Occasionally people ask me whether I think it is necessary for them to participate in the life of a local church. For students in particular, they derive much spiritual benefit already from their time at Grand Canyon University, so they wonder whether church is really necessary, at least while they are a student. For others, they think church is optional because their spiritual life is defined solely in individualistic terms. Or perhaps they have had bad experiences in the past with churches, such that they don’t think church benefits them much at all.
To these questions, I often provide the following answer: You need the church more than you know, and the church needs you more than it knows.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul responded to a similar situation at Corinth where some Christians in the church considered themselves to be superior to other Christians in the church. Perhaps they deemed the “inferior” Christians as unnecessary in the church and perhaps the “inferior” Christians began to wonder whether participating in the life of the church was worth it.
To combat this disunity within the Corinthian congregation, Paul reminded them in 1 Corinthians 12 that Christians are fundamentally united in that every Christian has the Holy Spirit. For “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (12:3). There is no such thing as a Christian without the Spirit (12:13). Within the context of this fundamental unity of the Spirit, Paul reminded them that their diversity arose from the varied gifts the Spirit apportioned each individual Christian (12:4-11, 27-31). In the wisdom of God these varied gifts serve “the common good” (12:7).
To clarify his point regarding the unity and diversity of the church, Paul used a metaphor of the body, which is interconnected and yet diverse in its parts. By virtue of their belonging to Christ, each Christian has a place in the church just as each body part has a legitimate place in the body (12:14-16). Moreover, God has arranged it so that each Christian is particularly gifted and therefore has a responsibility to express that gift in the context of the church. If everyone had the same gift and responsibility, there wouldn’t be a body of diverse yet interconnected members, but the body would be lacking and deformed (12:17-20)!
Because this is so no one in the Corinthian church could claim that certain Christians in the church were dispensable. Nor could any Christian claim the church was dispensable. Paul used the body metaphor to make this point plain, for it would be quite ridiculous for the eye to claim the hand is unnecessary or for the hand to claim the feet are dispensable (12:21-24). Indeed, there is even a sense in which those who are especially indispensable and necessary are those members of Christ’s body who “seem to be weaker,” “less honorable” and “unpresentable” (12:22-23).
Paul’s response to the Corinthians’ disunity sheds light on our relationship to the church and the church’s relationship to us. For Paul, no one in the church can claim superiority over others on the basis of role or responsibility, for every Christian has the same Spirit and the varied gifts derive from the same Spirit. Conversely, no one in the church can claim they or others are dispensable and unnecessary, for Christians belong to Christ and therefore are necessarily interconnected.
With this in mind, the application for us is clear. If you haven’t already, join a church. Get plugged in. Serve in the nursery. Help the weak. Bear one another’s burdens. Serve in places regardless of where the limelight shines the brightest. Don’t claim superiority over those who serve in different ways than you. For in essence, you need the church, and the church needs you.
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