This pastoral passage was written for LRBC for October 27 2019.
The difficulty in creating and maintaining Christian community has been a preoccupying theme in my mind for some time now. Recent studies in 1 Corinthians for my young people have highlighted things I had not noticed before, and provoked questions I had not previously given much thought to.
The New Testament era church in Corinth was one which was beset with problems. Many of these were social in nature. In a culture that was defined by class, status, wealth and competition, these Christian lived more like their society and less like their Lord Jesus. (Interestingly, this church did not survive long into the second century. The threat that Jesus issued to the church in Ephesus in Rev. 2:5 comes to my mind).
One problem was a neglect of church members who were deemed unimportant by others.
Paul tries to remedy this in his metaphor of the church as a ‘body’. In 12:14-20, he deals with this problem by addressing the neglected. He reminds those who are the ‘unimportant’ that they are just as much a part of the body as anyone else, with a role to play as assigned by the God who brought them into it. In 12:21-26, he tackles the issue by addressing those who are comfortably self-sufficient. They are informed that the parts of the body that ‘seem to be weaker’ are in fact ‘indispensible’ – you cannot do without them.
Why are the unimportant in fact indisposable? Paul doesn’t tell. No doubt these find humility easier than the high and mighty, and more easily model Christlikeness. The giftings they have (cf. 12:4-11) could be overlooked, but have an irreplaceable role to play in the church. Perhaps also we could never learn patience, forgiveness and genuine love if we only ever spent time with those we would naturally become friends with.
There are corresponding lessons the ‘body’ metaphor brings.
If you are a Christian struggling to find a place in your church, do not give up: you have more to offer than you can realise.
If you are a Christian comfortable in your church, look around and consider those in your church who would not be missed if they stopped coming.
You are losing out by not involving these in the full life of your community: you have more to grow and learn by them than you will realise.