May 11, 2008
Pentecost (A)
The Value of a Team
1 Corinthians 12:3-13

Jenny Thompson is the most decorated American woman when it comes to Olympic competition. Her ten Olympic medals in swimming (in the last three Olympics) also mean she has won more medals in swimming than any other Olympic athlete of any nation.

Eight of those ten medals were gold. However, she didn’t win any of the gold’s in individual events; rather, she won them in a team event with three other swimmers.

As a result, some people have questioned whether Jenny’s swimming accomplishments ought to rank her with the “great” Olympic champions. She asks the question herself. The 27-year-old swimmer from Dove, New Hampshire, said: ”It’s got to be very different to experience an individual gold versus a team gold.” And ice-skating champion Bonnie Blair said recently of Jenny, ”I wish she could feel what it’s like for an individual gold, to witness it by herself and not just as part of a team.”

It makes me want to ask, “Why?” What’s wrong with being on a team? What’s wrong with being successful as a team? Why is it so important to achieve only as an individual?

It isn’t that we aren’t important as individuals. It isn’t even that self doesn’t matter. But Scripture teaches that “we” is at the heart of what makes the church the church.

Three attitudes surface in our text that move us toward a healthy appreciation for the church and our part in it.

I’m content with who I am
Disciples are called to trust God’s judgment. He determined who we are and what we contribute to the body (1 Corinthians 12:11). We are called to be content with His choice.

There is a billion dollar industry bent on convincing us that we should look different than we do. Millions of people undergo an “extreme makeover” every year, just so they can change their looks. Unfortunately, we are often like that in the church. We want to be/do something other than what we are gifted to do.

Contentment is not an excuse for mediocrity; it’s a peace that God knows best. My service to Him, my contribution to His work, is done in the full knowledge that this is not about me. Any contribution I might make isn’t by my own doing – it’s an expression of God’s Spirit living in and working through me. He gets the credit.

A healthy church is made up of those who contribute from their strengths. They don’t envy those who do something different from what they do. They don’t undermine the ministry of those who do something they might like to do. Disciples of Jesus are content with what God has made them to be.

I’m responsible for who I am
I honor God when I live faithfully. I don’t allow the world to convince me that I need to look different. But I also honor God when I serve faithfully. To refuse to serve in an area of giftedness is to question God’s judgment about what is best: for us and for the Kingdom.

Serving faithfully means identifying our gifts. We are responsible to seek out an understanding of how God has made us and then serve appropriately. What we dream about, what we do well, what the “gift inventory” tells us, are all good ways to determine our gifts. But the best way is to “listen to the body.”

What are people telling you? What do they ask you to do? Not just your grandmother and your best friend – they’re biased. But sometimes perfect strangers encourage a particular activity. Disparate voices sound a call with remarkable unity. Pay attention – give it a try.

Serving faithfully also means exercising our gifts. Romans 12:6 says, “If a man’s gift is . . . let him . . .” Gifts are not like awards we mount on our den wall. They are tools we put to work in kingdom investment.

In “Chariots of Fire,” missionary Eric Liddell seeks to explain his running to his sister. He tells her, “God made me fast.” And then, “When I run, I feel His pleasure.” It’s the exercise of a gift. Decades later his exercise of that gift influenced millions who saw the movie and heard those lines repeated.

Serving faithfully means accounting for our gifts. Jesus uses more than one story to inform us that God will ask what we did with what He’s given us. We are expected to use what God gives us and should expect Him to “check up on us.”

The church is healthy when individual Christians are content with who they are and are responsible with what God gives them. But there is more than this mere individual response. The church is healthy when…

I’m grateful for who you are
1 Corinthians 12 emphasizes that the body of Christ as an expression of Christ himself. We live together and serve together and influence the world together. We are the body and that calls for mutual appreciation.

To read further into the chapter forces us to realize there can be no spirit of inferiority (1 Corinthians 12:14-20) and no spirit of superiority (1 Corinthians 12:21-26). We are all necessary for the body to be a body and to be healthy.

An early church hymn (Philippians 2:5-11) reminds us that this was the very attitude of Christ. He was committed to the service of others. He poured Himself out for others. Paul followed that by reminding us that he graced the offerings of others (Philippians 2:17). Timothy was unusual because he cared for the lives and concerns of others (Philippians 2:19-24). And Epaphroditus valued the lives of others over His own (Philippians 2:25-30).

How many times does Paul say, “I thank my God every time I think of you…”? In Romans 16 he gives an extensive list of those whose ministries he values and appreciates. He appreciates the ministries of others. It’s what makes a healthy church.

I wish I could ask Bonnie Blair why Jenny Thompson should feel somehow unfulfilled. After all, she helped many other people achieve a goal they could not have achieved without her. Shouldn’t we all be content that we’ve helped others accomplish what God sent them into the world to do? And won’t the church be far more effective when the body functions as a healthy unit, rather than as a collage of individuals seeking their own agenda?

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