Scripture: 1st Corinthians 12:12-27

Title: Inter-dependence


  • Introduction
  • Inter-dependence defined
  • 1st Corinthians 12:12-27

o   Unity with diversity

o   Equality with affection

  • Conclusion



On the wall here we have a picture. Take a look.

–         Put up your hand if the first thing you noticed was a woman standing on a stage wearing a white dress and talking to a large crowd

–         Interesting, you can put your hands down.

–         Now put your hands up if you noticed the crowd first and then only later noticed the woman on stage.

This is a classic social science experiment

–         The theory goes that, generally speaking, people from a western culture tend to describe the individual on stage first, while people from an eastern culture are more inclined to see the crowd first

–         This is because western culture is usually more oriented to the individual and eastern culture is more oriented to the group [1]

Here’s another example of collective thinking vs. individual thinking

–         On the wall here we have a picture of a crowd of people at a sports match

–         Tell me, is the man I’ve circled there happy or unhappy?

–         Who thinks he’s happy?

–         Who thinks he’s not happy?

–         Some people might think he is sad or grumpy because all the people around him are clearly not happy but he’s actually celebrating because his team is winning, while all the other people around him are cross because their team is losing

One more. Is the guy with his face in his hands happy or sad?

–         Hands up if you think he’s happy

–         Who thinks he’s sad?

–         I’m not sure if he’s happy or sad because I can’t see his face

–         Most likely he’s happy because the people around him are happy

–         But it’s possible he’s sad because the others are laughing at him

–         The point is: our read of a situation will differ depending on whether we are inclined to think collectively or individually

When social scientists do this kind of experiment on children they find that kids with a more individualistic way of looking at life have no problem thinking that an individual might be feeling differently to the group around them

–         While those kids with a more collective mind-set don’t read the individual’s face – they read the collective face of the group

–         They take it for granted that everyone in the group will be feeling the same way – because ‘we’ has more influence than ‘me’

Today we continue our series on well-being and care of the soul, using the acronym: HEALING.

–         Each letter represents a word which, when properly applied, is life giving to the human soul…

–         Hope Energy Appreciation Lament Inter-dependence Nurture & Giving

–         Today our message focuses on inter-dependence


Inter-dependence defined:

Inter-dependence is about depending on one another

–         Or said another way, inter-dependence is mutual reliance


Inter-dependence is different from independence

–         To be independent is to rely on yourself and therefore to operate separately from the group

–         To be inter-dependent is to function as part of a group

–         With independence comes isolation, loneliness and a loss of identity

–         But with inter-dependence we get a sense of purpose and belonging – we know who we are and where we fit


Inter-dependence is also different from dependence

–         Inter-dependence involves relationships of mutual exchange, where everyone gives and receives – it’s a two way street

–         Everyone needs the others and everyone has something to offer the others

–         Dependence, on the other hand, lacks mutuality – it’s a one way street

–         With dependent relationships there is an imbalance of power and therefore a greater risk of abuse

–         Conversely, with inter-dependent relationships, there is a better balance of power and greater mutual respect


I started today’s message by talking about how eastern cultures tend to think collectively, while western cultures are more inclined to think individually

–         There’s pros & cons with both systems

–         The problem with extreme collectivism is that you tend to get uniformity – people are forced into a mould and are not free to be themselves, supposedly for the greater good

–         At the other extreme, with individualism you tend to get freedom without responsibility or restraint and people’s relationships suffer for it

–         Inter-dependence combines the best parts of collectivism & individualism enabling people to be themselves while still valuing others – so you are more likely to get healthy, functional connections with other people


1st Corinthians 12:12-27

To help us explore this concept of inter-dependence our Bible reading today focuses on 1st Corinthians chapter 12

–         1st Corinthians was a letter written by the apostle Paul to Christians in first century Corinth.

–         Ancient Corinth was a little bit like modern Las Vegas or Los Angeles – it had a reputation for being morally bankrupt

–         The church in Corinth had a few problems too and Paul was writing to help them sort things out

–         Two of the problems it seems were disunity & inequality

–         The church was not functioning in a healthy inter-dependent way

–         In 1st Corinthians 12 Paul reminds the believers of God’s design for the church and their need for one another, using the metaphor of the body

–         From verses 12-27 we read…

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized with one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us


When we look at how God has designed the natural world we see he has done it in an inter-dependent way

–         For example, the trees rely on the soil for stability & nourishment

–         At the same time trees feed the soil with compost and prevent erosion

–         Trees and soil are very different but they need each other

–         Bees harvest nectar from flowers and in the process they fertilise the flowers and contribute to the fruitfulness of the tree

–         Bees and trees are very different but they need each other

–         These are examples of relationships of mutual reliance

–         What we notice in nature is that one part of an eco-system relies on every other part – so the bees aren’t just relying on the trees, they are also relying on the soil to support the trees, just as the soil is relying on the bees to fertilise the trees and keep the cycle of life going

–         The human body is like an eco-system with many different parts each relying on every other part – a diverse inter-dependent unity


One of the problems with the church in Corinth was disunity

–         Paul seeks to address this problem by giving the Corinthian believers a positive example of how the church is supposed to function

–         The church is like the human body – a diverse inter-dependent unity


Unity with diversity

Paul starts with unity – he reminds the Corinthians what they share in common – primarily Christ and the Holy Spirit

–         All Christian believers share the Spirit of Jesus sort of like all human beings share the air we breathe

–         Or like all the different parts of a person’s body share the same blood type and DNA


The other thing the Corinthian’s share in common is their need

–         Each person has need of the others and no one person can function or serve God’s purpose apart from the others

–         Paul is essentially saying their differences are a good thing

–         The body couldn’t function without diversity – everyone is needed

–         Inter-dependence requires unity with diversity

Two things that undermine inter-dependence are inferiority and independence

Paul deals with inferiority in verses 15-16

–         In Middle Eastern culture certain parts of the body are given higher status than other parts [2]

–         For example the foot is considered unclean and inferior to the right hand

–         But Paul argues the foot can’t exclude itself from the body because it feels inferior to the hand

–         The foot serves a valuable and necessary function just as the hand does


Sometimes we don’t like the way we are made or gifted – we might prefer to be something we are not

–         Or perhaps we don’t feel like we are as good as others – we may struggle with a lack of self esteem

–         Our value and our belonging does not depend on how we feel about ourselves – our value & belonging depends on God – it is simply given

–         Inter-dependence requires us to accept ourselves as we are (even though we are different) and to accept the difference in others

–         Someone once said, in heaven we get to be ourselves – and I would add, without feeling inferior


The other thing that works against unity with diversity is independence, also known as self sufficiency

–         In verse 21 Paul says: ‘The eye can’t say to the hand I don’t need you and the head can’t say to the feet I don’t need you’

–         In this scenario Paul imagines the eye and the head thinking they can do it on their own, without the hands and feet

It should be plainly obvious that the eyes and the head need the hands and the feet and vice versa – but in case it’s not, let me demonstrate

–         If I try to throw this bag of marshmallows with just my eyes and my mind, without using my hands or feet, look what happens

–         Nothing – the bag goes nowhere

–         But if my brain sends a message to my hands to throw the bag, then my eyes line up the target and my feet keep me balanced [throw the bag]

–         Head, hands, eyes and feet all working together to achieve the goal

–         The point is no one can do it on their own

Self-sufficiency (or the DIY attitude) is embedded deep in NZ culture

–         Ironically we kiwis honour people for being independent, rather than for cooperating and being inter-dependent

–         You sometimes hear stories of self-made millionaires

–         Those stories are fables – they are fiction

–         No one gets anywhere in life without the help of others

–         Those millionaires have got where they are because someone gave them an opportunity and they ran with it

–         They gathered people around them, with different skills and gifts, and worked with them to achieve their goals

–         Our goal in the church isn’t to make millions of dollars but to show the love of God, in the person of Jesus, to the world

–         We can only do that as we work together in an inter-dependent way under the guidance and energy of Jesus’ Spirit

Inter-dependence requires unity with diversity

–         And inter-dependence leads to equality with affection


Equality with affection

In verses 22-25 Paul talks about equality in the body

–         Now let me be clear, Paul is not suggesting that people are equal in ability or function – he’s just said they are not

–         But he is saying people are equal in value or worth and therefore we should have equal concern for each other

The other point Paul makes is that equality is not achieved by treating every part of the body the same, but by treating every part differently, according to the unique needs of that part

The ‘weaker parts’ is likely a reference to internal organs

–         Your heart & lungs are less robust than say your hands & feet, but they are indispensable none the less, so they receive special protection behind a rib cage and under skin

Likewise the ‘parts that are unpresentable’ is probably a reference to the private parts

–         Your reproductive organs are not laid bare like your face, they are covered for the sake of modesty

–         God has given greater honour to those parts that lacked it so there should be no division in the body but that its parts should have equal concern for each other  

–         Equality and honour are achieved by respecting difference and treating each part according to that part’s need


In Mark 10, the disciples James & John, ask Jesus if they can sit at the special places of honour in his glory (one on his left and the other on his right)

–         Apparently they are not content with the part in the body they have been given – perhaps they are a foot and they want to be an eye

–         But Jesus doesn’t make them any promises – it is God who arranges the parts of the body as he sees fit

The other disciples are naturally indignant with James & John, so, to avoid division and ill feeling among the body of disciples, Jesus explains…

–         Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.

–         Jesus wants his disciples to have equal concern & respect or one another      


Of course the equality between believers isn’t cold, aloof or unaffected

–         The equality of inter-dependence is warm with affection

–         For if one part [of the body] suffers, every part suffers with it and if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it 

What happens to one part of the body affects the rest

–         If you have a tooth ache or gout or appendicitis your whole body feels it – not just your tooth or your big toe or your appendix

–         Likewise, if you take an amazing catch on the cricket field you feel good all over and people praise your whole person, not just your hands



Healing, wholeness, growth – these things don’t happen in isolation, they happen in community

–         If you injure your finger the doctors don’t seek to heal the finger by separating it from the hand – no, they keep the finger attached because the finger is an inter-dependent part of the body


In his book, Lost Connections, author Johann Hari tells a true story which I think illustrates well what inter-dependence looks like in action [3]

Early in the 21st Century a psychiatrist named Dr Derek Summerfield went to Cambodia to do research on the psychological effects of living with unexploded landmines – does the constant threat of stepping on a mine lead people to greater levels of anxiety and depression?

–         Dr Summerfield had to explain to the locals that depression is ‘a profound sense of sadness that you can’t shake off’

–         The Cambodians thought about this and said, ‘Yes, we do have some people like that.’

There was one farmer, for instance, whose left leg had been blown off by a land mine.

–         He went to the doctors and they fitted him with an artificial limb but he still felt constantly anxious and filled with despair

–         When they realised how despondent this man was the doctors and his neighbours sat with him and talked through his life and troubles

–         Even with his new artificial limb his old job, working in rice paddies, was just too difficult

–         He was constantly stressed and always in physical pain which made him want to give up


Now, in our individualistic society, that man would have been treated independently – the doctors would have prescribed him anti-depressant medication and recommended counselling

–         In an extremely collective society that man would most likely be expected to harden up and get over it – for the greater good

–         There would be little or no accommodation to his individual need


But the Cambodians responded in an inter-dependent way

–         What this man needed was a new job – one that allowed him to support himself and continue contributing to the community, without being stressed out and in pain all the time

–         So they bought the man a cow and he became a dairy farmer

–         This was less stressful on his body and held fewer disturbing memories

–         In the months that followed his depression went away and stayed away

The man didn’t try and solve the problem by himself – he realised his need for others

–         Nor did he exclude himself from the community because of some false notion that missing a leg made him inferior

–         The solution was found by the community working together with the man to empower him to change his life

–         Inter-dependence you see, as opposed to inferiority or independence

When I reflect on this story I marvel at the care and compassion the community showed this man

–         They valued him as an equal and allowed themselves to be affected on a personal level so they were moved to act

–         Did everyone in the community get a cow? No – of course not

–         Not everyone needed a cow – we all need something different


What is it you need to function in an inter-dependent way?

–         Do you need to accept who you are in Christ?

–         Do you need to accept the difference in others?

–         Do you need to resist the temptation to go it alone?

–         Do you need to do less yourself and trust others to do their part?

–         Do you need to accept help from others?

–         Do you need to be vulnerable and allow yourself to be affected by others?

–         These are not easy things – inter-dependence is not always easy, but in Christ it leads to life.


Questions for discussion or reflection:

1.)    What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon?

2.)    What is inter-dependence?

–         How is inter-dependence different from individualism?

–         How is inter-dependence different from collectivism?

–         What are the benefits of inter-dependence?

3.)    How might we identify a dependent relationship?

–         How might we break a dependency and engage with people in a more inter-dependent way?

4.)    What problems in the church might Paul have been addressing in 1st Corinthians 12?

5.)    Paul offers the body as an example of an inter-dependent unity – can you think of other examples in creation or in the Scriptures or in your own experience?

6.)    1st Corinthians 12 highlights two things which undermine inter-dependence – i.e. feelings of inferiority and a desire for independence.

–         What else might undermine inter-dependence?

–         What gets in the way of inter-dependence for you?

–         What needs to change for you to live in a more inter-dependent way?

7.)    How is ‘equality with affection’ achieved?

–         What might this require of us individually and collectively?

8.)    Do you have a story of inter-dependence similar to the Cambodian one?  Share it.



[1] Johann Hari, “Lost Connections”, page 180.

[2] Refer Kenneth Bailey’s book, ‘Paul Through Middle Eastern Eyes’, page 341.

[3] Johann Hari, “Lost Connections”, pages 159-160