For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free- and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
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.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (ESV)
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Learning the Generosity of God
Tuesday of Pentecost 6
7 July 2015
Pastors are often put to shame by the piety of the members of their congregations. I know I have been. All too easily, pastors think they have a lock on piety, because they are theologically-trained and know the Bible better than just about every parishioner. Then God shows us differently by putting us at the bedside of the faithful parishioner as he dies with the word of God upon parched lips singing Te Deums. God mocks our pride as we see the exceptional offerings of time, talent, and treasure from people of little means. He knocks us down a peg or two, when we are schooled in patience by a long-suffering target of abuse or ridicule for Christ's sake. God is constantly proving how multi-formed His grace is among us. No one can corner the market on divine gifts. God gives different gifts to the different members of Christ's body.
Many times we pastors have to learn how to set free all of these gifts in the communities in which God has called us to serve. Trying to control God's grace is nothing short of futile. Controlled grace is no longer grace, but law. It quenches the Spirit and disables the gospel. Our heavenly Father has called us pastors to prophesy, that is to preach the gospel and to proclaim the riches of God's grace to God's people. He has given us a specific office, one that demands that we do our jobs according to the divine command and do them well. But our office does not mean that we are superior to the people in our churches, or that we have gifts that are superior to theirs. No, the gifts of grace bestowed upon us pastors are different, not better or worse, greater or lesser. Just different. The people of our congregations have their offices; as parents, employers, employees, and in the church; prayers and listeners, supporters and doers.
All of this is a matter of grace and giftedness (What? Again!). The various gifts of God, as His gifts, always come to those who are unworthy; pastors and laypeople alike. We altogether share those various gifts because we are one body and have one Head, who is Christ. Therefore, it is impossible to envy the gifts of the other members. You cannot envy what is yours; and they are yours because it belongs to the whole church. "All things are yours" (1Co 3:21). And all things are yours, because you belong to Christ (1Co 3:23). The grace-given gifts of every brother or sister in Christ is your possession by reason of that same grace. But God counts it as yours through your connection to the Head of the church. The grace given to others is no diminishment of yours. Grace is not a zero-sum game. The generosity of God in giving knows absolutely no boundaries. What limits could we place on the graciousness of God? As a preacher, I am still learning this generosity of God every day.
"'Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith' (Rm 12:4-6). Paul uses the same example as he did for the Corinthians (1Co 12), and to resolve the same problem. Paul knows the power of the medicine, and the force of this illustration for the correcting of this disease of pride. He is saying, 'Why do you think highly of yourself? Or why would another utterly despise himself? Are we not all one body, both great and small? When we are in the total number of Christians but one member, and also members of one another, why do you by thy pride separate yourself? Why do you put your brother to shame? For just as he is a member of you, so you are also of him. For this reason your claims to honor are equal.'
"Paul has stated two things that might take down their prideful spirit. First, that we are members one of another, not the small of the great only, but also the great of the small. Second, that we are all one body. Or rather there are three points, since he shows that the gift is by grace. 'Therefore do not be proud.' For it was given you by God. You did not take it, nor even find it. Also, when he touches upon the gifts, he does not say that one received more, and another less. But what? They are different (Rm 12:6). For his words are, "having gifts," not less and greater, but different. What if you are not appointed to the same office? The body is still the same.
"Beginning with gifts, he ends with good deeds; and so after mentioning prophecy, and ministry, and the like, he concludes with mercy, diligence, and comfort (Rm 12:9-21). Since it was likely that some would be virtuous, yet not have the gift of prophecy, he shows how that this too is a gift, and a much greater one than the other, and so much the greater, that one has a reward, the other is devoid of recompense. For the whole is matter of gift and grace."
John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 21
Lord Jesus, you have richly blessed Your church with every gift of grace. Help us to recognize the gifts that you have granted to our fellow members, rejoice in them, and give thanks to You for them. Keep us from envy and pride. Strengthen our pastors that they might proclaim to us Your manifold grace. Amen.
For Marty Thomas, that the Lord Jesus would be with her as she undergoes surgery on her broken ankle and that He would grant to her a full recovery
For all those who are suffering persecution for the holy faith, that they would be rescued according to the good pleasure of the suffering Servant, Jesus
For Mark Miller, who was reelected as the President of the Central Illinois District by acclamation, that the Lord Jesus would grant him strength and fidelity in his labors
Art: Dürer, Albrecht The Adoration of the Trinity (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015