I don’t believe 13 is an unlucky number, but I did test the theory during my thirteenth year. During that year, I had two attempts at chopping off the same finger: one involving a chisel in woodworking class and the other with a kitchen knife. Perhaps the worst occurrence, or at least the most painful, was a rolled ankle. Now, you may have had rolled ankles before. I certainly had, especially playing basketball at recess and during lunch in school shoes. However, this one was different.
It happened right at the end of an official after-school basketball game against a team from another school, mere seconds before the buzzer. I’ve never been that comfortable dribbling the ball, and I was being heavily pressured as I sprinted up the sideline (as my wife tells me, I should stick to rebounding). I still don’t know if I stepped on a foot or just went over on my own, but the next thing I knew, I was down. And when I tried to get up to “walk it off”, I couldn’t put any weight on my foot.
The home was only a short drive away. I left my shoe on for support, but when I took it off at home, my ankle started swelling like a balloon. The pain set in that night, and I couldn’t sleep. The sharp, aching throb was relentless and seemed impervious to painkillers. The only pain I’ve experienced that would be as bad or worse was an ear infection, which ended up perforating my eardrum. The next day, an X-ray revealed the news: I had chipped my ankle. This wasn’t one I could walk off, and I spent the next six weeks with no more basketball.
We take our bodies for granted until they no longer work quite right. We don’t have to think about our next breath, heartbeat, or blood circulating; it just happens—until it doesn’t.
The body is a miraculous piece of engineering—every part, from the cellular level, having its own role to play. For this reason, it is unsurprising that Paul spends a good part of 1 Corinthians 12 describing the church as a body. “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (v. 27, NIV).
Paul’s point in this passage is that each individual who makes up the church is indispensable and has a role or purpose, just like each part of the body does. “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ” (v. 12).
The body has to work together and accept its different parts—its higher and lower parts—just as the church accepts the different gifts given to it by the Holy Spirit. The reason for this is the mission.
Now, this will not come as news to most who read this: The metaphor of the body is one that is widely known and used in Christian circles. What I’ve only recently realized, however, is how Paul’s argument is linked to the next chapter, 1 Corinthians 13. “The love chapter” is famous. Used at weddings galore, this chapter is perhaps one of the best-known odes to love that is out there, yet Paul is using this chapter as a response to the gifts and body concept introduced in chapter 12. He’s describing the secret glue that holds the body together and the most important thing required to make it work: self-sacrificing, others-focused love.
This is the kind of love that originates from God and reflects His character. It is only possible with and through Him.
Love is Paul’s answer to the question of how the body can stay together and its gifts be used effectively together, and it is the exact answer we need.
The church, a group of fallen, disparate human beings, can only be held together through a common love for one another. We’ve often stressed unity at all costs, looking for ways to hold uniform belief and doctrine, but we’ve somewhat neglected love as the answer. In our debates and discussions, we’ve relied on theology, logic, emotion, and all the rhetorical devices we can, but often neglected love.
Love for each other should inform all our conversations. Love for the world we are called to reach should influence our mission. We’re not working our way to heaven with love, but we should love because God first loved us (see 1 John 4:19) and was willing to descend to our level to lift us up (see Philippians 2:5–8)!