This is part one of a series called “Wanted: Weak Christians.” Here are the other posts:
Wanted: Weak Christians (1 of 5) — Introduction
Wanted: Weak Christians (2 of 5) — Who Are They?
Wanted: Weak Christians (3 of 5) — How Are They Indispensable?
Wanted: Weak Christians (4 of 5) — Advice to the Strong
Wanted: Weak Christians (5 of 5) — The Power of the Powerless
“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” 1 Cor. 12:27
When we consider the New Testament teaching about Christians being the body of Christ, we often think of spiritual gifts. This is natural and right, for immediately after the statement above Paul continues with these words: “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues” (1 Cor. 12:28.) Spiritual gifts are the “problem topic” that Paul is addressing in all of 1 Corinthians 12-14. The reason he introduces the body imagery is to guide his readers in the use of these gifts. Other key passages that speak of the church as Christ’s body likewise mention the gifts that the Spirit gives to each body member. (See Romans 12:4-8 and Ephesians 4:11-16.)
So, when we think of Christ’s body, we often think of spiritual gifts. And when we think of spiritual gifts, we usually think in terms of strengths. This, too, is natural and right, for Paul says the gifts are evidence of God’s power at work through us: “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (1 Cor. 12:11).
In sum, discussions about the body of Christ usually conjure images of mutual strength, with each member contributing a unique strength to enhance the whole. Some conclude that the most urgent thing to do is to identify your spiritual gifts, and tests to help us do so have multiplied. We compare ourselves with each other. Then we are encouraged to focus on our strengths and let them guide us into our life purposes.
I want to suggest that this picture, though partly accurate and useful, can quickly become misleading and deadly. It urgently needs to be balanced with another aspect of Paul’s body imagery, an aspect that we rarely consider at length. I intend to encourage such reflection by this four-part blog essay.
What are we missing? When “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose” (1 Cor. 12:18), he didn’t just create an arrangement of things we recognize as strengths. No, when God “composed the body” (1 Cor. 12:24), he also intentionally wove into its fabric members who seem to be weak.
Here is how Paul explains it:
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.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 1 Cor. 12:21-26
The basic idea is simple, but astounding: God intentionally includes within Christ’s church people who “seem to be weaker,” people whom “we think less honorable” or even “unpresentable.”
Not everyone can be a leader—an eye or a head. Not everyone possesses great insight or the ability to exercise authority well. Christ also needs some to be hands and feet. He needs some people who are primarily doers rather than visionaries.
It is a common human desire to be a world-changer, at least in some small world such as our own community, church, or even family. But basic logic reminds basic human nature that for every leader there must be multiple followers. And this is how God wants things to be in Christ’s body. God doesn’t want everyone to be a leader. Even most people whom he appoints as leaders are called to lead only a few people.
But Paul isn’t merely distinguishing between leaders and followers. Rather, he is distinguishing between those who appear strong and those who appear weak and even unpresentable.
How embarrassing! What can weak and unpresentable people offer Christ’s body? Won’t they be a hindrance to ministry, a distraction from Christ’s glory?
Who, then, are the ones who “seem to be weaker” in Christ’s body? That’s the question we’ll consider in the next post.
For now, do these opening thoughts resonate with you? Share your responses in the comments below. Thanks for reading.