This week's Bible Study - January 10, 2016
Used in God's Service
1 Corinthians 12:12-22
Quotes of the Week:
"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."
As I've mentioned before (on multiple occasions), I am not a Do it Yourself kind of person. Berkley and I have very many tools in our garage. Outside of the 'normal' ones (hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, etc), there are many others that I could never tell you what they are to be used for. I feel sure that I have had problems at one point or another where one of those 'unnamed' tools may have been useful, but I had no clue. In fact, I have likely tried to do some task for which one of those tools was made, but I didn't know I had the tool. I would go back to the same basic tools and try to make them work, while other tools would sit in the same spot in the garage where they have always been. It brings to mind the Island of Misfit Toys in Rudolph, but it would more likely be the Shelves of Forgotten Tools that belonged to the toy making elves!
When I was a kid, I liked to play sports. Growing up in our neighborhood, we played a lot of the sports. The one that I loved the most was basketball. I always thought I'd be in the NBA, but obviously that never transpired, and if you've seen me play, it's probably evident why that never happened. I remember being on basketball teams in junior high school, knowing that I was as good as some of the others, but for some inexplicable reason, I found myself getting splinters on the bench. I remember what it was like to be part of a team, but not being able to be utilized. I felt something like one of those tools in my garage that was not used, even though the tool was made for the task! It was a crummy feeling, and after doing that for a while, I decided to quit playing basketball and took up tennis. I enjoyed tennis and did pretty well with that, but my favorite sport to play had always been basketball.
In any organization, it is best if you can match the tasks with the people that are most skilled in that area. There always seems to be an issue with mapping people to tasks, whether it is in a work environment or within any other volunteer organization. There are the things that people want to do and the skills that they possess. Then there are the tasks that need to be completed, along with the skill sets that are required. In a work environment, where people are getting paid, there are ways to help accomplish this so that all tasks are accounted for, and all people are utilized (even if it isn't the optimal person for each task).
In a church environment, the majority of the people work on a volunteer basis. There are some people that are there every time the church doors are open and there are others that are only there when the parking lots overflow (Christmas and Easter). There are many people who fall somewhere in between, being at church most of the time to seldom making an appearance. There are tasks that need to be accomplished to support the different ministries within a church, and it can be a daunting task just to ensure that 'somebody' is responsible for each task. At times, the right person is selected to teach a class or to lead kid's music or to work with the youth or the senior citizens and so forth. But, there are times when somebody is recruited to do something that they are not gifted for, nor do they have any desire to do.
As I think about the church situation, it is much more akin to the tools in my garage. There are the tools that are clearly identifiable, and it can be easy to understand the type of task where they would be useful. There are other tools that are seldom used, but you can figure out where they might be useful. There are the other tools that haven't been used and will likely not be used in my lifetime. Although the tools are not 'self aware' and they cannot talk, if they could, they might state their intended purpose. In the church situation, when people don't know their spiritual gifts, they are somewhat like a tool that has no purpose. Other tools seem to prefer to stay hidden, in the drawer with the screwdrivers or hammers, so they are not used. Similarly, some people in the church know their gift, but are content to stay hidden, hoping that they would never be called upon.
The church is analogous to a body, and is described as such in a few of Paul's letters. This is an analogy that makes sense to us, because we realize that our bodies have many parts that work in concert with one another. When we are babies and learning to walk and to talk, we learn things that become part of who we are and after we have learned them, we often take them for granted. It isn't until we have issues that we realize how remarkable our bodies are. In the past, when I would sprain an ankle playing basketball, it would quickly become apparent how much of an impact that had on the rest of my body. When I walked, I had to limp and compensate with other muscles. As the injury healed, I would get back to normal and take it for granted again. We learn to talk, and our lips and tongue twist and our mouth contorts to make specific sounds, which become second nature. Once you learn to do these things, you don't even have to think about it anymore.
However, when you have a progressive debilitating disease, you begin to see just how astounding the body is. As I wrestle with ALS, my speech has been impacted, so that I can no longer say what I want to say in a manner that I had for so much of life. My tongue and other muscles do not respond as they had for so many years. Even though I know what I want to say, I sometimes have to will my muscles to move. Similarly, I am having neurological issues with my right leg and foot. Even walking requires me to compensate for my foot not stepping naturally like it did before. I find myself watching others walk and trying to make my foot do what theirs is doing. When we realize how intricate our bodies are, beyond just the pieces (our hands and feet), it is amazing that we can function at all. All of these parts that are so different from one another, yet they have a common thread that runs through them, allowing them to work together in concert.
So, when Paul writes that the body, though one, had many parts, I think of so many more parts than are written in these passages. All of the parts form one body. We all are parts of the body of Christ. There are different denominations and non-denominations and so many different groups of people that seek to serve Christ. Many of us come from different backgrounds, and though we may have different views on this or that thing, those of us that put our reliance upon Christ and His redeeming work are part of the same body. The body of Christ is not in a church building. The body of Christ is not in a denomination. The body of Christ is not about race, culture or economic standing. Wherever you go, you can find other believers. While it is true that most people choose to worship together with others who are like them, as that can provide some commonality and comfort, we have brothers and sisters all over the world.
In this next passage, Paul writes that each part needs to be its own part. It is obvious that your foot cannot be your hand. Of course, you have probably seen some people on TV or the internet that have no arms and have adapted such that they can do things with their feet that most people can't (or wouldn't even try). However, even then, the foot cannot replace everything a hand can do. Similarly, the ear and the eye are not interchangeable. It is quite humorous to think of the different parts of the body wanting to be other parts. However, when we think of a church and people that are parts of the body of Christ, we often see people that want to do what somebody else does. Sometimes, it rises from jealousy and at other times it might be because we believe we (or someone else) are more suited to do a specific task.
It would be nice if everyone that desired to serve could serve in the way that they want to serve. However, that isn't going to be the situation in all cases. When we take a stand saying that if I can't do my thing, then I will effectively take my ball and go home, we've missed the point. As we think back to the body analogy, we know how important all of the parts are. If we were only an eye, how would we hear? If we were only an ear, how would we see? If we were only a hand, how would we play soccer? The knee and the elbow don't get a lot of press until something is wrong and at that point, we realize that they are invaluable. Just as the different parts of the body have different functions (which were planned by God during Creation), the different gifts that we have are used to make the body of Christ work together.
There is the aspect of one person wanting to do what another person does, but there is also the aspect of one person thinking that what another person does is of no value. As Paul states, the eye can't say that it doesn't need the hand, and the head can't say to the feet that they aren't needed either. Each has their own role and both are needed.
In many workplaces, although the company may produce a specific product, there are many different roles of workers that are needed. If you were to work in an office building, what would be the problem if there were no janitorial staff? We use trashcans daily, and have the assumption that they will be emptied at the end of the day (or at least some regular occurrence). What happens if the trashcans aren't emptied for days or weeks? It would certainly impact other work. Some people tend to look down on those who do the 'menial' tasks, but these tasks are crucial for business to be done. We certainly wouldn't say that those who perform these tasks are dispensable, and we need to realize that those who have other gifts that may be seen as weaker are still using their gifts and are worthy of praise.
In other cases, some people minimize the impact of what other people do. Perhaps we don't see the value in someone else's gift, but we need to realize that God can use all of us in many different ways. We should be focused on being used where God has gifted us, as opposed to worrying about what others are doing.
When I taught a larger Bible Study a class at church, we found that it was good to have someone serve as the director, who could kick things off each week. We had a teacher, of course, to teach the lesson. We generally had someone that would take the roll and would be aware when people had missed several weeks in a row. We had someone who would contact people who visited or others who had missed a few weeks in a row. We had people who focused on new people, to make them feel comfortable. We had people that were focused on recording prayer requests and keeping track of past requests. We had someone to schedule activities and to head them up. You can see, even in a class, there are several tasks and it takes several people to run effectively. Of course, there are many classes where the teacher performs all of the roles, or perhaps multiple roles are performed by one person. That can happen, but it can overburden the teacher, and things will get dropped. When people are available and are not given any tasks, they could actually be kept from serving and using their gift. There are similar analogies for just about every ministry.
However, it isn't just about ministry within a church. God has gifted each of us, and we need to be open to where He may be leading. At our church, a man had an idea a few years ago for "Oil Change Day", on which, on a given Saturday, he would use the church parking lot to change people's oil for free. His intent was to provide a service for elderly or those who could not afford to do it on their own. While this may not seem to be a ministry in and of itself, it blossomed into one of the key outreach events for the church. People came and were amazed that this would be offered and while their oil was being changed, they were able to talk to others and get to know more about the church, as well as getting to know some believers. This wasn't started by a minister, but an idea became a huge ministry.
What part of the body are you? If you are the eye, are you seeing? If you are the ear, are you listening? Are you connected with the other parts of the body? We all have been gifted in some way or another. There are many resources to help you determine how best to use your gift, if you would spend the time seeking that out. It isn't enough to find out what gift you have, or even how you would use it. It only provides benefit when you put your gift to use. If you can't find an area of ministry within your church, look around and see if God is leading you to serve Him in any other places. Actually, reaching people outside of the confines of the church is a ministry in itself. Know your gift, and use it!