Imagine a symphony orchestra. You’ve got everything from a flute to a trumpet to a violin to a menagerie of percussion instruments. Individually, they are all so different, producing completely different sounds—even players with the same instruments may produce different sounds or notes—but they all come together and speak as one united orchestra. If the trumpets wanted to, they could probably overpower the rest of the group. They could take all the spotlight for themselves. But the sound you hear would no longer be the orchestra. The trumpets are only a part; they are not the whole. They can’t display the full beauty of the orchestra alone.
In 1 Corinthians 12:7, we read that a manifestation of the Spirit is given to each individual for the “common good.” The Greek word there for “common good” is “symphérō,” which can also mean to “be in harmony with,” much like that symphony orchestra. So what happens when we’re not in harmony? Whose voice is heard: a few individuals here and there, or the collective voice of the Spirit through all the united members of the body?
Just before this passage, Paul points out to the church in Corinth that they used to worship “mute” idols (1 Corinthians 12:1-2). Of all the ways to describe the idols, he chose to describe their inability to speak to set up a stark contrast. The God they worship now *does* speak. He speaks through you and your fellow church community members. When you proclaim that “Jesus is Lord,” it is the Holy Spirit speaking through you. There are a variety of gifts, service, activities, but they all come from the same God. God speaks in a variety of ways through different members of one body. (1 Corinthians 12:3-6)
God is playing a symphony, and I am but one instrument. God designed His church so that I would be surrounded by other instruments of His. We each have a manifestation of the Spirit, but completeness of the symphony cannot be realized on an individual basis (1 Corinthians 12:11). How else can we hear the symphony of God except through a local community of believers?
What should this mean for us? Are we living this out with our church communities?
We often refer to each other as brother or sister inside the walls of a church building. It’s easy to say we’re united when we’re sitting together in a big auditorium during a scheduled service. We hear the preacher’s sermon, listen to one or two others speak, and sing a few songs during the hour or so we’re together, then many of us are off to our separate lives for the rest of the week.
Is that God’s idea of a symphony? There are a couple of aspects to examine here: 1) Can we even be a proper church community if we only see each once (maybe twice) a week? 2) Does our assembly reflect individualism (just the trumpets in the orchestra) or does it reflect a community, more of an orchestra, as God intended?
I believe the answer to the first question is “no,” but to unpack that idea properly would require a longer article than you might want to read. Perhaps we’ll do a series on the importance of community life in the church body. In the meantime, read Acts 4:32-37.
What do you think about question #2? Of course, we’re speaking in generalities. You may belong to a body of believers that has truly embraced the idea of God’s orchestra. In many churches in America, however, how many of God’s instruments are relegated strictly to membership in the audience? Is the spotlight on a couple soloists or the full orchestra? Apart from singing a few songs and hopefully greeting each other in joy and love, did everyone exercise their gifts that are talked about in 1 Corinthians 12? That passage certainly isn’t alone in talking about the importance of spiritual gifts. 1 Corinthians 14:26 says: ”When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” The gifts each of us bring to the table are designed and given so that we all play a role in building up the body. Maybe your church community is operating so that the full orchestra is playing, but if you’re only hearing a couple soloists week in and week out, it may be time to examine if that should change.
What if the trumpets didn’t want to take the spotlight, but all of the other instruments just refused to play? Maybe that’s a situation you find yourself in. You’re not trying to overpower anyone; you’re just trying to use your gifts that God has given you. How do you encourage the rest of the body to join in the music? I believe an answer to that may be found as we look into that first question of the importance of living life together as a community. When we approach all of life as an opportunity for worship, edification, discipleship, and teaching, we are much more likely to reveal the Spirit’s working in each other’s hearts and lives. If we only ever think about those things during a special service once a week, it’s going to be hard to make any necessary changes. This relates to what has been taught for so long, whether implicitly or explicitly—that the preacher preaches and the church body listens. Are we really trying to equip each other to fight the good fight? Are we calling each other to do what can only be done through the indwelling Holy Spirit?
Ephesians 4:11-16 should be useful to all parties here. Certainly, God has gifted each local body with a special group of leaders that are able to teach the other members of that body. But they aren’t to just teach for academic’s sake. They are there to equip the others for the work of ministry. Funny, some of us might see the phrase “work of ministry” and think “that’s what we pay the preacher for.” Quite the contrary… But this problem can go two ways. Embracing the idea that we are a priesthood of ALL believers (1 Peter 2:9) is a direct challenge to those who enjoy a special leadership distinction. Truly, if we don’t all work together to build up the body of Christ, we will never achieve the goal that is mentioned in that Ephesians passage—”to attain the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
The fullness of Christ. The fullness of Christ is like hearing the full, rich sound of an orchestra. God wants us to experience that together with our brothers and sisters. That takes a commitment from you as well as your spiritual siblings. A symphony can’t be played by one instrument.
Are you a soloist? God has been and wants to keep using you. Build up the other instruments around you. Think about ways to disciple brothers and sisters in the everyday stuff of life. Equip them to do the work of ministry. Edify them so they can edify you. No one is meant to walk the narrow path alone.
Are you an audience member? Have you gotten comfortable in that role? God designed you for more than that. If you believe that the Holy Spirit lives inside of you, then let Him use you in ways that would not be possible on your own. If we’re going to use Philippians 4:13 in reference to how well we can play sports (a gross misapplication if there ever was one), then we ought to be more comfortable with the idea that the Spirit can use us in ways contrary to our natural tendencies. Let the Spirit work through you. Let Him change you. You are a new creation, the old has passed away (2 Corinthians 5:17). Don’t use your human characteristics as a crutch—we are no longer merely human if we have the Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:16). The Spirit may very well use some of your natural traits for the good of the body, but we must always expect and be ready for change and growth!
Let’s grow together with our local church bodies so that we can represent the fullness of Christ to those outside. More on the idea of community life later…