The body of Christ is a group of supernaturally-empowered distinct individuals who work together to build up the body, reveal Christ to the world, and glorify God. We are distinct individuals with unique gifts and ministries, but we are called into the same body to work together for the same end.
After reading Ephesians 2 and 3, we might lose sight of our individuality. I would argue that many problems have been caused in the church simply because we fail to accept our differences. The church has split many times as the sad result of people not willing to budge on matters of opinion and personal preference. The “color of the carpet” has become a catchphrase for that very reason. How many churches have split over something as meaningless as the color of the carpet?
Music has often been a divisive topic for churches. Some insist on congregational singing sans musical instruments. Some prefer old hymns, while others like contemporary songs. I read an article that debated the merits of drums in the church. Some people have strong views that drums represent an instrument of the devil. Others, however, such as Native American Christians, come from a cultural background where drums have a unique spiritual quality.
In most of these matters, I believe Paul would say, “Let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Ro 14:19). Regarding our distinct personalities and gifts, I believe he’d say, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1Co 12:7).
In Ephesians 4, Paul says, “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph 4:7). I appreciate the translation of that first word, but. Occasionally, an English Bible will say, “Now grace was given—” This conjunction, however, is adversative. It marks a contrast between what came before and what comes after. It’s the same as saying regardless or on the other hand.
Previously, Paul has spoken extensively about the body of Christ. He has emphasized the body’s unity, potentially leading us to think that we lose all personal identity when we join the church.
Several years ago, I was talking with a pastor who is certainly unique. He tends to break the mold when it comes to conservative Baptist pastors. He was telling me that when he started preaching, he tried his hardest to be just like every other elder he knew. He looked at these other men and thought, I guess that’s what a pastor is supposed to be.
After a while, though, he realized that God had called him to preach. God had called him with all of his distinct personality traits and different ways of doing things. He told me, “It was only after I learned to be me and use my special gifts that my ministry became truly effective.”
Paul leads us to think in similar terms. “But,” he says, “grace was given to each one of us” (Eph 4:7). Peter doesn’t become Paul when God calls him. Paul doesn’t become Peter. In other words, unity is not uniformity. The unity of believers is not to be misunderstood as removing the uniqueness of believers.