The name Zoltan Istvan may not ring a bell, but in 2016 he gained a spotlight, running for the U.S. presidency on the platform of transhumanism - a theory that views aging as a disease, and things like bionic limbs as a natural next-step in human flourishing. Istvan himself is somewhat of a water polo buff and told reporters that he’d gladly replace his arms for robotic ones if it meant throwing the perfect ball.
Maybe bionic limbs are on our horizon, but there’s beauty in the human body in its natural form, with all of its different parts, one’s strength balancing out another’s weakness. God created us in his own image, so it’s no wonder our physical bodies are so amazing. It’s also no wonder, then, that the Bible is full of body metaphors.
The Apostle Paul employs this metaphor often. He says the church - the people of God - is the “body of Christ.” This isn’t just beautiful, literary imagery. Paul uses a specific word in the Greek for “body,” and a quick survey of Scripture reveals something important. Nearly every single instance of “body” refers to the physical, corporeal, flesh-and-blood body of a real human being. (I doubt Matthew intended us to think that oil was poured on Jesus’ body in some non-literal, metaphorical sense; Mt. 26:12).
So what is Paul really getting at in 1 Corinthians 12 (a large passage on the body of Christ)?
Well, if we follow Paul’s logic, it must mean that we - as those now hidden in Christ through faith - are as much a part of the “body of Christ” as the Lord’s own nose and toes are. We’re not just like his body, we are his body.
So what does this mean for the list of gifts embedded in chapter 12? It means that the ways in which the Spirit of Christ has individually gifted us are as important to the church as your heart is to your body right now.
But in a culture that seems fixated with the high-capacity extrovert with clear leadership skills, your “gift” of encouragement probably feels like cheering varsity on from the bench. But if we grasp what Paul is saying about the body of Christ, we simply can’t think this way! If we really are the body of Christ, then we can’t deny that the one who meticulously sets up perfectly spaced chairs is just as important as the one who preaches from the pulpit, or that the one who is skilled at editing typos in the bulletin is just as gifted as the one who leads the congregation in singing those perfectly spelled words, guitar in hand.
Each and every gift is essential, not just tolerated. There’s a fascinating phenomenon in which a person can experience the sensation that a missing limb is still attached - the body can even feel pain in the missing limb! It’s called “Phantom Limb Syndrome,” and I think it’s helpful in understanding the church. If one suffers, all suffer. If a hand is absent, the body aches. If you’re not serving the body of Christ by using your gifts - even if you think they’re not glamorous enough - the church feels your absence. And it hurts. This is why Paul concludes in verse 26: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”
Now the obvious question: But what’s my gift?
Thinking through your G.I.F.T.(s)
Go to the Bible
This has to be our starting place for knowing God and knowing ourselves. There are several passages of Scripture that talk about spiritual gifts. Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 28 to name a couple. Consider studying these on your own or with a group and ask a pastor or an older Christian to explain some of the more confusing gifts.
Inquire of God
Pray for God to help you. Ask for wisdom to know how he has uniquely gifted you.
Feedback… welcome it
One of the most helpful things in identifying your spiritual gift is to ask someone who knows you. (Prerequisite: you have to be known)
This may be the best way to figure out your gifts… serve. Try something - teach a Sunday school class, volunteer in the nursery, anything. It will probably be in the context of serving your local church that you (and others) will identify how you’re gifted.
We are all uniquely and individually gifted as members of the body of Christ. But gifts aren’t the point. Christ is the point - he always is. Our former selves died with Christ. But Christ resurrected and as his Spirit indwells those who trust in him, we function as the physical manifestation of his body on earth until he comes again.
Our gifts are from Jesus, for Jesus. Find your gifts and glorify Christ with them.