Body Pains: Feelings of Self-Sufficiency
From Gospel Translations
By John Piper
About The Nature of the Church
Part of the series The Church: Living Together When Christ is All in All
1 Corinthians 12:21-27
And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; or again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body, which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our unseemly members come to have more abundant seemliness, whereas our seemly members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it.
One of the evidences that God has a loving Father's heart toward us as a church after the all-church strategy meeting last Wednesday is that he appointed this text for this morning, and he did it last September. He knew the way the discussion would go, and he knew what would be needed. This was not my choice. It was his. And it makes me feel cared for by our Father in heaven. I hope you have the same response.
Do Paul's Words Apply to Last Wednesday Night?
For those of you who weren't here on Wednesday, it was a meeting in which we discussed and voted on buying a pipe organ. Of the 217 people who voted, 71% said yes, 29% said no. For about 50 minutes people on both sides lined up at three microphones and explained why we should or shouldn't get a pipe organ. The discussion was full of strong emotion. And differences ran pretty deep.
One of the questions this raises for us as we come to this text is this: are the differences between organ people and non-organ people in the category of differences that Paul has in mind in this passage? We know he wasn't talking about organs. But he was talking about differences between people.
In verse 21 there are people who are compared to eyes and people who are compared to hands. There are people compared to heads and people compared to feet. In verse 22 there are people who "seem to be weaker." And in verse 23 there are people who have a less honorable appearance, not referring to sinful dishonor, but having less prominence, or distinction, or we might say, being less flashy or outstanding.
So it would seem that the category of differences would embrace non-sinful distinctions that can easily be perceived as weaknesses or strengths, or as somehow more or less fit for public ministry. They might include spiritual gifts that are spectacular or more ordinary. They might include different emphases and different perspectives and different focuses.
The point is not that there is no sin in the attitudes and opinions on both sides. There is sin enough to keep us all in a spirit of penitence before the cross. The point is that the positions on either side of this issue do not, I think, have to involve sin, and to the extent that they don't, the differences are the sort of thing Paul is talking about here.
A Negative Warning and a Positive Command
And so it is tremendously relevant for us to hear Paul admonish us in this text to beware of a temptation coming out of last Wednesday's meeting and to embrace a virtue instead of that temptation. Let me take those one at a time. One is a negative—don't do something, don't give into a very strong temptation coming out of that meeting. The other is a positive, do something. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The Negative Warning: Don't Say, "I Don't Need Them"
First, the warning: don't come away from that meeting saying of the people on the other side, I wish they weren't here and I don't need them. Verse 21: "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you'; or again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.'"
This means that it would be personally, historically, biblically immature for anyone on either side to say, "I don't need that kind of person and I don't need that kind of thinking." That would be a great mistake. It would be the easy road. It would not be the high road.
My guess is that if you took a survey, both sides of this issue would regard the other side as the weak side. That's why they are on the side they're on. For example, the non-organ people might regard the other side as being weak in their grasp of the economic, social, global, urban, mission realities that ought to shape our ministry in the next decades. And the organ people might regard the other side as weak in their grasp of the dynamics of worship and the historic place of the arts in the life of the spirit.
Now Paul says in verse 22, "On the contrary [that is, over against saying, 'I have no need of you'], it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary." That's a careful way of talking. Paul says they "seem" to be weaker. He leaves open whether they are or not. They may not be. But they seem to be to one side or the other. And he says that if they seem to you to be weaker, they are nevertheless, necessary. Not optional but necessary. Not merely helpful, but necessary. Not maybe a needful part of the body, but NECESSARILY a needful part of the body.
That's the warning. Beware of the temptation to feel and think that those kinds of people are not needed here. Now I don't mean, of course, that every word on both sides has to be endorsed. What I mean is that a lot of words on both sides are true and anyone who refuses to listen and take seriously those words will be the truly weaker for it. Therefore I think I can say from verse 22 that it is necessary for this church to hear Joe Lehn and Philemon Yong, Jeff Swanson and Patti Larson, Kurt Swanson and David Laurion, Kevin Mason and John Turner. None of those voices is unnecessary and they do not cancel each other out.
It will be a test of our maturity and our faith to believe that each is necessary, and to act on it.
The Positive Command: "Care for One Another"
And the way to act on it is described in the other point I mentioned above—the positive response to differences. Not just the warning: Don't say, "I have no need of you," but also now the exhortation: "Care for one another." Verses 24b–25, "God has so composed the body [here it is again, just like last week in verse 18, and the week before that in verse 11]—God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another."
Notice in verse 25 what the opposite of division is. He could have said, "That there be no division in the body, but rather unified ideas on things like organs." But he didn't say that. He said, "That there be no division in the body, but [here's the opposite of division] that the members should have the same care for each other."
So the positive command to us from the Lord concerning last Wednesday night is this: whatever your difference from another person on the organ issue, care for that person. Show concern for that person. Love that person.
If we are called to love our enemies outside the church (Matthew 5:43–48) who have a difference from us a thousand times more serious than this one, how much more shall we then love another child of God.
The Bottom Line
Those, then, are God's two words for us this morning. First, let none of us say, I don't need to listen to people on the other side. I don't need to relate to them. Resist that thought. Put it out of your mind. Pray against it. Preach it down.
And second, even if we don't have the same the same heart for an organ, let us have the same heart for each other.
And the bottom line again is this: verse 24—God composed the body. This does not mean that we can't argue and persuade, as though it would offend God. It means that if a person is a Christian and in this body, we will reckon with the stunning truth that God is in that person and he is using them right now just as they are in some imperfect but necessary way for the common good of this church.
Level One and Level Two Convictions
To close I want to put the disagreement over an organ in perspective by telling you the primary level one and level two foundations of worship at Bethlehem. These are things that hold the leadership together and define the future of our corporate experience. By "level one" I mean convictions that are non-negotiables for me, by "level two" I mean convictions more negotiable.
Level One Convictions
- Glad God-centeredness. We put a high priority on the vertical focus of our Sunday morning service. The ultimate aim is to so experience God that he is glorified in our affections. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
- Expecting the powerful presence of God. We do not just direct ourselves toward God. We earnestly seek his drawing near to us according to the promise of James 4:8. We believe that in worship God draws near to us in power, and makes himself known and felt for our good and for the salvation of unbelievers in the midst.
- Bible-based and Bible-saturated. The content of our singing and praying and welcoming and preaching and poetry should always conform to the truth of Scripture. The content of God's Word will be woven through all we do in worship and will be our only infallible authority under God.
- Combining head and heart. Our worship will aim at kindling and carrying deep, strong, real emotions toward God, but not at the expense of manipulating people's emotions by failing to appeal to clear thinking about spiritual things based on shareable evidences outside ourselves.
- Earnestness and intensity. We will seek to avoid a trite, flippant, superficial, frivolous atmosphere, but instead set an example of reverence and passion and wonder. Authentic communication. We utterly renounce all sham and deceit and hypocrisy and pretense and affectation and posturing. We will strive against the atmosphere of oratorical performance or mere artistic demonstration, and instead pursue the atmosphere of a radically personal encounter with God and truth.
- The manifestation of the Spirit and the common good. We expect and hope and pray (according to 1 Corinthians 12:7) that our focus on the manifesting of God is good for people, and that therefore a spirit of love for each other is not incompatible with, but necessary to authentic worship.
Level Two Convictions
- Undistracting excellence. We will try to sing and play and pray and preach in such a way that people's attention will not be diverted from the substance by shoddy ministry nor by excessive finesse. Natural, undistracting excellence will let the truth and beauty of God shine through.
- The mingling of historic and contemporary music. Jesus said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old" (Matthew 13:52).
- Let us not say, "I have no need of you."
- Let us have the same care for one another.
- Let us seek our worship unity around these primary truths.
- And let us put our trust in God who composes the body as he wills.