By Pastor Glenn Pease
Back in the 1600's William Lantan was the captain of a ship headed for Barbados. A thousand miles off the coast his vessel sprang a leak, and he had the crew take refuge in their longboat. They had a plentiful supply of bread, but little water. After 18 days of drifting they were down to a tablespoon per man a day. They knew their days were numbered.
Meanwhile, another ship captain by the name of Samuel Scarlet was having his problems. They were almost out of food, but had plenty of water. They spotted the longboat and rescued them. Each party discovered the other had what they lacked. One had bread for all, and the other had water for all. Both crews would have perished without the other, but together they supplied each other's need for survival.
None of us can begin to be all that God wants us to be until we grasp the value of interdependence. All of life; all of nature; all of history, and all the universe is based on the principle of interdependence, and the fact that everyone needs what someone else has, and everyone has what someone else needs. Only God is totally independent and self-sufficient. All else, and everyone else is interdependent. Satan fell from his lofty heights because he thought of himself more highly than he ought. He thought he too could be independent and self-sufficient.
Relative independence and self-sufficiency are virtues that all of us should cultivate, but when you strive to make them absolutes in your life, they become vices that destroy rather than develop your potential. The Christian who really has it altogether is the Christian who can see what Paul is saying in Rom. 12. He is saying that all Christians are members of a body, and they are all interdependent. The Christian who cannot grasp this truth will be constantly frustrated by the fact that there are so many Christians who are different from himself. He will be puzzled by the diversity of views, convictions, and behavior. The end result will be his fear, uncertainty, and insecurity with all of this, and it will lead him to make diversity a foundation for division.
This is why Paul is writing as he does here in Rom. 12. His goal is to prevent this negative response by helping Christians to see that diversity is not demonic nor dangerous, but it is divine and delightful. It is the differences in the members of the body that make body life so interesting, enjoyable, and fruitful. Paul uses the analogy of the body to describe the church, because the body is the ideal example of the value of diversity.
An old fable told of how the stomach was once accused by the rest of the members of the body as being lazy. The stomach just sets there consuming everything, but doing nothing. So the hands and feet and teeth decided to go on strike, and refused to do anything to help the stomach. The stomach depended on them for its supply, and so when they refused to send it food the stomach began to shrink, and soon it ceased to function. But the other members of the body were not all that happy with their teaching the stomach a lesson, for they soon learned that when the stomach got weak, so did they. They discovered that they were just as dependent upon the stomach as it was dependent on them. With that discovery came reconciliation, and the body began again to function in healthy interdependence.
Diversity is not only a value, it is a necessity in the body. A body is only at its best when the eye sees a value, the feet carry the body to that valued object, the hand reaches out to bring the value to it, the mouth and the teeth pulverize it for swallowing, the taste buds and nose add the fringe benefits of taste and smell, the throat swallows it, the stomach digests it, the blood carries it to all parts of the body, including the brain, which has the capacity to take into the whole positive process for future reference when the body comes into contact with that value again. In other words, the body is at its best when all parts of the body are working together toward a common goal, each depending on the other to cooperate in reaching that goal.
In contrast to the beauty of such harmonious interdependence, imagine the pitiful existence of anyone of these members of the body on its own. An eye that can see, but can make no response that vision, or feet that can move about, but with no vision of where or why, teeth that grind up food but with no goal for the food beyond the grinding. We could go on and on and show how any member of the body which is alone and absolutely independent is a monstrosity, and a meaningless appendage with a function that has no purpose. Nothing is so purposeless as a member of the body without the body.
The body needs the members, and the members need the body, and so there is this principle of interdependence. That is the key to healthy living. This principle fits all realms of life. The physical, mental, and spiritual, all depend on this principle for meaning. Diversity finds its value in unity, and unity finds its value in diversity. This is a paradox that is written into the very fabric of reality because it is a part of the very nature of God. God is one in three, and three in one. He is trinity in unity. The three persons of the Godhead combine in absolute oneness a profound diversity of function. All that God has made takes on this basic characteristic of diversity in unity with each dependent upon the other.
Unity is not good without diversity. Imagine some scientist finally capturing big foot only to discover that it is just that, one huge giant foot hopping through the woods. You would say that such a freak of nature is meaningless. Such unity without diversity is inconceivable. The Frankenstein monster makes sense, but not such a monster as this with no diversity of members. On the other hand, if God lets history go on for a while longer man hopes to develop body banks where any part of the body may be ordered for transplant. Imagine the diversity of such a place. Here is a box for livers, and there is one for hearts. Here is the eye box, and there is the ear file. Then you have the right leg and the left leg crates. It would be a marvel of diversity, but ghastly to behold, for such diversity has no function without unity. It has to be a part of the body to have meaning. Only when you get diversity and unity together in a state of interdependence do you have that form of life that can fit into the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God.
Now you see why Paul warns Christians not to think of themselves more highly than they ought. The Christian who begins to think of himself as self-sufficient, and no longer in need of the body, but superior to it, and independent of it, is pulling at the seams of the garment of reality. If he succeeds in such folly he will only end up as worthless as an arm that is removed from the body. It will have no function at all, and without the body it will perish. Paul says the church must recognize and rejoice in the values of diversity in unity. Thank God all members of the body do not have the same function. We should not waste our energy in trying to get all Christians to be alike. It is not only futile, it is folly. God does not want them all alike, for the members are meant to be different.
William James said he heard a carpenter say one time, "There is very little difference between men, but what little there is, is very important." It is very important to God, and to the health of the body. Christians often hinder their own growth and the work of the body by their inability to tolerate differences. Many Christians feel that everyone should be saved according to a certain pattern, even though you can pick 10 Christians at random and be amazed at the variety of ways they were brought to open their heart to Jesus Christ and receive Him as Savior.
C. S. Lewis once told Sherwood Wirt, "The Lord has a habit of bringing people into His kingdom in ways that I specially dislike; therefore I have to be careful." The way he disliked was the way many of us have come to Christ. It is by going forward in an evangelistic service. But you see Lewis was wise enough not to think of himself more highly than he ought. He allowed the Head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ, to be the Head, and though he did not always like the way the Head worked, he submitted to the Lordship of Christ, and excepted those members of the body who came into the body in a way so different from his own conversion.
Many are not so noble as C. S. Lewis, and the result is division in the body. This is the very thing Paul is fighting against, and why he uses the analogy of the body. There were serious debates among the Roman Christians, and there were issues among them where they did not see eye to eye. Chapter 14 gets into some specific areas of their conflict. Paul is laying down here the foundation for resolving conflict in the body. Recognize the necessity of diversity in unity, and the interdependence of all members of the body with one another. A church where these two values can be kept in balance is a church where people can become the best possible Christians. The church which emphasizes diversity to the exclusion of unity tends to water down its loyalty to Christ, and loses its central focus on doing His will. The church that stresses only unity tends to exalt a man made standard of conformity to the place of Christ, and becomes intolerant of all who do not conform to that idol.
I read of a woman who asked her butcher if he could cut a rabbit in half because all she wanted was half a rabbit. He said he could not do it because he didn't like splitting hares. Unfortunately, many Christians do not mind splitting hairs, and the result is a great deal of unnecessary and unfruitful conflict in the body of Christ. If Christians could see that differences are good, and that they help the church have a wider perspective that can understand the whole world they are trying to reach, they would not fight those who have different views.
Each member of the body had a different background, and they have different gifts. The church is an organization of various specialists, each with a special function in his or her area of expertise. Each member is to recognize the function of the other, and not try to make the others conform to their are of expertise. Some may be gifted to reach certain people that it would be a sin for others to try and reach, for they could be led into sin by trying. Some are gifted to go to certain mission fields, which others could never survive. Some are called to work with alcoholics, which others could never tolerate doing. Some have the gift to love certain people that others find too obnoxious to love. The church is called to reach the whole world, and this means people as different as the whole world that is to be reached. It takes many kinds, and many gifts, and many different personalities. You cannot paint with a hammer, and you cannot pound nails with a paint brush. To get the job done you need different tools, and so does the Lord in the task of reaching the world.
God was way ahead of the modern business methods. If you go to a car dealer he has a great variety of cars, and each car has a variety of options. Diversity is the name of the game. He wants to have something that appeals to everybody at some point. People have all different tastes in color and design. They have different options they prefer. He cannot afford to have just one kind of car. He needs variety to win as many customers as possible. That is why the church is so full of diversity. It would not need to be if all its task was the reaching just one kind of person, but it is to reach everyone, and so diversity is a necessity. To try and eliminate it is as foolish as a car dealer getting rid of all cars that are different from the one model he has decided to be the only one he will stock.
God is not surprised that there are people who want to worship Him with solemn rituals, and others who want to do so by shouting at the top of their voice. The lost world is full of people who will respond to both approaches, and there needs to be a body of Christ that can bring them in to the kingdom. Variety and diversity are essential for reaching a diverse world of people.
The largest room in the world is the room for improvement. This is where we are all at. That is why Paul warns us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought. You can only be a growing Christian if you are aware of the fact that you have a long way to go, and you can only do so by the aid of other members of the body. Every gift and virtue that Paul deals with in this chapter can only function in relationship to other people. You cannot be a Christian alone. There are 4 possible attitudes you can have in relationship to other members of the diverse body called the church.
1. The Superiority attitude which says, "I am a winner, and you are a loser."
2. The Inferiority attitude which says, "I am a loser, and you are a winner."
3. The Hopeless attitude which says, " We are both losers."
4. The Accepting attitude which says, "We are both winners."
This last attitude is the only one consistent with biblical principles in general, and Paul's specific teaching in this chapter. The degree to which you can love and accept the diverse nature of the body of Christ is the degree to which you are becoming the mature Christian God wants you to be. May God help us all to be growing in this maturity, and to be able to rejoice in the nature of the body of Christ as a unity in diversity.