Monday, May 6, 2013

I Have No Need Of Thee


"Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant...there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.  And there are differences of administration, but the same Lord," Paul wrote to his friends in Corinth (1 Cor. 12:1-5).  He was concerned, because word had reached him that the Corinthian saints had begun to be divided, proclaiming their talents and gifts to be superior to their neighbors'.  Some are given one gift, he wrote, and some another, but it's all the same Spirit and the same Lord.  Your neighbor may have the gift of prophecy, your friend the gift of faith, your wife the gift of healing, and you the gift of tongues, but "all these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills" (v. 11).

These gifts are meant to bring us together, not drive us apart, just like the many functions of our different body parts unite us and help us function.  "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”" (v. 12-21).

There is a great polarization in our world today, in many spheres.  Politics has become so dysfunctional that bipartisanship and moderation are dirty words, and reaching across the aisle for the good of the people is seen as handing a victory to the enemy.  Religion is fragmented into conservative and liberal factions, each dismissing the other as deluded and lamenting their benighted-ness.  We have forgotten that ideological differences need not turn us into embittered foes.

It's an easy position to fall into, when we come up against those with whom we disagree, those who perceive the world differently than we do.  We see only their "not-me-ness" and hastily conclude, "I have no need of thee," not thinking that perhaps the reason for our different perceptions is that we may be the eye, and our neighbor, the ear, perceiving in fundamentally different ways, not because one of us misapprehends the nature of reality, but simply because we have different functions in the body, which "has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body."

Sometimes, perhaps most tragically, we find ourselves so alienated from others' worldview that we are sure that we do not belong to the body, whether it be the body politic or the body of Christ.  Hearing the loud chorus of hands around us excitedly reporting on their tactile sensation, it is easy to conclude that "because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," and difficult to frame the impulses received by our retinas in a way that is comprehensible to our neighbors, difficult not to think that we will never feel what seems so natural to our neighbors.

I make these mistakes a lot.  From not-so-subtly bristling at those irritating comments Brother Agitate makes in Sunday School, to leaving church in tears, certain that I will never belong among these people who believe so differently from me, the way I perceive my faith and my God often leave me in need of Paul's reminder, "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of thee,' nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of thee.'"  Because, in the end, we all are members, not just of a church, but of the body of Christ, who told His disciples to "be one, and if ye are not one ye are not mine" (Doc. & Cov. 38:27).

I believe, as I wrote earlier, that there is room for all of us in the fold of God.  There is room for--nay, need for--all of our individual God-given spiritual gifts in building the Kingdom.  It isn't easy to integrate our varying gifts and cacophonous voices into anything resembling harmony, and it's often tempting to stamp out the discordant voices, easy to convince ourselves that unity requires unanimity.  But the radical call of Christian discipleship is to achieve harmony while honoring diversity, to recognize that unity comes, not through conformity, but through charity.

Paul concludes his eloquent discourse by showing the Corinthian saints "a more excellent way" (12:31) to understand the interaction of their spiritual gifts in the body of Christ: have charity, or love, for one another.  For without love, he says, all other spiritual gifts are "nothing" (13:1-3).

"Love," Paul says, "is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends" (13:4-8).  And the other gifts and talents we cared so much about in this life?  "As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away" (13:8-10).  Though now our vision is clouded, there will come a time when we will see clearly, and will know one another fully even as we are fully known.

I hope that, when that day comes, when we "put away childish things," that we won't be left with the uncomfortable realization that we've been cutting off our nose to spite our face--or worse, because it had the audacity to be something other than an ear.  I hope that we can learn to draw circles that take others in rather than shutting them out, even when we wonder how we could possibly share the same body with members who are so different from us.  I hope we will have learned, by then, that we all belong to the body of Christ.  And if the "feeble knees" need strengthening and the "hands which hang down" need lifting up (Doc. & Cov. 81:5), we should remember that these are the knees and the hands of the body of Christ, of which we are all members.  For, in the end, when it comes to the body of our Lord, none of us can ever say, "I have no need of thee."

3 comments:

  1. I saw your blog via a post on facebook by my friends older brother. I would like to tell you that I very much agree with your viewpoints, and analysis of society. Thank you for sharing!

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  2. This is beautiful. I wish there was more of this kind of thinking in the church.

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