In middle of a discourse on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:1-30 Paul uses the body as a metaphor for church. The context of the passage is important for understanding it. The church in Corinth, whom Paul is writing to, had placed far too great an emphasis on the spiritual gift called tongues. Everyone in the church wanted this spiritual gift while the other gifts were seen as unimportant and the people who possessed them were being looked down on. With this in mind, Paul says in verse 12, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.”1 He continues in verses 18-20, “But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every 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.” His point is clear: Just as a body needs all of its parts to function normally, so too a church needs all of its gifts to function healthily. Verses 26-27 function as a summary of sorts. There, Paul says, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”[bra_blockquote align=’right’]Five years ago this month I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis…[/bra_blockquote]
Five years ago this month I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis a debilitating disease that causes damage to the central nervous system. My symptoms were tingling all over my body, a loss in coordination, and difficulty doing athletic things that once seemed easy. The most frustrating part was that I had gone from being a college baseball player to a person who could barely run or jump and had hardly any ability to catch or throw a ball. The diagnosis radically altered everything about my life and changed greatly my understanding of the human body.
As I think about Paul’s analogy of the church as a body and my experience with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), I can’t help but think that the average modern American church suffers from a spiritual MS of sorts. Like the church in Corinth, most modern churches value certain spiritual gifts above others. For many churches the preferred gifts are preaching, teaching, and leadership. For others, the most prized gift of all, is still tongues. But, the MS like symptoms in our churches do not reside within our over-emphasis on certain gifts. Instead, they lie within the overall weakening of the body that is the church.
For the last few months I have been exploring what it means “to equip [God’s] people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:12, italics mine). This is a task that the New Testament expects of pastors of which I am one. As I have studied, it has become clear that part of this is helping people discover their spiritual gifts and how they have been called to use them for our church. But, it won’t matter if all of the parts (spiritually gifted people) are working diligently in their God ordained area of service if the body as a whole, or its parts, are weak and/or numb.[bra_blockquote align=”]You see, when I was diagnosed with MS my hands, feet, arms, and legs all worked – they just didn’t work as well as they used to.[/bra_blockquote]
You see, when I was diagnosed with MS my hands, feet, arms, and legs all worked – they just didn’t work as well as they used to. Frankly, despite their ability to function, the weakening and numbness that I felt prevented me from properly achieving the activities that I desired to do. This is much like the average American church. The people within them have become so spiritually weak (full of sin, lacking in knowledge, void of spiritual discipline, etc.) and numb (apathetic to the things of God, serving only for the sake of serving and not for the glory of God, etc.) that no matter how rightly they use their spiritual gifts, the church struggles to achieve the great things it desires which hopefully center around the glory, honor, and fame of God through the salvation and sanctification of people.
On one hand Christian individuals are to blame for this problem. Almost every person who has been in the church knows that reading the Bible and prayer have value in strengthening and impassioning one’s spiritual life. Yet, despite knowing this value, their seems to only be a few who are consistent about doing these things. The lack of consistency and care by Christian people must be seen as reason for the feeble and spiritless state of their spiritual lives.[bra_blockquote align=’right’]The brain2 and spine (leadership) are sending poor (unbiblical) signals to the rest of the body.[/bra_blockquote]
On the other hand the leadership of churches are to blame for this problem. One of the fascinating things about MS is that poorly working body parts are that way because of the central nervous system – not because they themselves have been injured. When my hand and arm failed to allow me to throw a ball like I once had, it wasn’t because they were broken or fatigued. Instead, it was because my brain and spine were incorrectly sending them neurological signals because they had been injured. This is not dissimilar to the picture I see in churches. The brain2 and spine (leadership) are sending poor (unbiblical) signals to the rest of the body. Church leadership has told people that being a Christian is just about praying a prayer, sending a message that a life fully devoted to Jesus is unimportant. Church leadership has designed the church to satisfy and fulfill the people who attend, sending the message that church is all about those in attendance and not about God. Church leadership has chosen not to talk about or deal with sin, sending the message that sin is inconsequential. Church leadership has begged people to simply fill a leadership need (i.e. teach Sunday School), sending the message that not all Christians have God given missions within the church. These false messages, even if they are unintended, result in numb and weak churches.
As I close, it is important to quote Paul once again. In 1 Corinthians 12:27 he says, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” Churches exist, in part, to embody Jesus. Therefore, it is important that we, as individuals and leaders, do our best to remove the symptoms of MS so that we can perfectly personify his greatness.
Are there spiritual gifts you think most churches undervalue? What wrong signals have you seen church leaders send people? What do you think must be done to strengthen and excite people in churches? Do you have MS? I would love to dialogue with you; leave a comment below.[bra_border_divider top=’40’ bottom=’40’]
1. All Scripture is NIV
2. Please don’t take the analogy too far. I understand that Jesus is the true head of the church. I know that he never sends wrong signals.