Wanted: Weak Christians (1 of 5)

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.

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8 thoughts on “Wanted: Weak Christians (1 of 5)”

  1. Yes! Good post. I have seen the so called ‘calling out of the gifts’ to do great damage in a small congregation I was a part of.

    “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.)

    We can tend to think that, because God has appointed these, then apparently everyone fits one or the other of these categories, right? But the text doesn’t actually say this and by implying thus we can not only put unnecessary stress on people to ‘man-up’ we can also end up with unqualified people in positions of authority because no one is comfortable admitting that he’s not gifted as a leader, pastor, teacher, etc.

    Now, I’ll be the first to say that I believe there are many under utilized gifts in the body of Christ as we have not done a very good job of realizing the gifts that are there or in creating space for those gifts to be exercised. I believe that we need to somehow create a place where people are free to walk in what God has called them to whether that is a place of leadership or a place of followership. Of course, this warrants a whole ‘nother section on ‘what is leadership & what is followership’ but I hope you understand what I’m trying to convey. It’ll be interesting to see what else you have on this subject.

    God bless you!

  2. Hmm! you’re making a good point, Dwight, and I am eager to read more. I have benefited from identifying spiritual gifts, but the focus has been on using my strengths, not recognizing the gifts of “the weak.” I believe “we who are strong” need to learn to recognize, appreciate, and affirm those “who are weak”. I had not thought of the eye and head (who speak to the hand and the foot) as the leaders, visionaries, etc., but the imagery is clear and applies to both family and church relationships. What can we do in the church to better affirm and utilize the gifts of the “weak and unpresentable”?

  3. Yes, Brother Dwight, this does resonate with me. Having at various times and seasons in my life been one of those “weak and almost unpresentable members,” and having witnessed firsthand the grace that has come not only to me but to others around me through these times, you don’t need to persuade me that Paul is onto something big here. Eager to see what else you have coming . . .

  4. Could you clarify what you mean by weak?? In the New Testament, Paul refers to the brother with a more restrictive mindset as weak. Is this the same wavelength? How can that make the church stronger?

    And yes, my comment has a backstory. I live in an area where you could never be conservative enough. To what lengths do I go to keep ppl happy?? To what lengths do I go to keep peace?? When do I say this is ridiculous and stop?? And these are very small details: seams, musical instruments, etc. and I will clarify these are not ppl in my church yet my life is close enough that it is a very real thing.

  5. Great article! I am particularly interested in this topic because it seems to me that in the plain community certain gifts seem to be emphasized at the expense of others. I am really looking forward to seeing what you have to say on this topic!

  6. Thank you. I have just come through a time of weakness. I found it surprisingly difficult to ask for prayer for myself six Sundays in a row. I desperately wanted my church family’s prayers but it was hard being needy when it seemed as though no one else was asking for prayer for themselves. I was so grateful when the pastor asked me for a report during prayer time and/or requested on my behalf.
    I feel that this was only a small taste of neediness and could only imagine how much more difficult it would be to suffer with depression for years, lose a child, struggle financially, have a chronic health condition etc.

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