How to change the world

“…our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part…some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary…” (1 Corinthians 12)

Part of growing up in Christian maturity is coming to the realization that we can’t do it all. This might feel a bit paradoxical since following Jesus seems to have a lot to do with signing up to change the world (your kingdom come, your will be done, etc). But because Jesus’ teaching has at times been coupled with the odd self-esteem movement, “you can change the world” has often been translated to “you can do it all”. That’s a tempting tweak on the gospel narrative and brings to bear a heavy load. “You can do it all” inevitably turns to “you should do it all” and we end up, somewhat unintentionally, setting ourselves up in God’s place. That’s obviously a dangerous and unhealthy message, and that’s not how the world is changed. That’s called a messiah complex and how we inevitably fall apart.

In 1 Corinthians 12 St. Paul speaks about the Church so vividly we’ve adopted his language as synomimic for the Church itself – the body of Christ. In Paul’s time the image was helpful as the Church was first beginning to form. The news about Jesus was doing something unprecedented in the world, uniting people in common life and purpose beyond cultural, ethnic and religious distinctions. People were being thrown together in ways that boggled the minds of even those leading these new communities. Paul’s vision of the body of Christ must have seemed something like Frankenstein’s monster at times – a bunch of dead things stitched together, a strange new life surging through, an eclectic body reanimated and stumbling along trying to find it’s bearings. It was awkward, exciting, new.

Many, of course, thought it madness, but Paul saw beyond what they couldn’t: the power of a diverse people working together in unity and humility. This dynamic group-work was what changed the ancient world, and along with it came a resignation by those involved to be who they had been made to be, no more, no less. This was different than oppressive class systems or beliefs in destiny or fate, all things ancient people were well versed in. It was a new kind of freedom. Being a Christian meant that everyone was equal and that everyone was unique, having an important part to play in God’s new world. This produced a kind of freedom and joy we still long for today.

“True love casts out all fear”, writes St. John. Many people live in fear they’ll never arrive or be enough. They’re working as hard as possible to measure up to some impossible standard they’re convinced they must find a way to meet or exceed. They might not admit to it but those of us watching can see plainly that they’re trying to it all. In our most honest moments (usually when we come to the end of our rope) we might even admit to ourselves that we’re trying to do it all. John reminds us we can live in love, not fear, remembering that our value or worth isn’t conditional on what we do – “we love because he first loved us”.  In the body of Christ we can be assured that we do indeed have purpose, and can be at peace with the role given us. We don’t have to do it all, we get to do what we’re made and gifted to.

Being a Christian means believing wholeheartedly that God has himself changed the world through the arrival of Jesus and the giving of his Spirit. It also means believing that the world continues to change through God’s new creation work – but it is his work, on his shoulders, and we are simply invited to join in (that’s Genesis 1 & 2, that’s Acts 1.4-8). And so we don’t change the world through grit and determination alone, as if it all depends on us. We change it through acknowledging our part to play, rolling up our sleeves, and joyfully getting on with our work, even if the work feels narrow or specific. In doing so we remember and emulate the one who seemed too weak and unimportant to warrant a fair trial or honourable death.

“…some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary…”