution of the Roman Empire a couple of hundred years later, I believe something was lost.

I’ve observed along my life journey that the church institutions of my childhood are dying. The old mainline denominations have fractured and faded. People are increasingly embittered by the systemic sins of a global religious institution and its leaders who refuse to deal honestly and forthrightly with the issues. When I grew up, a politician was required to be a member of an acceptable religious organization or institution in order to be considered a good candidate. I find it fascinating that a leading politician recently stated that membership in a legacy religious organization is a sign of prejudice and hate speech, disqualifying a person from serving in a government position.

Oh my. The times, they are a changin’.

And, in the quiet this morning I’m thinking that maybe it’s a good thing. History leads me to believe that the Jesus movement is always more effective when it is persecuted and less effective when it is in power. Perhaps we’ll learn how to become an organism once again. You’re welcome to join me. I won’t even ask you to show me a certificate of membership.

The Special People Among Us

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 that 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 put the body together, giving greater honor to the 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.
1 Corinthians 12:21-26 (NIV)

Along my journey I have lived in a handful of different places from really small towns (e.g. 110-318 people) to larger towns (e.g. 10,000-30,000 people), and a couple of urban regions (e.g. 250,000- 9,000,000 people). Across all of the places I’ve lived I have served and worshipped in a number of churches, both small and large, and of different denominational or theological backgrounds.

One of the things that I’ve noticed is that there has virtually always been at least a couple of special people in every gathering in which I’ve been a part. In the quiet this morning I bring to mind a number of faces and memories I’ve not thought about in a long time. These special individuals are a combination of persons who get labeled “odd duck,” “slow,” “off,” or any number of phrases such as “a few bricks shy of a full load” or “the elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top.

I’m chuckling to myself as I recall one gentleman named Norman. Norman was a huge grizzly bear of a man, who was cross-eyed unkept. His hair was never clean or brushed. His clothes were always disheveled. He commonly paired an ratty, old suit jacket he owned with his dirty overalls. Norman’s speech was always gravely and slurred. His body odor generally arrived ahead of him and lingered well after he left. He would typically arrive late to the meeting and he was known to belch in the middle of my message with the decibel level of your average 737 at take-off.

Norman was also amazingly sweet spirited, regularly attended, never ceased to display a grateful heart, and he always had a kind word to say to any who would take the time to actually have a conversation with him.

Today’s chapter of Paul’s letter to the believers in first century Corinth is normally interpreted to be about how different individuals in the church have different gifts and abilities and they all work together to make up the whole. When Paul writes the words, 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!” it is typically interpreted to mean that we all need each others gifts and talents. At least, that’s the way I’ve typically read it and presented it.

As I read the familiar passage this morning, however, I was struck by what Paul had just addressed in the previous chapter:

for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing?

In other words, the divisions among the followers of Jesus in Corinth were not just about differences of talent, culture, philosophy and doctrine. The divisions included the “haves” and the “have nots.” This might have been socio-economic status, but also might well have included those who were healthy and those who were sick, those who were “normal” and those who were…special. So when Paul writes, “those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor” he was talking about those among us whom we typically marginalize, ignore, shy away from, and from whom we distance ourselves.

I’m reminded this morning that what originally differentiated the followers of Jesus in the first century was that they welcomed everyone to the table no matter the gender, race, nationality, background, health, talent, or socio-economic status. The “everyone is welcome” attitude was breaking down big-time in Corinth, as I observe it has in most places I’ve lived and worshipped.

This morning I’m thanking God for the special people in my midst who are typically difficult to appreciate, often painful to talk to, and sometimes are just plain awkward when trying to make connection. I’m also confessing that I too often shy away and distance myself from those who are different when I should be leaning in, honoring, and loving. Even if they belch loudly in the middle of my message.

Developing Parts for the Good of the Whole

But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
1 Corinthians 12:18 (NIV)

One of the things I love about creation is the way that God layers what He makes with all sorts of parallels to who He is and how He has ordered other things. In today’s chapter, Paul uses the physical body as a metaphor for how a local gathering of Jesus’ followers spiritually functions.

A body is made up of many parts, Paul explains, but it’s one body functioning together for the common good. He goes on to explain that God’s Spirit instills in each follower a spiritual “gift” (e.g. teaching, service, hospitality, intercession, and etc.) which makes that person a unique “part” of the body. Each person, Paul continues, should perform their unique “part” to provide their essential function in the health of the entire “body.”

Over the past couple of years, our local “body” has been doing something that is functionally unique in my experience. For a long time now, most churches have established a fairly rigid paradigm for vetting those authorized to teach in a weekly gathering for worship:

  1. Go to college and get an undergraduate degree
  2. Go to seminary and get a graduate degree
  3. Become ordained by your particular denomination

Of course, just going through this process does not necessarily mean that you are actually gifted by God’s spirit as a teacher. It is equally true that many who are spiritually gifted teachers never jump through the established institutional hoops to in order to become institutionally approved, and therefore they may never use fully perform their part for the good of the whole.

Over the last couple of years, the spiritual leaders of our local gathering identified a number of members of our “body” who they believe may be gifted teachers. These individuals were offered an opportunity to receive some training and to actually teach our local gathering on a rotating basis on Sunday mornings. A process of oversight, encouragement, and feedback is growing. Some individuals have tried it and determined that teaching is not their gift. Others are continuing to grow and develop. Perhaps some will decide to go on for more formal, institutional training. Nevertheless, it’s been amazing to see individuals growing and developing in their gift. Despite those who expected the experiment to result in people choosing not to come to worship, our local gathering hasn’t diminished through the experiment. Rather, we are discovering that each teacher appeals to different parts of the body and that each teacher complements the whole of the team. It’s been fascinating to observe and participate.

Today, I am thinking about the diverse jumble of “parts” in my local gathering of Jesus’ followers, and the myriad of ways that these people are gifted in the healthy functioning of the whole body. Some are teachers. Others provide very different, but necessary functions. The proper functioning of every part doing its job ensures the health of the whole. I am continuing to grow in my understanding and appreciation for the fact that each part, no matter the gift and ability, is essential in its role for the common good.

 

Spiritual Gifts Do Not Come With a Gift Receipt

Presents
(Photo credit: quimby)

Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! 1 Corinthians 12:29-30 (NLT)

Over the past two days, most of us have opened a number of Christmas gifts. Stop for a moment and consider something with me. The gifts we received this Christmas were determined by the giver. While I’m sure there are exceptions, I’m assuming you did not look at someone else’s gift on Christmas morning and take it for yourself. I’m betting you didn’t tell the giver that you didn’t want the gift you were given nor did you demand that you be given what another person had. We understand that we have been given a gift and it is ours to accept no matter what we may have desired, wanted, or wished for. It is a gift and we are to be grateful and appreciate what we have been given (even if we decide to try and make an exchange or return later).

So, why is this such a hard concept when it comes to spiritual gifts?

One of the most destructive tendencies I have observed in the church is the allowance we give to members of our body to freely exercise the delusion that they have been given certain spiritual gifts when the opposite reality is abundantly clear to all. One of the most loving and profitable things we can do is to help each believer truthfully identify, acknowledge and accept the ways in which they have been spiritually gifted by God the Giver, and the ways in which they have not been gifted no matter how much they may desire it. Our refusal to do so results in the Body of Christ carrying out our mission blindly limping along, unable to hear clearly, with one arm tied behind our back.