“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” – Romans 12:4-5 (ESV)
Last week I wrote about some of the lessons I’ve taken from the book of Nehemiah. I wanted to continue with a few other observations, ones that I’ve thought about after reading through several of Paul’s letters the last few weeks.
One of my favorite chapters in all of the Old Testament (and probably the whole Bible) is Nehemiah 8. Here we see that the wall has now been completed, and the people of Israel are now gathering to worship. Nehemiah has led the physical labor that has brought the people to this point, and now he steps to the side as Ezra takes the stage to preach. We’re told from the text that Ezra read from the Law “from early morning until midday” (8:3), which we can assume was at least a couple of hours (and to think that some folks get antsy at the lengths of today’s sermons, which are usually no more than 20-30 minutes long). Nehemiah, Ezra and the Levites helped to explain the preaching to the people, and sought to encourage them as they wept at the reading of the Law (8:9-10):
“And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, ‘Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.'”
If we go back to the book of Ezra, we see a similar type of episode. In chapter 4 of Ezra, discouragement had set in as the rebuilding work was ordered to cease, and there were hecklers lurking as well. But in chapter 5, we see the prophets Haggai and Zechariah encourage the people in their rebuilding of the temple (5:2) – “Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak arose and began to rebuild the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.”
And as we read through Paul’s letters, we see a similar theme as he talks about the body of Christ. Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4:11-16 are just some of the places we see Paul explain this for us.
As a Christian, I have struggled mightily in trying to discern what gifts I have to contribute to the body of Christ. Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah all contributed to very significant events in Old Testament history, and each was necessary in their own individual way. Without any one of these men, the rebuilding, both physical and spiritual, would not have been completed, or at the least would have been radically different. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul explains to us how this is similar to our own physical bodies and the necessity of each part in making up the whole (v.14-20):
“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.”
Next to my daily battles with sin, this has been my greatest struggle…praying about and seeking what ways I can contribute to the body, to others, to the church. A few months ago I actually drove to a weeknight Bible study at church, got to the parking lot, and then let these thoughts race through my mind. What could I contribute ? Everyone there knows more than I do about this anyway. Who wants to hear my take on it ? So I drove away without even going in. I often think the same things when service opportunities are presented. Someone can cook better than me. Someone can organize this better than me. And on it goes…
Reading through Ezra and Nehemiah, and Paul’s letters as well, has really helped to remind me of the importance of each member in the body of Christ. It has been a painfully slow process for me to come to that realization in my own life, but as always, Scripture points the way. I will think long and hard about the lessons given by these men, with the prayer that it turns into godly action.