I’ve recently been receiving physical therapy to treat ongoing knee pain I’ve had the last few years. During my first evaluation, my physical therapist simply observed me while I walked back and forth in his studio. He quickly pointed out that I’ve been overcompensating to my left leg for so long that my right leg and hip are basically unengaged while I walk. The first thing we had to work on was learning to get my right leg engaged again.
We progressed to a point after several weeks where my physical therapist was able to observe me while I ran. It turns out that my stride is all messed up. The problems with the stride in my legs had little to do with the legs themselves, but much to do with how I used my arms while I was running. His exact words were that while I have full movement with my right arm, “You’re doing a T-Rex thing with your left arm.” This was causing a lot of uneven rotation in my legs while I ran, which put a lot of pressure on my knee.
You see, while I thought problems in my knee meant that I only needed to focus on fixing my knee, it turns out that my whole body is more connected than I first thought. Pain and dysfunction in this one part of my body reflects how poorly the rest of my body is functioning.
The body metaphor is a common one that is used to describe the Church in the New Testament. We are one body with many members, and each part is essential to the whole (1 Corinthians 12:12-26, Ephesians 4:11-16, etc.). These verses contain great wisdom in how we can find our place within this body, and how this body is meant to grow together.
Finding Our Place Within the Body
Spiritual gifts are given to promote unity (1 Corinthians 12:12-14) and for the good of God’s people (1 Corinthians 12:7, Ephesians 4:16). But one of the problems we see in the early church is that far from promoting unity, the gifts were creating division. Rather than being used to build one another up in love, certain people were lording their abilities over others – leaving many to feel like they did not have a place in the body.
Many of us have experienced the pain of being left out. We are so afraid to experience this feeling again that we actually have an acronym for it now: FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). When this feeling begins to set in with members of a church, we start to pull away – and just like the muscles in my right leg, our gifts and service begin to atrophy.
This is the feeling that many were experiencing in Corinth: “I guess if I’m not like them, I’m not a part of this body.” Maybe you feel this way even now; that you have nothing worthwhile to contribute to your local church. I want you to consider how Paul encouraged these people in Corinth – take these things to heart.
First, how you feel about yourself isn’t the truth about yourself. Paul tells these individuals that just because they don’t feel like they belong, that doesn’t make them any less a part of the body (1 Corinthians 12:16).
When we argue ourselves into believing that we are useless our arguments about ourselves are always invalid. Our feelings are not invalid, but the conclusions we make about ourselves are wrong. Every single person who is in Christ has been given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7). Far from being useless every single Christian has an important part to play in the growth of the body.
Second, diversity in the body is essential for the body. The body of Christ cannot function the way God intends it to without a vast diversity of people and gifts who contribute to the whole (1 Corinthians 12:17-20). How can a body exist if every part is an ear? What is a clump of ears wriggling around on the ground but an ugly monstrosity?
The Apostle Paul wrote that there are varieties of gifts, service and activities (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). This means that the gifts each person has are varied, the needs of our context which require our service is varied, and the operation of the Spirit in us is varied. Each Christian is incredibly unique, and that is exactly how God designed things to be in the body.
Here’s how the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it:
Strong and weak, wise and foolish, gifted or ungifted, pious or impious, the diverse individuals in the community, are cause for rejoicing in one another and serving one another. Each member of the community is given his or her particular place, but this is no longer the place in which he can most successfully assert himself, but the place where he can best perform his service.
When we embrace how God has gifted us, we will find great joy in taking advantage of the freedom to generously celebrate in others what we lack in ourselves. As the diversity of gifts in a body are grown and used, God is celebrated for his good design.
But all of this raises a basic question for us: How do we then find our place in the body? To put it another way, how do we discover our spiritual gifts?
There are a couple really important verses that are easy for us to pass over if we’re not careful. In Romans 1:11-12, the Apostle Paul wrote:
For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.
When our gifts are used rightly, the giver and receiver of the spiritual gift benefit from each other. So, two very simple tests for us are: 1) Am I growing in faith and love through some particular service or ministry? 2) Are others growing my service or ministry to them?
While classes and worksheets on spiritual gifts may be helpful, they’re probably not going to be the primary way to discover how God has gifted you. It’s going to happen while you’re serving to meet various needs. Apply these two tests. If you can answer ‘yes’ to both questions – you’ve found a gift!
Growing the Body Together
When each member of the body finds its proper place, then the body is united and able to grow together (Ephesians 4:16).
It’s no secret that my wife and I love Mister Rogers. We have been so struck by his example of faith in action. This one man acted on his Christian faith, for he truly believed in the God-given value of each and every person. He recognized how special it is to feel valued as part of a family. Deep down, each of us are looking for a place to belong. Mister (Fred) Rogers said it this way:
There’s something unique about being a member of a family that really needs you in order to function well. One of the deepest longings a person can have is to feel needed and essential.
Author James K.A. Smith made this wonderful observation about our lives and the character of Mister Rogers when he said:
When you’re young, you think being hard & brash is courageous; when you’re old you realize the strength it takes to be Mister Rogers.
It sounds great, doesn’t it? To be the kind of person who really makes others feel like they belong? It’s even inspirational. But why is this so hard for us to do? Why is it so difficult to really honor others over ourselves?
There's something unique about being a member of a family that really needs you in order to function well. One of the deepest longings a person can have is to feel needed and essential. -Mister Rogers Click To Tweet
There’s this great story in the gospels about when the disciples are arguing amongst themselves about who would be regarded as the greatest (Luke 22:24-27). Jesus’ answer to his disciples is a great reminder of the difference between the world and Jesus’ kingdom. He said to them,
The kings and rulers of this world lord themselves over others. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. Who is the greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.(Luke 22:25-27, paraphrased)
Jesus is the great King who uses his power not as a tyrant or selfish leader would, but as a lowly servant. The height of his love came when he postured himself the lowest, dying in our place for our sin so that we might find new life.
The greatest gift that Jesus gives to his people is the gift to get over themselves so they can be more like him. We’ll know when we have this gift because something beautiful will begin to happen in us. We’ll begin to see ourselves getting smaller, God getting bigger, and the needs of others become as important to us as our own.
This is when we will know that the body is working properly and growing together in love.