No one is dispensable in the Body of Christ:
There are no second-class citizens in the Body of Christ. Neither are there any lone-wolf Christians. Not only does every single Christian matter, and matter greatly, but we all need each other. We are incomplete without the others God has placed in the Body.
These sorts of biblical truths can easily be lost on us Western Christians who are so highly individualistic, and who value so much our independence and autonomy. That is often why God’s church is so dysfunctional and so unlike what God wants it to be.
Instead of seeing our need for each other, and seeing how valuable every other Christian is, we tend to look down on other believers, and we tend to think we can get by on our own. That in good measure is why the church is doing so poorly so often.
The inspiration for this particular article comes from what I was just involved in over the weekend in which I did a number of church talks in western Victoria. At least two things made me reflect again on the importance of God’s Body. One, the thought of driving zillions of miles out west did not really appeal to me that much.
But the guy who invited me to do these talks, and the one who arranged them – the indefatigable Peter Stevens of FamilyVoice – offered to drive me to all of the events. Peter kept saying that he likes driving, and I kept thinking that I like being a passenger, so it worked out really well!
Our two differing likes very nicely coalesced in this ministry trip. We had great discussions and fellowship all weekend, and the meetings went really well. I told Peter we may have to become a tag team for future events like this. He agreed.
The second thing that happened which led to this piece was a chat I had with a gal after one of my talks. I did my best to stir up the troops, remind them that we are in a war, and that we all have a role to play. One woman came up to me afterwards and said she fully agreed, but felt constrained as she was a mother and housekeeper.
I assured her that those are some of the most important roles anyone can be involved in, and if she did her job faithfully and as unto the Lord, she was every bit as important to the Kingdom as some travelling speaker like myself. Indeed, she will be doing as much for Christ as a Billy Graham. She will be doing as much in the culture wars as a Fred Nile.
So we all have a role to play. As I told one audience this weekend, we each have our own sphere of influence which no one else has: we have a unique set of friends, family members, neighbours, workmates and classmates that no one else has that can be reached and ministered to. So in doing the work of the Kingdom, we really do need each other.
We were discussing this on the way home yesterday and Peter mentioned the verse about being happy to be a doorkeeper in God’s house. That is Psalm 84:10:
For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
Yep, no job or task is too lowly if done for the King of Kings. And of course the classic passage on all this is found in 1 Corinthians. Chapters 12-14 are about the various gifts God gives to the Body of Christ, and 1 Cor. 12:12-31 speaks about how we are one body with many members. It says this:
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. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
Let me remind you of the context here. Paul is of course writing to the Corinthians in good measure because of the divisions found there, and how some were claiming special spiritual giftings, abilities and status. Certain arrogant and powerful figures were bringing in divisions as they looked down on others and were trying to lord it over them. Paul quickly needed to correct this.
Plenty of great spiritual truths are found in the above verses, but one key point is found in verse 22: “the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable”. Those members who are not in the public spotlight, who are not known by millions, who do not have some mega-church or some terrific television ministry or global outreach, are every bit as vital to the Body as anyone else.
Again, this housewife I mentioned may not be known except to a handful of people, but as she lives a faithful and obedient Christian life, she will have just as great of an impact as some super evangelist or apologist or preacher. And she will bring just as much glory to God – maybe even more.
Let me finish with a few commentators here. In his Teach the Text commentary, Preban Vang offers a broad brush look at what chapter 12 is about:
Paul does not argue that the differences between the various body parts mean that church members who have received diverse gifts should be free to whatever they feel their gifting enables or “allows” them to do. The purpose of each body part is to function in accord with the others. If or when the parts do not, they cease to be one body. A limb must fulfill its assigned purpose in the body or it will cease to be a limb and consequently leave the rest of the body impaired….
In a body, all parts are important; when one is missing, the body is handicapped. Furthermore, no part can exist separate from the body. If a finger is severed from the body, the body is handicapped, but the finger dies.
Unity and diversity are crucial themes, not just in this chapter, but in the whole book. But as Marion Soards reminds us:
Paul’s theme becomes “diversity in unity, and unity over diversity.” Modern interpreters sometimes read Paul’s vision in an artificially balanced way, so that “unity in diversity” and “diversity in unity” become equal and synonymous statements. They are not. According to Paul, in Christ unity dominates diversity and makes diversity genuinely meaningful and constructive. The problem in Corinth was diversity run wild.
Stephen Um says the following about this portion of Scripture:
The main point that Paul is trying to get across is this: God has designed his church to be a community of complementary interdependence. The church is to be complementary; that is, each member brings something to the table that the others need and is enhanced by interdependence. It is also a place where each member can be harmoniously dependent upon others for his or her identity….
Rather than being a sign of weakness, interdependency is God’s design for the church. The church is to be a microcosmic picture of a restored humanity and is to reflect God’s original intention for humanity (i.e., interdependence). Rather than embracing the hierarchy and celebrity culture in the world surrounding the church, it is called to be a countercultural community. The weaker are indispensable.
This idea of weakness is picked up by Mark Taylor:
The language of weakness, honor, and shame brings to mind some of the major emphases of the letter. In explaining Christ crucified as God’s wisdom, Paul reminded the Corinthians that God’s weakness is stronger than men (1:25) and God’s choice of the weak things of the world shames the strong (1:27). Paul’s ironic rebuke of the Corinthians’ arrogance by comparing their self-exaltation to the suffering of the apostles in 4:10 employs the weak/strong and honor/dishonor motif, “We are weak, but you are strong!” Paul warned those with knowledge to watch their so-called freedom lest their liberty causes their weaker brother to stumble (8:9–10)….
As to verse 22, Soards says this:
Implicit in this verse is a foundational assumption. Not only has God enriched the unified body by granting distinctive gifts to the diverse parts of the body, but also God created the unified body per se, and the deliberate arrangement of the diverse members of the body. In other words, not only has God brought the richness of diversity to the coherence of unity, but also God created unity through the deliberate arrangement of the diversity. Unity prevails and makes diversity meaningful. Remarkably, God’s authority and purposefulness lie behind both unified diversity and diversified unity.
So we must always bear in mind that it matters nothing whether we are the president of a Bible College, the author of dozens of acclaimed commentaries, a church janitor, or a fulltime homemaker. If we love the Lord and are devoted to him and keen to see him glorified, we are an indispensable member of the family of God. Every single believer is needed, is necessary, and is vital. We really do need each other.