March 5, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — 1 Corinthians 12:12-13
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
When we receive God’s grace through faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit connects us in a deep, lasting way to the community of other Christians. Our unity as Christians isn’t something we create, but rather something created by the Spirit of God in which we live.
Today’s devotion is part of the Life for Leaders series: Can’t Do It Alone.
In last Thursday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we observed what happened on Pentecost as the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the first Christians. Not only were they supernaturally empowered to bear witness to the gospel, but also they were drawn together in deep, intentional fellowship. The earliest Christians didn’t need to be told “You can’t do it alone” because the Holy Spirit had placed within their hearts a desire and willingness to share life with other believers.
What we see in the story of the first Christians in Acts 2 is explained theologically by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians. In chapter 12 Paul is giving his Corinthian converts basic training in the work of the Holy Spirit. As part of that training he writes, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). Using the analogy of the human body, Paul shows that all believers in Christ are also members of the one body of Christ.
How does this happen? It is a work of the Spirit who “baptizes” all of us into the body of Christ. There is a curiously mixed metaphor here. The verb translated as “baptize“ meant in Greek to immerse something in a liquid. It can seem a little odd, therefore, to talk of the Spirit immersing each new Christian into the body of Christ. Today, we might talk about being transplanted into the body or something like that. Paul’s imagery might feel odd to us, but his point is clear. When someone receives the good news of Christ in faith, that person is connected in a deep and lasting way to the community of other Christians.
So, if you were to ask Paul, “Why can’t I do it alone?” he might respond by saying, “Because, if you have accepted God’s grace through faith, you are not alone. You are spiritually connected to other believers in Jesus, much as one part of your body is connected to another.” The earliest Christians who received the Spirit on Pentecost may not have been able to articulate this theology, but they understood it at a gut level and lived it each day. They knew they were bound to other believers in Jesus and they began to live in genuine community with them.
In our world, I’m sad to say that it’s not uncommon for Christians to live as if they were doing it alone. Many who believe in Jesus keep their faith to themselves. They may be loosely connected to some Christian community, but mostly they try to follow Jesus all by themselves. They are not living into the joys and expectations that go with being baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ.
How should we respond to Christians who are doing the Christian life alone? In some cases, they need to be told that God has much more for them than they have realized. The Christian life isn’t a solitary endeavor but rather one to be shared with others. Full flourishing in Christ comes only in the context of Christian community. Many Christians don’t know this and they need to be told. This is especially true, in my experience, for people who have been raised in individualistic cultures, many of which are common in the United States.
In other cases, Christians are “doing it alone” because they have withdrawn from Christian community on purpose. Why? Because they have experienced such negative things in church (or other Christian organizations). They have backed away from church because what they experienced there was toxic, contrary to the gospel, and out of line with what God intends for Christian community. Those who are doing it alone because of the injuries they received from other Christians need understanding, healing, and support. They need to be welcomed warmly and genuinely into a community that reflects the reality of God’s love and grace. In many cases, it will take them a while before they are ready to fully engage with other Christians again.
I expect that readers of Life for Leaders represent the broad spectrum of Christian experience when it comes to church and other forms of Christian community. No doubt some of you are deeply engaged in your church and are glad for what you experience there. I imagine that others of you feel as if you’re in recovery from a previous church experience that damaged your soul. Most of us, I would expect, fall somewhere in the middle.
But no matter where you are right now in your relationship with other Christians, the good news found in 1 Corinthians 12 is that you are not alone. You might feel alone. You might be trying to live the Christian life alone. But that does not mean you are actually disconnected from the body of Christ. Remember, you were not joined to this body through your action, but through the work of the Spirit.
Now, I acknowledge that actually living in Christian community is not always easy. Church is no cakewalk. I’ll have more to say about this in tomorrow’s Life for Leaders devotion. For now, let me encourage you to reflect upon your connection to other Christians in this season of your life. The following questions might help.
To what extent would you say that you are living your life in community with other Christians?
If you tend to be more alone in your Christian life, why is that?
When have you experienced gracious, authentic, and loving Christian community? What was that like for you?
Talk with a wise friend, your spiritual director, or your small group about your current engagement with Christian community.
Gracious God, thank you for the work of your Spirit. Thank you for baptizing me into the body of Christ through the Spirit. Thank you for connecting me in a deep way to others who believe in you. Thank you for the gift of Christian community. Thank you that I don’t have to do it alone.
Help me, Lord, to experience the gift of community on a regular basis. May I share life and faith with my sisters and brothers in Christ, learning, growing, and serving together. Amen.
Banner image by Kaleb Tapp on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Spiritual Gifts in Community (1 Corinthians 12:1–14:40).
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.