Many Gifts, One Body
by Burk Parsons
A few years ago I was given a month-long sabbatical to study in Wittenberg, Germany, the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation. While in Wittenberg, I stayed at the Evangelical Preacher’s Seminary, which shared the same courtyard as Martin Luther’s home. From my room on the third floor, I overlooked the dining room and kitchen of Luther’s sixteenth-century house. I recall that on many occasions in the late evening after a traditional German meal, I would open my window to the courtyard and look at the walkway below that led to Luther’s house. I considered the floral surroundings that adorned the windows and the trees that cast evening shadows on the old stone facade of the five-hundred year old house that was being renovated at the time.
One evening, I remember looking at the scaffolding that had been erected on the exterior of the house. Standing several stories high, the scaffolding consisted of hundreds of connecting braces and joints. Each brace was attached to a corresponding brace with a nut and bolt. As one giant assembly, the scaffolding supported dozens of masons, brick workers, and painters. Yet, if just one bolt were to have slipped out of place and if one brace were to have come loose, the entire structure could have tumbled to the ground.
In the first epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul reminded the church at Corinth that the body of Christ does not consist of one member but of many members. He writes, “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. … 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 … .”
The apostle’s point is clear. Just as each and every bolt is necessary to the stability of an entire structure of scaffolding, so is each member of the church necessary to the proper function of the body of Christ. Even though there are members of the body that may seem to be less important, each one is absolutely vital for the well-being of the entire body.
Too often, however, the body becomes fragmented, and certain members of the body are cast aside and put out of commission. They are told that they are not vital to the proper functioning of the body of Christ. They are made to feel worthless, and to a large degree, they never attempt to become a functioning part of the body. They simply enter through the church doors on Sunday mornings and then promptly exit after the service, not to be seen again until the next week.
For all intents and purposes, they do not consider themselves vital members of a living organism; rather, they see themselves as mere observers of a great play with star performers. What they do not know, however, is that the author and producer of the grand production has cast them in starring roles as well.
While it is the job of the pastor to equip the members of the body for ministry, it is the job of each member to fulfill the particular role to which he has been called. In many churches, the pastors are considered the hired guns to get the work of ministry done. And many people think the pastor is paid to take the responsibility of ministry for the entire church body. Yet, on the contrary, by way of shepherding his flock, it is the pastor’s responsibility to make certain that the sheep of Christ are nourished with the Word of God so that they are able to fulfill their callings as members of Christ’s body. In order to do this effectively, the pastor is not simply to be paid to get a job done. Rather, he is to receive appropriate compensation so that he does not need to serve tables in order to provide for his family’s needs (see Acts 6:2). For the pastor serves as the shepherd of Christ’s sheep. Under the authority of Christ, who is the Great Shepherd, the pastor serves as an under shepherd to Christ. And, in so doing, he is called to tend to the body of Christ by providing the body with the Word of God. This is why James teaches that not many should become teachers. He writes, “For you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). Those who have been called to teach the Word of God to the people of God will indeed be called to account for their words, and they will be judged by God more strictly.
Nevertheless, the body of Christ has many members, and each member is critical for the proper function of the body. As a result of the philosophy of ministry that suggests that the church is better off when the body is segmented by age, many churches have taken steps to provide various services for all ages. Members who are older should attend an early service that features older, more traditional songs. Members who are younger should attend a later service that features newer and faster songs. Children are not required to attend either of the services. In fact, there is a special service just for them with even newer and faster songs, games, and a nice little message on the side. However, such segmentation is found absolutely nowhere in Scripture. On the contrary, we are taught that the body of Christ is one body and that every member of every age is needed for the well-being of those members of each age group. The body of Christ is not just one in theory, it is one in reality. It cannot be divided for the simple reason that Christ cannot be divided (1 Cor. 1:13). It is such a wonderful sight on a Sunday morning to look out over the congregation and see children sitting beside parents and grandparents. Indeed, to observe the entire covenant community in corporate worship is one of the joys of being a pastor.
We cannot think, however, that the body is never sick. There are times in the life of the body when healing is needed. We have all experienced those times, and for some churches, healing seems insurmountable. In many congregations, the heart of the problem may be with the pastor who is not fulfilling his calling to serve God in holiness and fear. There is usually not a month that goes by that I do not hear about a pastor who has com- mitted some heinous sin and is defrocked from his position. Still, in other situations the problem is not with the pastor at all. In many churches, the body is diseased and dying because of a severe problem that is infecting the entire body.
One of the greatest diseases in the body of Christ is gossip. We do not realize how much damage we do when we unjustly criticize our brother or sister in Christ. For we are not only destroying a single person, we are contributing to the destruction of the entire body of Christ. If we only realized the fact that we are all part of the same living organism, we would not seek to destroy a particular part. Instead of gossiping and back-biting, we would seek to help that part of the body that needs it. When a certain part of the physical body is injured, antibodies rush to that area and begin the healing process. If we truly understood that we share the same duty as members of one another, we would not continue to practice the fine art of gossip; rather, we would rush to the aid of our brothers and sisters and help them in their struggles. In the same chapter that Paul tells us that “as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another,” he tells us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:4–5, 15). When one part of the body rejoices, the entire body should rejoice. When one part mourns, the entire body should mourn. And if we are truly in touch with what is going on in the rest of the body, we will not be able to avoid doing this — it will be natural.
Each of us possesses particular gifts. Some among us are called to teach; some are called to encourage others, to show mercy, to contribute with generosity, and to lead with zeal, but these things are not mere duties. Our fulfillment of the gifts that God has given us is not first and foremost about what we do; rather, it is about who we are. We are members of the body of Christ, and we have been equipped by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us to sustain us in our divine calling. As Paul writes, “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15–16).