Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:27; NIV84)
There is great freedom in this verse. Can we truly comprehend it’s implications?
No part is greater than the other. The body does not function in its Spirit-given way, even if one part is missing.
Let’s begin with Paul’s written words in 1 Corinthians 10 in today’s reading.
He wrote of dire consequences that would befall the believing community, if any one, or any group, took sides and became divisive.
Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did —and were killed by the destroying angel. (vv. 6-10)
If Paul stressed anything in this letter, he stressed unity. As of the writing of this letter, the Corinthian believers looked no different from their culture. For a brief passage of writing, after the verses quoted above, Paul wrote about food. Again.
He first discussed this matter in 1 Corinthians 8. In chapter 10, he told the believers that meat from pagan temples became the food of demons. Much happened in those temples, and after these feasts, that often included various sexual behaviors the believers knew to be sinful. One thing, in those feasts, usually led to another.
(That’s probably why, in the passage above, he criticized the sexual immorality that happened after everyone ate and drank together.)
Paul, though, offered them the concession that they can eat meat, but they should be careful, and restrain if they are told it was part of a pagan sacrifice. Their identity was on the line.
Dangerous stuff here. Divisions over meat led to divisions over lifestyles. The church was in crisis.
Paul then turned to public praying and prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11.
Men and Women and Public Worship
Both men, and women, are doing so in public. That is not the problem Paul addressed. He had no problem with such public acts and displays of worship. Women and men did both, in public.
Roman pagan worship involved extensive displays of attire, and head coverings were part of such. Both men and women covered their heads, especially if they were active leaders in a sacrifice to their god. Paul’s words, in 1 Corinthians 11, were not so much about giving different instructions for men and women in public worship, but rather, that their public worship should be distinct from what surrounded them.
In Roman culture, both genders had head coverings. In the Christian community, those rules no longer applied. Not only does he suggest that only women should cover their head, in v. 15, Paul further seemed to state that a woman’s hair is sufficient. In other words, neither should have to cover their heads any longer.
Their worship should look different. And their leadership structure should be different. Paul wrote that “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (11:2). But before we stretch that too far, and use it facilitate the leadership structure of a fallen world, remember Jesus’ words about leadership, when the mother of James and John wanted them to have leadership positions in the kingdom:
When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:24-28; NIV84)
The way of leadership is service and self-sacrifice. Not decision-making and authority. And those are Jesus’ words, not Paul’s. Earlier, in Matthew 20, Jesus said this:
So the last will be first, and the first will be last. (Matthew 20:16)
The fallen world takes positions of authority and “lords” them over others. Not so in the kingdom. Again, from Paul’s own words, he never took issue with men and women doing these acts of worship in public. He just wanted those events to be distinct from Corinthian pagan worship events.
They were to be united in their distinctive worship.
Paul then emphasized that the kingdom fellowship meal, as they currently practiced it, was a chief symptom of their disunity.
Sharing the Kingdom Meal
When they met together, or, perhaps when all the house churches met together at various times, their factions and divisions were visibly apparent. They had turned the communion meal into something similar to Corinthian meal celebrations which surrounded the worship of various gods. Meals led to drinking, which then led to a variety of awful things.
Paul has already written quite a bit about their meals. It’s almost so much, that it’s starting to wear me out.
The believers in Corinth, again, allowed so much of their culture into their practices, that they, again looked no different from their surroundings. Communion is a recognition of our own participation in the kingdom of God with other believers. If it is anything else, then it is dishonorable. We are all redeemed before God, all having sinned and been extended grace.
Our communion meal is a proclamation that the death of Jesus, and the message of the cross, is our only adhesive.
But here’s the point. For them, and for us.
One Gift-Giving Spirit
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13; NET)
We should bring no stress or worry to the body of Christ. We all belong, as God gifted us.
We should never be stressed or pressured or recruited to be a part of the body we were not meant to be. This verse shatters the myth of ministry recruitment.
Who are we to show others where their gifts are? We may lead them there, and they may, in fact, realize that God has, in fact, gifted them in that way. Even so, God gave them that gift, and they would’ve realized it, with or without our guidance.
And often, we lead them into a particular ministry, then struggle to keep them there. Is it possible that we are trying to force them to serve in an area where they are not spiritually gifted?
All sorts of companies have made lots of money by helping pastors recruit and keep ministry volunteers. According to this passage, though, there are no such things as ministry volunteers. Because if people are gifted to serve in a particular area, you won’t need to do anything to keep them there. The spirit of God takes care of that.
If you’ve been part of a ministry, and have since left, feel no guilt. That is not the gift God has given you. But don’t be quiet and isolated. God has gifted you with something, and you are obligated to use it, not just for your personal use, but to help the body of Jesus function in a broken world. If God has gifted you, he has also made a place for you, and your gift, in the body.
The spirit of God gives us the ability to know our gifts. No one needs to tell us.
Our greatest failure is listening to God’s spirit in our lives, and in our churches. The body of Christ is not about divisions. It’s not about gender leadership. It’s not about cultural carbon-copied celebrations. It’s about a beautiful organism that only God can build.
Here is how The Message puts this:
God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful:
healing the sick
distinguishing between spirits
interpretation of tongues.
All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what, and when. (1 Corinthians 12:4-11)
There is freedom here! We do not have to search for a place to belong! God has already shown us!
As the body of Jesus, then, we should act in conjunction with each other, celebrating the differences, and not marginalizing them. Doing so is — as Paul wrote often in Romans, and now in 1 Corinthians — is politely telling God that we are much better at organizing his own church than He is.
May that never be so!
You can read the previous posts here. Thanks for stopping by.