I Corinthians 12:12-26
August 23, 2015
The Church of Jesus Christ is one organization where no one can say “I’m not important.” Or “There’s nothing I can do.” Well, actually people can say that. And they often do. But, to do so goes against what the Bible says – particularly this passage we read from Corinthians for today.
This is an interesting passage when you think of it in terms of Church leadership. Do you remember when I talked about that a month or so ago. We talked about Authority and Leadership. Where did we say the church gets it’s authority? (I’ll give you a hint. He is “The Head of the Church.”) From Jesus! Then from there, his authority comes through those he trained – his disciples. They started and guided the various churches in that part of the world. Next, their writings became the authority. And they continue to be our authority as we continue in what we call the “Apostolic Succession.” Do you remember that? Our authority comes down through the ages from the Apostles, the followers of Jesus, himself.
So, taking that one step further, those who “exercise” that authority are our leaders. Now follow me on this! From “Authority” comes “Leadership.” And as I’m sure you’re probably aware, different Christian groups over the years have handled that authority and leadership in different ways. Here in the Philadelphia area, we’re going to get to witness some of the leadership of one segment of the church when the Pope comes to visit. The Catholic Church has a “hierarchical” leadership. The Pope is the leader and everyone’s authority comes down from him.
We Presbyterians have a different leadership model. And that can be confusing to people in this large Roman Catholic region! The authority in our denomination is “exercised” through the leadership of “Presbyters” or “Elders.” And it is a shared leadership, shared between clergy and non-clergy. And(!) we are not Hierarchical! We don’t have one person who holds power. We are a “representative” form of Church government. We resemble the U. S. government, and for good reason. Our constitution – the constitution of the Presbyterian Church – was one of the models used by the framers of the U. S. Constitution. So we might proudly say the U. S. resembles us instead!
When I was a middler in Seminary, (my second year) there was a new incoming Junior named Larry who was apparently my look-alike. They say everyone has their double in this world. Well, he was mine. And a lot of people came up to me that year and said, “Hey, do you know that you look just like Larry?” And I would say, “No, he looks like me! I was here first!” So it’s the same with the U. S. Constitution. It looks like ours!
Ok, so there’s the relationship between “Authority” and “Leadership.” And the reason I say all of that is that I want to throw another word into that mix. And that is the word “Ministry.” Our “Presbyters” (“Elders”) have the “authority,” and they exercise “leadership.” But who does the “ministry?” Some might be quick to say “the Minister,” or “the Pastor.” But notice, I’m not asking “Who is the ‘Spiritual Leader?’” I’m asking “Who does the ministry?” Those of you who said, “Everyone” know what I’m getting at.
We all do the ministry! Some churches even state on their Sunday bulletins “the Pastor” or “Pastors,” and then the person’s or persons’ names. But then they say “Ministers,” and it says “All the people of the church.” I believe we used to do that here.
Well, that’s all what makes this passage so special. Paul was setting the course of the ministry of the Church for the future. He, who is seen as one of the “authorities” for Christians, is saying that the “ministry” is about everyone. Not one person! Not one group of people! “For just as the body is one and has many members… so it is with Christ.” “For all [have received] the same spirit.” The ministry is all of us!
Sometimes people in churches have this idea that the pastor is somehow more connected to God, maybe more “holy,” than others. And yes, we’re often called to “lead in prayer.” And that’s actually the right way to think about it. We “lead” in prayer. But everybody prays! By virtue of our office, we pastors are spiritual leaders. But we lead what all of us should be doing! We’re not higher. We’re not more holy! We are guides!
However, that’s a hard thing to get across! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a group, and somebody let slip a “colorful metaphor,” shall we say. And then they turn to me and say “Sorry, Pastor!” But I say, “Why are you apologizing to me?” Really! Is offending me worse than offending the other people in the room? Or is the assumption that I’m the only one who would be offended? Or is it that that somehow they are offending God through me? I don’t know. But Paul says we all have been given the same spirit. Later he would talk of the “Priesthood of all believers.” Imagine that! Paul, a Jewish Priest, a Pharisee, saying everyone is a priest! I wonder what his fellow priests thought when they got wind of that!
This is a great example he uses here. I love this section. “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 hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?” (I Corinthians 12:15-17)
Doesn’t that make wonderful sense? And doesn’t it say this so powerfully? Let me translate that into Church terms. If a church member should say, “I am not an elder,” that would not make them any less a part of the body. And for “the body” we could substitute “the Ministry.” So if a person should say, “I am not musical, or I’m not a good speaker, or I don’t know enough about the Bible,” that would not make that person any less a part of the ‘ministry.’”
Do you see how that works? Because, “If the whole church were in the Choir (and it does seem that way sometimes!) where would the other parts of the ministry be?” As I began today, no one in the church can say “I’m not important.” Or “There’s nothing I can do.” Because that so goes against what the Bible says! We are all very important in God’s kingdom! As Paul says at the end, “[All are honored, so that] there may be no discord in the body, [and so] that the members may have the same care for one another. For if one member suffers, all suffer together. If one member is honored, all rejoice together. (verses 25-26)
Think about that! We can have discord in our bodies, can’t we? If we have to favor part of our body, because of injury or strain, we will soon start to stress some other part that has to make up for it. If our minds and our spirits are under too much stress, we start to see ill effects in other places. I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s my stomach!
Well, if we are not keeping the body of Christ in balance, it will start to show in the stress and conflict in our “members.” Do you see how that works? We are one body with many members. We’re all different. We don’t all have the same gifts. But! We all have the same importance! No one person can take on too much importance. And no one can say they have less importance. And we can’t elevate people, or give some people all the “responsibility.” And that’s a word that we often throw into the mix along with “Authority,” “Leadership,” and “Ministry.” “Responsibility” is the “working out of leadership.”
We cannot leave the ministry to a few! We all need to be engaged in ministry in some way! Not everybody can be leaders, but everybody can do something. That’s my challenge to all of you as we move into a new year Everybody can do something. What will you do?
I remember an elderly lady in my last church who was homebound. She was very frail, and she could hardly get around. And I remember her saying to me once, “I was so involved in the ministry of the church, and now I feel so useless.” And I remember the Holy Spirit nudging me to answer. I said, “You could do one of the most important jobs there is. You could pray for the church! You could be a prayer warrior” Her eyes lit up! I said, “You can pray for people in need. You can pray for me. You can pray for our leaders and for our program.” “You could use the announcement page as a guide.” “And you can let me know how it goes.”
So I urge you to be involved in ministry! At the very least, be together here. Your presence is a ministry! You never know when someone is in need of fellowship – your fellowship! But get involved in other ways. You may or may not be gifted in leadership, but don’t leave the “ministry” to that mythical “someone else.” “For just as the body is one and has many members… so it is with Christ.” “For all were made to drink of the same spirit.”
Eternal God, we thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit, indwelling us, inspiring us, equipping us for service in your kingdom. Help us to feel your Spirit moving among us as we seek to share this common ministry. And we give you all glory and honor and blessing and praise, in Jesus’ name, Amen!