First Corinthians 12 tells of the unity and the diversity of the body of Christ, and of the need for the harmonious coexistence of the body's members.
Romans 12:3 states the "conditions" for harmonious coexistence in the body. Harmony, Paul says, becomes possible when:
1. Members don't think too highly of themselves, and when
2. Members think according to the measure of faith that God has given them.
You see, it is possible for members to think too highly of themselves ... to have a superiority complex. Conversely, it is possible for members to think too lowly of themselves ... to have an inferiority complex.
Some ten-talent people forget that their talents are given to them by the Lord. They act as though it was through some merit of their own that they are in the limelight. Again, many one-talent people fail to recognize that their one talent is as much a gift of God as is the ten talents given to others. The result is a resentment of their role that causes them to bury the one talent that God has given them.
First Corinthians 12 speaks to both ten-talent people and to one-talent people.
It addresses the one-talent people first... perhaps because there are so many of us in the body. Paul calls the ten-talent people "eyes" and "hands," and the one-talent people "ears" and "feet."
"Ears" and "feet" members often minimize their gift. They say to the eye, "Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body." They become defensive and withdrawn. Some of them even develop a false humility and make a virtue out of saying, "I am nothing. I am a worm ... I am a worm!" Paul is saying to these people, "You don't bring glory to the Head by downplaying and despising your role in the body."
Paul did admit that he was nothing, but he was speaking of himself apart from Christ. As a member of the body, Paul was quite positive. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthened me."
The point is this: It is being a part of the body that gives significance and function to a member. A member apart from the body has nothing to commend it. I know of nothing more grotesque than an eye that has been dismembered. There is no beauty in a hand that has been severed from the body. We turn away from it sick at the stomach. Whether you are an ear or an eye is not important.
What is important is that you function properly in the place that God has put you in the body.
Pity the malcontent ear who never listens and never fulfills God's purpose for it because it is preoccupied with moving around the head in an effort to become an eye! We need achievers who excel in the role to which God has assigned them. If God has asked you to be an ear, you'd look terrible alongside the nose!
When Paul had finished speaking to the one-talent people, he turned his attention to the ten talent ones ... the "eyes" and the "hands" of the body.
The "eye" cannot say to the "hand" ... "I have no need of thee!" It is interesting that, in this analogy, the hand is used as an illustration of both roles. To the eye, the hand is a lesser member. To the foot, it is the more honored member, which indicates that the importance men attach to a role in the body is a product of the carnal mind, and as far as the Lord is concerned, every member is of equal importance. But, because men do make a difference, Paul zeros in on those who classify themselves as "eyes" and who look with patronizing pity on those who are unfortunate enough to be "hands" or "ears."
Actually, it is a great mistake to classify ourselves at all. Yet we do it. We have a hard time looking at things from God's viewpoint. We see a man with a Ph.D. and, mentally, we put him in an "eye" category. He may not have accomplished anything more than to accumulate knowledge, yet it becomes very important to us to put "E.Y.E." after his name!
We do the same with position. I have been "Field Secretary for Africa." I am about to become "Field Director for Africa." That's a real "eye" title! I appreciate the designation, but it would be evil and tragic if I let it make me less considerate of the missionaries who work with me or if I were to think of them as "hands" or "ears." God assigns different roles in the body, but He never says one is more important than the other.
Recently the Agora magazine made its appearance. It is a fine, high class periodical. But I was somewhat put off by one of the "reasons for being" that was given on the cover of the first issue. It proposed to "promote the intellectual tradition." Now I confess this turns me off a bit. Maybe it's because it gives me a feeling that someone is saying to me, "We are 'eyes' and you are only a hand." Mind you, I'm not against eyes. I would be blind indeed if I did not recognize their importance. My objection is this: It is one thing to be an eye, but quite another thing to say, "we, the 'eyes,' propose to promote the 'eye' tradition!"
However, I must guard my own attitude, for it is very possible for me to assume an "eye" stance and relegate the editors to the role of a hand. You see, I am a conservative. I'm part of the establishment. As such, I am sensitive to all non-conformist activities and opinion. So it becomes a temptation for me to say to the non-conformist, "I have no need of you."
Dentists in South Africa are great advocates of tooth-pulling. I've seen people under twenty years of age with a full set of false teeth. I'm glad American dentists try by every means to save teeth. I know it is cheaper and easier to yank them out and to substitute "non-sensitive" material that involves less pain, but personally, I'll take my chances with the real thing even though my molars pain me from time to time and I have to go back to the dentist and have them worked on. I want to hold on to my teeth as long as possible.
The moral of the story is this: We could easily say of a member that brings us pain, "Yank it out... I have no need of it." But amputations and extractions should be reserved for emergencies when gangrene sets in and the life of the body is threatened.
We need both molars and incisors in the body.
As a missionary, I am very conscious of the relationship of the American missionary to the national pastor. In the past, the missionary has always received the attention and honor of an "eye." And, almost unconsciously, we have looked on those of other nations with whom we have worked as "hands" and "feet." We recognize that they are a part of the body, but we almost always assume an "eye" attitude when with them. I praise God that that day is fast passing. We now send missionaries with instructions to accept the fact that many nationals are more capable than we, and that ours is often the role of a hand or a foot.
I made an interesting observation on one of my last trips to Africa. Our missionary had been the principal of the Bible school. As principal, he did a lot of menial tasks without complaint. He drove the Bible school bus. He started the light plant in the evenings. He supervised the grinding of grain for the students' food. It was no problem, for he was principal. He was an "eye."
Then it came time for an African to assume the principalship. He was a gentle and capable man ... well able to do the job. I watched the consternation and struggle the missionary had in making the adjustment. He wanted me to make sure he would not be relegated to the role of a bus driver, engine starter and grain grinder! The thought of doing these things as a number two man under an African principal was intolerable. Interesting, isn't it? As an "eye" he could do all these things cheerfully. As a hand, it was unthinkable!
Romans 12 tells those who are "eyes" not to think of themselves more highly than they ought to think. It tells us all... eyes, hands, and ears ... to think soberly, remembering that whatever gifts we have, they are given to us by God according to the measure of faith.
We are to remember that we cannot and should not force everyone into the same role. It is for us to recognize as brethren all who have been baptized into the body by the Spirit. The strong and the weak are to be received, but not to doubtful disputations.
We must remember that gifts and functions differ.
Some are prophets, some are ministers, some teachers, some exhorters, some givers, some rulers, and some show-ers of mercy. Most important, we must remember that it is God who assigns roles in the body, and our highest calling is to function effectively in the role to which God has assigned us.
I close with a prayer-poem that some of you may know. It is my prayer for 1978, and I hope that it will be yours, too.
Let me be a little kinder ... let me be a little blinder
to the faults of those about me. Let me praise a little more.
Let me be, when I am weary, just a little bit more cheery.
Let me serve a little better, those that I am striving for.
Let me be a little braver when temptation bids me waver
Let me strive a little harder to be all that I should be.
Let me be a little meeker with the brother that is weaker.
Let me think more of my neighbor, and a little less of me!