St Paul, in his first letter to the church in Corinth, famously used the image of the human body to describe the life of the church, the Body of Christ on earth – the life of the church is at it’s best when it’s full of diverse people using their God-given talents and gifts. Corinth was a bustling port, and the church reflected much of the city’s life in it’s congregation. There were people of differing degrees of wealth, education and social standing. Within the church there would have been many different views on any particular issue.
St Paul writes to the church because of his concerns about an unhealthy and divisive spirit…there were those who thought themselves super-spiritual and so better than others, there were those who were wealthy and didn’t care for those who were poor and who were actually abusing the poor at the Lord’s Table. The Corinthian church celebrated communion by simply sharing an ordinary meal together in honour of Jesus – calling it’s the Lord’s supper. And this very act of fellowship and sharing and unity, done in Christ’s name, was being undermined by those who came with plenty of rich food and ate it before the poorer people had arrived. Such divisions weren’t products of the Holy Spirit but of human sinfulness.
St Paul uses the image of the human body to make his point about diversity within the church and the interdependence of us all on each other. We’re not independent isolated individuals but interdependent parts of Christ’s body. We might aspire and long for our children to become “independent”, but proper maturity comes when we are interdependent, when we know our strengths and weaknesses and know our need of others. In the same way that our bodies are made up of lots of different organs, all of which we need, the church is made up of lots of different people….all of whom she needs.St Paul wrote to the church in Corinth to enable them to heal divisions and grow in grace, but his letter is relevant for all churches….because in all churches there are different people, with different gifts and different ideas and different opinions.
The church is a body of believers and together we make up Christ’s’ body on earth. It’s an image that applies to the local congregation and to the world wide church. Paul writes so that we understand that the differences between us, the shear diversity of gifts, attitudes, backgrounds is healthy – we’d be a poor church if we were all the same – just as we’d be a funny sort of body if we were just eyes. Paul isn’t writing about unity and then diversity, or unity despite diversity, he’s writing about, and celebrating diversity – and then unity.
Our gifts, our diversity and our unity come from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives us our life in God, he is the “life blood”, if you like, of Christ’s body on earth. The Holy Spirit enables our worship, he helps us grow in faith, he gives us different gifts and talents to build up the church and he guides the life of the church. We can do very little without him, but a great deal with him. We, the body of Christ, continue the work of Christ in the power and diversity and unity of the Holy Spirit.