Summary: Though we are one in Christ, we are also diverse in gifts.
Our previous verses impressed upon us our unity through the Holy Spirit. We may be different, but we are one in Christ. Our next verses emphasize the reality and importance of our diversity.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many.
The basic point of this sentence, and of the whole chapter, is that all the members of a church belong with a role to play in the health of the church. No one in the church is an extra that the church can just as well do without.
The first type of church member addressed is the one who thinks he does not have a gift or one that is important.
15 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. 16 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. 17 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?
Isn’t that great imagery? Can you picture this huge eyeball rolling around, or even better, a gigantic ear hopping about? Maybe we can give them some arms and legs. I don’t know if Paul means to be humorous, but he has a serious point to get across.
If a foot could speak, it might reveal an inferiority complex. Hands are admired. The hands of a woman may be admired for their delicacy and softness; the hands of a man for
their strength. Now feet – how often do you hear of a person being praised for the beauty of their feet. The common wear for feet in Paul’s day was sandals. There was a reason why washing a guest’s feet was a common act of courtesy – they were dirty. Feet come in contact with dirt and mud. They are the lowest members of the body. And yet, their role to play in the body is absolutely essential. They literally hold up the body. They permit the body to move about. Without them, the body would not be whole.
Consider the ear. It may be up high on the body, but it does not compare with the eye in receiving praise. Lovers extol one another’s eyes; how many bother to mention the ears. And which is the greater worry – to lose one’s hearing or one’s sight. We might worry about losing our hearing; we are scared of going blind. But ask the one who has lost all hearing, what it is like to no longer hear music or laughter or the sound of his loved one’s voices; he might want to trade seeing for hearing. Not to hear is to feel cut off from a conversation, to feel cut off from the body. The ear, though little noticed, is very important.
And what about the nose? It doesn’t get named in the metaphor, but what it does is noted. How many times have we taken pleasure in smelling flowers or a fresh baked pie? How many times have we avoided something harmful because of the foul odor? Smelling serves a needed service, though we would not think to rate in high on the list of essential body parts.
Now, the feet and the hands, the ears and the eyes, even the nose all exist according to God’s plan. 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
If we were evolutionists, we would marvel over the way nature evolved the human body into a highly complex, efficient machine. As an aside, it is in contemplating such complexity that makes me wonder how scientists of the body can be atheists, or even agnostics. Think of all the planning that goes into making a computer which does not compare with the complexity of the human body. And we are to take it that it came about through the work of blind forces?
But that is how some Christians approach the church body. The church just happened. People came for whatever reasons and just happen to be in one local church. No, God arranged the members of the church body, each one of them, as he chose, so that however minor a role may seem to anyone, it is exactly what God wants. And it fits into the body exactly to make that body whole.
Paul now turns his attention to the church member who is arrogant about the role he plays. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”