I Corinthians 12 paints this wonderful picture of the church, the Body of Christ, being very much like our own physical bodies: fingers, toes, elbows, necks, feet, hands, many different parts, each part looking different and doing something different –– but one substance, one being, working together in unity.
UNITY is something Jesus talked about again and again –– he really wants us to live in close relationship with him, ourselves, and others. But unity seems to be one of the things the church has the most trouble with, doesn't it?
Our physical bodies need each part going strong, working together with all the other parts. And the church just can't function without each member doing his or her particular part. Everyone needs everyone else in order to work and serve and worship.
Sad to say, we tend to admire certain parts of our bodies over certain other parts. I'll bet three out of four women reading this would tell you she HATES her feet and thinks they're just ugly. But, it's pretty hard to get much done without them! Our feet don't get much RESPECT, but they're indispensable.
Our hair, on which we often spend an enormous amount of time and money, is actually a lot less important than our feet. Right?
The very same mindset is often true in the Body of Christ. The folks who are up front get almost all the attention and admiration –– when actually, just TRY to have a worship service without the custodian, the people who get there early to unlock the doors and turn on the air conditioning and start the coffee, and the people who tidy up afterward, and then LOCK the door.
We're not nearly as likely to admire these behind-the-scenes people as we are the singers or the preachers or the teachers. But our churches couldn't exist without them. So let's keep this in perspective! Whatever way you're serving God, it's vitally important, it's a gift from God, and you're an indispensable part of the Body.
Remember how some of us feel about our feet? Well, sometimes we feel that way about each other, too! There's usually at least one person in your church you have a really hard time with. I call them "sandpaper" people –– they just rub us the wrong way.
Well, honestly, those people are especially important in our lives. God places them here for us to "practice on" –– to love and be kind to and try to understand, no matter how hard it may feel. Our natural inclination is to turn away from these members of the body, but actually, if we do that, someone like them will just show up somewhere else in our lives. God keeps after us! And always remember, while one person may feel like sandpaper to you –– YOU feel like sandpaper to someone else! (Now there's a humbling thought.)
Why does God want unity in the Body of Christ? Well, when the body's functioning in unity, things get done! People hear the gospel and are drawn into fellowship; people get taught and grow spiritually; the community and the world are served Christ, working through us, his Body; and love is given and received and people are cared for. And never forget John 13:35, when Jesus said, "this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
Too often, when the world looks at the church, they see a Body at war with itself; people disagree and divide; Christians hate and hurt each other; too much judgment; not enough grace. The church's most noticeable quality is supposed to be love – specifically, the love we have for each other.
A church that's not unified will spend more time with members who are fighting with each other than with members who are serving together to do God's work in the world. A church that's not unified will have members who are constantly at odds with each other, and let those prejudices affect their worship and service. A church that's not unified will have a hard time focusing on its own spiritual depth and growth. And the Great Commission –– Go into all the world and make disciples of all people –– will NOT be uppermost in members' minds.
Just as each member of our physical bodies cannot function properly without ALL the other members (even those homely feet!), so the Body of Christ can't function properly without love, honesty, and mutual respect among its members. Sinners loving other sinners, and offering one another the very same grace and understanding Jesus offers us –– that's what the world needs to see.
Rev. Susan Bennett is pastor of Stockbridge Presbyterian Church. She and her husband live in Stockbridge with two giant Rottweilers and a 15-pound rescue dog who is the boss of everybody.