24 August 2008

little toes

Romans 12:1-8, ". . . and not all members have the same function . . ."

Paul is a big picture kind of guy. You know these folks right?! They don’t just look at the here and now. They are not the best at seeing the details that need to be done. What they are good at is having a grand vision of where we’ve been and where we may be going. That’s big picture. That’s Paul.

Paul came through what was know as apocalyptic Judaism. This was a form of Judaism that saw God’s movement through history. This is not a God who stands outside of history and just watches everything unfold. This is not the God who winds up the watch at creation and just allows it to run its course. Paul’s view, apocalyptic Judaism’s view, was to see God acting on God’s promises from the beginning.

God’s purpose had always been to bring humans closer to God, to reconcile everything, all of creation, to God, from where everything had its beginning. This is big picture thinking. Paul is definitely an “N” on the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory.

You may be familiar with the Myers-Briggs test? It’s one of those tests that is designed to help you look at your personality and your strengths and how you may interact with others.

Anyway, the Myers-Briggs test separates people into different personality combinations. You are either an extrovert or an introvert; you either prefer to be with people or prefer to be alone. You could be a thinker or a feeler. You could be a perceiver or a judger. And you could be sensing or intuitive. That’s where the “N” comes from. INNNNtuitive.

If you take this Myers-Briggs test and score in such a way that you get an “N”, that means you tend to see the big picture. You are intuitive. The details may be more difficult for you to do. “N”s or intuitive folks are great because they give us those large visions. They help us see the big plans. These are folks that give us insight into how the world works.

But let me tell you, I’m glad that there are “S”s or Sensing folks out there too. I want my doctor to pay attention to the details. I want my mechanic to do the same. There are strengths that each of these personality traits has. That’s the purpose of the test: to help you get a grasp on what your strength is, and to use that area of your self.

Well Paul is using his ability to give us a vision of that big picture in his letter to the church in Rome. And typically, it is not just a picture of each individual person in the church; it is about the church as a whole.

Paul writes in the end of this passage about how we are to live together, to work together as the church of Christ. Typically for a big picture thinker, Paul is seeing how everything fits together and works for the good in the end. He reminded us of this earlier in Romans when Paul writes that everything works out for the good in the end (even when it may not seem to be doing so in the present). So the way Paul explains this to the church in Rome is to use an analogy about our bodies, our human bodies.

For instance, we should thank God for our little toes. You know the one I’m talking about. That’s the one that some adult used to grab hold of when you were a child. This is the toe that goes “wee wee wee all the way home”. We don’t think about that toe very much, but when you’re walking around the house in your bare feet, and you just happen by that table in the living room, and maybe you don’t quite give it enough space, when your whole foot makes it past that table except for your little toe, you are suddenly and painfully aware that that toe is there.

Some of us may even say a little something to God at that moment!

That little toe is a small part of our bodies, but we know it when it is hurt, or when it is not working right. It has a place and a purpose, just like all of us have a place and a purpose.

But, when Paul is talking about the body of Christ, and when Paul is saying that we are all like parts of that body that help it to function, he is not just trying to make the little toes feel more important; Paul is also trying to us realize our equality at the same time.

Paul tells us not to think more highly of ourselves than we should.

Paul is seeing that big picture once again and telling us, telling all of us, that some of us are more important than we think we are. He’s also telling us that some of us are not nearly as important as we may think we are.

Paul asks us, all of us, to consider who we are. To think hard about our gifts and talents, not necessarily the things that we believe we are good at, but to consider the things that are truly our strengths.

It is sort of like taking a Myers-Briggs test with God. We pray. And in the end, we are all necessary. We are all using the gifts that God gave us. For we are all in need of God’s grace and love. And we are all expected to give that same grace and love to others. Paul knows that we are all the body of Christ.

That is a great equalizer. Even though the body of Christ has toes and fingers and an appendix, even though the body of Christ has eyes and a brain, and ears, and a stomach, all of it is the body of Christ. We cannot and should not place more importance on one part versus another. We come together as diverse people, but all with the purpose of serving God.

But that diversity, that variety of gifts and graces can be hard to manage sometimes. Paul knows that our worldly tendency is to put things in order, and usually in the order that best suits us!

But what Paul says here, he puts another way in Galatians 3:28 where he says that in Christ there is not slave or free, no male or female, there is no black or white, there is no poor or rich, there is no status in the same way that the world gauges who it considers to be more valuable and who it does not. We are all in need of the grace of God. And none of us should think more highly of ourselves than we ought because of where we happen to fit in in the body of Christ. Paul is describing the larger vision here, but he is not saying that some people are more important than others in that vision.

So we take the advice of Paul:
Use a transformed mind, don’t allow yourself to use the same measuring stick that the world uses when you interact with the people in your church and in the world.

Look with the eyes of God at yourself and accept God’s grace in those areas of your life where you may feel like a failure.

Be honest with yourself and God about your gifts and where you can be of service.

We should all be the receivers and givers of God’s grace. That is what holds us together and allows us to work together as the body of Christ.

And remember that we all have a place to serve in the body of Christ.

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