By J.R. Miller
Paul speaks of the church as the body of Christ. He had his own body, in his incarnation. Now his body is the whole great company of his people--all who love him, trust him, and are faithfully following him. Every believer is a member of this body, and has some function to fill in it. Paul uses the human body and its members, in a very effective way in illustration of important spiritual truth. "As the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ." "You are the body of Christ, and each members thereof." "The body is not one member--but many." All that any Christian can be, is one of the members of Christ's body. He is not everything. The hand is not the body. The eye is not the body. The lungs are not the body. The most that any believer can be--is a hand, a foot, an eye, an ear.
Imagine the hand getting the thought that it is the whole body, ignoring all the other members, setting up for itself, and trying to get on independently. What could the hand do without the brain, without the lungs, without the heart? Or think of the brain asserting its independence, or claiming to be the body. Suppose that it really is the fountain of thought, and that in a way it directs all the movements of the body. Still, what can the brain do without the hand to carry out its plans; or the tongue, to speak the thoughts that are born in its mysterious folds? The same is true of each member of the body--it is nothing by itself; it is dependent on the other members; it can fulfill its functions only by accepting its place and trying to do its own little part. Alone, it is nothing, and can do nothing. "You have seen a hand cut off, or a foot, or a head, lying apart from the rest of the body. That is what the man becomes when he separates himself from others, or does anything to make himself unsocial." He is of use only in his own place.
The same is true in the church. We are only individual members of the body of Christ, and we can fill our place only by doing what belongs to us as individual members. If we try to cut ourselves off from the body, and live independently, our life will be a failure.
Again, the whole work of the body can be done only by a diversity of gifts in the members. Suppose there was only an eye--no ear, no tongue, no hand, no foot; could the body exist? Every member of the body has its particular function, and no member is unnecessary. The health of the body can be preserved only by every member doing its own part. This is plain enough, so far as the physical body is concerned. The same is true also of the body of Christ, the church. There are many members. There is need for wide diversity of gifts, else much of the work that the church is set to do would not be done. The foot is a useful member of the body--but the foot could not fulfill all the bodily functions. It cannot think, it cannot smell, it cannot see, it cannot hear. It is good to have eyes. Blindness is the sorest of all physical losses. But deafness is also a grievous affliction, and if you had good eyes and no ears, your life would be very incomplete. Your eye could not hear for you. Every member of the body has some use which no other member can supply.
So it is in the church. No one person can do everything that needs to be done. The fullest life, is only a fragment. Jesus Christ had in his life, all virtues and graces. He was perfect man, not sinless only--but complete. The only other perfect and complete life is found in the other body of Christ, the church. That is, if it were possible to gather from all earth's redeemed lives, through the ages, the fragments of spiritual beauty and good in each, and combine them all in one life, that too would be found to be full and perfect. No one Christian can do everything that the church is required to do. One has one gift of usefulness, and another a different gift. There are a thousand different kinds of usefulness needed, and there must be a life for each.
Here we see the wisdom of variety and diversity in human gifts and capacities. It is said that no two human faces in the world are identical in every feature. Just so, no two human lives are just the same, with the same ability, the same talents, the same power of usefulness. This almost infinite diversity in capacity is not accidental. The world has a like variety of needs--and hence the necessity for so many kinds of gifts. There must be a hand for every task--or not all the tasks could be performed, not all human needs could be met. Some things would have to remain untouched, some needs unmet.
The Master tells us that to each one is given his own particular work. It is no illusion, to say that God has a plan for every life. He made you for something all your own. He thought about you before he made you, and had in his mind a particular place in his great plan which he made you specially to fill, and a piece of work in the vast world's scheme which he made you to do. That place no one but you can fill, for every other person has likewise his own place and work in the great divine plan. No one can do the work of any other. If you fail to do your particular duty, there will be a blank in the world's work, where there ought to have been something beautiful, something well done.
"To each one, his work." It may be only a little thing--but the completeness of the universe will be marred if it is not done, however small.
The particular thing that God made us to do, is always the thing we can do best, the only thing that we can do perfectly. We are not to suppose that this is always necessarily a large thing, something brilliant, something conspicuous. It may be something very small, something obscure. Indeed, the things which seem most commonplace, may be most important in their place in the great plan of God, and may prove of greatest value to the world.
Helen Keller writes suggestively on this subject: "I used to think that I would be thwarted in my desire to do something useful. But I have found that though the ways in which I can make myself useful are few--but yet the work open to me is endless. The gladdest laborer in the vineyard may be a cripple. I long to accomplish a great and noble task; but it is my chief duty and joy to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. It is my service to think how I can best fulfill the demands which each day makes upon me, and to recognize that others can do what I cannot."
Every member of the body of Christ has something to do. Some members do great things, some only small things. Every Christian has a work all his own. It is not precisely the same as the work of any other--but it is his own, and he fills his place in the universe best when he does just that. There is no Christian who has nothing to do. Each one is to find what his part is--and then do it. Sometimes people attempt to do things they cannot do--leaving untouched, meanwhile, things they could do beautifully. If one has not been able to do what he has been trying to do, he is not to conclude that there is nothing for him--there is some other work which he can do, and which is waiting somewhere for his coming.
No one should ever despise another's work, or his way of doing it. We dare not call any work lowly or insignificant. Besides, we really have nothing to do with anyone's life's tasks, but our own. "The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you; or the head to the feet, I have no need of you." Some people in their confidence in their own way of doing things, have no patience with the way other people do things. There is a need for different methods, if we would reach the needs of people and do all kinds of necessary work. Let us judge no other man's way--and no other man's work. Paul suggests also that the dull and less showy manner of some other people's way of working, may be more effective than the brilliant way we do things. "Nay, much rather, those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary; and those parts of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor." For example, the brain, the heart, the lungs, and other organs which work out of sight, may not get so much attention as the face, the eyes, the hands, and yet they are even more necessary than these. One may lose a hand, a foot, an eye, and still live and make much of his life. But when lungs or heart are destroyed, the life is ended.
There are showy Christians, active and valuable in their way, who might be lost to the church, and yet their loss not be felt half so much as that of some of the lowly one, who by their prayers and godly lives help to keep the church alive. We dare not look with contempt upon the lowliest person. We do not know who are dearest to God among all his children. It was a poor widow in the temple one day, who won the highest commendation from him who looks upon the heart. There is no part of the body, however unseemly and unhonored, which is not essential, whose function, perhaps, is not of even greater importance than the showiest member. So it may be that the plain Christians whom some people laugh at--are they to whom the church is indebted for the richest spiritual blessings it receives.
We may settle it, therefore, that everyone has his own place and his own part in the body of the church. Some are to preach with eloquent tongue the gospel of Christ. Some who have not the gift of eloquence are to pray beside the altar. If we cannot preach--we can pray; and there may be more power in the praying than in the most eloquent preaching we could do.
Our little part is all we have to do in the Master's work--but we must make sure that we do that. To fail in the lowliest place is to leave a flaw in God's great plan. All duty is summed up in one--that we love one another. We are bound up in the bundle of life in most sacred associations with our fellow men. Whenever, through willfulness or through neglect, we fail in any duty of love, we leave someone unhelped, who needed just what we could have given him.
It will be pathetic for any redeemed one to come home with no fruit of service. A guest at the Hospice of Bernard in the Alps tells this incident of one of the noble St. Bernard dogs that have saved so many men. This dog came struggling home one morning through the snow, exhausted and faint, until he reached the kennel. There he was wildly welcomed by the dogs. But sad and crest-fallen, he held his head and tail to the floor, and crept away and lay down in a dark corner of the kennel. They explained that he was grieved and ashamed, because he had found no one to rescue that morning from the storm drifts. How shall we feel, we whom Christ has redeemed, if we come home at last, ourselves, without having brought anyone with us?