1 Corinthians 12:27-31 – Diversity and Unity

All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:

first are apostles,
second are prophets,
third are teachers,
then those who do miracles,
those who have the gift of healing,
those who can help others,
those who have the gift of leadership,
those who speak in unknown languages.

Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! So, you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts.

But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all. (New Living Translation)

“Ubuntu” is an African Zulu word for humanity. It roughly translates into English as, “I am because we are.”

In whatever way it is to be translated, the idea behind ubuntu is a belief of being connected in a universal bond of humanity. So, an authentic individual human is part of a larger and more significant relational, communal, societal, environmental, and spiritual world.

That is precisely what today’s New Testament lesson is all about. Believers in Jesus are connected to one another, as well as having a human bond with all people, since everyone is created in the image and likeness of God.

“We are made for goodness. We are made for love. We are made for friendliness. We are made for togetherness. We are made for all of the beautiful things that you and I know. We are made to tell the world that there are no outsiders. All are welcome: black, white, red, yellow, rich, poor, educated, not educated, male, female, gay, straight, all, all, all. We all belong to this family, this human family, God’s family.”

Desmond Tutu

So, then, we are all to use whatever spiritual gifts and divinely given abilities for the common good of everyone. Just like the triune G-d who is both unity and diversity, and just as an individual human body has many parts yet one person, so also believers are diverse in every way yet thoroughly unified as one Body of Christ.

The Church at Corinth had divided into special interest groups who followed a particular person. Each was continually lobbying for what they wanted, rather than seeking to work together as one temple of G-d. And each group believed their gifts were superior.

Paul identified some spiritual gifts – neither to give an exhaustive list, nor to rank them in importance – but to clarify that all these diverse people and their G-d-given skills are to be used for the building up of the congregation. Ideally, the people’s gifts are to flow together in common worship, fellowship, encouragement, and mission:

  • Apostles. There are two kinds. Capital “A” Apostles are the original ones. They are set apart as those who saw the Lord and were his disciples. Little “a” apostles are “sent ones” or missionaries, proclaiming the gospel in word and deed to those who need to hear.
  • Prophets. These are folks possessing a function and gift of encouragement, building up the church through picturing a special future for the ministry of the community.
  • Teachers. Explaining sound doctrine through careful application of Scripture to daily life and ministry is the function of a biblical teacher.
  • Miracle workers and healers. Yes, miracles and healing happened and still occur. These are believers with an unusual gift of faith who are able to discern with spiritual eyes what others tend not to see.
  • Helpers. A necessary element of any Christian fellowship are people who serve in all kinds of capacities: giving to others’ needs; doing acts of mercy and benevolence; and attending to whatever physical needs Christians are faced with.
  • Leaders. Men and women who provide guidance and steer the church in directions they ought to go. They are skilled administrators, able to give wise counsel.
  • Speakers in tongues (languages). It must be borne in mind that this gift is not an end in itself. It is a Spirit-given ability to help include people. Christianity was never intended to be an exclusive club of Jews or devoted solely to a particular class or race. The gospel is meant for every type of person.

Reflecting on all these gifts and abilities within the Church, Paul rattled off a flurry of staccato-like rhetorical questions. The point is to lift up all the gifts as equally needed and appreciated. The ghettoized Corinthian Church needed an understanding of this. Their individual identities were too wrapped up in their abilities, rather than in Christ.

Keep in mind that today’s New Testament lesson immediately precedes the great ode to love of chapter 13. It is the primacy and permanency of love which holds everyone together. Love is the supreme end of all the speaking and serving gifts.

The most excellent way of engaging our giftedness is expressing it with the love of G-d in Christ Jesus. Anything less than this is a mere shadow of the gospel and severely truncates Christian mission and worship.

What’s more, not only does every local church need to function in unity through diverse exercise of gifts with the individual members, so every local church must cooperate and live in harmony with all other churches. Yes, if you are reading ecumenism in this, you are correct. An ecumenical spirit is a generous spirit which pays attention to other believers in our communities, countries, and throughout the world.

“Unity, not uniformity, must be our aim. We attain unity only through variety. Differences must be integrated, not annihilated, not absorbed.”

Mary Parker Follett

If leaders, teachers, helpers, healers, church planters and encouragers are all doing their jobs, according to the grace given them, then working together with believers everywhere simply happens. And it never seems weird to extend basic Christian mercy and care to believers everywhere – no matter whether they are in full agreement with our doctrinal statements, or not.

When Jesus prayed for all potential believers to be one as G-d is one, he wasn’t thinking of special interest groups, separated Christianized ghettos, nor some believers as being more right or special than other believers.

Diversity, unity, equity, inclusion, and most of all, love, are what characterizes the Lord. It should characterize us, too.

Methinks the Zulu were on to something with the concept of ubuntu. A person is most fully a person through other people. It seems to me it is high time to affirm the basic humanity in others through appreciating their unique difference.  

You and I are more than independent individuals. Our shared humanity is a quality we owe to each other.

I am because we are.

Lord G-d almighty, Creator of the universe, who made us different from one another in myriad ways we can see and in more ways we shall never know yet made us all in your image; fill our hearts with your love and our minds with your wisdom, that we may truly become brothers and sisters of your only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1 Corinthians 11:27-34 – The Body

But if you eat the bread and drink the wine in a way that isn’t worthy of the Lord, you sin against his body and blood. That’s why you must examine the way you eat and drink. If you fail to understand that you are the body of the Lord, you will condemn yourselves by the way you eat and drink. That’s why many of you are sick and weak and why a lot of others have died. If we carefully judge ourselves, we won’t be punished. But when the Lord judges and punishes us, he does it to keep us from being condemned with the rest of the world.

My dear friends, you should wait until everyone gets there before you start eating. If you really are hungry, you can eat at home. Then you won’t condemn yourselves when you meet together.

After I arrive, I will instruct you about the other matters. (Contemporary English Version)

The body. The body and blood of Christ. The Body of Christ. Throughout the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth he employs the full literal and metaphorical understanding of the word “body.”

“Body” is an important word for Paul. He consistently and insistently uses it to convey a message of solidarity, unity, community, and responsibility.

Christ identifies with his people closely. This relationship is so intimate that it is like a head connected to a body. Jesus is committed to the Church.

God put everything under Christ’s feet and made him head of everything in the church, which is his body. His body, the church, is the fullness of Christ, who fills everything in every way. (Ephesians 1:22-23, CEB)

Believers in Jesus are connected to one another closely. They are vitally linked, like the parts of a body all unified together, acting in concert.

God handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13, MSG)

The Church, believers in God and followers of Christ, are the community of the redeemed. They serve and share together as if they were one body, not many bodies.

Christ is like a single body, which has many parts; it is still one body, even though it is made up of different parts. In the same way, all of us, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether slaves or free, have been baptized into the one body by the same Spirit, and we have all been given the one Spirit to drink.For the body itself is not made up of only one part, but of many parts…. As it is, there are many parts but one body. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 20, GNT)

And so, Christians have a responsibility to one another, They must work together as one Body of Christ, paying attention to each other and caring for all the members. There are not to be divisions of special interest groups or a separation of class, ethnicity, race, or gender.

Unfortunately, when the Corinthian Church gathered around the Lord’s Table, their eating and drinking didn’t eliminate barriers but instead maintained and created obstacles between each other.

Paul would have none of that kind of thinking or behavior. He cited it as a reason why many of the individual physical bodies of persons were sick, weak, and even dead. We are holistic people, so whenever there is a spiritual illness in the Body of Christ, it effects the physical bodies of members with sickness.

So, what to do about this malady of both body and soul? Wait for each other. Be patient with one another. Show deep concern for the Body because we are all truly one in Jesus Christ.

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves…. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. (Romans 12:10, 16, NIV)

And all of this is rooted in grounded in the body and blood of Jesus. Whenever believers come to the Table, their eating and drinking is meant to be an outward display of the inward reality of our collective redemption.

Christ gave his literal body so that we might be redeemed from old empty ways of living selfishly and independently from other people. He gathered believers together as the Body. The Church is to reflect Christ’s concern for humanity. The Spirit is given, so that together as one people of God, we will be the continuing presence of Jesus to a fragmented world in need of kindness, justice, and deliverance.

As the Lord’s Body, we are to understand our special purpose on this earth – to bless the world by demonstrating a different and better way to live. Proclaiming this good news in both word and deed is what we are about.

If we look, speak, and act no different than everyone else, we will all be lumped together at the end of the age when Christ returns. And it won’t go so well for us.

Yet, I am confident of better things with you and me.

Our coming together at the Lord’s Table needs to be a genuine celebration of redemption. Examining ourselves does not mean unnecessary navel gazing. Because whenever we go trying to find sin inside us, we will never be disappointed. Instead, the examination is to be communal – ensuring there is room at the Table for everyone, and that each person is connected and participating.

In short, we are to love one another, just as Christ loved us and gave himself for us.

Help carry each other’s burdens. In this way you will follow Christ’s teachings. (Galatians 6:2, GW)

May it be so, to the glory of God.

Lord Jesus, who prayed that we might all be one, we pray to you for the unity of Christians, according to your will, according to your means. May your Spirit enable us to experience the suffering caused by division, to see our sin, and to hope beyond all hope. Amen.

1 Corinthians 2:1-10 – Where Does the Power to Change Come From?

When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen,
    what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
    the things God has prepared for those who love him—

these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. (New International Version)

We need the Holy Spirit of God.

Without the Spirit’s help, Jesus is merely one of thousands of individuals crucified in history – only an example of someone martyred for his faith. Yet, Jesus was infinitely more. Christians discern Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world. 

Through Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension, people can be redeemed from empty lives, saved from destructive life-patterns, and given the kind of security and purpose which God intended from the beginning. The Spirit’s role is to take these redemptive events of Jesus and apply them to our lives. 

Thus, Christian Trinitarian theology understands we are unable to see the truth about the cross of Jesus Christ unless God the Holy Spirit, sent by God the Father and the Son, breaks into our lives and does an intervention, showing us our denial about how we are really doing – as well as our delusions about who we really are.

Admitting we need the Holy Spirit of God means the power of Christianity and the Christian life rests with Jesus Christ and him crucified, and not with us.

We are, in many ways, powerless. I realize this is not a popular message, especially in Western society. Tell the average American they are powerless, and they’ll think you’re off your rocker. It sounds ridiculous. Some would argue that we have done well, thank you very much, on our own. We have a couple of cars, a house, a job, and a family. After all, we worked hard, and we did it.

However, any worldly success we gain, and getting the things we want, may lead us to the delusion we have the power to do whatever we want.

Oh, sure, we might reason, we have problems just like everybody else. After all, we cannot control everything.  But we are not completely powerless just because we have difficult circumstances and a few problem people in our lives. God will step in a take-over where I leave off, right?…

Wrong. Apart from the Holy Spirit of God, we are unable to become Christians and live the Christian life. If we believe we manage our lives fine, with some help from God, then we might be in denial about how much we place ourselves at the center of the world. And believe we should be able to deal with whatever comes at us in life. When our consistent response to adversity, or the realization we are not handling something well, is to try and fix ourselves, we are living the delusion we have the power to change.

A reflexive response in asking Google to find answers to our problems; dealing privately with our personal issues; expecting our willpower to be enough; passively resigning ourselves to mediocre lives because we have tried to change or be different; then this means we are feeding the delusion we do not really need the Holy Spirit of God. But just need more effort or information to overcome my problems. And when more doesn’t solve our issues, we easily become discouraged.

We need the true power source of the Christian life. We need the Holy Spirit applying the work of Jesus Christ to our lives so that we can live a victorious life.

Unfortunately, it typically takes a tragedy or crisis to break our delusion of power – a bad marriage, a family member’s addiction, a runaway child, a terminal illness, a bankruptcy, a death. How bad do you and I need to hurt before we will admit we are not managing our lives well, at all, and that the real power to change resides with the Holy Spirit?

There is power in the cross of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul believed this with all his heart. Although Paul was an intelligent and learned person, he did not rely on his abilities but on proclaiming the power of Jesus and him crucified. The crucifixion of Christ was a past action with continuing and forceful ripples into the present time.

The cross of Jesus is more than an historical event; it is an ongoing reality to experience for victory over all the brokenness of this world and all the mess we have made of things putting ourselves at the center of the universe.

The Reformer, John Calvin, repeatedly instructed and encouraged his Geneva congregation that the Spirit joins us to Christ, assures us of salvation, and grows us in confidence through the Scriptures. Calvin, although a genius, did not rely on his intellect or abilities but insisted we need the Spirit’s witness to mature as followers of Jesus.

There are tough situations and incredibly sad realities which are mysteries beyond our comprehension. They defy simplistic answers and are greater than our attempts to explain them. Hard problems stretch our faith. And they ought to cause us to cry out to God and Christ’s church for help because we are powerless to manage our lives.

We absolutely and totally need the Holy Spirit of God. Without the Spirit, we are lost. But with the Spirit we experience the saving power of Christ’s cross to deal with everything in our lives.

The Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.  Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that he will make all things right if I surrender to his will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with him forever in the next. Amen.

1 Corinthians 12:12-27 – One People for the Common Good of All

The body of Christ has many different parts, just as any other body does. Some of us are Jews, and others are Gentiles. Some of us are slaves, and others are free. But God’s Spirit baptized each of us and made us part of the body of Christ. Now we each drink from that same Spirit.

Our bodies don’t have just one part. They have many parts. Suppose a foot says, “I’m not a hand, and so I’m not part of the body.” Wouldn’t the foot still belong to the body? Or suppose an ear says, “I’m not an eye, and so I’m not part of the body.” Wouldn’t the ear still belong to the body? If our bodies were only an eye, we couldn’t hear a thing. And if they were only an ear, we couldn’t smell a thing. But God has put all parts of our body together in the way that he decided is best.

A body isn’t really a body unless there is more than one part. It takes many parts to make a single body. That’s why the eyes cannot say they don’t need the hands. That’s also why the head cannot say it doesn’t need the feet. In fact, we cannot get along without the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest. We take special care to dress up some parts of our bodies. We are modest about our personal parts, but we don’t have to be modest about other parts.

God put our bodies together in such a way that even the parts that seem the least important are valuable. He did this to make all parts of the body work together smoothly, with each part caring about the others. If one part of our body hurts, we hurt all over. If one part of our body is honored, the whole body will be happy. Together you are the body of Christ. Each one of you is part of his body. (Contemporary English Version)

“If instead of a gem, or even a flower, we should cast the gift of a loving thought into the heart of a friend, that would be giving as the angels give.”

George MacDonald (1824-1905)

It’s easy to take things for granted.

For instance, we don’t typically think too much about our toes… until we stub them, drop something on them, break them, or need a podiatrist to operate on them. Then, we not only know they’re still there, but our entire body (along with the mind and emotions!) feels the need to give a lot of attention to the lowest end of our body that enables us to stand and walk without thinking much about it.

The body is an apt metaphor for how to think about humanity and its various systems and institutions. We might see the face of any church or organization, but there are scads of people behind the scenes doing all kinds of good work. For example, the golfing profession understands the importance of caddies; lawyers know the need of paralegal professionals; healthcare facilities and organizations rely not only on nurses and social workers, but also on cooks and housekeepers; schools need the coordination of teachers, parents, students, volunteers, and the entire community to effectively realize the education of children.

Also, as you well know, it’s easy to take for granted services we receive… until we don’t receive them, or in a way to our liking. Then, we pay attention. We want action and resolution. We want our food now and to our exact specifications. Sometimes we might even forget that we are dealing with people, not cogs in a machine or parts in a system. Millions of people labor every single day, sometimes even seven days a week, just to make ends meet and provide for their families. When we neglect to see or understand this, we have done our fellow human beings a gross disservice.

It’s also awfully easy to forget how radical the Apostle Paul’s words were for first-century folks, especially in religious circles. Throughout the Old Testament, the Hebrew community was God’s people. If you wanted to worship the one true God, you came to Jerusalem and learned from Jews.

But Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit changed things in such a profound and organic way that the world would never be the same again.

Paul preached with fervor and flavor that there would not be a separate Jewish church and Gentile church. They have become one Body of Christ through the redemptive events of Jesus. Both Jews and Gentiles have the same Spirit – not different Spirits for each group. Jesus did not die so that people could be fragmented from each other; Christ was crucified to end, once and for all, the segregation, discrimination, and ostentation of one group of people above another. 

The cross was the ultimate radical act of justice against the powers of this dark world that seek to rank people according to their relative importance and worth.

The power of resurrection is the energy of God raising Christ from death to triumph over the realm and system of evil throughout the earth. All kinds of people everywhere are to rise with Christ in a great demonstration of God’s power to subvert the status quo of discriminatory racism, extreme individualism, gender inequality, social and economic classism, and any kind of “ism” which places one group of people in subjection to another in misguided notions of superiority.

The church is to be a community of redeemed people reflecting the diversity of God’s big world.

No two groups of people could have been more different than Middle-Eastern Jews and Greek Gentiles. Yet, Paul adamantly insisted that they together, not separate, make up the one Body of Christ.

It isn’t easy listening to another group of people who think and act differently than you and me. But listen we must. And respond we must. It is our biblical responsibility as believers in the way of Christ. Believers are only the Body of Christ when we are united and together as one people of God.

There is no ability to look down your nose on another person if you are already kneeling on the ground in humble prayer at the foot of the cross. There is only the chance to look up. There is even the opportunity to allow someone less privileged and fortunate to assist you.

Yes, we all need one another – even if it doesn’t seem that way at first.

It isn’t our job to colonize other people’s culture and society to make it more like our own. It is our duty to share good news, make room at the Table, extend love in the name of Jesus, and work together as the one people of God, formed by the Spirit.

Almighty God of all creation, I understand we don’t struggle merely against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities – those institutions and systems that keep separatisms alive by perpetuating the lie that some members of the family are inferior and others superior.  Create in us a new mind and heart that will enable us to see brothers and sisters in the faces of those divided by human constructed categories of power disparities. 

Give us the grace and strength to rid ourselves of stereotypes that oppress some of us while providing entitlements to others. Help us to create a Church and nation that embraces the hopes and fears of oppressed people everywhere, as well as those around the world. Heal your family, God, and make us one with you, in union with our Lord Jesus, and empowered by your Holy Spirit. Amen.

*Above photo credit: music4life on Pixabay