The human body is fascinating. It is incredibly complex. In all of its complexity it is still unified. The complexity is integrated. The body and its members aren’t independent. They are all dependent upon each other.
The church is called the body of Christ. Christians are all members of one body. We are individually members of the body. We are called to be integrated with one another.
To succeed in our mission God gifts the members of the body. We are supposed to employ our individual gifts through serving one another and the world in love.
There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. (Ephesians 4:4-7)
A body is sensitive to changes. It grows, reacts, hurts, and succeeds together. Each member is different, important, and unique. A hand isn’t a foot. Neither is more important. Together they can do more than either could ever do alone. They are bound together whether they like it or not.
Many successful businesses thrive on stripping away the individuality and uniqueness of their employees. The workers are interchangeable. They need people to pull the levers, push the buttons, and keep the machinery humming along. The workers aren’t important individually. They just serve the system.
But the church isn’t a business. Such a strategy is great for franchises. It’s terrible for local churches.
Much of business-church experience is maintaining programs. When we don’t need spiritually gifted individuals, we just need warm bodies, there is a problem.
When we do have programs organized by spiritual giftedness they often operate as isolated systems. They are disconnected and independent from the rest of the body. If the prayer ministry shuts down, the children’s ministry is unaffected. If the evangelism ministry disappears, the music ministry doesn’t notice.
But the systems of a body aren’t disconnected or independent. If your circulatory system stops working you better believe the rest of the body will feel the effects. If the respiratory system has problems the whole body has problems. Likewise, the ministries of the church ought to be integrated. Integrated ministry doesn’t happen by accident. It happens by design. Christ has given leaders to ensure the proper oversight, integration, and equipping of the saints in this pursuit.
This is how the Apostle Paul thought and wrote about the church. A body. Not a business.
And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12:26-27)
In Christ, we are connected. Every member is vital. True spiritual growth comes when each of us – not just the prominent members on the stage – does our part. We are not a loose collection of different divisions with our own individual pursuits and agendas.
At least, we’re not supposed to be.
but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16, bold added)
If you are a Christian you aren’t gifted so people will think you’re great. You’re gifted for a bigger purpose. A grander purpose. You are gifted so that you will use your gift in love to build up others. You are dependent on others using their gifts to build you up. We are all interrelated in Christ. We depend on each other. Together, we depend on Him.
All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. (1 Corinthians 10:23)
Paul acknowledged that the body can do things differently. But he also made the pointed comments that some things, while allowable, are worthless. Some things may be permitted but are a waste of time. We should do the things that are profitable and which edify. By profitable, Paul didn’t mean dollars.
We aren’t the first culture to wrestle with the “rock star” culture. Our prideful flesh wants to be praised, loved, and valued. In Corinth, the flashy gift of tongues was creating problems. People were using it to puff themselves up, not to edify the church.
Paul’s instruction applies to every gift. Anyone who serves with the effect of “look at me!” is participating in a worthless, unprofitable ministry.
Teachers who focus on demonstrating their knowledge instead of edifying the church, worship leaders who show off their musical talent at the expense of leading others into praise and worship of God, servants who desire to be praised for their own efforts instead of helping others to fruitfully minister to pressing needs, and on and on, fit the same critique.
What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (1 Corinthians 14:26, bold added)
The Apostle said that when they assembled each member was supposed to somehow participate in the edification of the body. This isn’t passive. It’s active.
Program, product-driven thinking wants to guarantee identical experiences regardless of who is consuming. It’s why every cup of coffee and every hamburger at franchises across America taste the same. Spiritual giftedness and every member participation means local bodies will be unique. Every experience won’t be the same. Bodies are different based on the various members who are participating. The only guarantee is that the end result should be edification in every assembly.
We don’t gift ourselves. We don’t gift others. The Spirit of God distributes gifts as He wills. When we operate the church disconnected from God’s sovereign gifting of the members we are walking in the flesh. It may be easier to plan. It may be easier to consume and to control. But we are sacrificing edification on the altar of convenience, entertainment, and/or consumerism.
Allowing each member to serve the body in their giftedness is not a call to chaos.
But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner. (1 Corinthians 14:40)
There is organization in the body. It’s not a chaotic mishmash of silliness.
Are you doing your part in the body? If not, the body suffers.
Not every member is equally prominent. But all are equally vital to the health and success of the body. You wouldn’t want to cut off all of the less prominent parts of your physical body, right? If not, then we likewise shouldn’t accept a model of church that cuts off the less prominent parts of the body of Christ and treats them as expendable.
On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. (1 Corinthians 12:22-25)
I never want the members of our local church family to think that they come to be edified by me without knowing that I, too, need to be edified by them. Teaching is just part of the body. It’s my part.