A few years ago, I attended a church with a young man named Michael. Michael’s body was (and is) wracked by cerebral palsy, an infirmity that binds him to a wheelchair and requires a caretaker to help him with his daily tasks. It might seem that Michael would be able to contribute little to the ministry of the church. That was my first impression, anyway. How wrong I was!
Michael actually had two ministries in the church. First, he inspired love in other people. Often, we shrink away from people with physical disabilities, especially those with severe disabilities like Michael’s. Their handicap makes us uncomfortable. Not so Michael! People always went up to him to say hello and give him a hug. He brought out the best in them. Second, and more importantly, Michael prayed for the church. He could not walk, he could not completely control the movements of his hands, and his speech was very difficult to understand, but his mind ran free. And as it ran, he prayed. Michael may have been physically disabled, but he was one of the more spiritually able people I know.
When I reflect on Michael’s spiritual abilities, I think I understand Paul’s message in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 a little better. Verses 12-13 provide an excellent summary: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” In other words: Because all Christians share a common faith in Christ, they share a common experience of the Holy Spirit. Because of the Holy Spirit, they are brought together into a community that is characterized by unity of end and diversity of means. The unified end is love; the diversified means are the various spiritual gifts God gives the church.
In the Christian community, no spiritually gifted person is inferior to any other spiritually gifted person. No one should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” or, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body.” A body needs its hands and eyes, but it also needs it ears, nose, feet, spleen, liver, and lungs. At Corinth, spiritually immature people vaunted their spiritual superiority by a promiscuous display of the gift of speaking in tongues. Those who didn’t have this gift were made to feel inferior. But a body isn’t a body if it’s all tongue! If a church is to make any progress in the world, it needs to have all its body parts intact and functioning properly. It needs to exercise the full panoply of ministries God has given the church, from the preacher in the pulpit to Michael praying in his wheelchair. In Christ, no one is inferior.
By the same token, of course, no one is superior. No one can say: “I don’t need you!” The world would be a truly lonely place if we didn’t need each other. It would be full of singers without hearers, preachers without congregations, artists without patrons, cooks without eager eaters, lovers without beloveds, and rich people without poor people to receive their generosity. It would be a world filled with physically able people who didn’t have a spiritually able Michael to pray for them. If you knew Michael, you would know how much you need his prayers. In the church, no one is without need. And in the church, no one is without a gift to meet that need.
In the synergy of the body of Christ, the needy are brought together the need-meeters so that grace may flow more abundantly. For as Paul writes, “God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.”
What need do you have? What gift do you have? Bring them both to church!