Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12–27
“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it”
(1 Corinthians 12:26)
The motto of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is: “An injury to one is an injury to all”. This is likely not an original idea, for the Industrial Workers of the World, an international trade union that was formed in 1905, used and popularized it. It has also subsequently been used by a number of labour organizations. Some believe this slogan has roots as far back as the 1880’s with a very early American labour organization called the “Knights of Labor”, whose slogan was “That is the most perfect government in which an injury to one is the concern of all”. These slogans reflect the commitment of the Unions to further and protect the interests of all workers; also, their commitment to take care of each other. Is it possible that the slogans are derived from our text? It would seem so.
Paul presses the church to understand that they ought to be living the Christian life together, to the extent that the well-being of each one must be the concern of all. When some are hurting, there is cause for concern and the need to pay attention to that breach in the body. On the other hand, when there is reason to rejoice, we should celebrate with one another.
Vital, of course, is the need for care and concern without partiality; something that was a matter requiring attention in the Corinthian church. Life in the Body was marred by a socio-economic divide that existed. In part, this was why they were taking each other to the courts. This was also why they were celebrating the Lord’s Supper in an atrocious manner.
Thus, Paul’s rebuke in 1 Corinthians 11 is designed to bring repentance and a realization that concern for all was required to function properly. At the same time, their problems would expose the frauds who had slipped in to drain the life from the Church – and in turn, reveal those who had a genuine faith (See 1 Cor.11:17-22 cf. 2 Cor.2:9).
It is clear that the Gospel calls God’s people to live in ways that reflect what it means to be a tight-knit family. The best way Paul could communicate this was through the metaphor of how our bodies work at a most basic level. Everyone knows that when one part of our body is in pain, the rest of our body finds it difficult to carry on running smoothly. Similarly, we simply cannot ignore “broken” or “sick” parts of the Body of Christ and proceed as though all is well. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. How to mend the unhappy part will be determined by a good, biblical diagnosis.
God’s Spirit calls the Church to seek truth and justice, and to graciously care for the poor in its midst – guided in love, compassion and mercy by scripture, as we share a common faith. We need to acknowledge the ties that bind us; recognise our interdependence, which surpasses cultural and social expectations; align ourselves with God’s mandate to care for and love one another, which may demand the shedding of ideologies and cultural thinking when it proves to hinder the call of the Gospel.
Our reading brings us to this conclusion: That there is great joy in belonging: “You are the body of Christ and members in particular” (V27). This then is our chief joy: that we belong to God and to one another. He chose and called us. We did not choose him. He opened our eyes. We did not find him through self-learning, or through self-searching; or through self-effacement. Instead, God in his mercy and goodness drew us to himself. And so, unity, not uniformity, is what God wants for his Church as we faithfully fulfill our ministry together, without fear or favour but in mutual care and respect.
Loving, heavenly Father, we know that our own sinfulness many times leads us to treat others unequally, often to the point of being hurtful. We try in vain to justify our actions, but cannot escape the glaring truth that your Body is too often in agony because of our neglect, either as individuals or when we band together against each other. Forgive us and help us to be reconciled to one another so that we will weep when our brothers and sisters weep – and rejoice when they rejoice. Help us to realize that we are one in the bonds of Christ’s love. Amen