Holy Willfulness - thrive UMC Official Blog

Holy Willfulness

1 Corinthians 12:1-2, 12-27

We’re skipping ahead in our reading of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth to get to the heart of his message.  Paul spends about the first two-thirds of his note addressing very specific issues facing the young community –everything from leadership structures to dress codes and the timing of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  But all of that leads up to the climax of his message, which is all about unity. In our text for today, Paul shares with us his vision for unity in Christ.  We’re reading chapter 12, verses 1 and 2 and 12-27.    

12 Brothers and sisters, I don’t want you to be ignorant about spiritual gifts. You know that when you were Gentiles you were often misled by false gods that can’t even speak. 

12 Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. 13 We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink. 14 Certainly the body isn’t one part but many. 15 If the foot says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? 16 If the ear says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like he wanted. 19 If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? 20 But as it is, there are many parts but one body. 21 So the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” 22 Instead, the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary. 23 The parts of the body that we think are less honorable are the ones we honor the most. The private parts of our body that aren’t presentable are the ones that are given the most dignity. 24 The parts of our body that are presentable don’t need this. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the part with less honor 25 so that there won’t be division in the body and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it. 27 You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.

           For about the last nine weeks, I’ve been preaching to you on a series about growing out of our insecurities. And to do that, we’ve been learning about this strange spiritual tool called ‘The Enneagram’ which is basically just a map of 9 driving desires for the human personality. These are the desires that keep us alive and lead us into love and happiness –and you may not have ever thought of it this way, but it is our desires are also what hold us together. Just think about it –why do you come to church?  Why do you have friends and a family and maybe a lover or spouse or kids?  You have those relationships because you desire things.  You want things and you need things –things like love and food and meaning and fun. And to have any of that, we need other people.  But, as we all already know, there is also a dark side to desire –in church we usually call it sin. Our desires can –and often do- also cause us pain; they can tear families and communities apart; and they can damage our relationship with God –and they can even kill us they aren’t handled properly.  Just look at war!  Every war in human history has happened for the same simple reason: some group of people desired something somebody else had.  And they acted.    

               So today, we’re going to learn just a little bit about our 8th type on the Enneagram and the desire that drives it.  8s are called: “The Challenger” and their driving desire is to protect themselves (to be in control of their destiny)

Eights are self-confident, strong, and assertive. Protective, resourceful, straight-talking, and decisive, but can also be ego-centric and domineering. Eights feel they must control their environment, especially people, sometimes becoming confrontational and intimidating. Eights typically have problems with their tempers and with allowing themselves to be vulnerable. 

At their Best: self- mastering, they use their strength to improve others’ lives, becoming heroic, magnanimous, and inspiring.

               If you find yourself wondering whether or not you might be an 8, here are four statements this type tends to find true about themselves:

  • “I feel that ‘you have to break some eggs to make an omelet.”
  • “I am never prouder than when I see someone I’ve taken under my wing make it on their own.”
  • “I am strong-willed and do not give up or back down easily.”
  • “Somebody usually has to come up with the short end of the stick, and I don’t want it to be me.”

Just from reading these statements, you probably get the sense already that 8s are intense people. They tend to have larger-than life personalities, loud voices, and for better or worse, 8’s will often end up in leadership. For instance, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a famous example of an 8. And Joseph Stalin is another one. And I think these two figures aptly characterize this aspect of the human personality. Because the gift of the 8, the challenger, is willfulness

               Now before we go any further, we have to admit most of us probably wouldn’t be too thrilled to hear someone describe as being ‘willful’, would we?  Because ‘willful’ is an adjective we ascribe almost exclusively to difficult children. It’s what teachers say to parents to try to politely clue them in that your child is a total pain in the… neck. They disrupt the class; they don’t follow instruction; they’re being a bully to the other children. “Yes, well, Johnny is very… willful,” the teachers will say. We don’t, however, typically talk about adults that way.  Instead, when an adult exercises their willfulness, we’ll either say they are being a strong/confident leader, or we’ll call them something that can’t be repeated at church.  Listen to the polarized ways people talk about our current president –who also happens to be an 8.  It’s because in adults, we can’t separate the strength of the will from where it takes us.  It’s either a blessing or a curse, depending on whether or not the willfulness in another aligns with the willfulness in us. 

               Think about the scripture that we’ve been reading with this series.  One way to look at the whole letter of 1 Corinthians is to read it as a war of wills.  Some people want to do things Paul’s way; while others like Apollos better. Some want a libertine code of sexual ethics, while others will strict celibacy. And on and on.  There are competing wills when it comes to power, religious practice, ethnic identity, relationships, food, schedules, money –it’s all there!  Human wills are spilling out all over the place in this short little letter.  And friends, it is a mess!  Their new little community is at a crisis point –and if they can’t get their collective acts together, then their shared life is going to splinter and fall apart!

                  And then what happens to God’s kingdom on earth?  Who is left to bring to life the will for love and peace and compassion?  Who is going to help the rest of the world sort out their problem of competing wills, if not the Church?  (8’s!  8s will be there, and they’ll yell loudly and sound very sure of themselves, and insecure 6’s who don’t trust themselves, will happily elect them or carry them to the throne!)

               This is where Paul gets to the climax of his letter: “Brothers and sisters, I don’t want you to be ignorant about spiritual gifts. You know that when you were gentiles you were often misled by false gods that can’t even speak.”  When Paul says this, he isn’t just saying that people used to worship the wrong things; he’s saying their whole approach to worship was aimed in the wrong direction.  The expectation they had before they were introduced to the way of Christ was that they could simply go to a temple to get what they wanted. By offering a physical gift at the altar, they could in turn receive a spiritual gift –the object of their will.  In other words, temples were the location where their wills could be done

               But that’s not what a spiritual gift is! A spiritual gift, according to Paul, has nothing to do with the satisfaction of your will.  It’s not getting what you want.  A spiritual gift –an authentic spiritual gift- is when God’s spirit becomes alive and expressed in you.  In other words, to accept a spiritual gift, you must become the gift for someone or something else.  Paul actually calls it ‘the common good.’

               But before we move on, do we see how dramatic the difference is?  Can we recognize that some of us still come to Christian churches, worshipping like pagans?  We still come here hoping that God will give us what we want.  We still come and pray for our will to be done.  We want the good grades, the good job, the safety, the healing, the success, the happiness for us!  For me!  When we kneel before the cross to pray like that, we treat the cross like an idol!  The wake-up call Paul is trying to extend to the Church is that we need to entirely change our posture and our expectations! The most important conversion for us to make is a conversion of the will: we need to convert from ‘my will be done’ to ‘thy will be done’ –on earth, as it is in heaven. 

               And to illustrate this, he creates what was back then an entirely new image for worship –how it works and what it does: “Christ,” he says, “is just like the human body.”  Because, and don’t miss this part, again: you are the temple!  You are the gateway between heaven and earth –God’s heavenly gifts come alive on earth in and through your body! Then he goes on: “A body has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though they are many.”  And then Paul goes on to talk about how everyone in the church is different.  They have different ethnicities and social ranks and different responsibilities –and yet, they all share in a common baptism and spirit.  And the spirit makes them one!  Through the Spirit they are joined in a common body.  And just like the human body, the church has different parts.  So Paul invites us to shift in the way that we see ourselves.  He shows us a new-knowing: he invites us to see ourselves as a kind of organ for Christ.  We are not Christ, but we are a part of Christ.  We’re like an eyeball, or a knee-cap, or a ventricle of the heart.  We each have a unique function and a particular gift that serves the whole of the larger body.  And if Christ is going to come alive and save the world, it needs all the parts. For Christ to be strong and healthy, it’s not enough for some of the parts to be strong and healthy –each and every part has to be in good working order and complaint-free. And the will of each part has to be for the whole.  

                Brothers and sisters, it is good to be willful people. It is our will that enables us to act and create an impact.  But our will must be Christ-minded.  We must take great care, and go through great pains to ensure that our will builds up the common good.  For what is good for the body is good for all of the parts. What is true for our own bodies is also true for Christ’s body; and it is true for our personality, and also for our global eco-system.  Paul reminds us, “God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like he wanted.”  Therefore let us come to find our place and our purpose, by discovering our own gift –and growing from there.

               And here are some practical tips for Spiritual Growth for the 8s in all of us:

  • Watch out for black-and-white thinking. Grey is an actual color. (and grey is where black and white interact)
  • Broaden your definition of strength and courage to include vulnerability. Risk sharing your heart at deeper levels with someone.
  • Remember, your tendency is to act impulsively. It’s “Ready, Aim, Fire!” not “Fire, Aim, Ready!”

As we grow in our own unique giftedness, may we also grow together through the recognition and celebration of the gifts to be found in others –for we truly are all in this together.  Let’s pray.