You are a part of the body of Christ.
This might be Paul’s most famous image – and for good reason. A good metaphor is one that’s universally relatable, and what’s more universally relatable than a body? We’ve all got one. We live in it. We know what it’s like to need all our body parts. We know that when one part of us isn’t feeling well, the whole of us suffers. We are like that, Paul says. We are the body of Christ.
But this is more than just universally relatable – it’s universally applicable. “We” means you if you’re a follower of Christ. You are a part of the body of Christ, Paul says. Period.
Paul does not make this optional. Feet can’t up and decide they’re not part of the body. Ears can’t pull themselves off and go elsewhere. They might stop doing their job well, but they’re always part of the body. In fact, because they’re always part of the body, if they stop doing their jobs well then they’ll affect the whole. That is how we work as Christians, Paul says. You might decide you’re not going to participate… but you can’t decide to leave.
This is a hard part of being a Christian, because sometimes being a part of this body is hard. Sometimes we hurt each other’s feelings. Sometimes we rub each other the wrong way. Being a body together means we share each other’s successes and that we feel each other’s pains. It’s so difficult that sometimes, we would rather go solo.
This is exactly why I like singles tennis. I’ve played a good bit of team sports in my life, and they’re fun… but it can be hard work to get all the players coordinated and working together. I’m not much to get mad at others, but I hate feeling like I let the team down. Singles tennis is a blissful change of pace – just me on my side of the net. If I mess up, it’s me. If I do well, it’s me. No one else to worry about except my opponent.
With that in mind, we might think about Paul’s message another way: if you’re a follower of Christ, there is no singles option. This is a team sport. You are a part of the body of Christ.
Thankfully, this body belongs to someone in particular. It’s not the body of the church lay leader, or the pastor, or of the bishop. We are a part of the body of Christ. It’s Christ’s body, therefore Christ is most important. The rest of us are equal in comparison.
The metaphor of a body was actually a common one in the first century Roman world; it was typically employed as the “body politic.” In that usage there some parts were more important than others. The “body politic” encouraged the lower classes to know their (subordinate) place and stay in it. Paul radically changes that, saying that feet and eyes and ears are all equal. You can hear him emphasizing the point when he says, “the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Cor 12:22).
If we’re honest, some parts of the body *do* seem more important. I’ve always been partial to my hair. It does me a lot of favors, really. My stick-straight hair doesn’t necessitate styling, which I very much appreciate after watching my mom blow dry and iron her super curly hair every time she washed it. My hair has also been slow to turn gray, meaning I haven’t had to dye it. Thanks, hair! My hair is super.
My feet on the other hand… I’ve always disliked my feet. They’re big. And my toes are so long. I’ve had to train my shopping eye to find the shoes that will make my feet look smaller. Some pairs are simply off limits – they’ll make it look like I’m walking on boats.
I love my hair… and I put up with my feet. But if I had to cut off one or the other, I’m sure I’d choose to sacrifice my hair. That’s because “the members of the body that seems to be weaker are indispensable.” And that applies to us – if it seems like some are better than others, it’s only a surface-level appearance. We are all needed in this body.
I understood this for the first time when I worked for Wilderness Trail. By that time – as a college student spending her summers leading backpacking trips – I knew I was called to ministry as my vocation. And, truth be told, I kind of felt like I had graduated to the final level – I had earned the “black belt” of Christianity. I was going into the ministry full-time. What could be more important than that?
I worked alongside these great guys and girls – 7 of us spending the summer together. I had a deep respect for my fellow staff. I saw them show patience and compassion even when the trail or the hikers (or both) were difficult. I listened to them give heart-felt testimonies to Christ. I watched them take on a servant’s role just as Christ commanded, whether it was washing dishes or washing feet. They were amazing. And you know what?
Not one of them intended to go into the ministry after college.
Working with them, something very important dawned on me: I was no better than them because God was asking me to be a pastor. God was calling them in other directions, where they would eventually impact students and clients and the environment. We are all part of this body, and the body belongs to Christ.
There is so much to do for the kingdom of God, and God is calling all of us to play a part.
Do you hear that? “A part.” You are a part of the body of Christ.
You are not called to do it all. A foot doesn’t need to eat; your eyes don’t need to listen. They do their roles and do them well.
In our first year of seminary, we had to do a short field education assignment – a part-time internship with a ministry. The administrators wisely advised us to do something we didn’t think we’d do after school. They held a ministry fair where all sorts of opportunities were made available to us: environmental nonprofits, hospital chaplaincy, ministry with illegal immigrants, prison ministry… I remember going to that fair and thinking, “It’s all so important! There’s so much to do! How can I possibly help with it all?!”
It took me the course of my internship to figure out the answer – but I bet you know it already. I’m not called to do it all. Neither are you. Neither are any of us. We are a part of the body of Christ, not the whole.
Sometimes, ministry opportunities will come up that are important… but not something you’re called to do. That’s OK. Support the people who do those other things.
But listen – that doesn’t let you off the hook. You are called to do something.
You are a part of the body of Christ. You.