God has made us one Body out of many members. He has given each of us different gifts that are supposed to work all together for the edification of the Body and the glory of God. But we know that humanly speaking if you just gather together a lot of people who all have something to say and have a stake in what’s happening, there would be chaos without an order to the community that was created.
For this reason, St. Paul lays down the divine principle: “let all things be done decently and in order” (verse 40.) St. Basil writes that “Paul is referring to the decent and well-ordered way of life in the society of the faithful, where the relationship which obtains among the members of the body is maintained.” This principle is clear from Paul’s pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus as well, and so the church has ordained leaders (elders, presbyters) who are to govern the church.
Sometimes Christians see this order or government as an imposition and, practically speaking, believe in a kind of Christian libertarianism. The great problem with this is that God is a God of order, and when He created the world and then out of it created the Church, He didn’t just create them as disembodied abstractions but instead clothed them. He incarnated them into specific forms and structures which He had ordained as a part of what He had created.
Therefore, the Church, in her institutional or ecclesiastical order, is from God, and not just a motley crew of individual Christians doing their own thing. Far from being an imposition or limitation on us, God’s order in the church is essential to her well being. It is a matter of law: the royal law of love that gives perfect liberty, because this order and this law provide the means by which love is allowed to rule and facilitate the edification of the Body through the disparate use of spiritual gifts.
Sometimes I grumble and gripe when I’m stopped by a red light (there’s a particularly meddlesome one near where I live that lasts for 2 whole minutes and which often has no cars at all waiting to go.) And sometimes I remember what life would be like without those stop lights: a bloody battlefield of human contest and confusion, an asphalt plain littered with terrible congestion and wreckage.
God has knit us together into one Body, but how shall the Body be seen and how shall it hold together, if everyone does what is right in his own eyes? The spiritual gifts, left to themselves, without a larger Body in which the Spirit dwells, can quickly become unspiritual. Paul has referred, especially in terms of tongues, how a spiritual gift can be used for self instead of the good of the Body. Even the Lord’s Supper, the greatest occasion for God making His Body one, had become a cause for selfishness in the church at Corinth.
The spiritual gifts are centrifugal in their force. They are driven by the Spirit, and therefore they are powerful and explosive, and they look outward. Because of their powerful, charismatic and attractive nature, they have the potential to be used for self and not for the good of the Body. Left unchecked by some other binding force, they might escape the orbit into which God has ordained that they should run. They are, I believe, held in orbit by the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These fruits of the Spirit always seek to draw everyone and his gifts into the whole of the Body. They are the centripetal (or “center-seeking”) force that binds the Body together: they are the strong nuclear force that keeps the protons, neutrons, and electrons together in the body of the atom.
It is because we are parts of a larger Body who we are supposed to edify each other that Paul goes into such details about other things in the Church. It is because all things are to be done decently and in order and because all things are to be done for edification (verse 26) that Paul needs to discuss the place of tongues and interpreters, prophecy and the limits on it, and the silence of women in the church.
This divine order to our lives is true not only in the Church but also in the rest of our lives. As St. Chrysostom writes: “Nothing builds up as much as good order, peace, and love, just as nothing is more destructive than their opposites. It is not only in spiritual affairs but in everything that one may observe this.” God has created a world of order and has assigned us a particular place in it, with particular godly obligations. It is not just the Church that is an ordered society bound by the royal law of love but all of our human relationships and all of our human communities. There is an order in the family between parents and children and husband and wife; in work between employer and employee; and in the civil government between leaders and the people.
To build God’s Church, Paul says, each of you must exercise the spiritual gifts that God has graciously given you. But you must also use them within the ordered world He has also created, for you are part of the Body of Jesus Christ. In this way, your individuality and individual membership in the Body of Christ finds its most edifying and loving power in the life of the Body of Christ, as it is inhabited by the Spirit of Christ who gives both the spiritual gifts and the spiritual fruits.
Bound together by the love that’s united in Jesus Christ, and exploding outward to seek the good of others in His love, the Church is, like the Trinity, a holy vortex of love!
Prayer: Grant, we beseech You, merciful God, that Your Church, being gathered together in unity by Your Holy Spirit, may manifest Your power among all peoples, to the glory of Your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.
Resolution and Point for Meditation: I resolve to examine my life in the Body of Christ. Am I using the spiritual gifts God has given me to edify His Body? Am I willing to submit to the order that God has established in the Church, or do I go too much my own way?
© 2013 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day