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Multiple Sclerosis and The Church


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.

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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.

What do you think?


OTHER'S THOUGHTS

  1. I was diagnosed in 1993 and have suffered much because of it. I have tried all kinds of things and prayed. Do you have any suggestions?

    1. Hi Karen. I am sorry to hear that you are suffering with MS. I am not a doctor, but when I was diagnosed I cut gluten, dairy, chocolate, and red meat from my diet. I kept that up for about two years and have since added back dairy and chocolate. You may want to read some of the research done by Dr. Hadjivassiliou. Have you tried any diet changes to help with your symptoms? I will pray for your health.

  2. Hi, I was diagnosed in 2012 but according to the Dr per our conversation I’ve had it over 20 yrs. I tried my best to pray sometimes is not even enough what I really want to do is please my Lord and do what I’m supposed to do for Him. Any advice to how motivate myself (make myself) I always do it with good intentions for Him?

    1. Hi Louisa. I’m sorry to hear that you have MS. I was diagnosed in 2009 and it was extremely scary. One of the hard parts of getting the MS diagnosis is that the disease takes on such varying degrees from person to person – the not knowing is terrible. For me, the symptoms have been manageable through changes in diet, but I know this isn’t the case for everyone.

      As far as how motivating yourself to live for Jesus…it sounds like you are in a good place. The best place to start living fully for Jesus is with a desire to do so; there is nothing more dangerous to Satan than a Christian who doesn’t feel close enough to God. I think the motivation comes from constantly remembering the truth of the Gospel: Jesus died for us so that our sins might be forgiven. He rose again. Now he sits at the right hand of the Father, ruling all of creation. When this grace is at the forefront of our minds, we inevitably desire to serve Jesus in return. You probably have heard the obvious ways to focus on Jesus love and mercy (attend church, read the Bible, pray, be around other Christians, etc.). I would add to this list, find a consistent place to serve God in your church. Nothing has been a better motivator to my spiritual life than the service I have done in my church.

      When I was first diagnosed with MS I remember wondering if I would be able to do the things I do at church. I remember questioning if I would be able to stand and preach anymore. During that time a belief was strengthened in my heart: Jesus won’t ask me to do something and not give me the ability to do it. I know that I should/will always serve the church, but if someday I can’t serve the church in the way I currently do, I’ll know that God has another way for me to serve. I have no idea how severe your MS symptoms are, but not matter how bad, I believe there is something you can do to serve Jesus through the church – do that thing!

      I’ll finish this lengthy response by pointing you to a sermon series that I preached earlier this year. It really impacted my approach to life. It is on laziness, but not in the traditional sense. It is called The Busy Sluggard.

    1. Kiel, you never knew I had MS? You better keep throwing moves on me in football! I have been almost completely symptom free since about a month after the diagnosis…you can keep feeling good! The MS diagnosis is the reason I am gluten free.

  3. Pingback: His Body | Creekside Bible Church

  4. Hi Chad,
    Wow, I have forgotten about this 2 yrs ago, till now I started searching for certain Bible verse concerning ms. Noticed “2nd Samuel: Make my feel & ankles strong so I may walk fast without stumbling.” King David talking.
    My ms at the time wasn’t severe as it is now but still able to walk with a walker, but not go out, too much bathroom & walking too slow, I’m sure I won’t get to the place till next day.
    I’m aware it’s the food we put in our mouth, been there & noticed the difference in the diet.
    Instead of using another word for motivated, couldn’t think of another word at the time.
    Enoch walked with God I want to do the same,
    God wants a true worshippers in the spirit in truth, to please Him which I know it would make me feel happy at the same time because I know he’s being obeyed.
    He has told me that I’m important & the Apple of His eyes, to wait upon Him to show me the way for His has appointed me for something….
    Please keep me in prayer.

    1. Hi Louisa. Thanks for leaving this comment. It is encouraging. It also causes me to think about how amazing it is to know that God’s love for us isn’t based on our ability to do anything – even if it is as basic as walking. He created each of us in His image. He died for all of us so that we might have a relationship with Him. Really incredible! If someday MS means I can’t stand up to preach a sermon, or even preach a sermon sitting down, God will not love me less. As you point out, He wants us to worship in spirit and truth – MS cannot take this from us. It is also wonderful to know that by the blood of Jesus, through faith we will be healed of all that afflicts us when God calls us to Heaven. MS will be no more!

      I will pray for you and hope that your symptoms improve. If you ever need encouragement, email our church at [email protected] and someone will be in touch.

      Blessings,

      Chad

  5. Diagnosed in 2001. I walked with a cane for the first walker 12 years. Then I started using a Walker. I went on a vegetarian diet for about 2 years and ended up in the hospital. Seems I one of the odd balls that need meat in my diet not just a little chicken or fish. I need the protein that meat provides. Or I would have to take other supplements. I now need a scooter most of the time when I go out. Because I started stumbling and also falling. Its been a long rough journey. I have my family thank the Lord. Praying for a cure to soon be revealed. Hang in there everyone who needs to hear that.

    1. Hi San. Thank you for sharing your story with me. I’m sorry to hear that your journey has been rough.

      I want to say that I appreciate that you are praying for a cure. I should do that. I’m also thankful that Jesus has offered us the ultimate cure – an eternity in Heaven where there is no more sickness.

      You hang in there too! Psalm 94:18-19!

      God bless you,

      Chad

  6. Good morning I was reading your article that’s amazing I believe that is so true and what is happening to the body of Christ I have a friend that God led me to it didn’t even know her somebody for my congregation where I attended called and asked if I would reach out to her so I prayed about it and I was led to reach out to her and invite her and as I started hanging out with her spending time with her I learned about her MS she is always quite happy and joyful she gets very tired at times and I watch her struggle so much and I pray for God to heal her but she always says and God wants to heal me he will heal me I don’t know if that’s biblical do you have any answers for me and how can I help her and encourage her to start speaking life into her body and over her body because God says thing James that we hold the life and death in our tongues in our words so if you have any suggestions and how I can help her with her MS I think you for sharing yours your testimony she used to be married and she used to have the ministry and it was called in Jesus name Ministry and she helped help the homeless she helped a lot of people with clothes and food and she just gave things away got to prevent did that for her she was married but then her husband just kind of gave up on her and on God and chose to go after another he’s deceased nose far as I know I just don’t know she said pretty much said that he just gave up on God and didn’t want to do it anymore didn’t want to do the ministry anymore and apparently was abusive to her I don’t know if it was physically abused but it could have been emotional abuse mental abuse so would this have anything to do with her having this condition anyway any words of wisdom you could share with me how you deal with your MS and I didn’t know if it diet could make it worse make it better so if you have any suggestions of what I can do to help her I would greatly appreciate it thank you for your testimony and your story may God bless you and may God restore your health 100% in Jesus name

    1. Barbara, thank you for reaching out. I’m sorry I didn’t respond sooner (the last few months have been hard). The story you shared about your friend is heartbreaking on a lot of levels. I will pray for her.

      As far as physical advice goes, let me be clear that I am not a medical doctor. I can only say what has worked for me and what I’ve observed in others. For me, I removed dairy, red meat, gluten, and chocolate from my diet for about two years. I’ve since added all of this back except for gluten (and I eat red meat only occasionally). My decision to remove these things was based on a diet that I believe came out of OHSU. After removing these things my symptoms pretty much went away except for one dizzy spell (a new lesion formed on my brain about the same time as I had this dizzy spell). That dizzy spell did come shortly after one of the few times I have had gluten in the last 13 years. I don’t think removing gluten is the answer for everybody, but what I have observed in others is that people who make healthy diet choices most often do better with MS than those who continue to eat the way they did before. Again, I’m not doctor, but I do believe healthy eating and exercise are helpful.

      God sometimes chooses not to heal us on this earth. We must trust there is a reason. We must also trust that those who have placed their faith in Jesus will be fully healed in eternity.

      God bless you,

      Chad

  7. Hello
    My name is Ericca and in 2019 I was diagnosed with MS. My body had left me feeling like a noodle. I am not very old and I tend to ask God why me. I feel alone and with 3 children under 10 I am totally overwhelmed. I always need help because I have no strength to handle this. I need God right now to help me. Are there any words that God told you to help you through this?

    1. Hi Ericca. I’m sorry to hear about your diagnosis and that your symptoms are making you feel like a noodle. I was about 26 years old when I was diagnosed and I felt like I had received a death sentence – it wasn’t.

      The words that have helped me through just about every difficult thing in life come from Psalm 94:18-19, “When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” As you can see, they are particularly relevant to MS (the foot slipping part). God brings joy and comfort when it feels like our entire world is crumbling. I also think of Romans 8:28 in hard times. If you love God, he will work this for your good…it is a promise.

      I don’t know if you’re a Christian, but if you are, you have an eternity in Heaven with no symptoms to look forward to.

      Here’s my practical physical advice (note: I’m not a doctor). Improve your diet. Look for things that might make your symptoms better/worse. See above.

      Here’s my practical spiritual advice. If you aren’t involved in a church, get involved. It sounds like you need people to help you (we all do) and church is the best place to find that! If you want help finding one, let me know. You can email me (see the “about us” page of this site) if that is helpful.

      If there’s any thing else I can do to help, please don’t hesitate to ask.

      God bless you,

      Chad