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Reflection – September 2023

‘In the one body there are many members, many gifts, but the same Spirit.’

The Uniting Church has taken an unusual approach to the structure of the church in drawing upon the pictures of church painted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 and Romans 12. Most churches have drawn their ideas for church from the Acts of the Apostles. It is not that one way is better or worse than another way, they are just different.

The Uniting Church is based on the idea that the church is the body of Christ, and there is a distribution of the gifts of the Holy Spirit on the baptised members. In such a church, all the baptised members are gifted with the graces of the Holy Spirit. Each gift has its corresponding service. Such a model of church precludes the idea of a ‘merely like-minded’ group of people who associate to share a particular taste. The Uniting Church is a ‘risen crucified” shaped church in which many different people possessing many different gifts collaborate in order to be a divine human community in one location.

Of course, within the framework of the church there are specific ministries, such as Ministers of the Word, Leaders/Elders, Lay preachers, and Deacons, to name a few. Those ministries are not for self-gratification, or to ‘lord it’ over others but for the good order of the church. No gift is unimportant. Each gift is vital for the whole church. Such a community of faith, church, has its being as church when all in the community are Christ-centred, and giving expression to the gifts the Holy Spirit has given each one.

I have included Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, below.

Romans 12:1-8

1 Therefore, I exhort you, sisters and brothers, through the compassion of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and well-pleasing to God, which is your rational service; 2 and be not conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind, so that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. 3 For by the grace of God given me, I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly then you ought to think, but to think of yourself with sound judgement, each according to the measure of faith which God has given. 4 For as in the one body we have many members, but not all members have the same action, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: whether prophecy, according to the proportion of faith; 7 or service, in serving; if the teacher, in teaching; 8 or the one exhorting, in exhortation; the one sharing, in generosity; the one taking the lead, in diligence, the one showing mercy, in cheerfulness. 9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil; cling to what is good; 10 love one another with warm affection; be eager to show respect to one another, 11 be diligent not lazy, aglow with the Spirit, serving the Lord, 12 rejoicing in hope, endure in affliction, be steadfast and constant in prayer, 13 share in the needs of the saints, seek out opportunity to show hospitality. 14 Bless those who curse you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony of mind with one another; do not be proud in your thinking but associate with humble people. 17 Repay no one evil for evil; have regard for what is honourable for all people; 18 if possible, for your part, seek peace with all people; 19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but make allowance for wrath; for it has been written: ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No. If your enemy is hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them a drink; for by doing you will heap burning coals upon their head. 21 Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good. (Translation from the Greek by Keith Hamilton)

Paul encourages us to live lives that are presented as a ‘living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God.’ That is a totally demanding ask, which I think requires daily repentance for sin when we fall short, seeking God’s forgiveness grace to get up and go again. Such a life would be characterised by humility, which in turn would illuminate the risen crucified Christ.

Reviewing the ideas of Paul, above, what might you give thanks to God for? Perhaps you could write or say a prayer. Lord, I am truly thankful for . . . Amen.

Which of the teachings of Paul do you find most difficult? Perhaps you could include those difficult things in a prayer. Lord, help me to . . . Amen.

Keith Hamilton
31 August 2023