I have puzzled over conflict in the Body of Christ since I was in high school. Love is supposed to guide and rule us, yet when I encounter hostile rhetoric I am sometimes tempted to jump in and “do battle.” For the last several years I have looked to Paul’s Body metaphor in I Corinthians 12.
Diversity in the Body
Keeping it simple, Paul limits his discussion to 5 body parts: foot, hand, ear, eye and nose. Each part has a different role. In his discussion, he personifies each part and its function. The various parts feel inferior or superior to one another. The differing parts have vital functions for the whole community of body parts. If uniformity ruled the body and every part were identical, there would be no body as we know it.
Expanding the Body metaphor, I’ve thought about two other body parts: Stomach and Bone. Stomach and Bone look at one another with total incomprehension.
The Bewilderment of Diversity
Stomach says, “Look at Bone! He’s so rigid! How can he be that way? Never
changes, never grows. Why, if I were that rigid and unchanging, Body would die!
How can Bone be that way?!”
Bone says, “Look at Stomach! How can she be that way? Always moving and changing size and taking in all that bad stuff from the outside. Why, if I was always changing and shifting and ingesting the garbage Stomach does, Body would die! How can she be that way?! “
And they are both correct. If Stomach was like Bone, never letting anything get to it, Body would die. If Bone was like Stomach, without its rigid strength, Body would collapse in a formless heap and die. Stomach is right to ingest what others see as garbage, and Bone is right to be firm and unbending. They’re uniquely designed for their tasks. It’s who they are. It’s how they function in Body.
Accepting What We Cannot Understand
I think I’m like a stomach, ingesting all kinds of stuff that would be deadly for Blood or Bone. And I confess I find it hard to deeply appreciate the bones around me. But those seemingly rigid, unchanging, and predictable bones give the Body I serve the shape it has, serving as anchors for Muscle and Tendon which allow Body to move and travel and sit and rest.
I don’t totally understand bones. They’re so different from me. And I suspect they don’t understand me or my function either. But intellectually I understand how they are necessary. Paul said, “Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are necessary,” so I’m sort of obligated to assume it’s true and puzzle it out from there. Theoretically I appreciate their role. I am called to love and respect them. Whether they love and respect me is between them and God.
And sometimes, if I can’t muster love and respect, toleration will have to do. And that’s okay.
Humility vs. Presumption
Different members of the Body may never fully understand or even appreciate why other organs are the way they are or how they do what they do. Because this lack of empathy can
exist between different parts of the Body, the organs should generally refrain from telling other organs how they should function, unless they are damaging the community of body parts.
For example, it would be silly for Eye to tell Foot how to walk. Eye may suggest to
Foot where to walk or where not to walk, but not how to walk.
The Gift of Mercy
For Christians who believe that homosexuality is a sin (which I do not), there is a less metaphorical difference that sheds light on why the diversity of gifts and ministries cause Christians to view gays and lesbians differently. The gift of mercy makes such a difference.
Paul names mercy as a gift in Romans 12. I know I have tended to think that gifts like prophecy, service, teaching, encouraging, giving, and leading are more important, and have never considered mercy very important. I’m beginning to see mercy it fits in.
A person with the gift of mercy is able to show mercy when other people would find it especially difficult to be merciful. When other Christians would feel inclined to be be unmerciful, the person gifted with mercy is generally inclined to show mercy, to not give people “what the deserve,” to not desire retribution, justice, or judgment.
It is not unusual for a generally commendable quality to be distilled into a gift. Faith, for example, is more or less present in all Christians, but is listed as a gift in I Corinthians 10. Obviously some people have such a superabundance of faith that it somehow exceeds the ordinary measure of faith. Everyone is encouraged to serve one another, but some people have the inclination or ability to serve to a much greater degree than usual; they are gifted to serve. Likewise, wisdom is a general virtue we are all encouraged to exercise, yet wisdom as well is present in some people to the level of giftedness.
So it is with the gift of mercy. While we are universally encouraged to be merciful, some people are imbued with mercy to a higher degree. They rarely, if ever, are concerned with justice or judgment. When it comes to people whom others consider blameworthy, they spontaneously withhold judgment to an extraordinary degree. They forgive all wrongs easily, probably never even taking wrongs into account. An individual’s culpability doesn’t even occur to the person with the gift of mercy. There is no wrong to forgive in their eyes, nothing in their spiritual exercose of the gift of mercy that requires repentance. Jesus’ words on the cross, “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing,” resonate clearly.
Inadequate Teaching on the Gift of Mercy
For people without the gift of mercy, this is unimaginable, even sinful and unscriptural, possibly un-Christian. But so it goes with people with spiritual gifts. People with the gifts of celibacy or martyrdom are called extreme. “It’s one thing to be committed, but there is such a thing as taking things too far,” people say.
I have considered what it would take for God to give me gifts of healings or miracles. I would have to be such a different person to perform miracles or heal the sick that I can’t imagine God gifting me in those ways. Yet I can hardly deny that a sovereign God can gift people in healing and miracles, in spite of my inability to understand those gifts.
So it is with the gift of mercy. There are people whom God has gifted to forgive, for whom reconciliation and forgiveness come with no strings attached, no act of contrition required, no expressions of guilt or remorse necessary. They show mercy automatically, they feel merciful as a matter of course. The way people with the gift of evantelism can witness to anyone they meet, there are those who spare people any sense of guilt or condemnation in their interactions with them.
Condemning Another’s Giftedness
There are Christians who have no inclination toward what some might call “unconditional love.” For them, ministry is very much a matter of upholding Christian standards. For them, a Christian who does not emphasize accountability and repentance in their ministry could not possibly have a ministry approved by God. For these standard bearers of the Christianity, any ministry that does not emphasize repentance is a deceit and a fraud. It leaves unrepentant sinners in their sin, does not hold out any hope of deliverance from sin, and is not only unloving, but is ultimately hateful since it dooms people to hell.
Fortunately, we don’t all have the same ministry. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.”