If each part of the body plays the role that God expects of him or her, then we are able to be fully functional in the mission of Christ.
The topic of spiritual gifts is central to being a Christian. “Concerning spiritual gifts,” Paul writes, “I do not want you to be ignorant” (1 Cor. 12:1).1He believes that an active relationship with the Holy Spirit is essential to faith in Jesus. “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (v. 3). That is why this is such a foundational thing for you to learn and include in your spiritual life. “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all” (vv. 4-6).
Already in the first century there was conflict among people in the church using different methods. Unfortunately, the church today still has the same kind of conflicts, despite the fact that the Bible clearly says in this passage that the Holy Spirit intends for there to be different approaches. Paul illustrates this principle by giving several examples of spiritual gifts—wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, languages—that are all bestowed by the same Holy Spirit (vv. 7-10) “One and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” (v. 11).
All these different methods of implementing the grace of Christ in the world are given for the same purpose. “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all” (v. 7). The mission of Jesus in the world is the supreme focus of all truly Christian activities. The Holy Spirit focuses the variety of approaches toward the central goal that Christ is working to achieve.
Paul uses the human body as a metaphor to explain the unity of a fellowship of Christian believers, a congregation. “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ” (v. 2). He goes on to illustrate how foolish it is for church members to back off or stay away because their gifts do not seem to be needed. “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body?” (v. 15) He uses an ear and an eye in verse 16 to repeat his point.
He then describes how absurd it is for some church members to claim that their method or their approach is the one and only true way to follow Jesus. “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?” (v. 17). If you imagine a number of eyeballs rolling into church for worship, you can see that Paul is making a joke here in order to get across the importance of a key spiritual truth. The church needs many different kinds of people with different abilities, interests, and approaches because God made it a diverse organism just as He made the human body a wonderfully complex thing that depends on many different kinds of tissues, organs, cells, etc.
If you ever feel like you don’t fit in, remember, it is God who made you that way. His body needs you precisely because you are different. “But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased” (v. 18). When we look upon another person in the church as odd or unnecessary because of their unique personality or approach to religion, remember, we are condemning God’s creative decisions. He made us to be different. He does not intend for us to all be the same. Unity in the church does not equal uniformity of behavior or thought.
“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.’ No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary” (vv. 21, 22) Remember this text the next time someone gets up in church and says, “such-and-such is the real work of the church,” implying that other activities are not really necessary or a waste of time, money, and energy. “God composed the body, . . that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another” (vv. 24, 25).
Seventh-day Adventists believe in a wholistic approach to the mission of Christ. This includes both evangelism and community service, both outreach and nurture, and both teaching Bible truth and social action to demonstrate the compassion of Christ in practical ways. Christian education is just as important to the mission of Christ as are media ministries and public campaigns, community service centers and health ministries.
Those who try to play one off against the other or claim that their favorite approach deserves a larger piece of the pie than the others are not biblical in their claims. “You are the body of Christ, and members individually” (v. 27). Because every believer—including you—has a specific gift from the Holy Spirit, each believer—including you—is organically connected with the body of Christ. Together we make up the body of Christ in this place. If each part of the body plays the role that God expects of him or her, then we—together, as a congregation—are able to be fully functional in the mission of Christ.
God designed creation in such a way that interdependence is an operative principle. But what about competition, the often fierce struggle for dominance, the concept of the “survival of the fittest”? What about those brutal examples of violence that occur in nature? If nature speaks for God, how does that reflect on God’s glory? What does that say about God? It’s interesting that in the Jewish Scriptures (for example, the prophet-poet Isaiah’s writings) the future world of God is described as a place where the following will be commonplace: “ ‘The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra's hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain” (Isa. 11:6-9, NKJV).
That’s quite a picture of peace and harmony! It provides a glimpse into the way God originally intended the world to be and what God wants for the ultimate future. That is the view of some of the major world religions like Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. God created the world as a place of natural beauty in which all created things live and exist together in peaceful harmony and unity—interconnected, interdependent, cooperative, collaborative, and mutually supportive—where cooperation rather than competition is a primary principle of life.
The context of the poem in Isaiah describes how, instead of that natural harmony, there is aggressive human rivalry, injustice, and exploitation of people. The results are extreme poverty and slavery, which creates a culture of the “haves” and the “have not’s,” the rich and the poor, the free and the enslaved. That relational paradigm certainly has impacted the natural world. Human greed and selfishness, violence, power, and control have too often created an environment of abuse, fear, oppression, and waste.
Leonardo de Caprio’s documentary The 11th Hour, dealing with today’s environmental crisis, suggests that human greed and selfishness are what continue to perpetuate our exploitation of the planet. We are slaves to our own needs and desires and lusts and so continue our thoughtless ravaging of the world. Very profoundly and poignantly, the documentary brings home our reality: we have to change our behavior from competition and aggression to cooperation and admiration. In other words, we, in essence, must return to God’s original plan for global life, where all life lives in harmony from mutual respect, value, support, and interdependence. That would reflect accurately on God and what God values and how God has created life. But given these current conditions of creation, is it possible to use only nature as an adequate revelation of God? Or has God chosen to use other means to communicate Himself to His creation?2