Unity in Diversity — Part Two
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player

Unity in Diversity — Part Two

Even believers can disengage from the local church if they feel they are unneeded—or think they don’t need anyone else. Paul, however, taught that diversity within the church body is vital, and while roles may differ, we should not make distinctions of value. Cautioning against isolation and encouraging church involvement, Alistair Begg reminds us that in the purposes of God, it is impossible to be given a place in His Body that is irrelevant or insignificant.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 Corinthians, Volume 6

Concerning Spiritual Gifts 1 Corinthians 12:1–14:40 Series ID: 14606

Sermon Transcript: Print

This evening we’re going to look together at the portion of Scripture that was read for us in 1 Corinthians 12, if you’d like to turn to it.

Last time we said that in dealing with these verses from 12 and on, the apostle had provided us with one of the best-known illustrations from the New Testament in terms of the nature and purpose of the body of Christ. And we said, noting it, that it takes many different parts to make up one body; we then noted that these parts inevitably differ from each other and, thirdly, that the fact of their difference doesn’t diminish in any way the body’s basic unity. We then went from the illustration to the explanation, and the explanation is right there in verse 12: “So it is with Christ.” And we spent the remainder of our time last Sunday evening thinking about the fact that “in order to accomplish his work on earth, Jesus had a body made of flesh and blood”; and now, “in order to accomplish his work today, Jesus has a body that consists of living human beings.”[1] And we said that we would go from the explanation which is provided to the application, and it is therefore to that we now turn.

Individuals in Community

The biblical concept which is contained in these verses, although it is very understandable, is frankly very alien to many of us, and certainly to many churches—the reason being that one of the things that is uniquely American is individualism. If there is one thing that has been bred and bred well, and very helpfully and successfully in so many cases, it’s the importance of being able to stand on one’s own and to take the tasks that one has set and get on with life—the kind of spirit of the Wild West that we saw in those early Western movies. However, individualism taken to an extreme, just as with other things, can begin to prove dreadfully unhelpful—harmful, indeed. And the individualism which is then matched with consumerism, when it is baptized into orthodoxy—especially in church life—makes it very, very difficult for people to receive the instruction here in 1 Corinthians 12.

Many people have no concept whatsoever of what it means to belong to a family. The chaos that is obvious in the nuclear family is also prevalent in church families. And one needs only to look around and to listen and to learn to understand that people change congregations and move away from pastors as readily as they change their banks or switch their grocery stores—and many times for similar kinds of reasons. “Oh! They moved the beans. I don’t like it when they move the beans. I am not coming back here. I always like the beans in aisle three.” And it becomes a very significant thing. “Oh, such-and-such a Sunday school program changed. I don’t like that.” “It should always have been on aisle four. It’s been moved; we’re out of here.” After all, we are individuals. After all, we have a right to choose. After all, that is part and parcel of our lives as American citizens, and by jingle, we’re gonna exercise our rights as best as we possibly can.

Now, when that kind of confused thinking produces itself in confused acting, then all manner of chaos will be discovered within the body of Christ, within local congregations. Therefore, it is imperative for every church, and not least of all for our own church family tonight, to—if we’re going to be effective as a church family, we need to make a fresh discovery of and a fresh commitment to the instruction which these verses contain.

Not only has God redeemed us, but he has placed us within his family. We come to Christ individually, but we do not live in Christ solitarily.

Now, we get to the very heart of it if you look at verse 27: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” Illustration: “the body.” Explanation: “So it is with Christ.” Application: “You are the body of Christ, and each one of you … a part of it.”

Now, how has this come about? Well, it has come about as a result of God calling us to himself. Let’s cross-reference this for a moment in 1 Peter 2:9, a verse that is well known to some. First Peter 2:9: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Peter is writing here about the radical change which God has brought about in the lives of those who are his own. Not only has he redeemed us, but he has placed us within his family. We come to Christ individually, but we do not live in Christ solitarily. And one of the great dangers of pressing upon people the individualistic nature of saving faith, which is a necessary and a true and a biblical emphasis, is that they then mistakenly apply that same individualism to every other part of their Christian experience. We are brought to Christ as individuals; we do not live in Christ as individuals. We are placed into his body. This has come about because he has called us to himself.

It’s not my purpose this evening to develop this, but let me note, at least in passing, that this is the great silliness of church membership without an awareness of Jesus as Lord and Savior. It’s like having a track suit with the “USA Team” on it or a track suit bearing your favorite athletic team on it: you may be proud to wear the suit, but you’re not actually a member of the team; you just have the suit. Now, if ever you were enlisted to the team—if we were signed on, and we signed a contract, and we became a part of it—then that which we wore bore testimony to what we had become. But without it, we were merely wearing the externals. And so it is that for people to sign their names to lists of congregations and to identify in an external way with the church is actually to a great degree an irrelevancy, unless they have come to an experience of having received mercy, of having become part of God’s chosen people, of having been made to drink of the same Spirit and having been baptized into that same body.[2]

So, it has come about, then, first because God has called us to him, and secondly—and we’re now back in 1 Corinthians 12:18—it has come about because God has arranged the parts as he wants them: “In fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.”

So, God has called us to him, God has arranged us in the body, and thirdly, it is God who has combined the members. Verse 24: “God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it.” So, just as in our human bodies, the reason that we have stuff where it is, is because of God’s creative power and handiwork. We are not stuck together as a means of a committee. We did not appear in this way as a result of some evolutionary process. But we are as we are because God determined that we should be this way. He, in his manifold wisdom, decided that this is how it would be.

And the marvel of the human body is apparent for all of us to consider when we’re thoughtful concerning these things. So too, says Paul, his body, his church, is put together in the exact same way. The part which the members of the body play is not as a result of human initiative, but it is as a result of divine invention. The place that God has for you is not something that comes about simply as a result of a bright idea on the part of a group, nor necessarily as a result of your desire to do something—at least not if we want to function effectively. The God who sets the parts in the body is a God who loves to put his children at the very center of his richest and choicest blessing. That’s what he wants to do. He wants the body and he wants individual churches to function at maximum effectiveness.

He knows that that cannot be unless the members are prepared to submit to the score and bow beneath the Conductor. He knows that it cannot be if individuals decide that they will order their own destiny, that they will do their own thing, that they will develop their own strategies. To have that within the framework of a body is to baptize chaos into orthodoxy. Therefore, the part which God gives us to play matters. And there is no part which he offers which is irrelevant or insignificant. It is impossible in the purposes of God to be given a place in his body that is dispensable or irrelevant or insignificant. Of all places in all the world, as men and women search for significance, it ought to be made obvious to us when we gather in the family of God.

Now, in light of this, we might summarize the implications of this instruction, or the application of it, by saying that therefore, we are called to say no to isolation and to say yes to involvement. To say no to isolation and to say yes to involvement. There is an obvious kind of isolation which is external—that is, where people just remove themselves from the framework and activities of God’s people within the context of a local church. There is an isolation which is, obviously, less apparent, and that is an isolation of heart and mind—a disengagement which happens while people sit right in the pews; a disengagement from the direction and purpose of a church. And it is at first very, very difficult to detect. We may continue in that way for some time undetected, but eventually it will become apparent. And there are all kinds of reasons as to why some people would feel isolated from rather than involved with.

Distinctions of Function, Not of Value

It seems clear, as you read verse 14 and following, that there were some to whom Paul was writing who sensed discouragement in their lives, and they were expressing it. Two particular reasons, it seems to me, are made plain in the way that Paul tackles this.

Reason number one is inferiority, or the feeling “They don’t need me.” Now, we hear this said all the time at Parkside Church, so this is obviously relevant. People say, “It is clear that I am unneeded.” If you feel that way, then something’s wrong, either with you or with the leadership or with us both. But nothing’s wrong with the Bible, and nothing is wrong with God’s purpose. Nevertheless, people express themselves within the framework of church by saying, “I don’t think that anybody needs me.” It comes out in different ways: “If I didn’t show up, I don’t think it would matter,” “If I wasn’t involved, I don’t think they’d care,” “If I didn’t make a fuss, no one would call me,” and so on. Clearly, some in the Corinthian context were feeling that way. They felt they were unimportant, they felt they were unneeded, and they were clearly dissatisfied with the part that they had been given to play. They were unhappy with their gifts.

Every so often, when you have gifts given out, somebody gets something that’s a real bad one, and it’s a really embarrassing situation, you know. Because the person opens it up, and you know instantly they hate it, and yet you know that the context is such they’re gonna have to say something nice about it. And there were some who, if you like, when they opened up the gifts that God had given to them within the body of Christ, were clearly unhappy with what they’d been given. And when they began to look around as other people opened their gifts, they were envious of what had been given to somebody else. They were envious of the part that somebody else had been given, and so now they’re in deep trouble. One, they don’t like their part, they don’t like their gift, but they do like his part and they do like her gift.

So, how we gonna get out of that one? Because you don’t have that part, because you don’t have that gift, but you do have your part related to your gift. And an inferiority complex is simply an expression of pride. It’s very important to note, because it sounds very humble to say, “You know, my gifts are really quite insignificant. I really don’t have much to offer.” That sounds humble for about a second and a half. It’s not humble. It’s self-focused. It calls in question God’s wisdom and God’s power. Where did these gifts come from? We didn’t invent them. God gave them! So if I say my gifts are irrelevant or unimportant or I have nothing to offer, as humble as it may sound to untrained ears, it is actually a dreadful expression of pride. And what we’re saying is—as is expressed in Romans chapter 9—like the clay, we’re saying to the Potter, “Why did you make me like this?”[3] “I don’t like this! I wanted to be a singer, and I can’t sing a note! I wanted to be a leader, and I’m frightened to speak! I wanted to be quiet, and I can’t shut up! I wanted to know what it feels like to sit in a corner and only be asked questions, and I can’t stay in the corner!” And so inferiority disguises pride.

Back, again, in 1 Peter, Peter reminds his readers that it is only in the discovery of God’s grace that they will be able to get to grips with who they are and what they are: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” Immediately prior to that he has said, “God opposes the proud but [he] gives grace to the humble.”[4] In other words, until we understand the magnificence of God’s grace, until we accept who we are and what we are as per his purpose and therefore at the same time accept who we’re not and what we’re not, we are tempted to then spend an immense amount of time in the futility of wanting to change God’s divine purpose.

And this is so common in the body of Christ, it’s frightening. “I don’t like the part I have, I don’t like the gift I’ve been given, but I do like what somebody else got, and therefore, I’m gonna try and get what they have.” That’s like a guy who, after living forty years, is only five-foot-eight-inches tall wanting to look like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; or somebody whose hair looks like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, after living forty years, wanting to have hair like Axl Rose. I mean, it’s not gonna happen. It’s a stupid idea.

Now, our children are better able to grasp this, and sometimes when we sing children’s songs, it dawns on us a little better. We haven’t sung it for a long time, but you remember the song,

If I were a butterfly,
I’d thank you, God, for giving me wings.
And if I were a robin in the tree,
I’d thank you, God, that I can sing.
And if I were a fuzzy, wuzzy bear,
I’d thank you God for my fuzzy, wuzzy hair.
But I just thank you, Father, for making me me.[5]

Now, in all of the talk about self-perception and self-involvement and self-this and self-that, let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Christians of all people, both in terms of the physicality of themselves and the spirituality of who they are, ought to be able to come to terms with these issues. And until we do, we will never make a useful contribution to our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, because we will always be stuck halfway between where we are and where we think we’d really be better.

Have you come to terms with yourself yet? Have you grown up enough to accept what you’re not going to be? To realize what you are—perfections and imperfections, gifts and abilities, the absence of certain things? And have you realized in looking around that the reason God has done that is so that other people may fill in the gaps for you and fill in the gaps for me? That he did this purposefully in this church, so that no one, no group, would be able to be the body without the rest of the body?

Now, the statements in verses 15 and 16 are so obvious. The foot may very well be depressed at its inability to exercise the complicated function of the hands. All right? “If the foot should say, ‘Because I[’m] not a hand, I do not belong to the body’…” That’s a silly idea! Paul knows it’s a silly idea, and yet people still are saying that within the body: “You know, I don’t think that my part is really that important. I don’t even belong to this body, because I’m not a hand.” Yeah, but you’re a foot.

Well, look at your feet for a minute, if you can pull them out from underneath the thing. Look at them! Are they still attached to your ankles? Right. So they’re part of your body. Now, they’re not up here. Now do something: try and get your car keys out of your pocket with your feet. (Some bright sparks on the back row are already trying it. All right.) By and large, nobody’s gonna pull that off. Some boy’s on the front having a go at it, but it’s very difficult. Okay? Okay, now your hands are very important in receiving a punt; your feet are very important in punting. Okay?

In the same way with the ear and with the eye: “If the ear should say, ‘Because I[’m] not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.” Now, the interesting thing is, as Leon Morris says, “We[’re] prone to envy those who surpass us a little, rather than those who are patently in a different class.”[6] So if you play golf, you’re prone to be envious and jealous of somebody who’s just a wee bit better, but you’re not gonna be envious—unless you’ve had a frontal lobotomy—you’re not gonna be envious of Payne Stewart or Jack Nicklaus, because they’re so patently in a different class. So the hands and the feet have a problem; the ear and the eyes have a problem. They’ve got a proximity; they’ve got a distinction amongst them. They know their place. And when that goes on, men and women are tempted to believe that the diversity which Paul says, which the Bible says, is vital is not actually vital at all.

Look at verse 17: “If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?” Now, we can debate whether Paul’s trying to be funny there or not, and you can decide whether you think it’s funny or not. But it’s a wonderful picture: just a complete eye for a body. If you imagine just all eyes sitting out here, just single eyes, just big blobs—irises and stuff like that, and the white, some of you brown, some of you blue, some of you green, some of you multicolored, but just eyes. How would you smell? Okay? Cause you ain’t got no nose. You’re just an eye.

It’s so obvious. I mean, it’s really almost sad that the Holy Spirit had to go to this level to try and get the church to waken up. Is it not? I mean, we’re a sensible people. We ought not have to have this stuff. But we do! Because we’re so prone to deny it in the way we spend our time.

Okay, so if inferiority is the problem on the one hand, superiority is the problem on the other. So you’ve got some people who spend their time saying, “They don’t need me,” and then you have others of us who walk around going, “I don’t need them.” And that’s basically where the problems in the body of Christ all come: some people whose propensity is to say, “They don’t need me,” and others whose propensity is to say, “I don’t need them.” ’Cause you’ll notice how he switches. In the first few verses he’s saying, “If the foot should say, ‘I am not this; therefore, I don’t belong,’” expressing a sense of disengagement. He changes it in verse 21; he turns it around the other way, and he says, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’”

The distinctions within the body of Christ are distinctions of function; they are not distinctions of value. The strategy of the Evil One is to inflate us in order to defeat us, and the pattern that God has is to deflate us in order to exalt us.

Now, there were clearly some in the Corinthian context who believed that on account of their personal giftedness, they could get along fine without anybody else. They didn’t need the unimportant contributions that were made by other members of the body of Christ. They could get along fine. But it can’t be! “The eye can[’t] say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’” Try getting your car keys out your pocket with your eye! There’s two in the front row trying that as well. This is good! These kids will never forget this message. Okay? “Do you remember that night where he did that dumb stuff about you trying to get your keys out your pocket with your feet and your eyes?” Yeah, it’s not going to happen.

Nor should the head, you’ll notice… “And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” ’Cause if you’ve no feet, how you gonna get out your car? In fact, if all you had was a head, all you’d do is bounce around. So you’ve got this ridiculous picture of all these heads trying to bounce out to the cars. I mean, it’s unthinkable!

Now, why is he using this? He’s using this because that’s what we do to one another. We say to one another, “I don’t need you,” or “I don’t belong here.” And he is going to this almost simplistic level in order to drive home the fact that the distinctions within the body of Christ are distinctions of function; they are not distinctions of value. And in this context, the strategy of the Evil One is to inflate us in order to defeat us, and the pattern that God has is to deflate us in order to exalt us. It’s the absolute reverse of so much of what we hear today: “You gotta understand how important you are, and how wonderful you are, and how terrific you are.” No, you’ve gotta understand, under God, how necessary you are because God is God, and because he cares about his church.

Now, he then drives this home in verse 22 and following: “The head can[’t] say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary,” he says, “those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.” In other words, you can live without your legs, but you can’t live without your lungs. But how much time have you given thinking about your lungs recently, unless you are in that kind of chest area in medicine? Not a lot, probably. But you may have given a lot of attention to your legs, for whatever reasons, either in exercising or whatever it might be. But the fact is, you can live without the legs, but you can’t live without the lungs. The weaker parts are indispensable. The internal organs inevitably don’t get the exposure that other parts of the body get. That stands to reason, right? You’re not gonna say, “You wanna come over to my house and see my kidneys?” No, I mean, cannibals could say, “You wanna come over my house see my mother’s kidneys?” But you don’t do that with one another. Okay?

So what? So this what. Think about it: this is not a lesson in human anatomy; this is a lesson in the body of Christ. This is what he’s saying: the bits “of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” Would you underline that if you underline in your Bible? “Indispensable”! If you think about the things that we are able to reproduce in term of prosthetic surgery, most of the stuff is external. All the endeavors internally are less than perfect, less than successful. Much of what is external may be replaced, may be fixed, may be badgered around, made to function, but as soon as we go into the heart of the matter, we discover the indispensability of those things.

Therefore, think it out: those who have less noticeable parts in the body of Christ, those with less noticeable ministries, are often vulnerable to misunderstanding, they are often vulnerable to neglect, and they are often vulnerable to misappreciation. And that, incidentally, is why some of them feel inferior. Because it stands, then, to those who have a different role within the body of Christ to protect those indispensable believers in the same way that our external shell protects our indispensable organs. But because they’re not on public display, we don’t give them a lot of thought. But when we lie on our beds and think, we realize, “It’s the stuff that no one can see that makes me work!”

Now, loved ones, is that what Paul is saying in here, or is that what Paul is saying in here? You see what he’s saying? What he’s saying is this: the things that we attach the greatest significance to in the body of Christ—the talkers and the walkers and the singers and the jokers and the up-front characters—can be replaced at a moment’s notice. But there are indispensable parts of the body—unseen, unnoticed—that are holding fellowships together. That’s what he’s saying. We don’t necessarily even know who they are in this church. Faithful prayer warriors—no fuss, no bother, in their homes, in their cars, wherever it might be, holding on, as it were, to God and to his promises for the well-being of Parkside Church. Only eternity will make that plain, when the last are first and those of us who think we’re first end up last.[7]

And pastors don’t like to teach it too much, because what it does is it takes the pastor and it says, “You can drop him right down through the hole here with this podium without a great deal of problem and walk another guy out on here, and they’ll carry on without a great deal of difficulty. But there are some people, as it were, in the guts of the whole affair—the indispensable parts—that those who are external and vocal and prominent need to provide protection for.”

In the same way, not only are the weaker parts indispensable, but “the parts that we think … less honorable we treat with special honor.” Have you ever seen on television somebody advertising for an “Eye Master” or an “Ear Master” or an “Elbow Master”? No. But you’ve seen them doing it for a Thigh Master. Right? Cause we’ve got a problem here with hips. And we cover it up, and we work it, and we do all sorts of things to it. Why? ’Cause they’re actually “less honorable,” and we treat them “with special honor.” “And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment.” But where do we give the most treatment? To the bits that don’t need the treatment. That’s what he’s saying. So, we don’t look for the indispensable parts to secure them; we don’t take the less honorable parts to clothe them and cover them and bestow them with a measure of honor; and we take the presentable parts and spend all our time shining them up so that we’ll look good, thereby neglecting the parts that need our concern.

God’s Purpose in Christ’s Body

Now, the flip side, then, of saying no to isolation is clearly saying yes to involvement. Saying yes to involvement. And that’s what he’s teaching here. “The reason,” he says, “that I’m doing all of this is to let you know that every one of you has a part, every one of you is important.” Now, this is a vitally important instruction, for many of our churches have grown so dependent on a small number of people. And often, in certain cases—and usually in smaller churches—they grow so dependent on an individual, whoever that pastor may be. And so the pastor lives with an unbelievable burden. To the watching world, he’s the guy who does nothing. And then all the people, they say, “Oh, must be nice to have your job. After all, you only work one day a week.” Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! So, we have that, and we walk around: “Yeah, here comes the guy who works one…” So to the watching world he does nothing; to his congregation he’s the guy who’s supposed to do everything.

And if you’ve been in a church like that, you know that that is true. When that misperception is tolerated or even cultivated, it turns congregations into interested or disinterested spectators rather than into active participants. And so they become dependent upon all that is fed to them, and they sit around to watch and see how successful the pastor or the pastors, or whoever they are, will be at providing all their needs.

Harmony in the body of Christ is about individuality; it’s about diversity; it’s about that diversity operating under the unity of the lordship of Christ. And the tragedy of the Corinthian church was this: that they were divided where they should’ve been unified—namely, in doctrine—and they were attempting uniformity where God’s purpose was diversity. So they were a recipe for total disaster.

He says in chapter 1, he says, “I want you to be perfectly united in heart, in mind, and in thought. I want you to believe the same things. I want you to understand that.”[8] Now, if you have a unity under the lordship of Christ in terms of basic Christian doctrine, then you will be able to tolerate all the diversity that is part of you, ’cause you’re all made very differently, and you all come from different backgrounds, and God has given you all kinds of different gifts. They instead bombed out on the unity of doctrine and attempted a uniformity of behavior. And so you end up with a church that is trying to make clones out of people. They can never ask questions, they can never differ, they all have to wear the same kind of suits, they all carry the same kind of Bibles, and so it goes. They always have a thing—they have those covers and a thing on the front of them, and everybody’s got one, and it’s kind of scary when you go amongst them. That’s not to say if you have one of those things that you’ve got a problem, but it strikes me in that way.

Now the reason is, God has ordered things in this way very clearly, and we’re not all the same. That’s 27 to the end. All these rhetorical questions expect the answer “No.” There were temporary sign gifts. There were foundational apostolic and prophetic gifts. There were abiding, necessary gifts. But the unity was to be found not in displaying the same gifts but in obeying the same Head and loving the other members.

Let me try and summarize and draw this to a close. Number one, we need one another. Number two, we’re different from each other. Number three, we’re supposed to care for each other. That’s it. We need each other, we’re different from one another, and therefore, we have to tolerate those differences and watch out for each other.

What is God’s purpose in all of this? Let me summarize it. Verse 25: his purpose in this is to deal with division. “God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it”—verse 25—“so that there should be no division in the body.” The word which is used here is a graphic word used for a tear in a cloth, where you would tear something and it has jaggy edges. Nothing creates jaggy edges more than an attitude of superiority on the part of some or an unhelpful allegiance to individuals. “I’m Paul.” “I’m Apollos.” “I’m Cephas.” “This is my guy.” “This is my group.” “I like her.” “I like him.” “We’re our little deal.”[9] He says, “No, the reason you’re all like this, this great hodgepodge, is so that there should be no division”—to deal with division and to call them to caring. You’ll notice that: “no division in the body” and “that its parts should have equal concern for each other.”

Now, some people get tied up on this. They say, “Well, we got a very large church here, and it’s impossible for us to know everything and everyone.” That’s right. That’s absolutely right. That is an unsavory element of size. But it is an element of size. The fact that I cannot know everyone and everything about everyone, nor can you, does not mean that I cannot exercise equal concern for each one that I know. What he’s saying here is not that we are equally involved with everyone, but no matter who the one is, no matter how we encounter them, no matter their background, their giftedness, or whatever it is, our concern for them must be the same, because God put them in the body. So, nobody ought to be able to come to you and find that your level of concern for them is this much greater simply because you like them, or this much less because “I don’t like them.”

That kind of thing is supernatural activity. No group of people will pull this off as a result of an act of Congress. No group of us will ever be able to bring it together in sharing one another’s joys and sorrows and, if you like, living like Siamese twins without the depth of relationship that only the Spirit of God can bring. That’s why when Paul writes to the Ephesians and he says to them that “God has given pastors and teachers so that the church may be edified as the Scriptures are made clear, so that you may come to maturity as each part does its work,”[10] at the heart of that metaphor—and at the heart of this, as we will see when we return to our studies in 1 Corinthians a few weeks from now—at the heart of it all is love.

It’s very dangerous for me to use illustrations like this. I know I’ll be corrected later, but I’ll proceed in conclusion, at any rate. In arthritis, or in an arthritic condition, the joints have a brittleness and a friction to them as a result of the absence of the synovial fluid. It is because that fluid is not in the abundance that it should be that the joints do not have the harmony and flexibility and ease of movement that they may otherwise have. Oh, the knee’s still in place, or the ball-and-socket joints are there in the hip, but something is wrong; there’s pain involved in it. It’s because of the drainage of the synovial fluid.

The synovial fluid in the body of Christ we’ll come to in chapter 13. It is love. And when love drains out of the joints in the body, then the body may still have a skeletal structure, but it will be pained in its movement. It will be impoverished in its actions. It will be less than what God intends.

That’s why in our families, more than anything else, what matters is that we love each other—that we teach our kids to love each other, that we tell our children that we love them unreservedly, unconditionally. For as soon as love drains away, then we’re left with mechanical motions, disengaged lives, disenfranchised people, disgruntled fellowships, and ineffective churches.

I think it’s very important for us as individuals to be reading and rereading these chapters on our own, to be asking God to speak to us through them—those of us who are prone to inferiority and to feeling that we don’t have a part, asking the Spirit of God to bolster us up; those of us who have a problem with superiority, asking the Lord to burst the bubble of our pride—so that together we may be more effective than any of us are on our own.

There’s no greater illustration of it than when an orchestra plays. They don’t all play the same instruments. They don’t all play the same part. Indeed, I don’t think they all read off the same notes. And the way it’s written for the French horn, the way it’s written for the cello, the way it’s written for the oboe is not written necessarily all in the same way, I believe. But when they play the part according to the score, and when they bow beneath the baton of the conductor, the harmony and the music is powerful.

As soon as love drains away, then we’re left with mechanical motions, disengaged lives, disenfranchised people, disgruntled fellowships, and ineffective churches.

Therefore, it’s simple. We need to know the score. We need to submit to the Conductor. We need to be cautious and careful with the people around us so that we don’t stick our bow in their eye or try and play louder than them to silence them, or go on an inferiority trip because we’re playing the triangle, and in the whole movement the triangle comes once. Do you realize how important it is when it comes just once? I mean, if it came fifty times, people would be saying, “Heck, you know the triangle, ding-ding-ding-ding-ding.” But if the thing goes for twenty-seven minutes and you play that thing just (ding!) once, I think the composer thought that was pretty important.

Do you know, this afternoon, Dan Majeske, the concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra, went to be with Christ? What an illustration of a man who played his part, not only with great skill within the orchestra but also within the body of Christ. Those of us who attended the prayer breakfasts when he would come and play along with Bob Vernon and his wife and his son—I’ll never forget how he loved to take out that piece of paper and read the same poem every year, the poem about the violin found in the dusty old workshop, and how the man said, “Oh, it’s a piece of junk, it’s irrelevant, it’s not that great of a violin. I don’t really know why we keep it around here.”[11] And then the poem goes on, and the gentleman took the violin, and he brushed the dust off, and he began to play. Said Majeske, “This is how it is when we are placed in the Master’s hands. Sure, we’re dusty. Sure, we look junky. Sure, people think that we lie around the shop and are fairly irrelevant. But whenever the Master takes us up to play our part, there is no other part that is necessary for that moment.”

And today, tonight, we honor Dan Majeske and the part that he has played in the body of Christ in this city and the testimony that he has borne throughout the world with the Orchestra—a reminder to us of the simple song, “There’s a work for Jesus none but you can do.”[12] Now let’s go out and help one another to do that work.

Let us pray together:

Our God and our Father, for your Word, the Bible, we thank you from the depths of our hearts. Thank you for its clarity and its power. Thank you for making it known to us in this day. Thank you for all the instruction that there’s been, for all the help that has been exercised, for all the playing of triangles and banging of drums, for all the unseen, indispensable activity. Help us to say no to isolation and to say yes to involvement, and teach us unmistakably in these days that our significance and our effectiveness is far greater as a whole than any individual part on its own. Thank you for this place. Thank you for each other. Be with us as we go. Take us in safety. Make us useful to the Master in the days of this week. For we ask these things, with the forgiveness of all our sin, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] Arnold Bittlinger, Gifts and Graces: A Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12–14, trans. H. Klassen (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1967), 55, quoted in David Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians: Life in the Local Church, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1985), 210.

[2] See 1 Corinthians 12:13.

[3] Romans 9:20 (NIV 1984).

[4] 1 Peter 5:5–6 (NIV 1984).

[5] Brian M. Howard, “The Butterfly Song” (1974). Lyrics lightly altered.

[6] Leon Morris, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1958), 175.

[7] See Matthew 20:16.

[8] 1 Corinthians 1:10 (paraphrased).

[9] See 1 Corinthians 1:12.

[10] Ephesians 4:11–16 (paraphrased).

[11] See Myra Brooks Welch, “The Touch of the Master’s Hand” (1921).

[12] Elsie Duncan Yale, “There’s a Work for Jesus” (1912).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.