Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Tourist or Team Player?

How are we to view all that Paul has been saying in 1 Cor 12?

The church is not a tour bus, with one driver plus a tour guide, who comments on the scenery and the sights as the tour members travel along.

Rather, the church is a symphony orchestra, with a conductor and a manager and possibly a soloist singer or performer - but every member has an instrument to play and a job to do. You don’t have members of the orchestra who sit and do nothing, and just watch and listen while the others play their instruments. Some instruments in an orchestra are numerous, with many players - like the wind section and the strings; for others there are only one or two - like the percussion or the harp. Some instruments are playing continuously or almost all the time; while other instruments are only involved occasionally in playing. But every orchestra member has a task - there is some skill or another which they have - and when the music requires it, they are there to ­perform.

That’s the analogy that appeals to me. But those of you who are into football might relate more to the picture of a team of football players in a match, where every player on the field is there because he has a role to fulfill and a skill to use.

Certainly we can all relate to Paul’s picture of the members of the church, the body of Christ, being like parts of the human body: each part has an indispensable role to play in the optimum functioning of the entire body. And not only an indispensable role but a unique role - one part does not attempt to take over the proper role of another part. And all the parts are needed.

In some areas of the church today we have certainly got this mixed up. In numerous places some “parts of the body” - with certain God-given endowments, functions, and roles - are seeking to (or at least wanting to) take over other roles, which need different skills and gifts.

Or, alternatively, like tourists on the tour bus, they are ­content to be just going along for the ride, enjoying the sights.

Johnson 220, comparing the pattern of the involvement of all Christians in the life and worship of the church as Paul sets it out here with what is often found today, says, "greater emphasis on the multiplicity and diversity of the Spirit’s ministry is needed in many churches, where the congregation’s role has been severely reduced to being spectators to the 'dance of the clergy'."
What are to be our responses to all these truths? We are to have a threefold response:

Firstly, we need to identify, and train and develop, and use, our own gifts for the benefit of all, as God intended.

Secondly, we have a responsibility, as a church, to help others do the same. So we need to mentor people to find their gifts, and then ensure that, as a church, we provide them with training and practice, and opportunities to use their gifts.

And then, thirdly, we need to recognize the “more excellent way”. The Corinthians were vainly chasing after what they considered to be “higher” or “better” or “greater” gifts. “No,” says Paul. “I will show you something far better and far more important than that!” And he writes for them - and us! - about a way of living, a way of life: chapter 13, “The Way of Love”. It is as if he is saying here, “Pause and ponder: Fruit is more important than gifts - any gift. And fruit is something for all Christians to cultivate.”

Paul now interrupts his discussion of “gifts and the Cor­inthians” to explain the Way of Love. But really it is not an interruption of his theme: it is a clarification of it. For Paul is not disparaging gifts in these chapters - to the contrary, he has been emphasizing how vital, how indispensable they are. And he is not setting up here some kind of conflict between gifts and love and saying, “Choose love.”
He is saying that love is for every Christian to have and show, whereas gifts are each only for particular individuals. But far more than this: he is showing that love is the sphere within which a gift - any gift, every gift - is to be exercised.

Whichever view we adopt concerning 12:31a - whether we accept it as an imperative, “But seek for the greater gifts” or take it as an indicative, “But you are seeking for the greater gifts” - it is concerned with the seeking of gifts. And so Paul’s response now to this situation is, “And I will show you a still better way - a way more surpassing, more outstanding, more superior than any gift in itself can ever be, a way which far surpasses all others.” He then speaks to them of the way of love, and in the first stanza (13:1-3) of what some have called a poem to love he emphasizes that any gift and every gift without love is pointless and useless and valueless. This is ­followed, in his second stanza (13:4-7), by the setting forth of the intrinsic excellence of love, and then by a final stanza demon­strating the eternal value of love (13:8-13E).

The chapter personifies love, giving it a life and dimension of its own. In fact we can see how what Paul writes is fulfilled in Christ, so that it can be said of him: “Christ is patient and kind; Christ is not jealous or boastful”, and so on throughout. Or perhaps, even better, we can see how it is really Christ’s love which fulfils all that Paul says here.

But more than this: chapter 13 is an unconscious self-portrait. When in his introduction in 12:31 Paul says that he is going to show the Corinthians the most excellent way, his choice of verb is interesting. Significant. He uses δεικνυμι (deiknumi). Present tense, “I show”; or alternatively, “I exhibit or demonstrate”. This is usually taken to mean that he “will tell” them of the “more excellent way”, and then he does so in the chapter which now follows.

And I do not doubt that this is so. But he does not use here the future “will tell” - he uses δεικνυμι (deiknumi). He is saying, “I am showing you the way.” And I would say that whether he had this point ­consciously in mind or not, he did indeed show them, and present to them, and exhibit, this love in his own life and dealings with the Corinthians: for he exemplified this love.

That is, I take it that in describing how love behaves he is speaking out of his own understanding and experience. Because in this, as he says in 11:1, “I follow Christ.”

So that when we are (as Paul says in 14:1 that we are) to pursue after love, it is to love like Christ himself that we are to seek. This love, God’s own love, is poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit whom he has given to us (Romans 5:5).

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from


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