On How You Identify

One of the beautiful things about Scripture is that it is all breathed out by God and profitable. We need to learn that everything the Bible teaches us about God is true. We also should understand that what the Bible teaches us about thinking about God and what the Bible teaches us about thinking about ourselves is also true. We learn both from the claims of the Scripture as well as from the rationale, the reasoning, of Scripture.

I began to think a bit about how the Bible’s rationale teaches us when reading Paul’s statements about the church and our unity in the body with our variety of spiritual gifts.

1 Corinthians 12:15-16 – 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.

In context, Paul is presenting for us an argument to prove that every person in the body of Christ, every person in the church, is valuable and has a role to play. Some have gifts that appear more spectacular than others. Some have gifts that are more hidden. Some have greater needs for help. Other seem more self-sufficient. But we all are gifted by God to help each other and we all need each other. No member has the biblical right to think that any member of the body, including himself or herself, is worth more or less than any other member in the body.

Paul suggests to us that, even if a person thinks they do not matter to the body, they still do. A foot cannot say that, if it does not get to be a hand, it is not really part of the body. And a person not allowed to preach from the pulpit cannot say to the body that they are not genuinely a valuable part of the body. And a person who cannot sing must not think they are less valuable than the big voice sitting next to them. And the person who struggles to read and comprehend a paragraph is just as valuable as the one who devours a book a day.

All that is beautiful and in context. But there is something else that strikes me when I look at this passage. It is not Paul’s argument that catches me this time, but an understood truth in his reasoning. This reasoning is significant and biblical. When Paul speaks of the people as parts of the body, he talks about things they say about themselves. He talks about their self-identification. And notice that, in the mind of the apostle, inspired by God, the declaration of a foot or an eye has no bearing on that item’s reality. A foot cannot declare itself not a part of the body simply because it does not like its shape. An eye cannot declare itself not a part of the body simply because it does not like its function. Paul is clear in his rationale, a rationale he expects Christians through the ages to understand, that things are what they are in actual point of fact; their reality is not determined by how they choose to identify themselves. Nor is their reality determined by the opinions of others.

It might be helpful, Christians, for you to stop and consider how important it is that God would show us, in how he inspired his own Scripture to be written, that he believes that the reality of a thing or a person to be important. There is no foot to hand fluidity. There is no ear to eye flip-flopping. Paul is not saying that your foot can be a part of your body from one point of view, but from another, it is clearly not. The reasoning of the apostle tells us that truth matters.

I was born in the United States in the 1970s. I cannot be telling the truth and identify myself as a native-born Korean under the age of 25. I might be able to learn the language and enjoy the food. I might be able to grasp the culture and even enjoy hanging out with folks who are what I claim to be. I might be able to hide behind a made-up on-line presence and pretend to be what I tell people I am. But the reality is, no matter what happens, I’m still an
American in his 40s.

Do not, by the way, read this as intentionally mean-spirited. I understand that, for many people, our reality of who we are or even what we are can be difficult. Remember, I’m blind. I would prefer to be able to see. It would make several things in life far easier. I have to adapt to function. I have to let go of doing certain things I really might enjoy doing. But you know what? Were I to suddenly declare myself sighted, that would not change the fact that, were I to try to drive, I’d crash the car.

Christians are to be a people of truth. God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). We do not help ourselves or others by pretending that false things are real. We do not help a foot by letting it pretend to be a hand or by letting it pretend not to be a part of the body. We do not help ourselves if we live in fantasy and refuse to acknowledge reality. For certain, the reality that we acknowledge is not necessarily acknowledged by the rest of the world. Some think we are nuts for believing in a Creator who spun the planets into space or in angels, demons, life after death, etc. But we are not claiming these are both real and unreal. We are believing in biblical truth claims. We are not pretending that they simultaneously exist and do not exist depending on one’s point of view. We are bound by truth. We do not look at blue and call it red. We do not look at light and call it dark. We do not look at life and call it not life. We do not look at people and call them something they are not. We follow the rationale we see in Paul’s direct reasoning that a thing does not become another thing by its declaration. Neither does a person.