One of my favorite passages of scripture is 1 Corinthians 12, the familiar text in which Paul tells the Corinthian church that they function like a human body. The Corinthians found themselves in conflict because some people’s gifts were valued more than others’ within the church.
Paul told them, “Now there are varieties of gifts ... but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. ... Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would 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. ... If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?”
It’s kind of funny, when you think about it, picturing ourselves as a part of the body. Whenever I teach this scripture to children, they delight in imagining which part of the body they are — the active, busy ones want to be the feet; the helpers know they are the hands. One child who loves to sing claimed that she was the vocal cords, and one with a quick wit declared that he was the funny bone.
Many of us may have ideas about what part of the body we may be by what unique gifts we have to offer to our community of faith.
I never took an anatomy and physiology course, but I know enough about the human body to know that there are so many parts of the body that are unseen, working inside of us to make things happen. The human body has 206 bones, 639 muscles and about 6 pounds of skin, along with ligaments, cartilage, arteries, veins, blood, fat and more.
Every time we hear a sound or take a step, hundreds of different parts cooperate so that what we experience is a single movement. The human body is an amazing work of science and art.
When Paul wrote his first letter to the church at Corinth, I’ll bet that he had never had an anatomy class either. But he knew enough to know that the way God designed the human body is a powerful model for understanding our lives together as a community. Many different members, specializing in various tasks, working together for the good of the whole.
Any of us who have been part of a diverse group of people know that this can be both a blessing and a challenge. Our differences can be really beautiful when we complement and learn from each other, but sometimes these same dissimilarities cause tension when we don’t understand each other or value the same things.
Yet our diversity of gifts was no accident. All kinds of things were handed out by the Spirit to all kinds of people. Every single person has been given something to do that shows who God is. Every gift is from God, and every gift matters.
Some of us struggle to affirm the gifts of others, particularly when those gifts differ from ours or from what we value. Others of us fail to recognize the God-given gifts within ourselves. We fear that we aren’t good enough. We don’t have enough time, don’t know enough, don’t have the experience needed, or think that someone else would do it better.
But Paul’s words to the Corinthians still speak to us, too: Every gift is from God, and every gift matters.
Think hard about the particular gift, ability or interest that God has activated in you. Find a way to use that gift to serve, to make the world a better place. Trust that God will take that gift and use it in ways that you may never imagine possible. Every gift is from God, and every gift matters. Thanks be to God.
The Rev. Julie Long is associate pastor and minister of children and families at First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon.