Posted: July 3, 2021
Author: Jessica Mudger
1 Corinthians 12:25-27, NIV
“So that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
The children of Israel had an incredibly strong understanding of community responsibility. Before the Holy Spirit was offered through Jesus Christ, God addressed his people collectively. Therefore, it was understood that what was meant for one person was meant for everyone. This had both positive and negative consequences. When the Israelites were obedient, the entire community would enjoy blessings; however, when they were rebellious, turning their backs to God, there were community ramifications.
Take the account of the exodus from Egypt for an example: Every person enjoyed the blessing of walking through the Dead Sea on dry land in order to escape the clutches of Pharaoh's army. The water did not descend on the Egyptians until every Hebrew was safely on the other side. This was a positive consequence of community membership. However, as shown in the account of Achan in Joshua chapters 7-9, when there was sin and rebellion among the Israelites, the entire community reaped the consequences. Because of the sin of one man, not only did the Israelites lose a battle with Ai, but thirty-six men were killed. God’s favor was taken from the community until they destroyed what was taken in rebellion.
The early church was devoted to meeting together and studying the Apostles’ teachings and taking care of anyone as they had a need. What one person needed, the entire community agreed to provide. In Acts chapter 4, Peter and John were captured by the Sanhedrin, and the entire church felt their suffering, praying fervently in response. Because of their prayers and devotion to one another, there was a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit over all the people.
Like most people, I often think of the concept of the community of believers on a local level. I pay attention when I learn someone in my congregation is in need and try to respond appropriately. I fear, though, that we have forgotten how ministry in the local congregation is to move “to the ends of the earth.” How often do we consider the needs of our brothers and sisters nationally or even globally? Sure, we may pay attention when there is a missions event. We may even throw a few extra dollars in the offering plate to support them, but do we grieve over the same things that make them cry? Do we invest ownership into their ministries?
It’s not just about supporting missionaries. Paul tells us in Corinthians that when one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it. Suffering implies much more than a temporary and passing affliction. Suffering implies a condition. A state of existence that is unchanging. Are there people in the body of Christ who are suffering? Are our hearts so hardened that we fail to suffer with them?
My fear is that within the more prosperous congregations we have grown so accustomed to independence that the entire community has forgotten what it is to rely on one another. If I don’t struggle with material needs, I forget that others may be struggling with these needs. If I am not looking out for the needs of others, chances are I will fail to see them. This is to say nothing of intangible needs like empathy, support, encouragement, safety, friendship, etc. We have become a collection of independent people seeking out just enough of God to check off the religious box. We can come and go without having to inconvenience ourselves with a yoke of vulnerability and dependence on one another.
The truth is, when one of us suffers, we all suffer. We are not created to walk the journey of faith on our own, but we have become programmed to think we are. What if the very thing we see as suffering is actually a gift from God? What if the reason God has allowed hardships in our lives is to cause us to reach our hands up to Him and out to our brothers and sisters? May God open our eyes to see ourselves not only as individuals, but as family in its truest form. May we look at another’s blessing as our own benefit. We were made for community, and the only way to function wholly is to do it together.