1 Corinthians 12:14-27. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
21 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.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
How are we to relate to each other within the church? Are some Christians more valuable than others? Can a Christian survive alone? Paul’s elaborate body metaphor here in 1 Corinthians 12 shows us the primary relationship of the members of a local church to one another- interdependence. Not independence. Not co-dependence. But interdependence.
Paul clearly rules out that any Christian can go it alone. If all were a single member, where would the body be? And The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” We know this to be true theologically because every Christian shares the same spirit- the Spirit of Christ. We were baptized into the same Spirit and we are sustained by drinking the same Spirit every day (1 Corinthians 12:13). But we also know this to be true practically. Sin isolates us, and isolation is sin. You show me a Christian that doesn’t ever want to be around other Christians, and I’ll show you a Christian carrying sin and guilt. None of us can thrive alone. We all need our brothers and sisters to help bear our burdens, and come alongside us in times of trial. We all need to hear “I love you,” and “I accept you,” and “I need you.” Without this we die on the inside.
Paul is also ruling out co-dependency. Every Christian has all of Christ. This means that each individual Christian is fully alive, fully blessed, and fully saved all by themselves. Our salvation doesn’t come and go or grow or shrink based upon what others do or what they think about us. As Paul said back in chapter 9, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all.” We are all free from all. But co-dependency is bondage to others, to their opinions and actions, and to their thoughts and movements.
Co-dependency means finding my identity in you. Not in Christ. It is dangerous and destructive for both people. It never seeks the other’s best interest but only the interests of self. It is, in actuality, making an idol of the other person. Co-dependency does not celebrate differences. In 1 Corinthians 12, differences are clearly celebrated: On those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and that the members may have the same care for one another.
I believe what Paul is describing in 1 Corinthians 12 is the relationships within the local church of interdependence. Interdependence occurs when each member realizes their need for other, but also their individual secure salvation. Each member keeps their own unique identity, and yet shares the identity of Christ. Every member is important, but none is ultimate.
Living in interdependence is living in grace. Grace is more than just dependency. It is that, but it is also empowerment. Grace is what empowers us to live as Christ and for Christ. Interdependence empowers us. It is the interdependency of the local church body that empowers each of us as individuals to live as Christ. Without the grace of interdependence, we would all, like the lost lamb, seek to go our own way. But by grace we have been brought back into the flock.
Interdependence is the key to finding joy in life. We may start our life journey completely dependent on our parents or caregiver. But over time we grow healthily into relationships of interdependence. We learn to accept help but also give help to those in need. We find joy in the acceptance that these relationships offer. We are both needy and needed. This is the relationship that God has chosen to have with us. Yes, we are completely dependent upon God, and no, he does not need us. And yet he invites us into a relationship of interdependence. We need him and he has chosen to need us. He lives through us. He indwells us. His life is manifest in the church. Not because he needs to, but because he wants to. Because he knows that this is the best way to love us and bring us the greatest joy.
“To live is Christ” means that we need each other in order to grow into the likeness of Christ. And, at the same time, we are free from being controlled by each other. The grace of interdependency is the primary characteristic of the body of Christ. Everyone matters, everyone has a role, everyone contributes to the growth of the whole. In the words of Lawrence Cunningham, “When we recognize our interdependence, we can love others as we love ourselves.”
Can you identify trends of independence or co-dependence in yourself? Do you recognize the grace of interdependence? How does union with Christ mean that you are both free from all and yet connected to all in the church?