Home Articles Site map
by Jacob Ninan
"I don't recognise you," says the foot. This is a problem in the body of Christ. But this is not as much recognised as a problem as when the foot says that because he is not a hand he is not a part of the body, and when the eye says he has no need of the hand (1Cor.12:15,21). Nevertheless it is a problem that clouds many people's thinking when they think of other people's functions in the Body as compared to their own. The fact is that each one of us is oriented in our thinking in conformity with our particular task or ministry. That is quite as it should be. Otherwise we would not be fit for our calling. But the problem is when we imagine that our own way of thinking, our outlook on life, our priorities and sense of values and our particular way of dealing with people and situations are the right standards that everybody should have. Then when we meet other people whose ways are different from ours we jump to the conclusion that they are wrong, they are compromisers, they have not understood the truths that we have understood, or even that they are not born again. Of course it is possible that they may be any of these in reality. But it is also be possible that we have misjudged them because we have not understood them rightly or cared to look at things from their points of view. It is possible that the problem is one of a clash of ministries.
The body of Christ is one with great diversities not only in our race, colour, nationality, language, past religious background, levels of intelligence, education and financial status, etc., but also in our function within the body. Even though the epistles provide us some lists of these functions, it is easily seen that these lists are not exhaustive. There is a variety of gifts within the body that the Holy Spirit distributes to each one of us "just as He chooses" (1Cor.12:11). We may think that some of these gifts are more important than others, from our point of view, but when our Heavenly Father distributes these gifts without partiality to His children we can be sure that they are all important to Him. When we look at out own gifts and those of others we get into the folly of comparing these gifts. Then we think that we are eyes we don't need the hands or that since we are only feet and not hands we are not parts of His body. The Apostle Paul addressed this issue in a different way by pointing out that neither he who planted nor Apollos who watered was anything but it was God who was giving the growth (1Cor.3:6,7).
A connected fact is that none of us has all the gifts or is an all rounder. The only one who had all the gifts was Jesus, and now the gifts are all distributed among us in His body. Some have several gifts but none has got it all. As a result, each of us has a certain slant in our spiritual development and in our understanding. Therefore we find it somewhat difficult to see things from another person's point of view.
A good example to look at in this connection is the ministry of evangelism. The evangelist's heart is heavy with the burden about millions perishing without the Saviour and those who have not even heard about Him. His life revolves around the 'lost.' His prayers are for them. He weeps for them. He has statistics about them. He keeps maps that show where the lost are to be found in large numbers. He knows their characteristics from far away. He has developed a repertoire of approaches for each one of them.
But the evangelist just can't understand why some others who call themselves Christians are not so burdened about the perishing multitudes! He can't understand why some teachers are, in his view, nitpicking about some finer aspects of doctrine in the comfort of their homes when out there so may are dying every minute and passing on into an eternity of darkness. He feels that once a man becomes a believer, God will continue to nourish him, and so he wonders why so many pastors are pampering such people in churches while the need for preaching the gospel is much larger and more. He thinks the most important thing is to bring people to the experience of salvation and he is weary of people who quarrel about the type of baptism to be given to the new believers, the pattern of the church, etc. He appreciates those who run hospitals, orphanages, etc., but he has no time for such things because he is concerned with people's eternal welfare!
Now look at the teacher. He thinks that the reason why people are perishing is because they have no knowledge! (Hos.4:6). For him light is the same as knowledge and darkness is ignorance. His heart burns with zeal to spread the light. He goes to Bible colleges, learns Greek and Hebrew, reads book after book, makes extensive use of the concordance and examines the Bible from cover to cover to extract the true and hidden meanings of verses, writes articles, publishes books, conducts Bible studies, preaches the word in and out of season, picks up his ears whenever there is news about doctrinal controversies or the emergence of a new cult, and enters into discussions with people on their views about the sign of the beast and the timing of the rapture. He believes that if only he is given an opportunity to explain to people what the Bible says all their problems can be solved.
But he is puzzled about the evangelist's apparent disdain for doctrinal correctness and the pastors (shepherds) overlooking certain points of 'disobedience' of the flock in their care. He cannot understand why 'nobody' is interested in reading the Bible and finding out things for themselves. "Why can't people think?" is his question. He feels 'everyone' is doing whatever he likes without referring to the word of God. He wonders why people don't stick to what is written in the Bible without going into 'new' experiences and fancy methods. He thinks he can put some of these evangelists and others on the straight path if they came to his Bible studies or if they read his books.
On the other hand the shepherds are worried night and day about the growing pains that their flocks are going through. Sure, the people know the Lord, but they are so weak and confused, and how the shepherds need to watch over them day and night lest any of them goes astray! Their hearts melt with compassion when they listen to the problems people come up with, and wish they had supernatural powers to sort them out. They are burdened beyond measure because the sheep are not growing as they should, and many wolves are around. Many sheep don't know that is good for them and they nibble at every interesting looking leaf, and they get into problems. How can the shepherds be with every sheep at the same time? If only there were more shepherds around!
The shepherds are happy that there are evangelists out there who are bringing in new sheep to the flock and teachers trying to feed them. But why can't the evangelists understand that bringing them to the Lord is not enough, but there is need to nourish them and train them? How can these teachers be so heartless that they cannot sympathise with the problems these sheep are going through? It is very well to stand there and preach high standards, but where are those preachers when the sheep need someone to stand with them and help them through their struggles?
I have taken a few examples to show how things can go if we don't know our own limitations and the boundaries of our ministries and also if we cannot value what other ministries can contribute to the overall development of the church. When we see that others do not share our burdens or sympathise with our struggles we are tempted to think that they are less than Christian in their life and understanding. In other words, if we are feet we find it difficult to recognise those who are not feet.
Actually things are not so bad as I have portrayed them above, because usually people have more than one gift and they are able to understand the others better, and there is also an increasing amount of interaction taking place among people these days. But I have presented an exaggerated view in order to highlight the nature of the problem. When this problem is not understood and addressed individually and in a wider sense, it leads to unnecessary friction between people of different ministries and the different ministries themselves. It can also be that different churches major on certain ministries more than others, and get into quarrels with other churches who see things differently.
There is an increasing awareness nowadays of the differences in spiritual gifts. People have even made out tests by which one can get a broad indication of the possible ministry one may have. But the immediate interest becomes only in finding out which gift we have received. There is also a need to understand how limited each one of us is with respect to the overall plan of God, the place of other ministries in that plan, how we need the support of those ministries, the different burdens those ministries carry, and how people in other ministries can be different from us in terms of their outlook, behaviour and targets. The more we learn to appreciate the others, the more our own ministries can be enriched by their contributions.
-- Published in the Light of Life magazine, April 2006
Table of articles