In a museum in Florence, Italy, stands one of the world’s great art masterpieces. It was created early in the 16thcentury from a single block of marble by the renowned renaissance artist, Michelangelo. Crowds queue in the street outside for hours to see this remarkable and beautiful statue of the biblical David. The artist has captured the remarkable features of the human body, its bone structure, rippling muscles and even fine detail in hand structure and blood vessels are faithfully captured. It is exquisitely beautiful.There is another body that is similarly exquisite and beautiful. It is a body specially prepared by the Father and in which the will of God was done perfectly (see Hebrews 10 vv 5—10).
In our New Testament reading today (1 Corinthians 12 & 13) we read of this Body and some of its many members. As we saw last week, the church at Corinth was deeply divided. There was strife and rivalry, argument and jealousy. As we described last week, Paul’s reminder to them was that together they were the temple in which God dwells. In this chapter, Paul’s teaching is that together they form a Body. He says:“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1 Corinthians 12 vv 12, 13).As you read through this chapter, note how many times Paul emphasizes the word “one”—it appears constantly, reminding these disciples that in the same way as the literal body of Jesus was one body, so too, is the spiritual Body to which each of them, and indeed us, have been joined.
Paul has already drawn attention to this Body:“Is not the bread we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf!” (1 Corinthians 10 vv 16, 17).Notice how now he takes this lesson and applies it so powerfully to the feuding, divisive Corinthians. In a reminder to them of their poor conduct, Paul suggests that each of us who make up this one Body, are nevertheless different (see ch 12 vv 14—20). We are NOT the same. So while one may be a hand, or another an ear and another an eye, each separate part still is part of the whole, single Body. Indeed he paints the rather bizarre picture that if the whole body was simply an eye, then where would the other parts be that are so necessary for the efficient and effective functioning of the body? Paul’s argument is that these various parts, each with their particular function and purpose, have been brought together by God so that the body can function. Hence, the Body of Christ is exactly the same. We are NOT all exact replicas of each other. As members of the Christ Body, we are NOT exactly the same body parts. We are not all eyes, because how would the Body hear? We are NOT all ears! If we were, then how would the Body ‘smell’? Instead, in the Body of Christ, each member has a function and a purpose! Each member, male and female, has a contribution to make to the orderly and effective functioning of the Body.So how did this powerful lesson help the divisive, fighting Corinthians? Paul’s teaching now is that the consequence is that the eye can’t say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ In all disputation and fighting that occurs in a church community, there is invariably the assumption that many make, ‘we don’t need this person!’ Disagreement and division inevitably means that there are some who esteem themselves and their role as better than others. He encourages the Philippians, that ‘in humility (they should) value others above yourselves’ (2 v 3). Paul anticipates that in Christ’s community, as in the natural body, there are some parts whose ‘difference’ makes them weaker than other parts. We can probably understand this if I were to compare one of my little fingers and my right leg. Obviously, one is stronger than the other, but both perform an important function. So Paul says:
“On the contrary, those parts that seem to be weaker are indispensable…..God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it, if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. Now YOU are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it!” (12 vv 22—27).For Paul this lesson is another imperative for faithful disciples and a faithful community, because he makes it repeatedly in different ways in his letters. Consider how he draws attention to how this Body grows in another letter:
“Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4 vv 15, 16).
While the picture is slightly different—because in this last example, Christ is the head—the principle is still the same—we each are members of this one Body, and each part has a function to perform or a work to undertake.For the Corinthians, these lessons should have been powerful reminders of who they were. Their argument and divisive conduct made it impossible for God to dwell in them as “His temple” (ch 3)! Their divisions and conflict were the same as if they were to say to some of their fellow members, “sorry, we don’t need you here—we don’t need feet!” (ch 12).
As we come together in communal worship, we see before us a single loaf. One bread—representing one Body. God has preserved these words because we need them—we are just like the Corinthians. In our congregations, differences arise and argument occurs. When they do, we need to remember this teaching of Paul—it is a fundamental, first principle of both teaching and conduct—the Body of Christ is ONE! It is not divided. It is indivisible! In fact, we must learn to celebrate the fact that while we are different, we still need each other.
This first principle should be as important to us as our other first principles relating for example, to the mortality of man, or the nature of God and His relationship to His Son.One of the great blessings of this COVID pandemic, has been seeing, in a way that we’ve never seen before, the wonderful work that is being done, the wonderful skills and abilities of members all over the world and the extraordinary sense of ‘community’—one Body—that we are experiencing. We are being given the opportunity to celebrate with gratitude the diversity that exists within the Body! Perhaps this is a time for reflection and preparation so that each of us may take stock and present to our Master as an effective member of His one Body.
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