12For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be?… 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 honoured, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12: 12-31)
A part of the Body
Recap – The true Christian Church – In the last issue, we had looked to the original Christians in Acts 2:42, who had just been called to faith by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Through them we have defined the true Christian Church. We know that we become a part of His Church through our baptism, and we can treasure this new identity. Thanks be to God for this gift, and may we never neglect stewarding it, week in and week out!
In this article we are going to look at 1 Corinthians 12 using the image of the body. Last time we looked at how we need the body, the Church. Just like any human body, if the part is not in the right place, it will soon start to shrivel up and die. So it is with us: we need to be in the place where God has placed us.
The various parts of the body serve each other. The mouth, oesophagus, stomach, and other body parts work together to process food in order to strengthen the entire body. In the same way, each member and committee of a congregation serve with and for one another, for the well-being of the whole.
God calls us to serve wherever we are placed in His body of believers. This service is only ever a reaction to what the Lord has done. Luther puts it so nicely in the explanation of the first article of the Apostles’ Creed: God is the Creator and gives me everything I need. This part which focuses on what God has done takes up 90% of the whole explanation. And then there is what would almost seem a small afterthought, or at least such a small portion of the explanation that one could easily gloss over it. He adds what we must do in response to all of God’s giving: “For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.”
When we are talking about service in church it is always with the main emphasis on what God has done and is still doing. The name for the “Divine Service” emphasises God (the Divine One) serving us. This is the only order in which we are able to serve others: by first receiving. We then pass on the gifts that we have received through the mercy of God. When teaching service in church, it is always connected to the baptismal font, the pulpit, and the altar – because these are the places where we get what we need to then pass on.
Keep this in mind when you read Chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians. Paul wants to remind each and every one of you that you have a purpose and God has placed you into His Church for a reason. He has planted in you into a specific congregation, a local body of believers. He has given you specific gifts and talents and you are there to fill a void that would be there without you. Have you recently thought about what these may be? There is not one person in your congregation that has no purpose, just as there is not one part of the body that would not be missed if it were taken out.
The Church has always been a serving Church, and if you want to practise serving, that is the place to be. Think of all the different groups, committees or institutions that are set up in your congregation. If you ask some people why these are there, you might get the answer, “because they have always been there.” But if you want the real answer, it is more like something along these lines: “These groups, institutions or committees have been developed so that we can better serve each other. They have been put into place so that even the most shy person can come into this congregation and immediately get the opportunity to serve. If there are institutions or traditions like this, and no one knows anymore why they had been put into place, then it is not necessarily a bad thing. It could signify a move from a service that is intentional to a service that is second-nature.” A mouth that is just chewing and swallowing because “it has always done it (i.e. tradition)”, and is unaware that it is passing along food to strengthen the body, is doing the exact same service to the body as a mouth that knows it is aiding in the process. And as with the “intentional” workings of the mouth as well as the “traditional” doings of the mouth, they are only possible through the workings of God – who supplies the food and ability to process it in the first place. So also, that is where our focus should remain: on where and from Whom we first receive the gifts that strengthen the body of Christ – and all honour and thanks should always be focused on Him.
Come to where God fills you up. Come to where he wonderfully renews you – through His Word and Sacrament – at the pulpit, at the altar, and at the font. If you want to know how you can serve at church, come to church and first learn how wealthy you are. Come to church and be served. Come to church and give what you have received and experience not only how your congregation members, but also you yourself benefit from it. Here God provides nourishment to all parts of His body. You are not made to be alone. The body of Christ needs to be united and working together and always looking towards Christ.