Continuing to unfold the metaphor of the church as the body of Christ, Paul in today’s passage stresses that a well-functioning, unified church requires diverse gifts. Without this diversity, the church suffers greatly.
The Apostle makes his argument for diversity as necessary for unity by making an analogy with different parts of the human body. As he notes in 1 Corinthians 12:14, the human body consists of many different members. No single member makes up the entire body, so a healthy body that functions as it was originally designed requires each constituent part. Paul unfolds this point even more explicitly in verse 17, where he notes that if the entire body consisted of just one kind of member, it would be lacking. Just as a body that was entirely an eye would have no sense of smell, a church whose members all possessed the same gift would be lacking in ability and wholeness.
Practically speaking, this means that each individual member of the church has a particular purpose and is a part of Christ’s body even if that member is discontent with his place. Such discontentment should not be. Just as it is silly for a foot to complain that it is not a full part of the body because it is not a hand, individual Christians are unreasonable to question their necessity to the church because they lack a particular gift. Just as an ear would not cease to be a part of the body if it complained that it is not an eye, individual Christians do not cease being united to Jesus and vital for the health of the church by denigrating the spiritual gifts they have.
The point is that since there would be no unified human body without each distinct member functioning in its place, there could be no unified church that functions according to God’s design without the variety of gifts the Lord has granted to His church (v. 19). Diversity of giftings, properly understood and embraced, results in unity. Any purported unity created by emphasizing one gift over others is not the kind of unity that Christ has appointed for His people.
All this comes from the Lord, who has arranged individual members of Christ’s church according to His good purpose (v. 18). John Chrysostom writes: “God has placed each part of the body where he has chosen, so we must not inquire any further as to why he has done it the way he has. For even if we could come up with ten thousand explanations, we would never find one better than this—that it pleased the Creator to make it the way he chose.”