‘”The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you.”‘
We had an African morning in church today, to celebrate and to feed back on our recent trip to Liberia. As part of the worship, we sang some songs in Zulu with the translations on the screen. One brother comes from South Africa, which isn’t exactly Liberia, but it made the point: we may have different languages and different cultures, but our songs worship the same Lord and have the same meaning. Our churches may be thousands of miles apart, but we are members of the same body and branches of the same Vine. The life of Jesus flows through us all, wherever we are in the world. The verses are familiar:
“The body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And 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.” (1 Cor 12: 14-21)
Jesus gave the analogy of the vine to the apostles to express something of the same idea that His Spirit gave to Paul some years later: just as the body has many members, the vine has many branches. Although the description that we have in John’s gospel doesn’t extend to further viticultural details, it is true to say that every branch of the vine is unique, just like every member of the body. But as Jesus said: “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered… If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15: 6,10)
Without love – His Love – the branches wither. As Paul famously wrote to the Corinthians: “Without love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor 13:2) It all comes down to love. I can pour out my love to Jesus in gratitude for what He has done for me, but unless I can love another branch that is a different shape to me, and maybe has more (or less) fruit, my worship is meaningless. The apostle John makes this clear in his first letter: “For if anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, how can he love God, whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20).
Unless we see one another as members of the one body and allow the love of the vine to flow between us, we are nothing. Without love, the eye expects the whole body to be an eye; without love the hand tells the foot “I have no need of you.” Criticism and judgementalism come when the eye doesn’t understand what the hand is doing, and so just sees it as a useless eye. But if the eye sees the hand as a member of the Body that is of equal value to itself, although its purpose is entirely different, the love of the Vine can unite the two. Instead of discarding the foot and all that it stands for (excuse the pun!) the hand will seek to understand the connection the foot has to the body, and through that will understand the foot. And to come back to the relevance of this morning’s service, when the hand speaks to the foot it will seek to use the language of the foot. To speak to the hand, the eye needs to understand how the hand sees the world and to speak the language of the hand. Because this too is love.
“But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased” (verse 18). If you are a hand, and God has set you next to an eye, it was for a reason. Not that you have to learn to see, or even more importantly that you have to teach the eye how to hold a hammer; but that you have to learn to love. Because “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” (John 15: 7-8)