1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. 
People generally do not like the idea of dependence. We come by that aversion naturally since the moment our first parents, Adam and Eve, chose independence from their Creator. None of us really wants to need anyone else. We don’t like the idea of being defined by others, even when we have the innate desire for horizontal approval. To us humans, dependence indicates weakness. It’s a deficiency. Mostly, we prefer autonomy (self-rule). When we approach a portion of scripture that speaks about mutual dependence in the church, it may initially sound attractive. Ultimately, however, we do not naturally want to live in interdependence at the expense of our independence. We like the idea of community, but only if we can maintain our sovereign autonomy.
The personal struggle between community and autonomy dominates chapters 12 through 14. Paul addresses this issue as part of his ongoing instructions about internal workings of the church community. Paul wants the worship service to reflect the upside-down nature of the gospel they received from him. The problem was that the Corinthians looked very much like they did when they first received the gospel. They imported their surrounding culture into the life of the church. Their congregation was full of social and economic hierarchy, classism, sexual deviance, and self-idolatry. Their congregation was anything but a witness to the life-transforming nature of the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“The main point that Paul is trying to get across is this: God has designed his church to be a community of complementary interdependence.” Paul adopts the common analogy of the human body as his example in order to correct their attitudes. The difficulty with analogies and metaphors is that we can supply our own meanings and stray beyond the author’s intent and particular concerns. Members of the church are to complement one another because each brings something to the table that the others need. Church is also supposed to be the place where each member can be harmoniously dependent upon others for his or her identity. We will consider Paul’s text on mutual diversity in three points: the beauty, lack, and recovery of mutual dependence.
BEAUTY OF MUTUAL DIVERSITY
Paul sums up his analogy in verse 27, “27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” The congregation is not intended to be a collection of separate individuals. The church does not even function like a democracy. There is no 51% to 49% victory in the church. It does not split up along party lines. It is intended to be far more interconnected than that. The church is supposed to function like a human physical body.
Paul invites us to consider our own physical bodies. When we stub our toe, the whole body reacts. Our legs tense. We reach down and grab our injured toe. Our mouths twist and we yell in pain. Our eyes dart about to see what our toe struck. We don’t think about what the body is doing we simply act instantaneously. There are no individual decisions to be made. The whole body reacts as one. It is not as if our fingers decide to jump ship because they might be the next to be injured. Though the whole physical body reacts as one, toes are not exactly like fingers, neither function in the same way as the eyes, the ears, or the nose. Paul asks the Corinthians to see themselves as integrally tied to one another like to various members of the human body.
The beauty of our interdependence is grounded in each member’s indispensability. Paul writes, in verses 21-24a: “21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require.” Paul’s point is that it would be absurd for one body part to decide it didn’t need another. Each part has a necessary function to contribute to the whole. We are living in gospel insanity when we fail to see the indispensability of other congregation members. Even the unseen members of the physical body, like our internal organs (weaker parts), are indispensable to the functioning of the whole.
Many Christians today need to understand this. We are all in terror of being disposable. We fear being used and tossed aside like a wet tissue. We are constantly concerned with whether or not we fit in, measure up, whether we are accepted. All members of a local congregation are indispensable to one another. We are all part of the same body God has formed and into which he has breathed the life of the Holy Spirit for us to apprehend the beauty of the gospel. Each of us is indispensable for the whole body. And all the other members are indispensable parts of our lives. They are part of the body that God has formed to display the beauty of the gospel.
Unity does not mean uniformity. The Corinthians erred by thinking that everyone must agree on what the most important gifts were and who the most important people were. We can think of an orchestra as an analogy for a church congregation. The first violin is different from the third trombone. Both instruments are played differently and sound different. The percussionist assigned to the triangle is no less important than the timpanist pounding on his kettles next to her. If the piccolo player is missing, there is no one to take up his solo, and an integral piece of the composition falls away. It has become less than the composer intended. If the ticket-taker walks away, the orchestra loses money. If the financial director becomes lazy, the musicians cannot make a living at their craft. If the stagehands do not set up properly, the musicians are disorganized and misarranged. If the janitors do not clean the theater, the audience will have a less than ideal experience.
The difference between the orchestra and the congregation is that there is to be much less hierarchy in the congregation. We are completely interdependent upon each other because each member is indispensable, though individually different. If we injure a knee, the other leg has to work harder to compensate for the weaker member. The physical body instinctively reacts and responds. When there is an injury, other parts of the physical body are going to be inconvenienced. But that is the nature and the beauty of interdependence. God composed the human body, and he composes Christ’s body, the church. “24 …But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it….” Mutual dependence is built into the physical body and into the church. The church is to be a picture of restored humanity. It is to reflect God’s intention for humanity: mutual dependence.
Rather than embracing the social hierarchy and celebrity culture of the surrounding world, the church is to be countercultural. The weaker are indispensable. The less honorable and the unpresentable are actually seen as deserving more honor. They are honored by receiving greater care. God has composed the church with members that don’t fit anywhere else in the world. Weak, ugly, unpresentable, wretched, desperate sinners who know they have no place else to go have a primary place in the Body of Christ.
Paul writes in verses 25-26, “…25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” When church members are interdependent upon each other, they experience both the joys and the pains of the body as a whole. If one of our members is injured, our entire body should experience the pain. When the members are functioning normally, the entire body enjoys the benefits. Similarly, when one member refuses to serve the body for his or her own reasons, when a member denies interdependence, the entire body/congregation suffers.
Paul writes in verses 27-28, “27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.” Notice that God is the one who appoints. In the same way that God has composed the body for mutual dependence, he has also appointed grace gifts that are intended to be used for mutual care. And every believer is intended to participate in the gospel culture of mutual care for the body of Christ. This is how the beauty of interdependence it is revealed to a dying culture. However, we rarely see churches functioning this way. If we did, our churches would be overflowing; our gospel communities would be compelling and refreshingly countercultural. We wouldn’t be able to keep people away. Sadly, this is not what we normally see.
LACK OF MUTUAL DEPENDENCE
The Bible shows us the countercultural nature of what the gospel community should look like, why doesn’t the church truly look like that? Why is the church so often a center of hierarchy, celebrity culture, backbiting, grumbling, and resentment that reflects the world, the flesh, and the devil just as much as it does the Lord Jesus? There is a lack of mutual dependence because we view others as dispensable. We greatly fear being thought of as dispensable, disposable, or replaceable. The way we tend to guard against this feeling is to inflate our view of self. We tell ourselves that we are indispensable and then others are dispensable. Again, we seek our identity in the horizontal rather than the vertical. So, we inflate ourselves and deflate others. We apply worldly business and contractual principles in evaluating others rather than applying biblical principles of mutual self-service.
Our natural tendency is to relate to other people as if we are consumers and they are products. We do this to try and insulate ourselves, but we are actually isolating ourselves. We make the culture around us one where other people are usable commodities. Even gospel community itself becomes a commodity to be consumed. We fail to see the need for the diversity of the people and their giftings. “29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” The grammatical structure of the sentence reveals that Paul expects the answer to his questions to be “No.” The Corinthians were not functioning as a gospel community because they were not operating in mutual dependence.
God has given various sets of grace gifts to individuals in the church. Some, such as apostles, profits, teachers, and tongue-speakers, have prophetic gifts. Others have priestly gifts, such as miracles and healings. Others have kingly gifts, such as helping and administrating. Autonomy is incompleteness. If we look at all the gift mixes, the church needs prophetic people, priestly people, and kingly people.
However, because we are all born into the same state of sin, there can be a dark side to our grace gifts. Some who have strong prophetic gifts become used to being respected as up-front people and can easily lose their humility. Others are priestly and pastoral. They shepherd people well, but they can be inefficient in the ways they organize things. Certain members are kingly. They get things done efficiently with the time and resources they have, but they can abandon the people in the process because they just want to get the job done.
Still others in Corinth were gift-grabbing, claiming to have public gifts that they do not have in order to attract more horizontal approval. Likely, the ones doing the gift-grabbing are the wealthier members of the congregation who believed they deserved to be up front doing the speaking. They were offended by the fact that poorer members had prophetic and kingly gifts. They imported social and economic hierarchy into the gospel community, believing themselves too important and the poorer members to be disposable. They missed God’s compositional design for humanity.
When we ignore God’s compositional design, there is nothing left but self-composition. Members of the body were more interested in promoting their own human wisdom than in God’s intentional design of mutual dependence. Rather than understanding that it is God who composes the physical body and the spiritual body of Christ, and that it is God who appoints the gifts, the Corinthians saw themselves as composers and believe that they could obtain what they thought were better gifts through status and hard work. Since they believed that their identities could be built on their own, they needed to protect their identities and keep others at arm’s length by protecting themselves from mutual dependency in the gospel community. The weaker members were viewed as unworthy of honor by those desperately pursuing horizontal approval.
Because the Corinthians, like us, were more interested in self-protection and self-care, they could not fulfill their role promoting mutual care in the gospel community. We are called to suffer when others suffer, to rejoice when others rejoice. But it seems costly to us when we are living in gospel insanity and self-protection. So, we become rebellious body parts. In the process, we lose our identity as body parts. Heads and hands are supposed to function. When they cease to function, the entire body malfunctions. Our grace gifts then become an opportunity for competition and stratification. Someone who is all about self-care rather than mutual care uses grace gifts as a means to advance himself rather than advancing the interest of others.
This is how the church begins to mirror the surrounding culture of the world, the flesh, and the devil. It’s important for us to continue to ask if our local churches reflect the culture in this way. In valuing intellect, has there been an undervaluing of the heart? In valuing excellence, has there been an undervaluing of simplicity? Have the grace gifts of some members been overlooked because we overvalue the grace gift of other members? Have we viewed people in our gospel community as dispensable and disposable? Have we become more interested in self-composition than in God’s composition? Are we more concerned with self-care than mutual care? The answer too many of those questions is likely yes. But there is hope for gospel communities to be transformed and reflect the beautiful interdependence that God intends.
RECOVERY OF MUTUAL DEPENDENCE
Complementary mutual dependence can be recovered. First, because Christ could have viewed sinners as dispensable. But in his grace, he saw us as indispensable. He became dispensable and disposable in our place. The imagery of the congregation as a body is specific. We are the body of Christ, the visible manifestation of his person in work on earth. Our health, wellbeing, and future are in the hands of our head, the Lord Jesus Christ. Individual sinners had been folded into his body by grace. Not one of us has earned our way in. Even if we think that we are dispensable and disposable, Christ has declared that we are not! Our Head was willing to be dishonored so that the least presentable parts (you and I) might receive honor.
The strongest member was made weak and dispensable in order that the weaker members might be considered indispensable. This is the love that transforms our reality. We must come to recognize in gospel sanity that we are utterly dependent upon Christ and the community in which he has placed us. When we come to realize that left in our sin, we are completely dispensable, then we are able to receive the grace that tells us we are actually indispensable.
Mutual dependence can be recovered because Christ saves sinners from the myth of self-composition. We are God’s composition, and he has made us a part of his body. Often, we behave as if we were in the early stages of a dating relationship That creates an exhausting experience of self-promotion and self-marketing. We feel like we always have to be on, to impress continually so that we don’t scare the other person away. We’re never at rest because we’re never quite sure how that person views us. We want to make sure we’re bringing our best to the table. That’s not a covenant relationship, it’s not gospel sanity, and it’s not gospel community. It’s really a marketplace transaction between the consumer and a vendor. We’re involved in consumer relationships, making us always insecure and a little nervous.
Believers have been united to Christ’s body by means of God’s grace, so we are free to abandon all attempts at self-creation and self-composition. We are free from the burden of having to distinguish ourselves or from competing for a higher position. Our position in the body has been secured. We can rest in the fact that our identity is given to us by Christ and is affirmed in the gospel community.
Mutual dependence can be restored because Christ cares for sinners by making them mutually dependent members of his body. We mutually care for one another because we have experienced his care. Christ never exhibited self-protection and self-care. He did that in order to care for us. His perfectly-lived, law-keeping life and sacrificial death makes every believer ultimately concerned about others. Anyone who has experienced the perfect and infinite self-giving love of Christ (the ultimate grace gift) can use given grace gifts as a conduit to express that same self-giving love.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 12:12–31.
 Um, 221. Kindle Edition.
 Fee, 609.