Agonizomai: 1Cor 12:21-26 - Alien Thinking

Thursday, July 31, 2008

1Cor 12:21-26 - Alien Thinking

21-26 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.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 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, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Let me once more offer a quote from that famous man, John Kenneth Gailbraith:
"Under communism man exploits man. Under capitalism, its exactly the reverse."
But in the body of Christ all have died to this sort of exploitative thinking and behaviour. Christianity is not the exploitation of the weak by the strong, nor is it the ganging together of the poor to offset the power of the rich. The church is neither a political nor an economic body, though its members may be used of God affect both politics and economics. And the individual members may even witness what God does politically and economically through the church if they are walking according to His will. However God chooses to advance His kingdom, the chief purpose of the church is to do just that, through the obedience of faith - to advance the kingdom by proclaiming the gospel to every person in the world so that all that the Father has given to the Son may hear and believe, to the glory of God. That is the end, and all other things are adjuncts and means to that end.

At first glance one might not think that such crass things as the leverage of money and power could find any root in the church. And that would be right, if there were no human beings as members, or if there were not tares among the wheat. Besides, power and privilege do not always have to be about money. In fact the love of money is not about money, nor the love of power about power, but these things are about greed and pride and covetousness, and lack of faith and love - and money and power are merely the means by which these corruptions are manifested.

And while they may not be the controlling factors in the lives of Christians, they are nevertheless factors. God has left us with the residue of our flesh in a hostile world, with demons to twist the truth. We have enemies without and within our selves, as well as enemies without and within the church. God is able to keep us - and He will through faith and by grace - but we must be tempted in order that we may begin to understand our own weakness, and the very great faithfulness of our God and Saviour.

Thus, even in the body of Christ there are manifestations of the flesh which must be confronted with gentleness and humility, with a pastoral heart and in all truth. As we have seen, in Corinth even the very gifts of the Holy Spirit were used as an occasion for boasting, showiness, pride, inconsideration, self-importance and who knows what other manifestly carnal purposes. Thus the polemic and didactic, the chastising and pastoral care that Paul brings to the matters of their error.

And even after 2,000 years and with the advantage of these teachings and warnings, such things are still among us today. That is because we are sinners and saints at the same time. It is also because some in the visible church are not truly saved and are wholly motivated by the flesh, even though their actions and attitudes may often appear to be good. God alone knows the heart.

But the Way of the Lord is always alien to the flesh. It is unexpected. It is counter-intuitive, though only to the carnal mind. To the Spirit informed and led saint, the Lord’s Ways - though past understanding in many ways - make sense, and they resonate with the new heart within. Thus we can receive and embrace the idea of dying in order to live, being abased in order to be exalted, being weak in order to be found strong in the Lord - and many other similar concepts. So it can be no surprise to see the exquisite wisdom at work in the body ministry and its associated gifts wherein Paul speaks of the baser parts receiving greater honour.

One thinks of verses like "let each man think of others as better (more significant ESV) than himself," {Php 2:3} or "many who are last shall be first and the first last." {Mt 19:29-30} God has it all covered. The strongly gifted shall not glory in their strength and the weakly gifted shall not be less than their brethren - for the gifts are by God’s choice for use in the body that was chosen and bought and saved by His choice. What matters is not the supposed comparative "value" of the gift but the degree of faith and obedience with which it is used. A so-called small or less significant gift properly and fruitfully used is more pleasing to God because it is used in faith (obedient, submissive, loving faith) than any great, showy outwardly mountain-moving gift that is drenched with the corruptions of the flesh. Faith may be mixed with it to some degree, but it is the degree of faith and not the shininess or showiness of the gift that pleases God.

One could spend hours delving into what is meant by "faith" in this sense. It is not simply "believing". It is not even acting upon the belief. It is acting upon the belief with a heart that is set upon the glory of God in love because of Who He is and what He has done - not just in a general sense for mankind, but especially in a very personal sense, for me.

But God has saved a number of people that cannot be counted - a number as great as the sands of the sea or the stars of the unpolluted Chaldean sky. And in any generation there is a portion of these saints alive upon the earth, making up the church militant, while those who have finished the race (the church victorious) are an unseen cloud of witnesses cheering us on from the very bosom of Christ. John Donne reminded us that no man is an island entire unto himself - and no saint can be divorced from the body of all believers.

Yes, by necessity some may be called to utter loneliness in prisons or remote corners of the world and that is also the will of God; but no saint may call himself to such isolation. The God who saved him also gave him gifts to be used for body ministry and this necessitates that he participate in the body. So great is this bond between members of the church that they care for, feel and honour each other as they would their own selves. We are no longer simply persons unto ourselves, but persons free to trust God with our own needs so that we may minister to the needs of others. That is not to deny individual responsibility; it is to look for and to hold oneself forth as God’s very means of ministering to both ourselves and others. God ministers to us through our brothers and sisters and we are used of God to minister to them. It is true interdependency, but totally dependent upon the God Who designed, powers and upholds it all in Christ


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