1 Corinthians 12:12-31
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John J. Spillane was almost drafted twice. Two major league baseball teams wanted him because of his excellent fielding and throwing ability. But instead, the United States drafted him to fight in the Second World War.
When the U.S. Invaded Tarawa on November 20th 1943, Spillane was a corporal on board one of the few amphibious assault vehicles that made it all the way to the beach in the first wave. More than twenty Marines were inside. Once there, the vehicle stalled against a Japanese defensive wall. The Japanese soldiers began lobbing grenades into the open box of the vehicle. Spillane picked up the first one like a hot ground-ball, and threw it back. He caught the second one in mid-air, and returned that one also. He fielded another, and then another, and then yet one more. The grenades exploded back among the Japanese defenses, injuring and killing the enemies who had thrown them. One of the returned grenades silenced a machine gun. While Spillane played the deadly game of catch like a madman, his fellow Marines leaped out of the vehicle, found cover and continued their assault. A sixth grenade flew into the vehicle, and Spillane caught this one also, but the enemy had delayed before lobbing it, and it went off in Spillane’s hand. Corporal Spillane survived, though he lost his right hand. He received the Navy Cross for his valor.
This is a true story. But I want you to consider the possibilities if Corporal Spillane had chosen to respond differently.
What if Spillane had said, “I know I belong to the Marine Corps, but what I really love is baseball. I don’t see how my skills can help in this invasion. I’ll think about going along, but don’t count on me to be any use.” How wrong he would have been! It was precisely his hand-eye coordination which both made him a great baseball player and ultimately, a hero and a life saver.
What if, when the grenades started flying, he had said, “I’m not a sergeant and I’m not an officer. It’s not my job to catch these grenades. They get paid more than me, let them catch them.” Maybe there was even an officer there who would have been willing to try. It’s doubtful that he would have had enough talent to save those twenty marines that Spillane saved.
How about if Spillane had this attitude: “I know I would be the best one to save the lives of these men in this situation, but no one has ordered me to use my skills.”
What if, instead of catching grenades, he had been checking to make sure the sergeant and lieutenant were doing their jobs and getting the men out of the vehicle?
If Spillane had taken any of these attitudes, twenty men would have died in that vehicle that day. Maybe many, many more would have died because those twenty weren’t alive to carry out their combat tasks.
For almost seventeen centuries, the devil has been lying to the church, telling her that she only needs a pastor, or maybe a pastor plus a couple Sunday School Teachers. And by and large, we have bought into the lie. The result is that our individual congregations are full of talented John Spillanes who sit on their hands, watching the grenades fall while they do nothing about it. Sometimes they don’t know what incredible good they are capable of. Often times, they just think it doesn’t have anything to do with them. Other times, they try and to get others to do what they were born to do. Still others won’t step in and use their gifts unless someone else orders them to. As result, thousands perish who might have been saved.
Paul’s picture in 1 Corinthians 12:1-31 is of a body. The illustration he uses is actually quite ludicrous. Would a foot really say that it doesn’t belong to the body, just because it isn’t a hand? Would an eye say that it doesn’t need any hands? Of course not. Such a body could barely function. The whole idea is silly.
And that is exactly Paul’s point. The idea of Christians who pretend they have nothing to offer the church is plain silly. The thought that the mission of the church can be carried out by just a few individuals like pastors or deacons is just as ludicrous. The whole thing would be as tragic as a baseball player saying he can’t catch grenades and throw them back to save the lives of his friends.
Sometimes it seems like American Church in general is barely functional. At times, even individual churches appear barely functional. If a church is just kind of limping along, maybe that is because they have feet claiming they aren’t part of the body, and eyes claiming that they need no ears in the body. It is because the John Spillanes of the church are doing nothing, believing the lies that they are meant for baseball rather than life-saving.
Paul makes it very clear: each one of us has a role to play. Each one of us has something vital to offer the church, the body of Christ. We all belong. The body cannot get along without each one. The body cannot be healthy if some of its members are acting as if they aren’t needed. The body of Christ is stumbling around in the world, lame, deaf and disabled because many Christians have ignored the fact that each individual believer is called to serve a vital role in the church.
Another important point is this: we don’t all have the same function (1 Corinthians12:14-19). If someone else had tried to catch the grenades that day on Tarawa, more people probably would have died. If Spillane had tried to do the lieutenant’s job, the result would have been disastrous. Problems occur when we try to fill the role that God has given to someone else, instead of trying to live out the calling he has given us. As Paul puts its:
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? (v.17)
I know I am not the only pastor in the world. But I am the only pastor who has my unique gifts, calling and experience. I will not amputate a part of the body of Christ by trying be like every other pastor, or by not fulfilling my call to teach, preach and write. You may not be the only person in the world who has a passion for social gatherings. But you may be the only one in your church with your unique approach to bringing people together for fun and fellowship. There may be someone who will never come to know Jesus except beginning through a gathering that you inspire and organize. You may be one of many people who works with kids. But there may be three or four children who need exactly your unique blend of fun, teaching and love in order to put their faith in Jesus for a lifetime.
Every person in the church is uniquely important and necessary. The body of Christ needs you.
If things had been different for John Spillane, he might have been a great baseball player. He might have been as famous as Babe Ruth, or Cal Ripken. But no matter how many fly balls he caught, no matter how many runners he threw out or home runs he hit, would they ever have amounted to the value of even one of the twenty lives he saved? He could have played a game, or saved lives. He did what was for more serious, and far more important.
My challenge to you is this: Stop playing games. Stop fooling around. Start living out your call and purpose. Your purpose in life isn’t to make money. It isn’t to be comfortable or to be prestigious. You aren’t destined for baseball, but for eternal life-saving. Paul writes this to Timothy:
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. (2 Timothy 2:3-7)
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.(1 Peter 2:9)
Some of you have never really thought about the call that God has on your life. Maybe you are hearing it for the first time right now. Maybe you don’t really know what your place in the body of Christ is. Maybe you don’t see how you can be used. You will find out only if you first accept that there is a call on your life, surrender to that, and then ask the Lord to reveal it you.
I highly doubt that John Spillane had any idea beforehand what he would do in the battle for Tarawa. But when the time came, he stepped up, because he was willing, and God put into him the perfect situation to use his talents to save lives. He will do the same for you, if you ask him, and let him answer.