As we’ve seen repeatedly, the church in Corinth was jacked up. Sometimes, it’s easy to see how we’re jacked up in the same way, but other times we miss it because we’re jacked up in the opposite way.
This is the case when it comes to Holy Spirit-given gifts. In 1 Corinthians 12, as Paul discusses the various ways the Spirit empowers those in the church to complete its mission, his overwhelming emphasis is unity. In fact, the repetition is nearly nauseating—one Spirit, one Spirit, same Spirit, one body, one and the same Spirit, one body! He allows for individuality, but only in the sense of distinction for the sake of harmony, like a musical chord, where the beauty comes not from each individual note but from the combination of sound.
But apparently, the Corinthians were more like a group of toddlers sitting on a piano bench hammering away at the keys.
The problem in Corinth was gift comparison. Some were proud, saying my gift is the most significant; others were dejected, saying my gift doesn’t matter. Paul shows both ways of thinking to be foolish and instead highlights the necessity of many parts, many giftings, working cohesively together for the sake of the mission to which the church is called. We generally think this to be quite beautiful (and it is!), and that’s why this is one of the more well-known and beloved passages in the church today.
But how are we to relate to this passage in 21st Century Pacific Northwestern America? In one sense, we’ve got the same problem—overemphasized individuality. But are we overemphasizing our individuality in the same way? Generally speaking, the answer seems to be no. Our problem is not gift comparison, but gift ignoring. The Corinthians weren’t saying, you do you; if anything, they were saying you do me, because my gift is better. If we only interpret this passage through our be true to yourself cultural mindset, I’m afraid that we’ll give our intellectual assent but fail to obey.
The Corinthians had this going for them: they were operating in the power of the Holy Spirit. Sure, they had some misnomers and unhealthy mindsets about their service, but it seems like they understood that the church had a mission and that the Spirit was gifting them to be able to accomplish it. And praise God for that!
Can the same be said of us? Do the Christians who fill our churches know that they (collectively) have a God-given, Christ-centered, gospel-fueled purpose? And are they eagerly working toward that end, trusting that the Holy Spirit will give them whatever they need to see it through?
All too often, we’re content to sit timidly on the bench, observing the game, wondering why we haven’t been graced with the same drive, clarity, ability, or endurance as those around us. But is that true? Are you lacking a Spirit-given gift? Did God miss you? Do you have no function in the body? Are you too broken to be of use? Is it too late for you? By all means, no! God says emphatically that he empowers the ministry activity of everyone (1 Corinthians 12:6). Everyone. Period. Why do we so often believe this to be untrue?
Old self/New self
But we are not slaves to this pattern of [wrong] thinking. It’s an old-self way of thinking. Elsewhere, Paul exhorts the church to “be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth” (Ephesians 4:23-24, CSB). In other words, you are no longer defined by what used to define you! You’re not defined by your performance, your contributions, or your deemed status or value; you have now been remade in God’s likeness and granted Jesus’ righteousness, and the reality of that truth far outweighs any previous thought or belief! And so we’re urged to live in a way, to minister in a way, to proclaim the gospel in a way that lines up with who God has remade us to be.
A church is like a body. And that body is on a mission. At The Bridge Church, our mission is to form people into the image of Jesus through the liberating power of the gospel so that the gospel will advance in our communities. In other words, we want to see more and more people saved through faith in Jesus and increasingly putting on their new selves, the ones created according to God’s likeness in righteousness. That’s it. People liberated from sin’s power and effect through the gospel, walking in the righteousness that has been given to them in Christ, and working toward that same end in others. Gospel—Identity—Movement.
When we, or when any healthy church, calls you to serve in the church, that’s what we’re after. We want to see the gospel flourishing in our people and contexts, and to see that happen, we need all the parts—including yours.
- You may not know what your part is yet, and that’s ok. Our encouragement is to get in the game anyway, because we know God is faithful and will help you figure it out.
- You may know what your part is but can’t figure out how it fits in, and that’s ok. Make it known; talk to a leader or to your life group, and we’ll figure it out together.
- You may know what your part is but are walking in disobedience, and that’s ok (for now). You’re not saved by the degree to which you utilize and walk in your giftings! You’re saved by the blood of Jesus, and he’s the faithful one, not you. Confess your disobedience, and let the body help you put on the “new self”.
Through Christ in us, by the power of the Spirit, let’s see what God might do through this body.