zine March 1985 Page 27
REFLECTIONS ON THE WORD OF GOD
“A Still More Excellent Way” 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:8
by The Rev. Fr Stanley S. Harakas
One of the most popular and widely read chapters of the New Testament is the so-called “Love Chapter” of St. Paul’s first letter to the Christians of the Greek city of Corinth. Only eight verses long, it begins with the words “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” It ends with the famous words “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Many excellent commentaries, both ancient and modern, have explained the meaning of love as it is presented to us in this chapter. Next month, we will look at this love chapter more carefully from within the patristic tradition of the Orthodox Church. But in this “Reflection,” there is something about this passage which we need to examine which speaks to us in our roles as parish leaders, workers and members.
“Ins” and “Outs”?
The five verses which precede Chapter 13 talk about the various roles of the Christian believers during the period of the Apostolic Church. Verse 27 sets the stage: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” This passage points to a great truth which needs to be re-learned by many Orthodox Christians today. For a long time now, Orthodox have labored under the delusion that somehow, the clergy were really the “in” people of the Church — the really “religious people,” who were supposed to be “religious” and who did “religious things.” In contrast, the lay people were sort of “outside.” Yes, they were members of the Church, but somehow they were second-class Christians who didn’t have to be “so religious.”
In 1 Corinthians 12:27, however, St. Paul explodes this myth. The Church, he has taught in the first part of chapter 12, is the “Body of Christ.” Each Christian is a “member” of that Body, just as a hand, or foot, or head, or eye is a “member” of your own physical body. “You,” in the verse refers to all of the Christians in Corinth, and by extension, to every Christian in your parish, whatever city you live in. All of us are “individually members of” the Church. Among Orthodox Christians, there are no “ins” and “outs.” We are all members of the Body.
Each With His or Her Responsibility.
But that doesn’t mean that we have the same roles in the Church. St. Paul clearly points out to us, that though we are all equally members of the Body of Christ, which is the Church, we are not called to do the same thing as part of the Body. Previously, in chapter 12, verses 19 through 21, St. Paul pointed out the obvious: “If all were a single organ, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 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’.”
So, in verse 28, St. Paul names some of the roles: “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues.” He goes on to emphasize that not all do everything that others do: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets?” and so on. What he is saying to you and me today is that it is important for us to realize that, in the Church, we all have important roles to fulfill, special callings to exercise, significant contributions to make in our own special ways. You, I, your neighbor, your Priest, your Bishop, the Sunday School teacher, the Sunday School Supervisor, the Parish Council President, the Parish Council members, members and leaders of Choirs, AOCWNA, the Order of St. Ignatius, SOYO, other Church organizations and committees, and all parish members each have been appointed by God, to be essential members of the working Body of Christ!
Important, But Not Most Important
There seem to be two extreme responses to this truth. Either Church members refuse to accept their responsibilities for their role as members of the Body of Christ, or, they tend to make too much of those roles! Up to now, in this reflection on I Corinthians 12 and 13, we have seen how St. Paul emphasizes the need for each of us to recognize the importance of our “membership” in the Body of Christ, and our responsibility to live up to its demands in our own special way.
But it is possible that some of us, both clergy and laity, make too much of our roles. We may become self-important. We may focus upon our “dignity,” and the “respect due us,” and the “honors,” and the “distinctions” which we feel are owed to us. Yes, we may even get to the point of “demanding ‘first places’ “ for ourselves, looking down on “the others.” Especially when our roles, in fact, are important to the life of the Church, As important as they are, however, St. Paul wants to tell us that there is something more important. That is why he says “I will show you a still more excellent way,” in verse 31, the last verse of Chapter 12.
More important than our “important” roles, a “still more excellent way,” is love. Above all roles, positions, and offices in the Body of Christ is the need to be loving. Next month we will reflect on what that means.