Individuality and Community.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. – 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 ESV

God’s goal for us is oneness. It was one of the primary requests in Jesus’ prayer in the garden on that infamous night just moments before He was betrayed.

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me John 17:20-23 ESV

Jesus knew that the oneness or unity of His followers would be the greatest expression of the heart transformation that comes only as result of salvation. It is the Spirit-produced oneness of believers that proves to the world that Jesus was who He said He was and actually accomplished all that He claimed He would do. Paul picked up on the theme of Jesus’ prayer and echoed those same sentiments to the believers in Corinth. Their brand of spirituality was not working. Rather than leading to unity and reflecting the oneness of Christ and the Father, it was leading to arrogance, pride and division within the church. Even their view of the gifts of the Spirit were dividing rather than unifying the body. So Paul gives them a lengthy primer on the spiritual life, with special emphasis on the gifts of the Spirit.

Paul emphasizes that they are all one, but they are not all the same. There is still diversity in unity. That is what makes the body of Christ so unique and a reflection of God’s power. He takes people of all shapes and sizes, colors and creeds, backgrounds and tradition, and molds them into a single entity called the Body of Christ – His church. The unifying factor of the church is not our shared ethnicity or ancestry, our common cultural background or country of birth. It is our mutually shared calling by God and our redemption as a result of faith in the death of His Son. We are one because God has made us so. He has placed us in the Body of Christ. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul described Jesus as, “the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it” (Colossians 2:19 ESV). It is our common faith in Christ that holds us together, and He does so through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit who indwells every believer. That is Paul’s point to the believers in Corinth, and to make it clear, he uses the analogy of the human body. Each of us has just one body, but it is made up of many parts. There are muscles, ligaments, organs, limbs – each with a different assigned purpose and designated function. Some operate behind the scenes, unseen and unrecognized for the role in the functioning of the body. Others are more obvious and seemingly important. We even place greater importance on them because we can’t imagine life without them. Paul emphasizes the ears and the eyes, the hands and feet.

If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?
1 Corinthians 12:15-17 NLT

It is the diversity and unity of the human body that makes it so incredibly amazing. Each part, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, is necessary to the functionality of the whole. In fact, Paul states, “some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary” (1 Corinthians 12:22 NLT). There is a God-ordained design to the human body that causes it to operate most effectively when it is unified and each part is accomplishing its assigned role. And the same thing is to be true of the Body of Christ. Paul says, “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27 NLT). No one is more important than anyone else. No spiritual gift is more essential than another. And the spiritual gift you have was not given to elevate your importance but to build up the Body of Christ.

Paul lists all kinds of spiritual gifts: apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healing, helping, administration, even tongues. His point behind the list is the variety, not the order or importance of the gifts. We tend to focus on which gift appears to be the most significant and spectacular. But Paul would have us remember that it is the Spirit who gives out the gifts – as He sees fit. We need to spend our time using the gift we have been given, rather than obsessing over a gift we think is more valuable. The goal is unity. And it is our God-ordained uniqueness that makes it possible. Our individual gifts, assigned to us by the Spirit of God, are intended for the mutual edification of the entire church. Our spirituality is not to be a badge of honor or a source of pride. Our giftedness is not intended to stroke our ego or prioritize our importance within the church. We have been gifted by God for the good of the Body of Christ. God’s goal behind our calling and our giftedness is “harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad” (1 Corinthians 12:25-26 NLT). Individuality and community. Uniqueness and unity. Giftedness and shared good. That is what makes the Body of Christ function and proves that the faith we claim is real and our Savior is alive.