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The Wonderful Variety of the Body of Christ

June 7, 2009

1 Corinthians 12:4-27 (TNIV)

4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. 12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body–whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 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? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 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!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

 Lately I’ve noticed that a lot of Christians around me, for whatever reason, have really, really strong opinions about what a real Christian is or is not. Now, I’m not going to pretend that my views are somehow greater or stronger or better reasoned than theirs, but a few thoughts have come to my mind. It’s all part of this … well, not liberal… not postmodernist… but something like that Christianity. It tends to be cynical, apologetics-oriented, and critical. And those aren’t necessarily bad things. In fact, I’m a lot like that. I like answers, lots of answers. I hate hypocrisy and don’t get it when people try to think that Jesus supports their guns, beers, violence and racism religion. (Have they even read their Bibles?) But sometimes it goes a step further than that.

To generalise (and not quoting anyone specific, here), here are some of the sorts of statements one might hear / read (some exaggerated, some not):

“Jesus didn’t say, ‘Let’s all go into politics and lobby the Government on Christian morals.’”

“The Bible says more about the poor than anything else. Unless you roll up your sleeves and serve the poor, you won’t go to Heaven.”

“All Christians should be concerned with the pro-life cause. Millions of babies have been murdered in the name of convenience, and all to support a billion dollar industry.”

“Christians should stop thinking so much about abortion and do something about the millions of children dying from starvation.”

“Christians all need to stop being so greedy and start thinking about the environment. We are called to be good stewards of God’s green Earth.”

 “Christians need to be wary of getting caught up in the environment. That stuff is the domain of hippies, pagans and idolaters.”

 “Christians shouldn’t worry about animal welfare. Let’s worry about people instead.”

“Jesus was a vegetarian, wasn’t He?”

 “Christians shouldn’t take their Bibles so seriously that all they do is study the Word. Some Christians actually believe the Bible – but instead of worrying about believing it, shouldn’t we just be trying to imitate Jesus?”

“Not enough Christians believe the Bible. If we actually believed God’s Word we might be compelled to imitate Christ, as He has commanded us.”

The list could go on and on. A world of opinionated believers, all of whom have an individual calling and gifting and uniqueness. All involved in different styles and traditions of Christian church and community. All having different careers.

I love the above Scripture in 1 Corinthians 12, because it reminds us that we all have a role to play. And for each of us, our roles might seem like the most important thing. And anyone else who doesn’t hold it as a priority might be, in our mind, not a ‘true’ follower of Christ.

 I have encountered missionary-types who find it unthinkable that I have no particular inkling to travel overseas. I have vague ideas of one day seeing Europe, but even this has more to do with my own search for my ancient ancestors’ heritage. I am very happily Australian. My belief that my “own backyard,” that is, my local community, has more than enough needy people, that I don’t need to travel overseas to find the needy, doesn’t sound like a good explanation to a lot of internationally-minded people. So, who is right or wrong? Maybe we can both be right, as long of us is following our unique callings in life.

The work of travelling missionaries is spectacularly important. I have met some amazing, wonderful, inspiring people who have taken on huge risks. They have travelled through jungles to meet with impoverished people living in garbage dumps and gathering scrap metal to try and make a living; they go and work in developing nations communities to institute positive social change, such as human rights action, distributing life saving medicines and helping people in construction work; they go to remote communities and teach sustainable farming methods. It is brilliant and admirable. Yet, not all of us feel called to go there. We can certainly support the work – through prayer, financial assistance and being a friend to missionaries. However, to be able to send financial aid, for example, requires holding down a job of some description, doesn’t it. In all practicality, of course. Yes God works through prayer, but He also works through the practical.

Then there are people who devote their lives to studying and teaching the Word of God. They seek out fresh revelation and teach people to apply the Word to their daily lives. They use their minds to study and learn the most amazing book in existence. They help the rest of us to understand and develop our theology, and to appreciate the wonder of God. Does that mean, therefore, that all of us, are called to be theologians? No, of course not – but that doesn’t mean theology is not an important task.

There are people I know who are called to work in the ‘real’ world. They are not meant to be cloistered in the employment of a local Church. ( They don’t feel the inkling to attend Bible College – and, among my peers, it seems that 2 out of every 3 is a Bible College student!)  No, they carry the hope of the Gospel and (hopefully) Godly, ethical business practises, and a generous spirit, to their workplaces. Whether that’s as a cleaner, business person, academic, professional, sportsperson – everywhere they are, they are to be the light of the world.

So, why then, do we spend so much time attacking each other? Why is it so terrible that so-and-so is actually called to serve God in business (for a convenient example)? Yes, it is possible. It’s not a prosperity Gospel thing. It’s a definite possibility that there are some individuals who may just be called to work in business, and earn money to serve the needs of the Church. They would be abusing this calling if they were rolling in cash and ignoring the needy and buying up on gold chains and goodness knows what. But there are some good business men and women out there who love God and love His people and support the Church through their financial savvy.

Why is it that some people would change the Gospel of salvation by grace alone (Ephesians 2) to a Gospel of works – no matter how noble those works may be? Yes, we are to do good works (also found in Ephesians 2, not to mention the wonderful and challenging book of James), but not as a way of earning God’s love – it is in order to express that love and joy and purpose that we find in His glorious grace.

I would love to see Churches as communities where each individual is recognised as having unique giftings and callings. Let’s celebrate the diversity, as all the different parts of Christ’s body work together – instead of complaining that each other has the wrong priorities. Whether someone is called to serve God as a secular business employee; housewife and mother; servant to the poor and needy; theologian; pro-life activist; anti-euthanasia activist; environmentalist; scientist; school teacher; animal welfare advocate; anti-slavery activist; cross cultural peacemaker; Government lobbyist; prayerful and devout disciple; preacher and prophet; musician or artist; medical doctor; academic; social activist; a kind friend to gays, hippies, New Agers and all the other unfortunately ostracised human beings out there; a political activist or a politician;… the list goes on…

… Let’s celebrate our differences and uniqueness and work together for a common cause: God’s Kingdom! A kingdom where love, hope and joy reign; where we look on the heart and not on the external.

One of the things I love about my local Church community is the sheer diversity. A lot of different ethnicities are represented: I couldn’t even begin to list them all, but we are  united by our common belief in and love for Jesus. Different types of people attend. We get a huge mixture of visitors, too. A lot of visitors from different denominations. Our Church is not aligned with a particular denomination, which means we get a massive variety in styles of Christian that attend. Personally, I find myself drawn to the company of the “fringe” types, I must add: the Goths and hippies who love Jesus; the metal heads and the comic book geeks; those amazing friends of mine who brave the wilds and seek to share God’s love with the poor in distant countries; and the adept students of the Bible. Oh, but in each person there is so wonderfully unique. Some brilliantly talented creative people. Some who engage in effective ministry through skills like cooking and domestic service. Those who have a brilliant gift for making others feel welcome. I hope that the variety continues to grow.

Links (accessed 7 June 2009)

The Book of James in the Bible  (New International Version)

Ephesians, Chapter 2 (Today’s New International Version)

1 Corinthians 12 with Bible study tools (Today’s New International Version)

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4 comments

  1. Wow…this resonates with me. I keep thinking this over and over during world impact week – body of Christ, body of Christ – especially when confronted by extremely called missionary-types. You put it very well!! We do get tend to get very one-eyed about our own particular areas…I find that I also need to be reminded that challenge is also good. I’m aware that we all have different parts to play…but I do need to constantly make sure that I am actually doing the right thing; serving God in the way he would have me do so.


  2. Thanks Rosie! 🙂 I think you’re one of those brave “trek through the jungles” types.. 😀

    Yeah, it is a challenge. I mainly wrote this as a bit of a response to the complete misery I was feeling after a co-incidental series of books/ conversations / preachers etc. all pushing what sounded very much like a ‘salvation by doing good works for the poor’ message. I was starting to doubt whether the stuff I do was remotely valid to God’s plan for my life because I think I feel called more towards academia / literature / the arts etc. as a forum in which I can be an effective Christian. So I did a bit of reading and had to remind myself that if every Christian out there was called to exactly the same thing, not a whole lot would get done.


  3. It’s true…not much would get done…except perhaps some rather flattened jungle.


  4. That might have global-warming related implications!



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