Warning: Football Illustration Incoming:
I’ll admit it. I am a big football fan, and an Alabama football fan in particular. Please allow me to use my favorite team to illustrate a key truth about spiritual gifts. This past week, after watching Alabama’s fine victory over Southern California, I indulged my questionable habit of looking up the box score of the game and stupidly grinning at the stats. There were dozens of names on the stat sheet. At least seven Alabama people who ran with the football – as well as a bunch who caught it. Tackles, sacks, interceptions, etc. So many people contributed to the victory last week, but some important names did not show up in the box score…the offensive lineman! Offensive linemen don’t show up in the box score because we don’t really keep up with offensive lineman statistics. This might lead you to believe that offensive lineman aren’t important, but, in fact, the very opposite is true. While the quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers win all of the accolades, awards, and Heisman trophies, it is the offensive lineman who often determine who wins the game or not. As an illustration of that, I refer you to the 2005 Iron Bowl (Alabama vs Auburn) in which the Alabama offensive line allowed the Alabama quarterback to be nearly killed by a ferocious Auburn Tiger defense. The offensive line did not do its work, and therefore the whole team failed.
Believe it or not, football is a pretty fair illustration of how spiritual gifts work in a church fellowship. Just like on a football team, in the church, everybody has a role to play. The offensive lineman, though they don’t show up in the stat lines, are critically important to the success of the team. If even one lineman is weak, then the whole line, the whole offense, and the whole team suffers.
What is the least noteworthy named position on a football team? Perhaps the long-snapper? Maybe the holder? Every week, games are won and lost by holders, long-snappers and punters either doing their job, or failing to do their job. Everybody has a role to play – everybody position is important to the success and growth of the overall team. Likewise, in the Body of Christ, there some gifts that are more out front and obvious – teachers, prophets, pastors – and other gifts and roles depending on the setting. Some gifted people are rarely seen front and center, like those with gifts of serving and perhaps others like mercy-showing, interpretation of tongues, helps, and maybe the oddly named gift called, “distinguishing between spirits.” This might tempt us to believe that some gifts are crucial and some are less important, but this would be both practically untrue and biblically untrue. Every gift, role and person in the Body of Christ is indispensable. Let’s let the apostle Paul use his illustration, which is far superior to my own football illustration, to show how everybody has a critical role:
1 Corinthians 12:13-27, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 So the body is not one part but many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I’m not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,” in spite of this it still belongs to the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I’m not an eye, I don’t belong to the body,” in spite of this it still belongs to the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But now God has placed each one of the parts in one body just as He wanted. 19 And if they were all the same part, where would the body be? 20 Now there are many parts, yet one body.
21 So the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” Or again, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 But even more, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are necessary. 23 And those parts of the body that we think to be less honorable, we clothe these with greater honor, and our unpresentable parts have a better presentation. 24 But our presentable parts have no need of clothing. Instead, God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the less honorable, 25 so that there would be no division in the body, but that the members would have the same concern for each other. 26 So if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.27 Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it.“
Every saved Christian in the church is important, necessary, and dependent on the others. We cannot live without each other! The pastor cannot say to the evangelist, “we don’t need you, our members can just invite other people and we can grow that way!” Likewise, the teacher cannot say to the faith-gifted person, “We don’t need your faith, we just need to teach the Word of God more!” I’ve illustrated this truth before with a strange saying: There are no Supermen in the Body of Christ – And no Aquamen either. You see, when I was a kid, the one cartoon that everybody watched was the Super Friends, that lovely cartoon about Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin, Apache Chief, Samurai, Zan and Jayna, Black Vulcan and even good old El Dorado:
In saying that there are no Supermen in the Body of Christ, I mean that nobody has all of the gifts in one package, and nobody is like Superman in that he/she is a one man army – fast, strong, invulnerable, and not needing of anybody else. The list of powers given to Superman in the comic books are absolutely ridiculous. Super-strength. Super speed. Super breath. Heat vision. Time travel. Faster than light-speed flight, Extended life-span. Healing Factor. Eidetic Memory. Superhuman hearing AND smell. X-Ray Vision. Mind control. Invulnerability. RAINBOW BEAMS FROM HIS HANDS.
(Yes, really!) I could keep going, but this is already ridiculous, and we are at least two hundred feet off of the reservation. Superman’s only real weakness is that he got sick around one particular meteorite from a world light-years away (that didn’t exist anymore.) I don’t know about you, but I have very rarely encountered meteorites in my day to day life, and if that was my only weakness, I could go years and years without encountering it. There’s nobody in the Body of Christ like Superman – all the powers and no weaknesses, and no real need for other teammates.
I once had a book by a fairly well known church leader that had words to this effect on the back, “Dr. XXXXX is a Prophet-Apostle who functions as a pastor and evangelist in the Body of Christ. He has been a teacher for xx years” Honestly – I’m not so sure that is all true! That sounds like several major equipping gifts functioning in the same person. Such a gifted person could very well be a one man show that could do all of the major work of ministry while everybody else merely watched. The problem with that scenario is that the church is not meant to be an elite collection of professionals who do the work of ministry, and every one else just simply watches and cleans up after the service. I do NOT believe that this is what Paul means in his description of the function of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. All gifts are needed, all roles are needed, and nobody has been called to be the one-man-army of ministry that does all the visible work. There are no Supermen in the Body of Christ.
Likewise, there are no Aquamen in the Body of Christ either. By that, I mean that nobody has a lame, useless gift that doesn’t strengthen the church. Now, don’t hear me throwing a lot of shade in Aquaman’s direction. Other than Superman, Aquaman was actually my favorite of the Super Friends. In fact, due to my love of swimming and snorkeling as a teenager, several of my friends actually dubbed me “Aquaman.” That said, Aquaman has been parodied many times as having powers that aren’t particularly conducive to fighting crime. Despite the fact that most of our planet is covered by water, the vast majority of crime and super-villainary actually takes place on land. Being able to communicate with sea life is rarely useful on land, a fact famously lampooned by the Cartoon Network years ago in a commercial where Wonder Woman and Aquaman are captured by the Legion of Doom. As they are being lowered into a boiling cauldron of acid, Aquaman attempts to use his powers to free them, and then very soberly tells Wonder Woman that his “ability to talk to fish isn’t helping!” Wonder Woman just rolls her eyes, as the audience gets the unspoken joke: Aquaman is mostly useless as a Super Friend. NOT so in the church. As Paul explains, even gifts that aren’t obvious or prominent are actually essential to the Body of Christ. Indeed those giftings (and the people who have them) might even be due “greater honor” than those with more prominent gifts. Everybody in the Body of Christ is needed and absolutely essential to the successful and joyful completion of God’s great mission to His Church: To love Him with all of our heart and to take His Gospel to the ends of the earth.
Dear Christian: You need to work in tandem with other members of the Body of Christ. You are not a spiritual Superman that can “take the team on your back” and lead everybody to victory. On the other hand, you are also not a useless Aquaman that has no real impact on the Body of Christ that you are part of. You are a core member of the Body of Christ – no matter what your spiritual gift is. Whatever Christian fellowship or group that you are part of desperately needs you, and you need them – join with them, and serve God together with joy, power and fruitfulness!
1 Corinthians 14:26, “What should you do then, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each one has a song, has a lesson, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all these things be done for the strengthening of the church“