Body Works (1 Cor. 12) 3: Interdependence
This is the last of a series of three posts based around 1 Corinthians 12, in which I am exploring three features of the body of Christ. The first post was about diversity and the second was about unity. This final one is about interdependence. Verses 21 to 26 of 1 Corinthians 12 contain these words: “there should be no division in the body, but […] its parts should have equal concern”. That describes interdependence.
Interdependence is not independence – everyone doing their own thing. Nor is it dependency – no one can serve without direct instructions. It is bringing our diverse contributions together in unity for one purpose with mutual support.
A while ago, my teenaged daughter caught the Marvel bug. She borrowed a pile of DVDs from my nephew, and we were forced to watch them as a family. They were entertaining, I’ll admit. But my wife and I have a perpetual issue with these sci-fi fantasies. We often said, “If he’s so powerful, why do they need an army?” Or, “If she’s invincible and can manipulate all matter in the universe, why did the Avengers need to assemble?” (can you spot which Marvel superheroes these refer to?)
Do not worry if that reference is lost on you – this is not an advertisement for the MCU – but maybe you have asked similar questions about other movie franchises or heroes. If any character is too powerful, it is impossible to believe they might fail and there’s no suspense. That is why scriptwriters have to work hard to give each one some vulnerability.
Now, let me share a secret. There are no superheroes in Christian service. The Bible says we’re weak, and it’s in our weakness that God’s strength is made perfect. That’s the apostle Paul speaking. If he knew he was no superhero, we’d better give up on any idea that we can be. But Paul testified to a mighty Saviour, the Lord Jesus. There’s only one true superhero. Jesus! He has triumphed in His cross over sin, death and the devil. He’s now enthroned above every principality and power. We are weak people – every one of us – but we cling to a mighty Saviour!
So, the pressure is off! We are not called to be superheroes.
God has designed us this way – needing each other, none of us having every gift – so that it will be clear that his power is working through us. We’re called to bring our diverse gifts together for the common good, to bless one another and serve God’s purposes. It is beautiful when God’s people do that. It is beautiful because God’s grace is evident and because it reflects the way the three persons of God work together.
There’s a trinitarian pattern in verses 4 to 6 of 1 Corinthians 12. The same Spirit, the same Lord, the same God. Father, Son and Spirit. One Spirit gives all the gifts. They should all be used for one Lord. They are all workings of one God.
In God’s great plan of salvation, the triune persons work together in perfect harmony. Every part of that plan involves all three, but a different person comes to the fore in each stage. In creation and the upholding of all things, we think primarily of the Father. In redemption, we focus on the work of the Son in His death and resurrection. In restoration, the Spirit is the One who transforms lives and ultimately renews the universe.
So, the Godhead is our perfect model of diverse parts working together interdependently. The three never pull apart or jostle for supremacy over one another. They are equal in power and glory, but joyously yield to each another for their great purpose of saving a people of their own. The Son submitted to the Father and glorified Him. The Father and the Son sent the Spirit to give glory to the Son, the Lord Jesus. The Spirit delights in giving attention to Jesus. The Son loves to hear us pray to the Father as the Spirit enables us.
That’s how it should be in the body of Christ too.
Verse 26 speaks of suffering as one and rejoicing as one. That is interdependence.
In the post on unity, we saw in verses 15 and 16 the risk of division in the body when some people proudly think their way is the best way and so head for the highway. Those parts denied they were part of the body. Verse 21 describes another, less blatant risk: people who recognise they are part of the body, but think other parts are less useful than they are. They decide they are the effective or strong parts. Others are a bit of an embarrassment. They decide they can do perfectly well without others. “If you want to get it done, do it yourself”. Or, “Our programme should be professional, so let’s only use the best people”.
But such thinking is worldly. It forgets that all of our contributions are gifts from God and the same Holy Spirit is at work in every one of us. It thinks effectiveness comes from our strength, not through His power in our weakness. It’s not we who change lives; the Spirit does that as we share the gospel. And He does it not through some of us, but through all of us.
Two phrases in this passage emphasise this idea. Firstly, in verse 22: “those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable”. Within our diversity there is room for those who are weaker. Perhaps due to a disability, a personality trait, youth or inexperience. Or maybe the ones who are not so cool or so outgoing or as stunningly beautiful as others!?!
If someone makes their contribution sincerely for the Lord and it is not wonderful by whatever criteria you have made up (or even by whatever criteria would be a fair judge), they should get as much thanks, praise and encouragement as the one who would win an Oscar if there was an award-granting Academy of Ministry (I really hope that doesn’t actually exist!)
This is great news, because we are all basically weak and in some things or at some point in our lives, we will know it. But in our weakness, God’s strength is revealed. None of us is a superhero. When we compare our varied levels of ability or the different amounts we can give, and think some are more useful than others, it’s as if we are trying to figure out whether anant or a flea is more likely to lift a mountain.
Neither can do it! Not in the real world. Nor can you or the other more/less gifted person move spiritual mountains. Only God can move mountains. So, let us trust in Him, not in our ability. How will anyone know that the change in the lives of people we serve is truly a work of God unless it is clear that it wasn’t by our strength. So, let’s count the weaker parts as vital.
And if you think you are a weaker part, please hear what God’s Word says. You are indispensable. The team needs you! God’s power can work through you. So, offer what you have.
The second phrase, in verse 23, says, “the parts we think are less honourable we treat with special honour”.
I suppose in a rash moment some time you might have got angry with one part of your own body. I have been known to complain about my nose (as my wife!) Not because of its appearance – you can make up your own mind about that – but because of its sensitivity to allergens. When that is triggered, my whole body gets miserable. But I have never seriously thought of cutting off my nose, not even to spite my face. No, rather, I try to adapt everything to the needs of my nose. I take medication just for my nose. I avoid skipping through fields of long grass in flower just for my nose. Well, for my dignity too, but mainly for my nose!
That is what Paul’s getting at in these verses. He reminds us that we give special honour to some parts of our physical bodies because we think they are dishonourable. The parts that are private, we keep covered. How much more, in the body of Christ, should we honour those parts we’re tempted to think are dishonourable? We do not just give up on someone who struggles, we are patient with them. We don’t turn our back on someone who sins, we are quick to forgive when they repent. We do not treat the more educated, more gifted or more attractive people better than others. We value and care for each one equally. We learn to appreciate each other’s gifts and contributions. We give way to others who can do something better than us and work to develop the gifts of those who can’t.
Now, I hope we all want to see effective evangelism. For that to happen, we need three things. We need to communicate the gospel clearly.We must also serve people with compassion. Notice again those two groupings of grace gifts we saw in Peter. But there’s a third aspect: we must show the reality of God’s work among us. Our loving interdependence reveals the truth of the gospel.
The way Christians function as a body, united in diversity, serving together for a common purpose, honouring each other, caring for each other, faithfully giving glory to One Head, shows the reality of God’s work in us. People do not need to be entertained by the best performers among us. They need to encounter Jesus. They do that as they hear about Him in our words, as they see what He is like in the way we serve them, and as they see the way we love one another.
None of us can save a single soul, but we can work together with others in the body of Christ to faithfully present Jesus to people. We can present Him in words, in actions and in our way of working together.
As I close this series, let me say again: we are the body of Christ.
We are diverse. Each of us is unique. There are many parts. Each of us is indispensable.
We are united. There are many parts but there is one body. All of us need each other.
We are interdependent. Let there be no division, but equal concern for every indispensable part. You are not a superhero. Good! You do not need to be – that is Jesus’ job. But you are not useless either, even if you feel weak. You have a contribution to make because God has grace gifted you to the body with your unique mix of abilities and He is giving you opportunities for acts of service.
So, let us work together as one interdependent body of diverse parts for the cause of the gospel.