How are the Gifts to Function?
In the latter half of I Corinthians 12 (verses 12-31), Paul shows vividly how a church should function as a multi-gifted body. The church is not an organization, primarily, but an organism, a body. The church is to function as a body -- with all the members cooperating and ministering to the others. The work of the ministry is not a spectator sport with only a few of the members playing. Each member functions to the mutual benefit of all.
In Ephesians 4:11-12 the apostle teaches that the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors-teachers are given to equip "the saints to the work of the ministry to the edifying of the body of Christ" (italics added). It is the church in its entirety which is enabled by gifted men to carry out the ministry and build up the body. It is body function, not just the function of a few members of the body.
Returning once again to I Corinthians 12, Paul first establishes his point of unity in the body. "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free, and have been all made to drink into one Spirit" (verses 12-13). The point is simple: while so different in many respects, we are all members of the same body--many members, one body. That is unity. We all were brought into this body by Christ when He baptized us in His Spirit. As a result, we all drink of that same Spirit. We all together enjoy a unity with one another.
His second principle is diversity. This is developed in verses 14-20 with the graphic and sometimes humorous metaphor of the human body. Verse 14 begins the discussion by saying, in effect, that we don't all do the same thing. A body is not made up of one member but of many, all with different functions. It is one body with a diversity of members, each with its own function. His illustrations of this in verses 15-19 make the point crystal clear. Imagine your foot jealous of your hand! Imagine your ear trying to act like an eye! By the time we get to verse 18 we are ready to agree that God has wisely set the members in the body as it pleased Him--and as it pleases us! I am quite pleased that my foot is on the end of my leg! So Paul asks, "If they were all one member, where were the body?" (verse 19). Obviously, there would not be a body! This is his point exactly. The church is a unified diversity. Like a human body it has various members, each of them fulfilling its own responsibility for the entire body. He has gifted each member differently so that the body can function well. It is a diversity within a unity.
The result of all this is harmony. In a body unified and functioning diversely by the same Spirit there will be harmony. This is Paul's point in verses 21-26.
First of all this diverse unity produces a mutual function. "The eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you" (verse 21). A body cannot walk well with one foot. The two must work together. Or did you ever try to tie your shoe with one hand? Did you ever see a church in which the ministry is expected to be carried out by the pastor only? There must be mutual function in the body. All the various members working together for the edifying of the body. This is harmony.
There is also found in this a mutual importance. "Those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary" (verse 22; see verses 21-24). Of what use would be your leg without your foot? Limited, at best, right? That is what happens to a church when a member refuses to fulfill his part of the ministry. The church would be limited; a part of its body would not be functioning. The exercise of your gift is imperative. Failure to exercise it is a crime against your brethren.
Further, an understanding of this eliminates pride on the one hand and jealousy on the other. It forces us to realize that any ability we have is only given to us -- no matter how insignificant may seem your gift, it is important for the functioning of the body -- that eliminates jealousy. With this there is harmony; without this, there is "schism in the body" (verse 25).
Third, a proper display of spiritual gifts, this diverse unity, produces mutual affection. Did you ever get your little finger caught in a door? Did you ever stub your little toe? Did it hurt only those little members, or did it hurt the entire body? It almost hurts to think about it -- the whole body hurts! "Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it" (verse 26). This is mutual affection. Paul gives the purpose of this diversely functioning body in verse 25: "that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care one for another." When your church begins to function as a body, everyone working for each other's edification, you will find rather than the schism which is all too common, a harmonious peace and a mutual care and concern for one another never before experienced.
Last, there is mutual dependence. Imagine a hand trying to act on its own. Imagine a foot trying to act independently of the hand -- ever try to turn on a light with your foot? Just as body function produces harmony, so independence produces schism. In every church problem, someone is thinking that he can act on his own and that he doesn't need the rest of the body. If we would learn to rely on one another, depend upon one another, we would not only function better, but we would also get along better. Just as my hand depends on my foot to take it to the light switch, so each member of the church needs the others for spiritual blessing and edification. Whether or not you realize it, for edification you depend upon others. A unified body functioning diversely produces that kind of harmony.
The call today, the American spirit, is a rugged individualism, independence. That may be good politics, but it is spiritual suicide for a Christian to think that he can get along apart from the church body.
How do you function in the body of Christ? Do you? Do you serve others? And do you appreciate it when others try to serve you? Have you discovered yet that you need other Christians? Have you discovered yet that they need you? What is your contribution to the building up of the body?
This is the proper display of spiritual gifts. May God grant more of it to the edifying of His church!