Verses 18-21: The diversity of the members of the human body
If in vv.14-17 we have diversity emphasised, with certain members saying, in effect, "You have no need of me", we now have in vv.18-21 a member saying, "I have no need of you". The word for "say" here is quite a strong one. In fact it is used in Matthew 4.3 where the Devil sought to get the Lord Jesus to "command" that a stone be made bread. This member is laying down the law, stating with force that certain members can be dispensed with. This is the Diotrephes spirit in its early stages, and must be dealt with. Taken to its logical extreme, it would result in the assembly consisting of but one member, for sooner or later a Diotrephes is going to find fault with everyone except himself. This is in direct conflict with the Creator and Designer of the human body, for He has set the members in the human body according to His good pleasure - it is not for us to alter His arrangement. The apostle gives two illustrations to show that this sort of attitude is not acceptable. First, the eye speaks to the hand, then the head to the feet. So we have a sensitive member addressing an active member in each case, with the suggestion that we must beware of conflict arising between members of the assembly in this regard. The active may be irritated by the apparent inactivity of the sensitive, and the sensitive may chafe if the active one seems not to have such a regard for principles as he should. We should be like John (the sensitive) and Peter (the active), and run both together (Jn 20.4). And the active must not be surprised if in fact the sensitive member outruns him eventually.
The use of the head as an example confirms for us that the church which is Christs body is not in view here, for He is the head of that. The apostle would surely not envisage our Head speaking in such a manner. In any case, the eye and ear have already come in for a mention, but they are parts of the head. Confusion results if we now begin to think of the head as Christ. Perhaps his deliberate use of the head as an illustration, when there are so many other members of the human body available to choose from, is an indication that he has the local assembly in mind. Is it not true that in the local assembly there are those who are gifted to do in the spiritual realm what our head does in the physical? The head controls and gives leadership to the body, so a "head member" is one who has the gift described as governments (v.28). He may be an elder, or a deacon, both of whom need to exercise leadership and control in the exercise of their gift.
Those gifted with these leadership qualities should not despise those who do not possess them, least of all express that despising. The apostle is emphatic in his "Nay" in regard to this attitude, and proceeds to present what should be the true one.
Verses 22-26: The equality of the members of the human body
In our bodies there are certain members which we might think (and it is only our thought, not Gods) to be feeble. We are wrong, however, if in our thinking we dismiss some members as feeble, for God has given every part of our body the ability to make a positive contribution to the whole. We must distinguish between apparent feebleness, as we assess the usefulness of the member, and spiritual weakness, which may be characteristic of any member of the body. Our arms, which we would reckon to be strong members, can at times be made very weak, whether by disease, accident, or even fear.
Not only are there some members which seem to us to be feeble (and we are wrong), but there are also members which we think to be less honourable - and we are wrong again. Our own behaviour in the natural realm confirms this, for we balance out the honour of the various parts of our bodies by dressing up that which it is not appropriate to display.
In this way we give greater attractiveness to those parts which lack it, and thus balance out the honour. Our comely parts have no need of this adornment, however appropriate for reasons of decency. We may think parts of our body need our help, but really it is not so, for God has tempered or blended the human body together in such a way that those parts which we, with our deficient view of the situation, think to be less honourable are in fact already honoured by our Creator and Designer.
The honour He gives, however, is not of dress, but of usefulness. It would be well for us if we translate this into local assembly terms, and instead of assessing one another according to human opinion, look upon one another in the context of Gods perfect design of the body. When usefulness and not attractiveness is the benchmark, then we shall begin to view things in a better way.
The reason why our Creator has designed the body in this way, is that there should be an entity that is one harmonious whole, free from division. As such, it is a model of what the local assembly should be like. Each part of the human body works for the good of every other part, and in that sense displays an impartial care. One of the dangers of larger assemblies is that meetings of the assembly come and go, and contact need not be made with a large percentage of the company. This cannot be right, and does suggest that it may not be the Lords will that assemblies be large at all. "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mt 18.20) is a very precious promise from the lips of the Lord Jesus Himself, yet we tend to think of such a company as "struggling", and about to close down. Perhaps we need to learn the lesson that Gideon was given in Judges 7.1-8.
Is it not clear from 1 Corinthians 14.26, "when ye come together every one of you", that it is expected that every brother should make some audible contribution to the assembly gatherings in any one week? It is probable that in early days the various kinds of assembly function, whether the Lords Supper, teaching, or prayers were combined, and each brother took part in some way. Clearly this could not happen if the assembly were large. Certainly, in a small assembly there is less opportunity for party spirit, and more opportunity for the exercise of gift. These things should be borne in mind when moving house, and small companies will not be ignored by spiritual believers who desire to be of help.
According to v.25 the opposite of being in a state of schism is displaying an attitude of care. Schism involves fighting, care involves fostering. And this fostering spirit should be shown to all, irrespective of personal likes and dislikes. Remember the words of the Lord Jesus: "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them" (Mt 7.12). We should remember the "Go, and do thou likewise" (Lk 10.37) at the end of the story of the Good Samaritan, and have compassion on, and take care of, our neighbour in the assembly, and that term takes in all in the company.
Every part of our body is designed to further in some way the well-being of every other part, and so should it be in the local assembly. If one member is injured, then a veritable army of helpers springs into action to relieve the situation. In this way the hurt of one member is shared by all.
At the other extreme, modern science is constantly discovering fresh wonders about our bodies (for we are "fearfully and wonderfully made"), and some particular part of us is honoured. This honour, however, is the honour of all the members, for the human body is a unified whole.
Just as there is no schism in the human body as God designed it (we leave aside the effects of the fall), so there is no jealousy either. Jealousy is cruel as the grave (Song 8.6), and should be far from the minds of those who name the name of Christ. He it is who gave us the supreme example of that selflessness which refuses to entertain a jealous thought.
To be continued.