Foundations of Community III: Trinitarian Variety in the Church

As we conclude this brief look at the Trinitarian foundations of true Christian community, we are looking at the appropriate diversity within the community. We’ve rooted our need for community in the fact that we were created in the image of a Triune God, a community of persons united in one essence. Last week, we saw that the heart of the Church’s unity we share one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.  Since this is who God is, we want our community to bear the unmistakeable imprint of God. That way, we will begin to realize the true and ultimate purpose of community: community exists for the glory of the Triune God.

If we only focus on our unity and sameness, however, we will end up with a distorted picture of God, and as a result, a distorted community. This risk is real, and one that we should constantly be aware of and fighting against. We can start to tell that oneness in a community has become an idol when variety in the way we do community prompts people to absent themselves from the community, or even demeaning and attacking the community. This is what we do when we only support or attend gatherings that we personally like, or programs that we feel meet our needs. Our standard becomes: “I didn’t get much out it.” rather than “Was my presence a blessing to the community?” We become consumers rather than members of one body. This is a move towards individualism, a divisive and destructive kind of “oneness” completely different than a confession of one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. When we find this impulse at work in our hearts, we are dealing with selfishness and pride. We become the eye, saying to the hand, “I don’t need you.”

But another way that we go wrong is when we expect or insist on a kind of uniformity in the life of the church. We expect everyone not only to share one Lord, one faith, and one baptism, but we expect that everyone will have the same spiritual gifts, or serve the body in the same way, or participate in the same kind of activities. The Bible tells us to expect the opposite: varieties of gifts, varieties of service, varieties of activities! And not only should we expect such things, but we should thank God for them. We should be glad in this differentiation! Our differences are not failings to be borne with; they are design features that should inspire thanks and praise. The eye should not be looking forward to the day when the hand finally grows in Christ and becomes another eye – he should be thankful that there is a part of his body that can remove logs!

We are prone to place special value on the gifts, abilities, and interests that we ourselves have, and so we tend to miss the glories of different gifts. This is what we’re doing when we compare our spirituality with someone else’s: we automatically assume that we are the standard, and that everyone else needs help! When we make our gifts, our abilities, our areas of service a litmus test for the faithfulness of others, we start to tear the body apart. We walk down the street with only one eye, and when people ask about it we tell them that that eye just wasn’t hearing very well, so we weren’t sure he was really committed to the body. How silly that sounds, but how often we do just that!

As we see in 1 Corinthians 12, especially in verses 4-6, one of the chief weapons we have for slaying the dragon of wrongheaded uniformity is the Trinitarian diversity in the gifts given to the Church. God has made the Church to depend not on one or two supergifted individuals who do church work, but instead He has knit together various parts into one body. In doing so, God has sabotaged individualism in favor of a Trinitarian community. Self-sufficiency doesn’t work, being in relationships with others does. In fact, the variety that God wants means that you shouldn’t try to do everything. Having different gifts frees us from the burden of trying to be someone or something that we’re not. Are all apostles? Are all administrators? Are all teachers? Are all helpers? Of course not. The answer to individualism and a kind of blanket uniformity is Trinitarian variety. One Church, many gifts.

Looking at your own gifts, then, realize that God isn’t slightly disappointed in who you are or how you are able to serve; He created you that way! God isn’t sad that you don’t have more gifts, or serve in more ways. God thinks it’s better when more people exercise a few gifts well than when a few people try to do it all. Overworked and exhausted dads, hear the gospel: God isn’t calling you to do more; He is telling you to rest in Christ. Tired mother of wild and joyful children, God is not disappointed that you cannot also serve the church in more ways. He rejoices in your service as a mom. Outgoing people person, God is not asking you to become a monk, reading big books and spending solitary months preparing to to teach. Quiet, reserved saint, God is not expecting you to become the life of the party, buttonholing everyone you meet and making small talk until you can sneak in a gospel presentation.

The point that Paul is making is this: God has designed the Church like a body: one body, many members. Having gifts that differ means that you cannot say to others “You aren’t needed.” But it also means that you cannot say to yourself “I’m not needed.” Every member is needed, every gift can be used, every service you render to God will be a blessing, every activity that God inspires in the church is precious in His sight. When we live together in this way, uniting around one Lord, one faith, and one baptism, and expressing our love for God and each other through very different gifts, serving in completely different ways, we are showing the world what our God is like. A community that is bound together in love, and set free to serve in different ways is a glorious picture of one God who exists in three persons, a God who delights to share His glory with us, and who shows His glory through us.

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