Saturday, March 26, 2011

One Body, Many Members

"If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together."

I think I may have been missing something on a familiar passage of scripture for years. Not that I've been getting it wrong, but I think my understanding of it has been far too limited, and only recently have I started to reconsider.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul begins a dissertation on spiritual gifts, their proper use, the perspective to keep regarding them, etc. In this chapter he exhorts the Corinthian church to understand their gifts in relation to each other - they are gifts assigned by God (11) for mutual edification (7). They are not given in isolation, but each member has something to contribute to the whole, and is in turn dependent upon the whole (12ff). He makes his point by comparing the church to a body, where every part contributes to the others and needs the others. A body without hands or eyes would not be functioning properly, nor would a pancreas on its own be very useful. Similarly, the church is functioning sub-optimally if genuine gifts are suppressed or withheld, and those who isolate themselves from the church are about as useful as a chunk of liver doing its own thing. Those of us in the church both contribute to each other and need each other, and are united as members of one body, with Christ as our head. When one part suffers, we all do; when one rejoices, we all do as well.

Nothing too controversial there, I think. Anyway, here's where I think I had been missing the boat. I've always read this as concerning individuals within a single local congregation. And it certainly does mean that! In fact, just take a moment to consider all the implications of this truth for your local church - an end of jealousy and factions, sacrificial love for each other, total devotion to each other and commitment to work for the good of the whole. When this truth takes hold, it is a beautiful thing to see.

But what I believe I was missing was the universal application of this passage. That is, we are not just part of the body consisting of our local congregations. We are part of the body of Christ, joined together with all other believers in all the world, now, in all history, and forever. While I am joined in Christ to the fellow members of my church, I am also united to those in the church a few blocks away, and that other church across the city, and one in Kansas, and Mexico, and France, India, and the furthest reaches of the earth. If we are in Christ we are united, regardless of where we live or which congregation we attend. So here are a few implications:

1) I have a closer bond to fellow Christians I've never met than I do to unbelieving friends and even family. If you are in Christ, the same is true for you as well.

2) When one part is honored, all rejoice with it. There is no room for jealousy or rivalry among true churches. When legitimate good news comes regarding another church, we should rejoice. No jealous "why them and not us?" No sniping or backbiting. Just rejoicing for the way God has blessed our brothers.

3) If one part suffers, we all suffer. This was the attitude of the Macedonian church which, when they heard about the extreme suffering of the church in Jerusalem, gave extremely generously despite their own poverty. It 's an attitude that is once again being put at the forefront today, as a devastating tragedy hit Japan. The churches there, the people we are closer to than a brother, who we are united together with us in Christ, are suffering greatly. And we, their brothers, have a chance to help them out. This is what Churches Helping Churches was created for - to help the brethren in time of need. If you don't give through them, please consider another charity or way to help our hurting fellow believers, in Japan and elsewhere.

1 comment:

Robert said...

Thank you for this reminder. I'm going to talk with my wife about this and make a commitment to support this group because there will always be churches in need that I don't know about.