1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Jennifer and I were both involved in the theater department in college, so every time the cast list would be posted for a production, we were sure to hear at least one friend or classmate consoling another by saying “There are no small parts, only small actors.”
I always wondered about the origins of the quote. It sounded like the sort of thing someone’s mom said to them after they auditioned for the part of Hamlet but got the part of guard #2 instead. Actually it was said by Konstantin Stanislavsky, a Russian actor and theater director, whose work was very influential both in his own country and in England and the U.S.. His famous quote is something he told his wife when he failed to cast her as Lady MacBeth, but as the maidservant.
I just made that last part up. Except now this has been posted on the internet, so now it’s true.
While we live in a celebrity culture that focuses on a certain few people, Stanislavsky’s statement is certainly true. As much as we might love George Clooney or Nicole Kidman, we’d get tired pretty quickly of seeing only them in a movie. And they can’t run the camera and edit the sound all by themselves, either.
There seems to be particular trouble at the church in Corinth where there was an idea that certain people were considered more important than others. The wealthy, as usual thought that was true of themselves, but also people who had demonstrated certain spiritual gifts. Rather than be humbled that God was using them in a special way, they used their gifts to demand places of privilege within the church. Into that situation, the apostle Paul brought something to the people’s attention (and our attention as well) that was as plain as the nose on their faces.
In the human body, the parts must all work together for the body to function as it is meant to. As Paul says, no part can claim superiority, because it can’t do what other parts can; and if all the different functions aren’t carried out, the body doesn’t work. The toe shouldn’t feel bad about being a toe, because without it, the body has difficulty balancing. And the brain shouldn’t feel superior for being the brain, because without lungs, it won’t have the oxygen it needs.
It is often noted that when Paul lists spiritual gifts, he always puts speaking in tongues at the end. Scholars think this is probably because it was the people with this spiritual gift who were claiming superiority over other believers. If Paul was to talk to you today, would you need to hear that humbling word from him?
Probably not, because if you felt superior about your spiritual gifts, you wouldn’t think you needed to read anything I had to say. No, more likely is the scenario that you don’t feel you’re anything special or that you offer anything of importance. But the church isn’t healthy – the world isn’t healthy – until everyone recognizes that their gift, whatever it is, is truly a gift that is needed for a healthy functioning of the whole.
Humility is a great trait to possess – Jesus Christ has loads of it – but if the foot says to the body, “Aw, you just go on without me,” the whole body stumbles. We need you – the world needs you – to claim the gift that God has given only you, to develop that gift and share it freely. As one, we are alive in a way we can never be if all our parts don’t come together with pride in the work that only they can do.