So when we sailed into the 12th chapter of 1 Corinthians, we knew Paul had crafted this text for one purpose: to give us the material to determine our spiritual gifts. Why else would he write? And, out of the 31 verses in that chapter, he'd dedicated nine verses to gifts. So we spent six weeks studying all the ramifications of those gifts, including analyzing our own giftings.
We came out of the study properly pigeon-holed.
The other 22 verses of 1 Cor 12 did get a quick glance. Pity.
What we missed in our youthful visions of personal grandeur now haunt me, for Paul was talking about unity within diversity - and he'd spent several chapters in his letter to Corinth building to that point. Paul didn't write about how to discover my true potential, but how to value unity while recognizing diversity. It's no easy theme, and our American churches have stumbled badly on this issue.
Paul acknowledged diversity. There are many parts of a body, he said. There are many gifts. But his point wasn't the parts but the whole.
"Look at how the body works together. Don't be thinking you don't need the unsightly parts or the weak parts."
Consider this amazing statement: those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. (1 Cor 12:22). Not many churches that I've known get that statement.
Whether the weaker parts are simply misguided or unable to participate or loudly resistant, they are indispensable, according to Paul. That has changed my thinking.
I have seen believers leave churches over length of the sermon, use of an overhead projector, and distribution of food to the poor. (They said there were no poor in the community and the church was being taken advantage of.)
Because of my early self-centered study of 1 Corinthians, I understand too well how we tend to read scripture to verify our own point of view and bolster our own position. We boast in our diversity.
Oddly, we trumpet just exactly what Paul was writing against. Too often, we champion our diversity while repelling unity as cookie-cutter mentality.
Paul was interested in unity. The unity that brings different parts together into a gracious relationship. As Paul said:
There should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
1 Cor 12:25-26
1 Cor 12:25-26