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written by Constance Morgenstern

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Bible Study and Thoughts for
"Connected by Spirit"

One of my favorite ideas from the apostle Paul’s letters is the image of the church as the body of Christ. It is a rich metaphor, and (I’d say) a gift.

This wonderful image is found in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). It describes how believers in Christ form a living body, with each different part contributing to a healthy and functioning whole.

We can see this working at different levels among believers—in small groups of Christians, in our worshipping congregations, and on through the whole, earthwide body of Christ’s followers. For a moment, however, scale back to focusing on your own body, and how Psalm 139 says it was “knit together” by God (Psalm 139:13, NIV). Christ’s people forming one Body is such an organic knitting!

Paul writes that we are brought together and connected by the One Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). It is a joy to me, when traveling, to visit other congregations or denominations. Finding welcome and commonality is a blessing of that One Spirit.

For just myself, though, the idea of believers as the body of Christ is both comforting and freeing.

It’s comforting because it means that my uniquely flavored spiritual gifts have a useful place (Romans 12:4-8). (I suspect that gifts vary with people even more than Jelly Belly flavors..., and you can combine them!) At any rate, we can sometimes feel deficient in ourselves because we can’t teach, pray, cook, understand people, or (whatever), as apparently effortlessly as someone else. Paul’s passage brings home how our own gifts are needed (1 Corinthians 12:14-19).

It’s freeing because I don’t have to fill every role. Even Jesus, here on earth, had to deal with limits on time and energy. He specifically sought time to pray and to teach his disciples deeper things. Later, as the church was forming, Christ’s apostles ended up delegating some jobs to others, carefully chosen, so that the apostles could particularly spread the gospel (Acts 6:1-6).

At the end of our main reading in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul does agree that we should desire the “greater gifts” of conveying God’s message (1 Corinthians 12:27-31, NIV). (At the beginning of Chapter 14, he explains why the gift of speaking in tongues, which the people of Corinth were interested in, had a lower postition in his list: Speaking in tongues would mostly benefit the individual—unless interpretion for it could benefit the whole church.)

In the middle of these teachings about spiritual gifts we find the famous “love chapter” (1 Corinthians 13), and this is significant. Paul emphasizes how the building up of the church in love is a prime function of spiritual gifts. So, when Paul writes about "greater gifts," we shouldn't hear it as a statement about "status." (Other translations put this as "best gifts.") A memory that warms my heart was seeing our area bishop, behind the scenes, packing up little bags of Christmas cookies at a community Christmas dinner. It brings to mind Jesus' statement in Mark 10:42-45 that the greatest among us must be the servant of all. This ties in with Paul writing that even the less “showy” gifts are important to the health of the church body (1 Corinthians 12:21-25).

Think of how much we have learned, in in the years since Paul, about the interactions of a healthy body: Think of how small groupings of cells in your pancreas regulate your sugar levels to keep you from diabetes. Think how microscopic antibodies in your blood stream defend against disease.... Unseen parts have importance beyond their size or visibility! So, if you’re a person who quietly prays for others, brings someone a meal, or cleans up dishes after potlucks, know that your efforts contribute! (Sometimes, isn't one of those "tiny" acts of love exactly what we need?)

Christ, of course, originated the idea that his followers should love each other (John 13:35, John 15:12), and His apostles’ letters flesh that out (e.g. Romans 12:9-21; Galatians 6:2,10; 1 Peter 4:8-11, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15; Ephesians 4:1-6). When Christ’s love is conveyed to one another, we are strengthened both individually and as a whole.

Writing the words for “Connected by Spirit,” I’ve felt extremely thankful for my Christian friends, people I’ve gotten to know more deeply because of small groups, studies, and such. Through them, I have felt cared for, absolutely. And, I've come to appreciate the subtle differences in each of our spiritual gifts. Beyond that, I've enjoyed some sense of Psalm 133, in exclaiming how beautiful it is when Christ's people are functioning together as “community." As in my song, it might seem like a body dancing!

Can you think of a time you’ve seen your own church Body dancing?

Or, maybe it’s a baby learning to crawl. As a mom, I've seen how a baby’s crawling is no small thing! My kids seemed to be “out of whack” for weeks before the triumphant moment when they finally managed a crawl or subsequently, their first, few steps. To coordinate the muscles, nerves, eyesight, balance, etc., for these maneuvers takes many, many tries.

Such physical coordination also requires a brain or head. For the Body, the Church, Paul says that Christ is the head (Colossians 1:18). Jesus’ leadership and the life-power of the Holy Spirit propel the Church into action. With such divine “sourcing” (1 Corinthians 3:6), the Church's actions can be amazing and good!

Yes, we might wish certain things were different in our local congregations, or even on a wider scale. Remember how Paul was often writing to congregations with questions or turmoils!

Think about this, however: In a human body, so much of what happens, even on a molecular level, is feedback. For example, when the body senses a lack of some needed hormone, say, or some other essential compound, it dedicates more resources into making it or bringing it in—until healthy levels are restored. The body is always adjusting to find balance.

So the church body also, is always changing within itself or adapting to its environment. Nudges of the Holy Spirit can accomplish this, as we are a thing, alive—learning, growing, and adapting to external conditions. Let’s all pray that God will direct and find pleasing the adaptations that the Church is making in the present day!

Just now, though, I’m standing up for all the good the Church accomplishes by the power of God.

I hope you recognized, in the hymn, the reference to the Feeding of the Five Thousand (e.g. Mark 6:30-44). I hope you pictured the huge crowd that had chased after and listened to Jesus until it was late in the day, a long way from towns..., and how Jesus told his disciples to find them something to eat. You remember how the disciples came up with (merely) five small loaves and two fish. But here’s what I hope you also pictured: Jesus raising those five loaves and two fish up to God and giving thanks. You know the rest of the story!!!

So, let us proceed as Jesus did in this miracle and others (see John 11:1-44, esp. 41-42). Let us move forward with what we have, expressing thanks and faith to God—and giving the glory to God for what He accomplishes (Matthew 5:16).

Just think what the Church could be if, more often, we did that!


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