Friday, 18 August 2017

Two wrong attitudes that damage the body of Christ - Reflections on 1 Corinthians 12:1-31

In 1 Corinthians 12 the apostle Paul argues that the church is like a living, growing organism made up of diverse parts all of which interrelate and cooperate with each other.

In a previous blog post we considered spiritual gifts – their nature, distribution and function. In this post, we look at two wrong attitudes which threaten the integrity of the body.

‘I’m not needed’ (v14-20)

This is the temptation of the less visible members of the body. So the foot says, ‘I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand’ and in so doing stops being a foot. This means that the hand is then more limited what it can do as it has to operate from a fixed base.

The last of the Ten Commandments says ‘you shall not covet’. The reason covetousness, or jealousy, is so utterly destructive is because it both cultivates a resentful better attitude about someone else while at the same time immobilising the person so that they are no longer contributing what they can uniquely give.

So, not only do they become transfixed on wishing that they were someone else, but, more tragically, they stop being the person that God made them to be.

One of my heroes is a Christian psychiatrist by the name of Marjory Foyle.

Marjorie went out as a young doctor to serve as a cross-cultural missionary in Southeast Asia.

She tried many different positions at the hospital but really struggled to find a role that really suited her.

That was, until she had what she called her ‘bean field experience’. Now the bean field was where you went to the toilet and also, perhaps like Isaac the patriarch, to meditate and pray.

And it was in the bean field one day that Marjory had her Eureka moment and realised exactly why God had placed her on the planet.

Her unique gift was to be a carer for the carers. That was the moment she realised it and from that time forward she put all her energy into achieving excellence in that role.

You may be familiar with the book ‘Honourably wounded’ referring to people who had been wounded psychologically or spiritually in the Lord’s service. It’s an absolute classic. Marjory wrote it.

I remember hearing Cliff Richard describing going out to offer help during one of the African famines and feeling grossly inadequate as he didn’t have medical or nursing training.

One of the nurses was very straight with him thankfully. She said, ‘are you capable even of putting on a bandage?’ ‘No’, he said. ‘Well’, she replied, ‘then you’re of no use to us here’.

‘Why don’t you go back to England and do what only you can do which is to use your gifts as a singer and entertainer to draw attention to the situation and financial need out here’.

It was an absolute game changer for Cliff Richard.

You might’ve heard it said ‘Dare to be a Daniel’. Perhaps we would all like to be Daniels facing down the lions. But in fact there was only one Daniel on the whole of the Bible and he had a unique role to play.

Could you bear to be a Baruch? Baruch was Jeremiah’s scribe. His job was to write down everything that Jeremiah said and then read it out in the marketplace. The job that was tedious, thankless and also dangerous. But if it wasn’t for Baruch we would not have the book of Jeremiah and all the wonderful prophecies about the new covenant that it contains.

We wouldn’t have Moses if it wasn’t for two midwives who risked the wrath of Pharaoh. We wouldn’t have David if his mighty men had not preserved his life on more than one occasion. We wouldn’t have Nehemiah’s great achievement if it wasn’t for the many others who helped him to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.

Solomon could have achieved nothing if it wasn’t for the literally thousands of workers who gathered resources, carved stone, cut wood, managed his horses and organised the feeding and defence of the nation.

There would have been no Spurgeon without an unnamed man one day, when he was diverted by the snow and ended up in the wrong church, who preached the sermon which utterly transformed his life. We would have no John Wesley without his mother Susanna.

You see the point. We are all interdependent. We are all needed. We are all necessary. I don’t know whether you are spending time wishing you were someone else or had some gift or ability that you see someone else has.

Or perhaps that you think that you are unnecessary in God’s great plan.

Well the message of this passage is that you are needed and you are necessary but you need to be the person God has made you to be, with the gifts he has chosen to give you, to build up and serve others.

Be that person and help your children and fellow believers to do the same. Don’t try to press others into the wrong mould.

It was Samuel Johnson who sad, ‘Don’t send your ducks to eagle school! You will frustrate the ducks, frustrate the eagles and frustrate yourself. Almost every man wastes part of his life in an attempt to display qualities that he does not possess’

Don’t say ‘I’m not needed’. Instead find out what you are made to do and do it.

You’re not needed (v21-26)

This is perhaps the temptation of the more visible in church, perhaps those in leadership or so-called ‘gospel ministry’. They possess the gifts regard as most strategic for building up the body of Christ.

Their temptation is to look on others who don’t have those same gifts and think they are less important.

But the reality is that every highly visible member of the body of Christ needs an effective team of people around them, praying for them, helping them to take their opportunities, and perhaps most importantly of all, encouraging them and holding them accountable, knowing that from those to whom much has been given much will be expected.

Lewis Hamilton is a phenomenally gifted grand prix racing driver but he could do nothing without his team, his designers, his computer analysts, his managers and the people who supply the millions of pounds necessary for to take to the track. The man is extraordinarily talented but he needs a whole team in order that he can do anything at all.

One of the most important letters lessons Moses ever learnt, and he learned from his father in law, was that he needed to build an effective team and delegate responsibility.

This was a life changer, not only from Moses, but for the whole nation of Israel.

As Paul tells us here (v26) if one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part of the body is honoured, then every part rejoices with it.

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.

As doctors we are only all too acutely aware of this – an affliction in only one part of the body will adversely affect the whole and perhaps event threaten the body’s life: a narrowed coronary artery, an inflamed appendix, a blood vessel in the brain blocked by clot, some abnormally dividing cancer cells in one organ spreading everywhere.

And so it is with the church – one person’s suffering is borne by all.

‘If one part of the body is honoured, then every part rejoices with it.’

You may know that we Kiwis are very proud of our national rugby team , the All Blacks. We are still trying to get over the fact that they were able only to draw recently with the British Lions because we are so used to them winning virtually every game.

They are widely acknowledged to be the most successful team in world history, in any sport.

But what makes them so good? You could point to many things: the training schemes, New Zealand’s prioritisation of rugby above any other sport, the prestige of being chosen to represent the country or maybe even the fact that they all seem so wonderfully uniquely talented.

But actually, I think the key secret of success is that they are trained to believe that the team is far more important than any one of the players. And if you watch them on the field, you’ll see they get as much pleasure from helping someone else score, giving that winning pass, as they do in scoring themselves.

It’s this utter delight in seeing any individual exceed that is such a powerful motivator.

The success of any member of the team is the whole team’s success.  There is an unselfishness cultivated which leads them always to put the good of the team ahead of their own glory.

If one part is honoured (v26) every part rejoices with it.

It’s perhaps a very imperfect model but I think that it’s something of what Paul is saying here about the church.

In the next blog post we look at some practical applications of this teaching.

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