The Power of We: One Body, Many Parts (1 Corinthians 12:12-31)

Today is Blog Action Day, the theme of which is ‘The Power of We’. Which, of course, got me thinking about community and how this relates to the Bible.

St. Paul hit upon a great metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12 – a community, and here he’s talking about the church community, is a body:

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptised byone Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.And so the body is not made up of one part but of many.”

Communities aren’t homogenous, even if they might look it at first glance – they’re a mixed-up, messed-up interaction of personalities and perspectives. It works, even if sometimes everything seems on the brink of flying apart.

That was the early church. The huge theological debates – how Jewish should Christianity be, should Gentiles be a part of things – were flash points enough, but look at the demographics – a mixture of classes, ethnicities, genders, lead by former radicals, collaborators and murderers. Somehow this group became a community that faced down emperors and fed the hungry.

There’s a lesson there, about the unity of the Holy Spirit and the importance of the church as the Body of Christ. Those are things that are always worth bearing in mind.

But look at that description of the early church again. Some followers of Jesus were former tax collectors, collaborators and fraudsters. Some were Zealots, terrorists or sympathisers with terrorists, and even if we’re more inclined to think of them as ‘freedom fighters’, that still makes us uncomfortable. And some followers once looked after the coats as early Christians were turned into martyrs. These people, on the margins of polite society due to their actions or their beliefs, became the leaders of the church, integral members of this new community. After all, sometimes community is an act of grace.

As Paul said, each part of the body needs all the others. People need to pray and preach and lead worship, sure, but people also need to clean the toilets and put the bins out. And the ideal of Christian community is that each of these roles is valued and honoured – with the people cleaning the toilets perhaps receiving greater honour from God because of their humility and relative anonymity.

(This sort of stuff also ties in with servant leadership and remembering the Sabbath…)

But here’s the thing. We’re living in a world where some branches of Christianity are based around who’s out rather than who’s in, ostracising based on a legalistic rule book or neighbourhood gossip. And the minute you ostracise someone, push them to the sidelines because their face doesn’t fit, you deal a body blow to the church; the kingdom isn’t allowed to be all that it could be, with all the consequences associated with that.

You want someone out of your fellowship because they don’t meet some arbitrary standard? Well, that’s down to you, but, to extend Paul’s metaphor, you’ll be cutting off your nose to spite your church’s face.

But that’s negative, and as it’s Blog Action Day, let’s celebrate the positive. The church, at its best, is an awesome community, bringing together those who’d normally remain apart and rehabilitating back into community those who are in need of grace. The power of God is seen through the power of we. That’s worth celebrating.

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