I’m currently in the final editing stages of my second book – “Meekoethics; What Happens When Life Get’s Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough?” I am hoping to release it sometime in the summer or early fall of 2015. Recently my church started a series on The Body of Christ and I was reminded of my own thinking and writing on the subject. What follows is an excerpt from Chapter Three of Meekoethics, “When God Shows Up (The Community Hermeneutic, Servant Leadership and The Body of Christ)
The Body of Christ
The ethic of service is best worked out within a community of like minded workers, better known in Christian circles as The Body of Christ.
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. [1 Corinthians 12:12-14]
There are fewer things in this world that are sadder to see than a church divided. I personally have been a part of a fractured church three times in my life. Each time there were certain people who would leave the community and never return. Their loss was felt be everyone who remained and the body of Christ was forever wounded by their departure. It was as if we had lost a hand or a foot and could no longer function as we once had.
The body imagery used by Paul is a powerful metaphor. We all know that a human body is made up of many parts that work differently and serve different purposes but they all work together as part of a functioning whole. There are certain parts of the body that remain out of sight and out of mind until they are damaged and require attention.
When I was in my mid twenties I broke a toe. I was wading through shallow water at the edge of a lake and slipped on a slimy wet rock, my toe bent back all the way and I heard a snap! I had to crawl out of the water and I could hardly walk for weeks. Do you know what doctors do for a broken toe? First, they laugh at you then they tape it to the toe next to it so the undamaged toe acts as a splint while the bone fuses itself back together. I see the humor in the situation now but at the time, the pain was very real and the effect it had on my quality of life was significant.
Perhaps a better and less humorous example would be another experience I had just a few years ago. Your kidneys are very small organs, not much bigger than your thumb but have you ever had a kidney stone? I have and believe me, for such a small invader in such a small organ the effect it had on my quality of life for a few days was monumental. When the stone finally passed out of my body I was amazed at how small and seemingly insignificant it was. For all the pain and discomfort it caused this little ball of calcium was no bigger than a grain of sand. I am still amazed by the fact that something so insignificant could bring my life to a complete stop for 3 days.
The point here is that when Paul uses the imagery of a body to describe the church and the ethics of community it’s not hard to see what he means. We are individuals, but we are one. We are independent but we still need each other. And most important of all, we each have different functions, different abilities and different gifts, but we need to recognize and affirm each other’s uniqueness while still figuring out how to work together.
Partnering with people who are gifted differently than you is often times the only way you can take on a large project and make a lasting impact. There are literally millions of examples of partnerships that are made up of people who were so differently gifted that at first glance you would wonder what brought these people together in the first place. One such partnership of opposites is the unlikely paring of Paul and Barnabas.
We all know a lot about Paul he was a Pharisee, a teacher of the law and former persecutor of the church. He was a gifted orator and prolific writer. He preached long sermons and wrote more than half of the New Testament. But by contrast we know very little about one of his ministry partners, Barnabas.
Barnabas first shows up in Acts 4.
Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. [Acts 4:36-37]
First off, Barnabas wasn’t even his real name, it was a nickname given to him by the apostles because he was so kind and gentle to everyone around him. That should tell us just about all we need to know about his character right there. I’ve had a few nicknames in my life, none of them as character affirming as Barnabas.
Barnabas was a Levite. That fact often get’s glossed over when we look at his story but it’s important because it makes him perhaps the only other Christ-follower at the time who could understand where Paul was coming from. Here’s a guy who was trained his entire life to be a servant in the synagogue. Don’t miss this – for Barnabas to become a Christ-Follower was no less radical and life changing than it was for Paul. In order for him to join with the apostles and other Christ-followers in Jerusalem he had to become unemployed. And yet, he then sells all of his worldly possessions, lays the money at the apostles’ feet and earns the nickname, son of encouragement. This guy is, in many ways the very definition of servant leadership.
Later on, after we learn of Paul’s conversion it is Barnabas who brings him to the leaders of the Christian church [Acts 9]. Who better to bring a Pharisee, teacher of the law in to the fold than a Levite? The two understood each other in a way that many of the other early Christ-followers probably could not.
As dramatic as the Paul’s conversion was, there is no way he would have been accepted into the trust and inner circle of the rest of the early church without Barnabas. Finally it was Barnabas who convinced the early church that he and Paul should go out from Antioch and take the good news message of salvation through Jesus to the gentiles. [Acts 11]
Like the prophets of old, Paul preached the gospel message with conviction and convinced a lot of people to join the movement but it was Barnabas who stood back and helped new converts though the life change that results when you turn and follow Jesus. His gentle and encouraging nature in the way he went about this is want earned him his nickname.
Just like every eye needs a nose, every Paul needs a Barnabas (or two). We see this pattern repeated throughout history. In business it’s called the Mr. Outside, Mr. Inside partnership, a strong leader who rallies the tropes and sets the direction partnered with a strong servant who works the hallways and front lines encouraging workers to stay the course and trust the mission.
Bill Gates had Paul Allen, Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak, and Paul Simon had Art Garfunkel. One of my personal favorite song-writing duos of all time Simon & Garfunkel are a great example of what I mean here. The two men who could not be more different in their personalities and the way in which they have lived their lives after their partnership ended. Who made a more indelible mark on pop cultural history in the 1970s than Simon & Garfunkel? Who made a bigger impact on business and information technology than Gates & Allen, or Jobs & Wozniak?
The synergy of a body, almost always leads to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Two plus two, does not always equal four, especially when God shows up.