Many Parts at Work
I once heard a good story about a man and his pinky toe.
Your ten toes are the forgotten parts of your body since they’re way down below, and they’re neither very pretty nor very important. That’s what this man thought. But one day this man put on his sandals and began cutting his lawn. And in a moment of carelessness, he stood too close to the deck of the mower, and that sharp spinning blade found his soft toes. Just a pinky toe lopped off—no big loss, right?
Yet without that little toe, he found it hard to walk without stumbling. After a few weeks on crutches, he tried to walk as before, but found it a challenge.
Because his foot had just one less toe—even the smallest one—he had to learn to carry his weight in a different way. Turns out he needed that toe!
What’s the lesson? Each and every member of the body counts. We need all of our 7,500 different body parts to work together in unity. And as a church—the body of Christ—it’s exactly the same. “There are many members, yet one body” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12. Though we have many members, “those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary” (v. 21). The body of Christ grows and thrives as each member grows and thrives in loyal service of him.
The Diversity in the Body
We have one Lord, one Spirit, one faith, yet there is a real diversity in the church. We’re not all supposed to be clones of a certain model of believer, agree on every issue, and do everything exactly the same. It’s good for there to be diversity of views and talents. This is what Paul says, “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord” (vv. 4-5).
It’s true that some gifts in the church are very obvious. Those who are gifted as teachers or leaders, those who the opportunity to lead or to govern—these all have public positions. And like the Corinthians, somehow we think that these gifts are more significant. “Compared to these members, what can I ever do?” someone says, “I’m not good with book-learning. I’m a female, or I’m not part of that group.”
But “if the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?” (v. 17). The church needs more than just elders and deacons. It needs more than the wisdom of old folks, and more than the enthusiasm of the youth.
God has put us in a body with many other members. You possess the gifts and abilities you do, because God in his sovereignty wanted you to. You’re in the body, because God has given you something to do!
Being the body of Christ means that we have to practice mutual care, where we are concerned for each other in order to help one another. Helping means we have to get involved. And other people’s lives can be messy. They have problems that need sorting out, relationships that are strained, or ugly habits of sin. And honestly, sometimes the last thing we want to deal with is someone else’s problems. Yet here is Christ’s challenge to us: the members of his body are called to care for each other.
Galatians 6:2 calls this “bearing one another’s burdens.” Think about what it means to “bear” something. To bear another’s burden means to help carry the load. You join them and find a way to sustain them.
Bearing one another’s burdens is called “the law of Christ” (v. 2). It’s called his law, because this is what Christ did for us. He got involved with us, in all the messiness of being human: He was tempted, misunderstood, rejected, and betrayed. Then He died for us—He carried our greatest burden: our guilt. Christ cares for the broken, because He is moved by love for them. This is what we need to do for each other: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
Friendships in Christ
An important way to work this out is through developing godly friendships. One key aspect of friendship is that you really strive to understand a person. This takes good listening. James tells us in his letter, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak” (1:19). We can’t encourage, or motivate, or pray, if we don’t know the struggles that the other person is facing. So get acquainted. When you’re listening to a fellow believer, follow the heart—listen for how a person feels. Listen. And if you don’t hear something real, then ask!
As we listen to each other, we’re also looking for what to say. Think about when someone you care about is struggling. They’re depressed, or their parents are yelling at each other every night, or they’re stuck in a sin. In that conversation, there might be lots we want to say. But sometimes we just need to be quiet. Listen, and then pray together.
A friend in Christ encourages. So give a reminder of God’s promises. Confirm someone in God’s faithfulness. Lift up someone who is burdened with worry. Cheer those who are beset by sadness. This can be difficult to do, as we can feel awkward about bringing God into our conversation. Other times we’re so concerned about the approval of others that we hesitate to mention our sins, our discouragements or fears.
But the sin you have, your friend probably has. The struggle you know, is probably known by many countless people. So share them! Sometimes all it takes is for someone to let down their guard in conversation, to admit a sin, to be real about following the Lord, and it spreads. Be the one that first mentions Christ, and see how He blesses it.
Dealing with Sin and Temptation
One of the cancers that afflicts Christ’s body is sin and temptation. Yet here too, we want to look the other way. We’re inclined to conceal our sin from others. This is what Satan wants, to have a person by himself, standing all alone. But we stand together in Christ. We should know that when we confess sins, it’s to sinners like ourselves.
C.S. Lewis once said that true friendship is born when one person says to another,
What, you too? I thought I was the only one.
There can be a great blessing in sharing a worry or a fear or a sin. You realize you’re not alone. You have Christ, and you also have those He’s put around you.
Open Rebuke, or Hidden Love?
Sometimes we have to admonish each other in the church. We want to let things go, because we don’t want to make a fuss, or come across like someone not minding his own business. But sin will kill us if we don’t repent. So this is what Proverbs 27:5 says, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love.” True love calls us to do the hard task, to speak the hard word.
It’s hard, but God blesses it. Everyone knows the elders have a task to rebuke and admonish. You expect them to come and ask hard questions. But there can be a great effectiveness when we also do it for one another, as friends. You speak as someone in the same place in life, someone dealing with similar temptations—you know what it’s like. You can also speak it in the moment, as it’s happening.
Usually it’s only months later that the elders hear about that wild party, or when they finally notice that someone’s not in church. But when you’re there as a friend, and you can speak up in love, there’s a great benefit.
Taking Your Place in the Body
Sometimes both younger and older people can feel like the forgotten members of the church. You feel like an appendix that can be snipped out, a pinky toe that no one will miss. There can be the sense that there’s nothing much for you to do. And the leaders should remember this: we need to use every part and include every part. It’s good for the church to make opportunities for all, and to encourage and value their contributions. A body that lets many of its parts to remain inactive will begin to die.
The rest of the body has a task to include you. But you have a task to include you, too. If you are a member of Christ by faith, then the body needs you! The body can be blessed by you! Don’t assume that you won’t be missed. Instead, what are you able to do? What gifts do you have? What strengths? To whom can you show love?
The work in Christ’s body really is never-ending because we want to use God’s gifts to help each other, and to bring glory to Christ our Head.