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. 1 Corinthians 12:23-25
Some time ago I was sipping hot coffee at a great restaurant in Johannesburg, when I found myself staring at the scene in this picture. I was amused and took a photo, certain that I would be able to use it to make some or other point in a teaching or article.
Well, the opportunity has arisen. A few weeks ago I read the well known words above, from Paul’s first letter to the believers in Corinth, and it ministered to me in an incredible way. It was clearer than ever, a perfect answer to a question that everybody (believers and non-believers alike) have been asking for at least seventeen centuries: Why are Christians so divided?
The passage above, I believe, provides the key.
But before we get there, consider for a moment the implications of this sentence: “God has … that there may be no division in the body…” That’s quite a statement. God has done something to prevent disunity in the body. There is a “secret” to Christian unity, and the verse above fills in the blanks and reveals exactly what it is.
Paul begins his argument in the preceding verses. We treat our “unpresentable parts” with “greater modesty”, he says. That is where my picture comes in. We buy clothes to hide our bulging waistlines. We colour our greying hair. We are attracted to the services offered in the picture, and the reason is obvious: We spend time, energy and money on our unattractive parts, not the attractive parts. In short: We adore the unadorable.
In the same way, Paul says, God gives “greater honour” to the parts that lack it, and so makes them indispensable to the body.
Before we speak about the body of Christ, which is what Paul has in mind here, let us pause for a moment and consider how true this principle is in the human body. I have never seen a pair of kidneys on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine, and I certainly do not ever expect to. Kidneys are not exactly… attractive. However, to compensate for this fact they have been given a function that is so incredibly essential to the health of your body that it has earned them the proud title of “vital organs.” And so that magnificent face of yours simply cannot expel them from the body, or look down on them, or say to them “I don’t need you.” In fact, one of the things that causes a healthy complexion is a well functioning pair of kidneys.
Which brings us to the body of Christ. The very same principle applies here. Note that God has “chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith” (James 2:5). Also not that the “lowly brother” must “boast in his exaltation” (James 1:9). As Paul said to these Corinthians earlier on in the same letter, God chooses the foolish, weak, low and despised in this world.
Hmm. I am reminded of Kierkegaard who said that God always creates out of nothing, and that he can only use something after he has reduced it to nothing. This explains why Jesus Christ made himself nothing before he could be used by God. It also explains why things went terribly wrong for the great visionaries of the Bible before their so-called “sense of destiny” could find fulfillment. Think of Joseph, Moses and Peter, to mention a few. All of them were aware of a calling, and all of them had to lose it in order to find it.
Most of us are more or less aware of the Biblical pattern in this regard. Most of us know that the way to the promised land lies through the wilderness, that the cross precedes the glory, that brokenness is a prerequisite for service. But the verse above adds an important dimension to this principle. God empowers the weak for another reason besides the obvious ones that we are so aware of.
HE DOES IT TO MAKE THEM INDISPENSABLE TO THE BODY.
People who are insignificant according to the standards of the world are indispensable in the ekklesia of Jesus Christ. Their extraordinary gifts are crucial for the church’s health. She needs to be aware of this, protect them and care for them. The foolish, weak, low and despised in this world are the vital organs of Christ’s body. It is as simple as that.
I say this to my shame, but there was a time in my life when I turned my back on my brothers and sisters in Christ who did not see things the way I did. I became sick of their theological shallowness, their constant emphasis on experience and emotions, their hyped-up gatherings. At least that is how I experienced it. And so I turned my back on them and searched out likeminded spirits with whom I could discuss the books, authors and issues that interested me. It did not take long to find them, and when I did I rejoiced. We could be deep together. Really, really deep. So deep, in fact, that no else could find us. Except of course those gifted souls who were just as deep as we were…
I see things differently nowadays. Besides being obviously embarrassed by the pharisaical snobbishness that I had made myself guilty of, I have come to realise how incredibly shallow my so-called depth has been. Whilst my new friends and I had a roaring time debating things like supralapsarianism, we were missing out on a vitality that could only be provided by certain … organs. We simply did not have the fervour to save the lost that I had seen in that tent evangelist who could hardly spell his name. We did not have the compassion on the poor that I had seen in the theologian with the “mystical” tendencies. And so on.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not arguing for some happy ecumenism at the expense of Biblical truth. I am merely saying that different parts of the body have different functions, and that all of us run the risk of becoming severely deformed without the restraint provided by the unity of the body. We need one another. The thinkers need the doers who need the feelers who need the thinkers…
John Ruskin once said “When a man is wrapped up in himself, he makes a pretty small package.” I wish to edit that statement somewhat: When a man wraps up Jesus Christ with himself, he ends up with a pretty small Jesus.
The body is not an eye, or a collection of eyes. It is a body. One body with many parts, as Paul said to the Corinthians. One body with all its parts, for God has clothed the dishonourable parts with greater honour so as to make them indispensable.
The key to Christian unity is diversity. Ironically, we have allowed our differences to drive us apart instead of bringing us together.
(A shortened version of this article appeared in Bloemnews.)