Monday, February 27, 2012

Divisions, Spiritual Gifts & Honor (part 3 of 3)

Paul goes on to stress the need for unity within the church body, regardless of the spiritual gifts that are being expressed.  We continue to hear an effort to level out the believers, undoubtedly lifting up some while lowering others, and decimating hierarchies that are or have been constructed upon the standards of the surrounding world.  Honor and shame approbations, as popularly enacted and recognized, are not going to have any place within the church of Christ.  Consequently, believers that exercise what are considered to be the more prominent spiritual gifts, are not going to have a place or position above those whose spiritual gifting are not so obvious or familiar. 

Paul writes “For just as the body is one and yet has many members, all the members of the body---though many---are one body, so too is Christ” (12:12).  This use of “one and yet… many,”  followed by “many… are one,” most assuredly picks up on the “different, same, each, and all” pattern that has already been on offer from Paul.  Continuing in this mold, Paul goes on: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.  Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit.  For in fact the body is not a single member but many” (12:13-14).  In this type of association, there is simply no place for elevating one member at the expense of another. 

The practices that would have gained one honor in another association, such as speeches of wisdom and knowledge, healings, the performance of miracles, prophecy, discerning spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues, do not function that way within the church that represents the kingdom of God, and which is composed of divine image bearers so as to both individually and corporately reflect the Creator God into the world.  The fact that there is to be no stratification (especially around the table---the way that the church gathered) based on spiritual gifting, and that not all were expected to exercise the same gifting, is reinforced when we read “If the foot says, ‘Since I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it does not lose its membership in the body because of that.  And if the ear says, ‘Since I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it does not lose its membership in the body because of that” (12:15-16). 

Indeed, the body (whether the human body or the body of Christ that is the church), demands a multiplicity of what are, in the end, equally valid functions for proper engagement with its environment.  Though some functions, such as seeing or being able to use one’s hands, seem far more important than others, those functions are radically dependent on other functions.  Beyond that, “If the whole body were an eye, what part would do the hearing?  If the whole were an ear, what part would exercise the sense of smell?  But as a matter of fact, God has placed each of the members in the body just as He decided.  If they were all the same member, where would the body be?” (12:17-19).  So not only is each and every member of the body a valuable component that aids in proper functioning, but each member must do what it has been ordained to do, lest the whole of the body be limited in its functionality. 

So not only is there to be no assignment of special honor to any particular gifts, but there should be no striving for emulation of another’s gift.  How can we say that?  Well, if there is no particular honor associated with a dramatic gift such as speaking in tongues, then there will not be attempts at mimicry that may ultimately stem not from a desire to serve and expand the kingdom of God, but from jealousy or covetousness with an eye towards accruing honor and enhancing one’s position in the association and within society.  Rather, each member will seek to exercise the indwelling of the Spirit, which is evidenced by the acknowledgment of Jesus as Lord, in ways that will benefit the body and enhance its health and functionality, and this will manifest itself in an unlimited number of ways.  With this understood, and understood alongside knowledge of the fact that Paul is dealing with issues specific to Corinth (with the outcome of his dealing with the issues---that towards which he is driving---universally applicable for Christians for all time), we can toss out any thinking that has Paul constructing systemic lists of spiritual gifts, along with any thinking that one must evidence one of the spiritual gifts listed in chapter twelve of First Corinthians (or taking tests to determine spiritual gifting in accordance with this list) in order to determine if one has truly been gifted with the Spirit of God. 

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