Instructions for Church Unity
Diversity is a big word in our culture. Our society usually bases it on ethnicity and superficial differences, promoting broad acceptance and in some cases bestowing greater favor upon those who fit under the category of “diversity.” However, celebrating differences and championing people’s unique design was originally God’s idea. In fact, God intentionally designed His people to be unique and different.
Uniformity was never part of God’s plan. He intended us to all be different and actually created us to be better together because of our differences. Therefore, while we live in a culture seeped in a faulty idea of inclusion and acceptance of diversity based on physical appearance, let’s look at what God has to say about celebrating differences, and let’s understand that God’s definition of diversity is actually vital to a healthy and vibrant church.
The church at Corinth struggled with unity. We’ve seen it throughout the book of 1 Corinthians. One thing that fed disunity among them was comparison, which is always a dangerous trap that entangles people in a nasty web of discontentment and jealousy. As with any group of believers, the Corinthian church comprised of people with a wide variety of God-given gifts and abilities. However, within the Corinthian church, these differences were creating issues. For this reason, Paul gave them a beautiful teaching on the vital importance of God’s design of diversity within the Body of Christ and how we ought to celebrate and encourage each other in our differences rather than allow them to divide us.
“But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
~1 Corinthians 12:18-27
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about spiritual gifts and the fact that God has given them to all believers. But these gifts are all different and come in different shapes and sizes. We do not get to determine what or how much we receive of any particular gift. God apportions to each one as He chooses. Therefore, our gift sets will all look very different, and it is this diversity that gives the Church its greatest strength.
Paul uses the image of the body to highlight the importance of diversity and to remind the Corinthians to celebrate each other and their unique gifts rather than get trapped in comparison. The human body has certain parts that get most of the attention and applause (e.g. hands, eyes, feet, brain), but there are plenty of unseen and never acknowledged parts that are vital to keep the body alive and functioning (e.g. pacemaker, kidneys). Likewise, the Body of Christ has members who have been given “showier” or more public gifts that receive more attention and appreciation, while there are other members vital to the health and wellbeing of the church that serve unseen in the background and use their important gifts without fanfare or acknowledgement.
Is the one with the more public gift of greater value to the Body? According to Paul, the opposite is true. God sees what is done in secret and places greater honor upon those deeds done for Him and not the applause of man. Therefore, no matter the gift—public or private—we must equally honor, respect, and value one another because every gift and every member of Christ’s church is important. No one gift is of more importance than another and no one person is of greater value. Rather, everyone is needed and necessary for a healthy, growing, and thriving church.
For this reason, let us celebrate our differences and embrace the diversity God assigned to our local church body. Let us avoid the trap of comparison that leads to discontent, envy, and ultimately division. Instead, may we honor and champion each other in our diverse array of gifts and allow God to use our differences to bring greater unity and vitality to His church. We are all one body, but individual members. Therefore, let us act like a unified, fully functioning and thriving body.