During a Tuesday evening in July, I was at a Presbytery meeting (one of the Summer Conversations sponsored by the Staffing Process Advisory Tem (SPAT), meeting at Stillwater United). Now you might think that would be a guarantee of a boring evening, but as is the usual case, I had a really good time, among friends, looking at Scripture, and talking about the needs of our Presbytery, what we should be doing, and what kind of leadership we need to do it in the years ahead. We began with prayer – always a good thing, and then read 1 Corinthians 12:14-27 three times, with several minutes of pauses between each reading. We were to think about what caught our attention in each reading. The first time what grabbed my attention was the sentence, “If the ear should say, ‘I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be a part of the body.”
Do I fit in?
Deep within me is a big loud voice that I have sometimes learned to ignore, but which always seems to be there. It’s a voice that tells me that I don’t measure up, that since I can’t do what this person does or that person over there can do that I’m not worth very much, that I don’t count. That’s why I can understand the ear that said, “I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body.” When I decide that I don’t fit in, that I don’t have the skills, the knowledge, the disciplines needed; when I declare myself not to be a part of the whole, what do I do? I pull back to protect myself. I don’t reach out; I don’t try to find my place to serve, and I become a self-fulfilling prophecy of apartness.
Do I belong?
But just because I sometimes listen to that loud voice telling me that I don’t belong, doesn’t mean that I don’t belong. I am a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, and God says that he has made me a part of the Body of Christ, and that body is a unit, made up of many part, but Christ’s body is one, and none of us who believe are not a part of it.
Do you want to be blessed? Then recognize the truth that we are part of one Body, the Body of Christ together. As the Psalmist wrote, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in unity…It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.” Jerusalem doesn’t get much rain or dew, and it’s rather dusty. Mt. Hermon gets about the same amount of rain as Jerusalem, but it also gets a heavy dew, two out of three days, and it is green and lush. It would be a miraculous change to have the dew of Hermon fall on Zion. I think by that illustration that David was saying how unusual it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together in unity. It was a great thing when it happens – then and now.
None of us can say that we don’t belong
But Paul uses a different illustration for us. He calls us the Body of Christ, and it’s not an almost unheard of miracle when a body works together. It’s what’s expected, what’s healthy, and it’s what God has made us to be. That’s the grace God has given us, and God expects us to live it out. None of us can say that we don’t belong, and expect it to be true, because it’s not.
But do I fit in? Am I needed?
And then the passage was read again. This time I heard “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’” What I immediately thought on hearing that was, “Sure, the eye could say that. The eye says that all the time!” Instead of a person saying, “I don’t belong,” what I heard that second time reminded me of all the times that someone else was saying, “You don’t belong.” Now there have been many times when others have agreed with that booming voice inside of me that tells me I don’t belong. They sometimes come right out and say it, “You don’t belong here,” but more often it’s a look of scorn or a glance that skips right over you as if you weren’t there. It’s the feeling you get by being the last to be chosen and grumbled complaints when you finally get picked. It’s being passed over for a promotion or being fired because “you just don’t fit in here.” There are lots of ways that others let you know that you don’t belong. Has that ever happened to you?
I just told you of the times when I’ve received the rejections, when I’ve been told, “I don’t need you.” But in the interests of full disclosure, I’ve passed that same message on to others entirely too many times. If I don’t agree with a fellow Christian’s theology, or if they are arrogantly proud, or they do things in a way that strike me wrong, or inconvenient, I often pull back from them. If you asked me if I thought that I didn’t need those people around I would deny it, but if you asked them they might have noticed I was judging them. How terrible to judge someone and find them wanting when God loved them enough to send Jesus, and Jesus loved them enough to die for them. When I realize I’ve done that, I grieve because I have tried to tear down what God has built up – in others and in myself.
I think Paul was telling us that if an eye could talk it would never be so foolish as to say that it didn’t need another part of the body. Are we less wise than an eye? Have you ever told anyone else, by word or deed, openly or not, that they don’t belong, that they are insignificant and unimportant? Did anything good come from that?
The third time that passage from 1 Corinthians was read I heard something different again. That time I heard where all of the unity we have and all of the diversity we are comes from. Verse eighteen read,
“But in fact God has arranged the parts of the body, everyone one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”
And verse 25 reads,
“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.”
And verse 27 reads,
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
Now I have rejected myself and felt rejected by others and rejected others because of outward circumstances, but the reality is, that God has placed me and you, and believers everywhere into the one Body of Christ. There are not many bodies of Christ, this one here and that one there, that we can cling to or push away at our preference. There is only one Body of Christ, and we are all individually members of it, and God has arranged it that way. We need to see things the way God does, and we can because God has told us who we are.
God has put us in the same body and we need each other
If someone believes in Jesus, even if they don’t believe everything in the same ways that you do, and you believe in Jesus, God has put you both in the same body, and you need each other. We don’t even have to know that person, but they are a part of us since we are a part of Christ. If they are rejoicing, part of their joy can, and does, rub off onto us. And if they’re in need, what would you do? Would we say to our toe when it’s suffering from a splinter – “That’s not my responsibility!” I don’t think we’d be that foolish. But when that “toe” is a fellow believer, maybe that’s what we do say, far too often.
Jesus feels our hurts
A healthy body protects and takes care of itself. An unhealthy body sometimes doesn’t know how. There is a disease called Hansen’s Disease – in the past it was often called leprosy. It’s characterized by sores and infections that lead to the loss of bodily extremities: noses, fingers, toes. It’s caused by a bacterium that infects various parts of the body, but the worst thing it does is kill off nerves that carry pain. So a person with Hansen’s Disease never feels hurt – they don’t feel the burn when they pull potatoes out of boiling water or when they step on a nail or get a blister. But not feeling pain doesn’t mean that they aren’t hurt. They are hurt again and again until they can’t pick up the potatoes from the boiling water because they have no fingers and they don’t get blisters on their feet because they have no feet.
So often we have spiritual Hansen’s Disease in the Body of Christ. We don’t feel the pain of others in the Body of Christ, and we injure them by what we do. But thanks be to God, Jesus feels our hurts, and he is the Great Physician who is at work in us to bring healing, which in so much of today’s church, is the growing realization that we are one body, that we need all of us, in all our differences and diversities, to live out the life of Christ in this world.
Are you willing to feel the hurt of those around you? Are you willing to heal the hurt of those around you? “How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in unity…It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.” That’s a miracle. But love and service and unity in the Body of Christ? That’s to be expected. Let’s not disappoint.
Listen to 1 Corinthians 12:12-17 again. What stands out to you?