“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ” (I Corinthians 12:12).
A certain young man was in a dire predicament. He was in the middle of a vast desert, far out of reach of any other human life, and he was terribly thirsty; so thirsty that he thought he might die from dehydration. The odd thing about this situation is that this certain young man was plunked right next to a small reservoir of water in a desert oasis. Why does not the young man simply walk to the water’s edge, lean over, and take a drink with his hands? Of course, this is the obvious question that arises! The answer is that this is no ordinary young man! His different body parts will not listen to the commands he has been sending them from his brain. Rather than functioning as a whole body by following the impulses from his nervous system, each of his body parts has its own plan to retrieve water. One hand stretches toward the water as far as possible, while the other tries to dig a hole deep enough to reach the ground water. Each of the young man’s legs has attempted to carry him to different sides of the water reservoir, which in the end has only forced him into a painfully stretched position. The young man looks toward the sky at the circling vultures which are prepared to destroy him should his body parts fail to unify.
The fictional story of this young man serves as a parable to draw out the truth concerning the church as the body of Christ which was written by the inspired Apostle Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians. Such a young man as in the parable could never survive in reality. The same principle applies to the church as the body of Christ. Without an attitude of unity, working together as individuals for the welfare of the whole, the church would be destroyed by her enemies.
The aspect of this parable which makes it almost laughably ridiculous is the fact that the water, the one thing the young man needs to survive, is right next to him, and yet he remains unable to reach it. The young man was thirsty, and yet he could not satisfy his thirst because of the disharmony among his members. In much the same way, the church is, was, and always will be thirsty for Christ. He is her vitality. The one thing that she cannot live without!
Christ makes himself available to the church. However, the church can jeopardize its access to him when it divides itself into sects, each of which stubbornly refuses to submit themselves to the greater benefit of the whole. Rather, such division lays waste to the church and leaves her vulnerable to her enemies. The enemies of the church, like the vultures in the story, are ever present, searching out her weaknesses and waiting for the right moment to annihilate her. The difference for the church, as opposed to the dying young man, is that her enemies might not be as obvious as a few circling scavengers. The Apostle Peter instructs the church in regards to the threat of the church’s great opponent, Satan, in the fifth chapter of his first epistle: “Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility…because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” Notice what defense is offered in the text. Each member of the church must humbly submit themselves to the other members as a safeguard against the devil. It is fortunate for the church that God in his limitless wisdom has given his people the spectacles of his Word through which they are able to recognize danger.
Submission is not something that comes naturally, nor is it easy. It is a command in Scripture that goes against the nature of fallen man, and yet it is necessary for the survival of the church. Each man and woman of the church must walk in submission toward each other and to Christ. Submission is such a hard thing for the members of the church that all would fail except for the wonderful truth found in Ephesians 4:7: “But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” The Apostle Paul in the fifth and sixth chapters of his epistle to the Ephesians speaks of all the ways the different members of the church are called to submit themselves to each other. Specifically, he speaks of wives submitting themselves to their husbands, children submitting themselves to their parents, and servants, or in the modern world, employees submitting themselves to their employers. In much the same way, believers are called to submit themselves to the office bearers in the church. By way of submitting one’s self to these different authorities, he is submitting himself to Christ! However, one must understand that the Holy Spirit is given to all believers so that even though the distinctions of authority found in Ephesians five and six and other passages exist, the person in authority must remain humble. For instance, if a parent behaves foolishly because of their sin, but is then humbly and wisely admonished by their child, they must submit themselves to the wisdom found in the child’s voice. In this way the people of God show their love for each other and for Christ.
The reason for submission becomes clear when one considers the differences among the people of God. Each member of the church is given different abilities and also different trials. No one member is perfect, but rather all are totally depraved in themselves. On the flip side, each church member is given different spiritual gifts which make them unique individuals. These differences in gifts and trials are not merely for the sake of the individuals themselves, but are for the sake of the others in the church as well. One could picture the church as a giant puzzle, the pieces of which fit perfectly together to make one whole. If the puzzle is missing one piece, then everything which that piece added to the picture is lost and so is the picture itself as a result of incompleteness. The church is one body which is composed of many different individuals who are just as different from each other as a hand is from a foot, but in the same way are just as necessary for each other.
So, each individual ought to strive to recognize the things which God has given them to make them unique, and how then, to use those things which set them aside for the sake of Christ’s church, even if it causes them pain or grief. In the world, each person is encouraged to find something that sets them apart and makes them unique such as earrings, drastic looking make-up, pants which are two sizes too big and thus drag along on the floor behind them. However, the individuality of the world is not for the benefit of anyone else, but for themselves. They want to look cool or fit in for their own satisfaction, rather than submit themselves to the benefit of anyone else. This is an attitude of rebellion more than anything else and is directed at the words of the Confession of Faith, Article 27, which says that the church “is joined and united with heart and will, by the power of faith, in one and the same spirit.”
It is hard to stay focused on the benefit of others when the old man of sin screams for the gospel of self. More than anything, each man wants to do whatever it is that suits his own interest. It must be clear to the church that this kind of attitude is sin. God gives grace to those who ask him for it. James 1:4 says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Let each member of the church pray for the grace to submit his or her self to the benefit of the church, and let each member pray for church unity.
The young man continued to stare at the circling vultures as the first one dropped into a ferocious dive. The young man closed his eyes and desperately called out to God to save him from his plight. The prayer helped him to relax as he put himself in God’s hands. He felt safe, even though all appearances suggested his impending doom. Then, outside of his control, his arm muscles simultaneously contracted and helped to push him to his feet. His leg muscles then flexed in union, carrying him stride by stride to the water’s edge. The vulture screeched, and then sullenly veered off, knowing that the young man would now have the strength to fight him off. The water was cold and refreshing. He drank deeply, giving gratitude to God for his salvation that day.