The Church Needs You

1Corinthians 12

The Reverend Bryn MacPhail / December 14, 2003


            Schisms existed in the church at Corinth on many fronts. In 1Corinthians, chapter 12, we see that these schisms affected how individuals participated within the local church.


            The apostle Paul responds to this particular issue by providing the Corinthians with instruction on the purpose of spiritual gifts and the nature of the Body of Christ.


            We should also note what Paul does not say in his response to the Corinthians. While Paul references many of the spiritual gifts, he does not explain precisely what each spiritual gift is. For example, in verse 8 and following, Paul talks about how some are “given the word of wisdom” and how others are given “the word of knowledge”, yet he does not explain what either is, or how they differentiate from one another.


Paul also mentions the gift of “prophecy” and the gift of “tongues”, but neither is explained. We don’t know if the gift of prophecy is a perpetuation of the Old Testament office, or if it is a reference to one who preaches the Word of God. And, with regard to tongues, there is great debate over whether the gift of tongues is the ability to speak a heavenly language or whether it is simply a gift that enables a Christian to speak a known language that they have yet to learn.


In the absence of a detailed explanation of the nature of particular spiritual gifts, we would be wise to return our attention to what Paul is saying, rather than speculate on what he does not say.


What Paul does say is that “there are varieties of gifts”, and yet these gifts share the same origin in the Holy Spirit (12:4). And we immediately learn that these gifts are not ‘for show’, but rather, a variety of gifts should inevitably lead to a variety of ministries (12:5). And because God is behind the various gifts, and because He is behind the employment of these gifts in various ministries, we are not surprised to read that “there are varieties of effects” (12:6).


We conclude then, that Paul’s call for unity within the Body of Christ is not a call to uniformity. Being equal within the Body does not mean being identical. We have one God working through a variety of individuals, who possess a variety of gifts, who are engaged in a variety of ministries, who are witnessing varying results.


Paul’s stress on unity is in the context of God-ordained diversity. As John Calvin has said, “out of this variety arises unity in the church, (just) as the various tones in music produce sweet melody.”


We can immediately apply this principle to ourselves. Recognizing that St. Giles Kingsway is comprised of unique individuals, each sounding their various tones, can it be said of us, that we are producing sweet melody?


In my view, I believe we are producing sweet melody, but if I challenge myself to identify a weakness, it is this; I believe we are producing sweet melody with an incomplete orchestra. There is evidence that there are instruments missing.


My inference is based on what I read in verse 7, “to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.


Notice that there are no exceptions here. God gives to every Christian a spiritual gift. And what is the gift to be used for? Paul says that spiritual gifts are given to individuals “for the common good”. In other words, spiritual gifts are given to individuals for the good of the church.


There is a fallacious notion that has arisen in our day, that one can be a Christian apart from the church. The argument goes something like this: ‘I can pray and read my Bible at home. I can watch Christian programming and read Christian books. In my daily life, I attempt to treat others the way I want to be treated. I don’t need the church to do any of those things.’


The apostle Paul dismantles this notion by reminding us “by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (12:13). That is to say that, because of our baptism by, and union with, the Holy Spirit, we are not simply united to Christ, but we are, at the same time, united to the church, which is His body. 


A few verses later, Paul writes, “there are many members, but one body” (12:20). And again, Paul says, “you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it” (12:27). Paul’s message is clear: we are united to Christ insofar as we are united to His body.


We are individual members of Christ’s body. To use Paul’s imagery of the body, each Christian is an “ear”, or an “eye”, or a “hand”, or a “foot”.  As individual members, if we live apart from the body, we are incomplete—because “the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’” (12:21). As an individual member, we need the rest of the body—we need the church. To be that which God means for us to be requires that we be joined to other Christians.


Likewise, if we live apart from the body, the body is incomplete. The body needs all of its members to be most effective. In other words, the church needs you. The church needs you in order to be all that God intends for it to be.


It has been said that the church is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. We are made up of numerous pieces of different shapes and sizes, but we all fit together as one beautiful picture. Take away a few pieces, however, and the picture does not look nearly as beautiful. In a similar manner, the beauty of the church is compromised when some of the members go AWOL.


God has given “to each” Christian a spiritual gift. The gifts of the Spirit are given, not for the benefit of the individual possessing the gift, but for the benefit of the body (12:7).  God has seen fit to gift us all in order that we all would make useful contributions to the body of Christ. And by providing us with certain gifts and withholding from us other gifts, we are then constrained to depend on one another.


            There is another analogy that I am fond of, which aptly illustrates this principle of unity emerging from diversity. The analogy is how the offence of a football team is run.


In football, the offence is united by a common goal to score a touchdown, yet their individual responsibilities are quite different. And corresponding to their differing responsibilities, there are marked differences in the physical make-up of the players. Some players are exceptionally large, but not very quick, and so they are charged with the responsibility of blocking. Some players are not very big, but are extremely quick, and are skilled in catching the ball, and so they are made receivers or running backs. The quarterback might be fast or slow, tall or short, but he will most certainly be able to throw the football a great distance, and with tremendous accuracy. The offence of a football team is united in their goal to score a touchdown, but each player has a different, and unique, role to play in accomplishing this goal.


In making a comparison with the Church, we regard Jesus Christ as the Head of this team. He is the owner; He sets the direction for the team. The minister can be likened to the coach. The minister’s job is to carry out the will of the owner, and this entails equipping and organizing the saints for the work of ministry.


Now, if you were to ask me why I think so many churches are struggling, I would say that it is because many churches expect their minister to be, not only the coach, but also they expect the minister to occupy every position on the field as well. Unfortunately, many churches function in this manner. In some churches, many of the members sit in the stands as spectators, while the minister runs around attempting to occupy every position on the field.


Sometimes, this dysfunction is the fault of a minister who is unwilling to relinquish control, but often a minister is forced to play various positions because of the demands of the spectators.


This is not God's design for the church. This is not how the Owner would have His team managed. God's design for the church is that every member would take a position on the field. The minister's job is to organize the members. The minister’s job is to explain the game plan. The minister’s role is to equip every member to take their position on the field for the purpose of “building up of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). The minister is responsible for ensuring that the spiritual gifts of the individual members are being employed “for the common good” (12:7).


On the other hand, some churches make the mistake of stressing the work of the laity to the exclusion of a qualified minister. But the apostle Paul doesn't charge the laity with doing all of the ministry; he charges them to do the ministry under the guidance of appointed officers within the church (12:28; Eph. 4:11,12).


Church ministry sometimes fails because members fail to appreciate their need to be equipped for ministry. As a result, some members go charging out onto the field with their talent, their gifts, and their enthusiasm, but they have no idea what the game plan is, and they have no idea how their role corresponds with, or depends on, others.


To be an effective church, there must be qualified leaders who are committed to equipping others for ministry. To be an effective church, every member must identify their role within the Body of Christ and be committed to serving the church with their gifts.


I hear Paul urging us onto the field—every one of us. I hear him reminding us to play our position and to fulfill our unique role. I hear him exhorting us to work towards the same goal.


God has chosen to be glorified through the Church (Eph. 3:21). Our service then, must not take place in isolation. Our spiritual gifts must translate into ministry; our gifts must lead to service. And the results of our service will surely be used by God to advance His kingdom in this world.


If Christ has called you, if you belong to the body of Christ, are you willing to serve the body of Christ into which you were called? Can you be counted on to play your position? I hope so, because the church needs you. St. Giles Kingsway needs you. Amen.