1 Corinthians 12_12-31 what matters most
Who remembers learning how to walk? No one I know remembers purposely planning to take their first step and walking. Walking is something natural. It just happens. Almost invariably, at the appropriate time in our development, we learn to walk. Our body learns to work as one. Each muscle, bone, ligament and limb work together with all our senses to begin to go forward; to walk; to be one body in motion and with purpose. No part of our body is any more important than the other. All parts of our body, see and unseen, work together to walk. Otherwise walking unassisted would be impossible. Each step we take is really a God given miracle of the unity of our body.
When Neil Armstrong stepped off the Apollo 11 and onto the moon, he said these famous words (who can quote them?) ‘One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’ That special moment in history, when man first walked on the moon, was not Neil Armstrong’s individual achievement, it was humanity’s achievement as a whole that got him there. It was a corporate body of people from all around the world who worked together as one that enabled history to be made; one step by one man, but it was the many steps of many men and women working together, as a body does, that enabled Neil Armstrong to make that one small step.
Two types of bodies working together to achieve, flourish and overcome, to step-out and to walk; Firstly, our own body working as one, the other, many bodies working corporally as one; both working together in harmony and unity; both walking together. This is how it is to be in the church. St Paul, frustrated with disunity, individualism, jealousy, division, boasting over spiritual gifts and prideful remarks between the members of the Corinthian church, wrote ‘The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body– whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free– and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.’
You and I as individual baptized people of God, whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free, actually make up the body of Christ, the church. Two types of bodies, our own and then every Christian, make up the other body, the corporate body of Christ, the church, of whom he is the head. Have you ever thought about this, the miracle of our walking as one body with Christ? You did not have a say in your birth and you did not plan to walk, it all came about without your doing from the day you were born.
The miracle is that we became members of Christ’s body and walk with him in the same way, by no decision, effort or special talents of our own, but through the grace of God given to us at our new birth in baptism, as Jesus said in John 15:16 “you did not choose me, but I chose you.’ You, purely by virtue of your baptism were born again into a new body that is the body of Christ, our church here. And it is in your new body that you now walk, together as one body in Christ.
When fishing on Yalata beach (yes I did catch the great big Snapper), with nothing but miles of beach, sand dunes and sea with no vegetation, you loose perspective of distance. I found this out very dramatically. After casting my bait into the sea and putting by rod into its holder, I walked away to look for a place to camp for the night. I happened to turn around and saw my fishing rod being pulled into the sea! Thinking of nothing else but the possibility loosing the big fish that must have been on the end of my disappearing rod, I ran to grab the rod before it was pulled into the sea. Well, I ran and ran, yet I didn’t seem to be getting any closer. The distance was further than I thought. Each step was agonizingly small compared to the distance I needed to travel.
However, I was so concerned about my own steps, that I forgot that my brother was just a few short steps from my disappearing rod. I could have called out to him. I could have trusted that his small step, though insignificant compared to my great steps, would have had an instant impact. Instead I raced alone and risked loosing everything.
How do you view yourself as a member of Christ’s body and your walk with Christ? Perhaps you are tempted to do what I did on the beach and try to run it alone. In our passion to see results, see ‘fish’ caught for Jesus, we concentrate on what we are doing; on how our walk is making all the difference and when things get tough, we run that bit harder, not trusting or just forgetting that our brother or sister in Christ is just a step away from achieving the goal for us and together with us; forgetting that we were all given the one Spirit to drink, we are all one in Christ…walking together in one purpose. Are you someone who is prepared to risk everything, even your own health, risking burn out and lose of faith all because you feel then need to run alone?
Unfortunately, there is a misguided emphasis in the body of Christ that promotes the belief that what matters most is our ‘personal relationship with Jesus’. Its unfortunate because it fosters members of the body of Christ to become individuals and personal walkers with Christ. The emphasis on the Christian individual that ‘you can make a difference’ is not what Christ intended for his body the church.
St Paul uses the analogy of the human body to show how ludicrous it is when individuals try to walk alone in the body of Christ, ‘If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?… As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.’
Perhaps living in this individualistic Christian environment you feel your small steps in Christ make no difference, that your Christian walk will make little or no contribution to the church. Perhaps you feel jealous of others because God has given them greater and more important gifts. ‘They can do far better, so why should I try’, you may think. What if my brother, standing next to my fishing rod, that was hurtling into the sea, and knowing I was struggling to get to it, thought ‘what would my couple of little steps do?’ Let’s not lose sight of who we are. You are a new creation, re-born into the body of Christ through baptism. You belong to Christ and you are a vital and important part of his body, the church. Not because of what you do, or who you are, but because of who’s you are and to whom you belong.
Let me quote Paul from the message bible ‘The old labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free – are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive. I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. Its all the different – but – similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said ‘I’m not elegant like hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to the body,’ would that make it so? If Ear said ‘I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,’ would you want to remove it from the body?’
Knowing that we are all valuable members of Christ and his body, and not just individuals walking alone, when we step out in mission or ministry, perhaps we could paraphrase Neil Armstrong’s famous words ‘One small step for me, one giant leap for Christ’s church!’ Then, what would matter most, is not what I say and do as an individual, but what the body as a whole is achieving as we walk together in Christ. What would matter most is not what I proclaim, but what the church as a whole proclaims and is founded upon, Christ and him crucified and our new creation as people of God through baptism.
So when you feel persecuted or unworthy, or don’t know your place in the body, or are suffering on account of body of Christ, remember you are a member of the church, who together with share your pain. What matters most however, is that Christ is the head and thus when we hurt he hurts with us.
Let me conclude with Luther’s encouraging words in his commentary on Galatians ‘…the church suffers on Christ’s account, as Christ himself testifies when he says in Acts 9:4: ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? Saul had not done any violence to Christ, but only to his church. But whoever touches this, touches the apple of his eye (Zech. 2:8). The head is more sensitive and responsive in its feeling than the other parts of the body, as experiences teaches. When the small toe or some other tiny part of the body is hurt, the face immediately shows that it feels this; the nose contracts, the eyes flash, etc. In the same way Christ, our head, makes our afflictions his own, so that when we, who are his body, suffer, he is affected as though the evils were his own.’