COLEMAN: Every joint

By Rev. Landon Coleman

Pastor, Immanuel

I think most church-going Christians are familiar with Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. In that chapter, Paul describes the church as the body of Christ. Just like a body has and needs various parts to function rightly, so too does the church have and need various gifts to function as God intends. Several of these gifts are listed in 1 Corinthians 12, and complimentary lists can be found in Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4.

Often, pastors refer to these passages to encourage the people of God to make a positive contribution to the body of Christ. If every Christians has received a gift, and if spiritual gifts are given for the good of the church, then the body of Christ can only function at full capacity when every member is using his or her gift to carry out the mission of the church. That mission, simply put, is bringing glory to the Triune God by making disciples.

In many American churches, Paul’s charge in 1 Corinthians 12 is a needed rebuke to the idea that “membership” in a local church is akin to “membership” at a Country Club or a Sam’s Club. For far too long, Americans have felt entitled to church membership, simply assuming that their membership in a particular local church can be secured by semi-regular appearances and by tossing an occasional $20 in the offering plate.

Pastors are right to challenge these assumptions, and 1 Corinthians 12 is a helpful passage. However, as a pastor, I’m afraid that our use of 1 Corinthians 12 often creates an unnecessary, low-grade guilt among the people of God. I’m afraid that in our zeal to see every part of the body making a contribution to the mission of the church, we unintentionally minimize the importance of people simply showing up to corporate worship.

A helpful corrective can be found at the end of Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts in Ephesians 4. Just like 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4 emphasizes that God gives gifts to his church so that the church may be built up, strong, healthy, and functioning. In order for this to happen, the body must be held together by “every joint” (Ephesians 4:16). Yes we need eyes and ears and hands and feet, but we also need joints and ligaments and tendons.

These connective roles are often played by people who come to church consistently even though they don’t have a title or a specific, assigned job. These are the people who are led in worship and who listen to sermons. These are people who provide financial support to the church. These are people who make church better simply by showing up and being present. Yes, the church needs leaders and gifted people to make positive contributions to the body of Christ. But the church also needs people who will simply show up and help hold things together. A hand, after all, is of little value if it is not connected to a wrist, an elbow, and a shoulder.

May we never underestimate the necessity of using our gifts for the common good, and may we never underestimate the importance of every joint holding the body together.