God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 12:23b-25 Anxious for God’s people
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, May 17, 2023
The unpresentable parts are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts do not need special treatment. But God brought the members of the body together and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there might be no division in the body, but that its parts should have the same anxiety for each other.
Without taking us into a first-century class on anatomy or biology, Paul divides the body neatly into two realms: unpresentable parts and presentable parts. Some are naturally covered, the others are naturally uncovered and on display. But this isn’t about being in the spotlight. Paul’s point here is all about the honor that the parts receive. “Greater honor to the parts that lacked it” seems to be the honor of being covered up and stowed away, as it were, deep inside the flesh, so that there is a kind of Most Holy Place deep in the flesh where the heart beats, and the Holy Place just outside that little chamber where the other items surge and throb and pass blood and bile and lymph and other things from here to there as the body is kept working in its constant miraculous cycle and dance.
In the physical body, the parts all work together, and they are anxious one for the another. The Greek word merimnao (μεριμνάω) means “to be anxious.” Using the same word, Jesus said, “Who of you by worrying can add one cubit to his height?” (Matthew 6:27). And the famous heroic wife “has no fear (anxiety) for her household when it snows, for all of them are clothed in scarlet” (Proverbs 31:21). Jesus wants us not to be anxious about our lives, but to trust in him. “Anxiety brings on old age too soon” (Sirach 30:24); “Anxiety removes sleep” (Sirach 31:1). So Paul also says, “Don’t be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:6). But the anxious concern of one body part for another is the rule within the flesh. The body wants to stay alive. Therefore, if there is an injury, the body surrounds the wound with fluid to protect it, and this is swelling. The nerves send urgent, irritated messages to the brain, and this is pain. The hands and arms react by covering the wounded part, even cradling it, so that the part might recover and rejoin the body’s normal functioning.
When a member of the body of Christ, the church, is in pain, the other members mimic the physical body’s response. Some responses are helpful, others are not, but it’s normal for the body in general to pray for the hurting member, that their pain might be carried away.
Pain and wounds come to the body of the church readily enough, and too often because our poor people are defenseless against unexpected attacks. I know of a man who goes out of his way to assail God’s people. No matter what pleasant thing happens in the church among God’s flawed but forgiven people, he is always busy typing away about everyone’s weakness and wickedness and holding these things up for the world to see like a toddler who’s suddenly discovered dirty diapers. And this is all because the man is filled with rage and he’s made himself a little soap box to stand upon and squeal like a filthy old swine. No matter that he poisoned his own son against the church and ruined his chance to serve with distinction in God’s kingdom, but he himself has spent his life using up churches and schools like a catbird laying its eggs in other nests, hoping its young will push out all the other little birds and then fly off without bringing anything but ruin, destruction, and death. “Such a man is not seeking the good of these people but their ruin” (Jeremiah 38:4).
But there is Jesus, calming his hurting people and telling them not to fear, because he brings the true peace, the peace mankind has on account of Christ stepping in the way of God’s holy wrath, to be killed to satisfy the punishment of our sins.
So now, knowing our place and with our holy and almighty Protector, we each have ways to serve. Luther said, “There is no person on earth so bad that he does not have something about him that is praiseworthy” (LW 21:42). I know of another man, a member of our church, who has profoundly special needs. But he has been confirmed and he knows his Savior Jesus. By now I think he must be approaching sixty years old, but no matter. His disability is such that he needs a private reminder of what the Lord’s Supper is before he takes communion. He will remember, and he will be happy about it, but he needs a little more of a reminder than the rest of us receive in the regular communion liturgy. Isn’t it worth it for him to get that little reminder? Doesn’t it benefit his soul? Isn’t this a case of one part of the body of Christ showing special concern for another part? And in truth, hasn’t his need actually created a living reminder to us all of the value of the Lord’s Supper, the way that Christians help and reinforce one another, the application of this very passage, and many other things? If he had been born without his special needs, he might have gotten a regular job in one of the city’s industries like so many other men and women, but as it is, he has himself been a special blessing to the church. And quite often he will respond to the sacrament with words spoken in his own way and more than loud enough to be heard over the hymn that’s being played, something like: “This is Jesus says he loves me!” His grammar isn’t perfect, but who cares? His words suggest many truths, all correct, when people insert ‘how,’ ‘when,’ ‘where,’ ‘because,’ or any number of things at different places in his joyful shout. And he’s right in every case, so I can only smile, honored to have the privilege of serving him.
Why do I deserve the place I have in the body of the church? I don’t. But for the moment, while I’m here, as long as that moment lasts, I will serve, anxious for God’s people yet at peace for myself, and loving God’s holy people. All of you.
Pastor Timothy Smith