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As you have heard here before, mission is not something the church does on the side. Mission is at the heart of what the church is. And so, outreach, mission, evangelism, church planting all amount to the same thing. In this fallen world, the church should be about two things—birth and growth, and mission encompasses both of these. This is what Christ told the church to do in the Great Commission. Mission is why we are still here. But we need to be careful with this emphasis because there are some pitfalls.
“If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body” (1 Cor. 12:17–20).
Summary of the Text
The apostle Paul is discussing spiritual gifts, and in this section is describing what it means to be a member of the body. His use of member is taken as an illustration from the human body, and this means we shall have to think carefully about what it means to have something in common, including having a particular mission in common. If the entire body were an eyeball, then how could we hear (v. 17)? If the entire body were an ear, how could we smell (v. 17)? But God, instead of doing this sort of thing, has placed a number of different members into one body, according to his own good pleasure (v. 18). And, at first glance, it appears that an ear, an ankle, a liver, and a fingertip have very little in common. God did this because He has a higher unity in mind. If we had one big ear only, we would have no body (v. 19), and nothing would get done. In God’s wisdom, we can have multiple disparate parts, and yet have them all working together . . . on a mission (v. 20). But as mentioned earlier, we have to be careful because hand/eye coordination is not as easy as it looks.
Apparent Unity, Deep Unity
A policeman’s eyes and the eyes of the criminal he is chasing can have a great deal in common. They can both be blue, for example. They can both be nearsighted to the same extent, requiring the same prescription. They might go to the same optometrist. And the policeman’s eyes and the policeman’s heart apparently don’t have anything in common— except for the fact that they share the same vocation, the same calling, the same mission, which right now is that of chasing the criminal with the blue eyes. Both the heart and the eyes are doing their part to help catch the criminal. The eyes of the policeman are not thinking about their shared solidarity with the blue eyes of the criminal. But if we were giving a test to third graders, we might have a picture of the policeman’s right eye, the criminal’s left eye, and the policeman’s heart. What would happen if we told the kids to circle the two items that had the most in common? Right. A mistake would happen.
Think of a submarine at war, with an assigned mission to seek out and sink ships in an enemy convoy. On that submarine you will find sailors who are part of the fire control team directly—the torpedo gang, say, and you will find sailors who are not a direct part of that team—the cook, say.
How does the cook advance the mission of the submarine? He does it by doing the best job that he can at his assigned post. He does it by cooking eggs. At the same time, he is not permitted to be uninterested in the mission of the submarine as a whole. He cannot detach his interests as though they were identical to his job description—as though he were somehow separate from the rest of the crew. He is part of the mission and must share an interest in that mission.
And yet, at the same time, he is not permitted to be so interested in what is going on in the torpedo room that he winds up being a bad cook. That’s no help either. If someone is called to a vocation—then the first thing to do is to be excellent at that calling. If your job is sweeping out a warehouse, and you spend your time leaning on the broom telling everyone else about Jesus, then what you are doing is stealing in the name of Jesus. Doing a poor job in the name of Jesus is a refusal to talk about Jesus honestly.
The two extremes are these: there are evangelism zealots who want every sailor to be part of the torpedo gang. And there are quiet, stay-at-home types who want to cook eggs and never, ever think about the war.
Yes and No
Should all Christians be prepared to share the message of the gospel to those who might ask? Yes, of course. In an exhortation that applies to all Christians, Peter says this: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Pet. 3:15).
At the same time, should every Christian be an evangelist? At the end of our chapter, Paul asks a series of rhetorical questions about various gifts. The implied answer to these rhetorical questions is no. Is everyone an apostle? How about a prophet? Is everyone a teacher? No. Now the gift of evangelism is not mentioned here, but it is included in similar lists of gifts elsewhere (Eph. 4:11), and the body life argument applies. Paul and Barnabas were both missionaries, even though Paul did the bulk of the speaking.
So “evangelism proper” is not something that every part of the body shares in common. We all must have in common a love for God, a love for our neighbor, a dependence upon God’s word, a liberty in prayer, etc. This is what every member in the body should have, provided it is alive and healthy. But the ear doesn’t have to see. The elbow doesn’t have to hear.
At the same time, the elbow has to be interested in what the eye is seeing. The eye has to be interested in what the elbow is doing. This is because the eye and ear are not seeing and hearing for themselves alone. They are performing their functions on behalf of the whole body.
How do you show interest? Every part of the body is to pray for evangelism. Every part of the body participates in the energy. You can pray, and you can give. You can ask questions about how it went. And of course, the reason we want this body to function smoothly in this way is because it is the body of Christ.