Worst Case Scenario Thinking
I remember one morning in college when I suddenly felt a sharp pain under my left arm. At first, I thought I probably pulled a muscle. But deep breaths became more painful throughout the day, so of course the “worst-case-scenarios” started rolling through my mind. By the late afternoon, I decided to call a doctor. I described my symptoms so precisely that he gave me a diagnosis over the phone. “Take an Advil. It’s pleurisy.” Pleurisy is a little inflammation around the lung, and it’s totally harmless. I thought, “how can something so simple affect my whole body so much?”
Dealing with Discouragement
That’s exactly why Paul uses the image of the human body to describe spiritual gifts in the church. The human body is one organism made up of many members and parts. And each little one affects the whole body. He uses the picture of the body to expose two common problems in the church: discouragement and pride. Some members are discouraged because they think their gift (their part on the body) is not as important. Others become arrogant because they think their gift is the most important. Look at 1 Corinthians 12:14-20.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The Wisdom Tooth Problem
Paul uses the ear and the foot to symbolize the mindset that says, “I am not useful here.” I call this the “wisdom tooth problem.” What are they even for? Apparently, most of us don’t need them. This is the way that we can feel in the church at times. It’s the problem of low self-worth, loneliness, sadness, disappointment, discouragement. “I only stack chairs.” “I just watch the kids in the back.” “I’m not a teacher, a prophet, a person of wise words.” Paul points to the ear, the foot, to say that God has created you for a purpose and placed you in this body for a reason. We can feel like worthless wisdom teeth at times. But no matter your gift, if you are God’s child, you are an essential piece of God’s family. The body needs you.
The Brain Problem
The second problem is pride. Look at verses 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.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weak are indispensable, 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, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
I call pride “the brain problem.” The brain says, “I am the most important body part.” “I am the most important person: self-sufficient, superior, the most-needed.” The main message of the wisdom tooth is “I don’t belong.” The main message of the brain is “I don’t need you.” And this is another lie. God proves the lie by saying the less visible parts of the body are the ones that are more honorable and dignified. If you don’t have a big toe, you’re going to fall. No matter how well you can analyze the court, you won’t be able to run without that toe. If one part is missing, you have a body immobilized. So honor that big toe, and encourage the part they play.
Mutual honor and kindness towards one another in our local churches can then lead us to crave the final vision of church unity described in verses 25-26: “that there may be no division…all care for one another…suffer together…rejoice together…” What a glorious vision for the local gathering of God’s people.