"If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?"(NIV) 1 Corinthians 12:17
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he addresses one major theme – unity. He begins by highlighting the Corinthians’ case of preacher favouritism (1 Cor. 1:12). Later, he talks about the foolishness of fellow Christians bringing lawsuits against each other in front of non-believers (1 Cor. 6:1). He goes on to talk about freedom in Christ, matters of conscience, and our responsibility to maintain peace among fellow Christians, that no one would fall (1 Cor. 10:32). Unity within the church is the theme of 1 Corinthians.
At the end of 1 Corinthians 12, Paul creates a marvellous mind picture of unity: the body. When we consider our bodies, we see that each part has a purpose. Without any one part, we would be handicapped. Even with a sore toe, or just a speck of dust in our eyes, we feel the loss of that part. We notice that something is missing. So “the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” (1 Cor. 12:21). Now listen to this: “You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Cor. 12:27).
The climax of Paul’s letter, which he calls “the most excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:30), is in chapter 13. In other words, Paul says here, “Yes, you should strive for unity among you; but unity alone is not good enough – let me show you.” He says, “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing…If I do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2-3). The climax of Paul’s discussion about unity is love. We should go beyond simply striving for unity – love should be our ultimate goal.
How will we know that we love each other? John 15:13 (ERV) answers our question perfectly, “The greatest love people can show is to die for their friends.” In the context of the unified body of Christ, who is excluded from that love? Can we love just our spouses, our friends, or the older generation? No! No part of the body can say to any other part “I don’t need you.” But we will know that we love each other when we can say to every other part, “I am willing to die for you.”
The major theme of 1 Corinthians is unity. Paul makes us understand that we are essential to each other as the parts of the body are to each other. We do not pick favourites or settle disputes by a lawsuit. We do not create stumbling blocks for our fellow Christians by our practices. Most importantly, our ultimate goal is loving each other. When we are unified as the body of Christ in such a way that we are willing to die for any other part of our church body, we will have accomplished our ultimate goal – love.