Diversity in the Church
And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.
— 1 Corinthians 12:21
Have you ever wondered why people are the way they are?
We all come from different backgrounds, and to a certain degree, these backgrounds determine who we are, what we believe, how we think, and how we respond to any given situation. For example, a farmer from rural Arkansas will have a different outlook on life than a man who grew up in New York City. A boy who grew up on the inner-city streets of Baltimore is going to see life differently than a boy who grew up in Sand Springs, Oklahoma. Or a girl who grew up with her poor grandmother and whose mother had five husbands is going to view some things differently than a girl who grew up in a white-collar home and never knew anything but financial security and a solid home life.
Likewise, a believer’s background in church will often have a strong influence on how he or she views different church issues, such as doctrinal debates, how worship should be conducted, or the proper roles of church government. For instance, if you grew up a Baptist like I did, you might see the Catholic Church as very formal. If you grew up as a Methodist, the Assemblies of God might seem radical to you. Or if you were raised in a Charismatic church, the Assemblies of God may seem too “denominational” to you. How we respond to these different spiritual environments largely depends on the spiritual environment we are most familiar with.
A person’s background is not an excuse for his or her behavior, but sometimes it is an explanation. Take your family background, for example. If you grew up in a home filled with love — where you were freely hugged, given kisses, and told, “I love you” — it undoubtedly affected the way you conduct your own household now that you’re an adult with a family.
Personally, I was raised in such a home. My parents loved me, and I knew it. Even when they disciplined me, I was aware of their love. When I was in college and came home to see my parents on the weekends, I kissed my mom and dad when I arrived and before I returned to school. I even kissed them each night on the cheek before I went to bed. And today, decades later, I still kiss my mom before I leave her to return home. The way I was raised has impacted the way I raised my own children and the way I treat my wife. My family represents the most precious relationships I have in this world — and I believe they should be treated as such.
However, if a person grew up in a home where no one was touched, no one was kissed, and the words “I love you” were never heard, he may have a difficult time later on in life expressing affection toward his loved ones. Or if a person grew up with an abusive, alcoholic parent in a home riddled with strife and neglect, he might struggle with significant emotional obstacles, such as residual anger issues and a fear of rejection. Furthermore, a person’s background colors his or her perception of the world. For example, a Christian who has been through divorce will have a different view of marital failure than a believer who is happily married, and a believer who was involved in drugs or crime before he or she received Christ might have a more tolerant view of people involved in those sins than a Christian who was raised in the Church and never dabbled in such destructive behaviors.
When we consider the fact that these factors are multiplied by millions of people and then mixed together in the Church, it is easy to see why conflict occurs. We get frustrated and lose our patience with others because we tend to think they should feel, see, and do things exactly like we do — but the truth is, they do not.
However, we must always remember that this diversity is not bad. On the contrary, it adds variety and spice to the Church! As members of the Body of Christ, we each have unique and important roles to play, and we must learn to appreciate and respect the views and opinions of others in the Church. Learning to deal successfully with other believers — to cope with their differences and learn to appreciate them — is one of the greatest achievements we can reach in life. We don’t have to agree with every believer on every issue in order to be good Christians. A difference of opinion isn’t always bad; in fact, sometimes it’s healthy. A disagreement only becomes bad if we take it personally and become offended or hurt by it. Unity doesn’t mean we blindly agree with each other like mindless robots, and silence and compliance don’t necessarily spell unity.
In my own ministry, I sense great unity when our staff meets together to strongly discuss issues about which we all have different opinions. The energy and teamwork put forth as we each discuss a different point of view brings a tremendous sense of unity to our team. Even though we may not agree on every detail, we are unified in our attempts to find the right answer or solution.
As long as we live in imperfect human bodies, we can be sure that we will occasionally hit bumps in our relationships at home, at work, and at church. Those bumps are not disastrous unless we take them too close to our hearts and get hurt or bruised by them.
Many times relationships are difficult simply because of a difference in personality. Your personality is unique to you. Since there are so many different kinds of personalities, you will find that you may mix well with some but not as easily with others.
Until we learn to understand each other better, these differences become hindrances — points of conflict. What a pity to let our differences go on separating us when the things that distinguish us from each other could be helping us! The apostle Paul used the parts of a human body to demonstrate how each part is vital in order for a person to perform at his fullest potential. A body without all of its parts would be deformed. Imagine a body without a nose or a body without feet.
Speaking to the church in Corinth, Paul wrote in First Corinthians 12:21, “And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.” That phrase “no need of you” is the Greek phrase chreian sou ouk, which implies the thought, I have no occasion to employ your services. You have nothing that is of any use to me. Paul was stressing, “You cannot say you have no use for others in the Body of Christ. Paul’s illustration is very plain to understand: A body must have all of the parts in order to be complete. A body without hands can think, but it can’t touch. A body without eyes can smell, but it can’t see where to walk. A body without feet may see where it needs to go, but it cannot walk because it has no feet to carry it. Every part is necessary for the human body to function normally.
It is the same concerning our relationships in the Church. We need a whole spectrum of personalities in order for us to be complete and to successfully perform in life.
What would life be like if everyone was exactly like you? There would be gaping holes and terrible deficiencies all around us. Rather than allow differences in personalities to rub us the wrong way, we need to let the Holy Spirit teach us to see the benefit that each person we meet has to offer!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Dear Heavenly Father, You are so wise. You have placed every member in the body as it pleases You. According to Your divine plan, our differences are designed to complement and complete each other. Thank You for the relationships you have given me that are like iron sharpening iron. Holy Spirit, I receive Your wisdom and counsel on how to interact with others who are completely unlike me — and how not to allow differences in people to divide and separate me from them. Instead, I choose to yield to Your work by the Holy Spirit to allow our differences to produce a sanctifying experience in my life to conform me into the image of Christ for Your glory.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that I am positioned in the Body of Christ according to divine design. God is working through my unique gifts, talents, experiences, and personality to make me a blessing to people and to His Kingdom. I will not judge others for not thinking or acting in a way that I would prefer. The only standard of measure is the Word of God. Upon that common foundation, God Himself is building His Body with great diversity and distinction. Instead of comparing myself with others, which is not wise, I will develop the fruit of godly character and diligently apply my efforts to increasing in understanding and skillfulness in all I do so that I can be a valuable member in the Body of Christ.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Do you find that you are impatient with others who are different from you? Have you ever considered what life would be like if everyone was like you? Imagine how boring everything would be!
- Is it possible that you need to loosen up a bit and quit being judgmental of others for doing things differently than you would do them? Is it possible that they have a piece of the puzzle that is different from yours and that without them, you would have a gaping hole in your life? Who is that person you’re thinking about while you’re reading this question?
- What about your own background has made you see life a little differently than how others around you see it? Is it possible that some of your struggles originate because of how YOU view life differently than others?