There Are No Unimportant Parts of the Church

A Varied Menu

Every few months, my church gathers in the fellowship hall for a slightly different purpose: lunch. Each person brings a dish of their choice in addition to contributing items such as drinks or bread from a sign-up list. After morning worship, the pastor gives public thanks for the food, we all file into the hallway, and we wait our turn to fill paper plates at the laden tables. The routine is familiar. The actual menu is unpredictable. Some weeks, it seems like everyone decides to make a pasta-themed dish, and our plates pile with zitis and spaghettis in binary red and white. Other weeks, in an unplanned act of synchronized health-consciousness, the salads take over space typically reserved for desserts. Usually, it’s just the reverse. Only rarely do we manage a perfectly balanced table, with veggies and meats in proportions that would make a nutritionist—or mother— proud. When it comes to fellowship lunch, you never know what you might eat. But you certainly won’t leave hungry.

The membership of the local church can feel a bit like the unpredictable offerings at a fellowship lunch. Our congregation’s gifts don’t always fit into a tidy organizational chart or appear to be evenly distributed. Sometimes the church has dozens of teachers; often it has few. Sometimes it has people who are able to give abundantly; often its members are just scraping by. It may have twenty nursery volunteers to every person who wants to do evangelism or twenty would-be organizers to every one who is willing to make the coffee. Often it seems like a handful of people have all the gifts, and the rest of us barely have any. You never know what you might find on the buffet table of church-member gifts.

Thankfully, the particular composition of the church doesn’t depend on us. Continuing the image of the church as a body, Paul writes, “But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose” (1 Cor. 12:18). The truth of 1 Corinthians 12 is that however it might appear, the people and gifts represented in our local church are exactly the people and gifts we need. A few verses later, Paul flatly dismisses any suggestion that some people or gifts are more necessary for the body’s well-being than others: “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” (1 Cor. 12:21–22). Again he affirms, “God has . . . composed the body” (1 Cor. 12:24). This truth should give you confidence: your particular gifts have a valuable, God-appointed place. It should also humble you: your particular gifts are simply one part of the body, and you desperately need other people with their particular gifts (see Rom. 12:3). Finally, this truth should increase your love for the local church: the gifts in the body are exactly what God knows your congregation needs. Because of God’s sovereign choosing, no part is missing, and every part is valuable.

A Place to Belong

A Place to Belong

Megan Hill

This book helps readers delight in being a part of relationships within the church—no matter how messy and awkward they seem—with rich theology, practical direction, and study questions for group use.

In the New Testament we read five different lists of spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:6–8; 1 Cor. 12:8–10, 28–30; Eph. 4:7–11; 1 Pet. 4:7–11). They name gifts such as faith, healing, prophesy, teaching, service, and mercy, but each list—even each of the two lists in 1 Corinthians 12—is strikingly distinctive. Particular gifts repeat, while others show up on one list and disappear from another. Some of the listed gifts are unique to the apostolic age, and others continue to the present day. We immediately recognize many of the gifts, but we don’t even know how to define a few of them. Ultimately, any attempt to rigidly identify and neatly categorize a precise list of spiritual gifts will end in frustration. This is intentional. Peter and Paul don’t give us a neat graphic or a quick diagnostic survey, because a mechanical approach to spiritual gifts would miss the larger point: the Spirit gives exactly the right gifts in exactly the right measure at exactly the right time to exactly the right people for the well-being of the local church.1 As we look around our church, we can trust that the assembled gifts, whatever they are, are for our good.

The Fullness of Christ

The end of our weekly fellowship time always seems to arrive quickly. As the clock ticks toward ten-thirty and the beginning of worship, someone flashes the lights in the fellowship hall. Called to attention, mothers gather children, devoted coffee drinkers drain their cups, and the teens jostle goodnaturedly on their way to the door. The pastor scribbles one more thought on his sermon notes while a young man silently cleans the inevitable crumbs from tables and chairs. We might not set foot in this room until next Sunday, but we leave committed to using our gifts in the coming days; we’ll meet later in the week to unload boxes at the nursing home or to visit the sick or to pray for particular needs. We walk out the door with a renewed sense of our own God-assigned place and our own God-given duties. But we also leave with something more. As I turn my head to look back over the quickly emptying fellowship hall, I realize that in this simple half-hour gathering, we have enjoyed Christ himself.

We each have some gifts. Christ has all the gifts. We each serve in some ways. Christ serves in every way.

At the very beginning of his discussion of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul clarifies that the ultimate goal of all spiritual gifts is to bring glory to Christ. Paul writes, “No one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3).

Any gifts that God’s people have from the Spirit are given so that Christ will be exalted.2 Like the gifts of the Old Testament Levites, which were each assigned to together facilitate the true worship of God, our gifts—whether mentoring teens or assembling casseroles—coordinate with the gifts of the whole congregation to magnify the name of Christ. When one person prays in his heart for the sermon, a second person encourages children to listen, a third person preaches, and a fourth person collects trash after the service is over, we each contribute to Christ’s exaltation in our midst.

But there’s more. In the first chapter of Ephesians, we read an amazing description of the church: “And [God] put all things under [Christ’s] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22–23). In the church, Paul writes, Christ fills us with his fullness. In the church, then, we see our Savior. God gives each believer the Spirit in some measure (“according to the measure of faith that God has assigned,” Rom. 12:3), but God gave Christ the Spirit “without measure” (John 3:34).3 We each have some gifts. Christ has all the gifts. We each serve in some ways. Christ serves in every way. A few of us have wisdom, a few have gifts of mercy, and a few are able to teach and exhort. Christ has “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3), extends mercy perfectly and effectively, and is the Word made flesh (John 1:14). As Matthew Henry writes, “Jesus Christ filleth all in all; he supplies all defects in all his members, filling them with his Spirit, and even with the fulness [sic] of God.”4 On her own, each believer reflects Christ in a small way, but together as the church, we know the fullness of Christ who fill us.

Astoundingly, there’s even more. Not only does Christ fill the church, but the church is the fullness of Christ.5 Christ cannot be a head without a body; he cannot be a king without a kingdom; he cannot be a mediator without his people; he cannot be a redeemer without his church. The Father validated the work of Christ by raising him from the dead, seating him on the throne, and giving him a body (Eph. 1:20–23). The church is the irrefutable evidence of Christ’s complete and effective atonement for his people. The fact that we use our diverse gifts not for selfish gain but for one another’s good testifies to Christ’s reconciling work. The fact that every part inhabits a particular and valuable place affirms Christ’s rightful identity as our divine head. Throughout the world, and even in the presence of “rulers and authorities in the heavenly places,” the existence of the church boldly proclaims the truth of the gospel (Eph. 3:10). In our unity and our mutual dependence as we worship and work together, we display Christ himself.

Dear Christian, do you want to experience the fullness of Christ? Belong to the church. Use your gifts where he sets you. Exhort. Serve. Give. Show mercy. Work alongside his people for the common good. Then—in the unassuming surroundings of the fellowship hall or the church basement or the aisles between the pews—you will know firsthand the fullness of Christ. In fact, you cannot experience it in any other way. Come, take your place.

Notes:

  1. Roger Ellsworth, Strengthening Christ’s Church: The Message of 1 Corinthians (Durham, UK: Evangelical Press, 1995), 205. See also, Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), 167.
  2. Morris, 1 Corinthians, 163.
  3. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, vol. 6, Acts to Revelation (1710; repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991), 556.
  4. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, vol. 6, Acts to Revelation (1710; repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991), 556.
  5. Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, vol. 6, Acts to Revelation, 556.

This article is adapted from A Place to Belong: Learning to Love the Local Church *by Megan Hill.



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