Who You Callin’ unEssential?

One of the things I dislike the most about Covid-19 and our “stay at home, stay safe” orders, are the two labels that have resulted.

Essential workers. Non-essential workers.

You are either one or the other. And ne’er the two shall meet. It’s a black and white delineation. And it’s way too simplistic for the nuances of our culture and society.

I mean, I think I can survive for two months without a haircut (non-essential), but my hairdresser (and her family) will have a hard time living for two months without her salary.

Because while someone might not be “essential” to saving life, their job, and certainly their person, is essential to someone.

While we don’t mean that someone really isn’t “essential”, many men and women are struggling through this Covid-19 crisis with thoughts of helplessness and inadequacy. Our Puritan work ethic finds purpose and fulfillment in labor and productivity. This foundation has been wrenched from under us.

Many feel rudderless, and the label non-essential is not helping at all.

Taking it to church

I have many (passionate) feelings on this subject of our workforce, but instead of regaling you with them, I will steer our thoughts to a different application of this idea of essential and non-essential workers.

All this talk of essential and non-essential workers got me thinking about how we can erroneously promote these ideas in the church.

As much as these labels irritate and annoy me…have I ever been guilty of applying at least the concept of them to the church? Have I ever been guilty before of assuming that some person was not essential to the body of Christ?

Or if not quite that distinct a thought…maybe instead I’ve been guilty of assuming that some gift was not as essential or important as another.

And why, if these terms: essential and non-essential, bug me so much in our current situation, would I apply them (even if only in my deepest, darkest thoughts) to my brothers and sisters in Christ? Why would I demean anyone’s contributions to body life, possibly piling on to their own ideas of personal inadequacy or lesser value? Really, how dare I?

I’m ashamed that these questions reveal the sinful ugliness of my own heart at times.

It doesn’t exist

In the body of Christ, there is no such thing as a non-essential worker.

Paul put it like this:

For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  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. 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.  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?  But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”  On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,  and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty,  which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

1 Corinthians 12: 14-26 (ESV)

In other words

  • God assigns the parts, not us. He gives the gifts to each person, and places each one in the body of Christ universal. Furthermore, He leads each one into a local fellowship to be a valuable part of a local body.
  • We don’t have the right to say that a person/part of the body of Christ is dispensable. We’re not the Creator, or the Boss (head).
  • We don’t have the luxury of downplaying our own consequence. We can’t take ourselves out of the game. This is not a matter of pride or humility, but of each part’s essential contribution to the whole.
  • God gives greater honor to the parts we think are less essential. Ponder that a minute. That certainly is humbling.
  • If all the parts were the same, we wouldn’t be a body, but a part.
  • Proper understanding and application of the essential status of all in the body, promotes unity not division.

It is so easy to fall into the trap of assuming that the janitor is not as important as the preacher. Or the treasurer as the Sunday school teacher. Or the deacon as the elder. Or the nursery worker as the pianist.

Christ the head

My value was fixed, my ransom was paid…at the cross. Our function doesn’t determine our value.

So, it’s not a matter of importance in the body of Christ. The issue is not value, essential or non-essential, visible or invisible. Prominence or preeminence.

Christ already is preeminent. He is the head.

And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.

Colossians 1:18 (ESV)

Our part in the body, our function, everything we do as believers is to be done as a living sacrifice: holy, acceptable unto God. This is our reasonable service. Every action is to be for the glory of God, in the service of God. Our focus is Christ, nothing else.

With that as our personal, our only, rubric, we won’t be judging or dismissing or even exalting, any one person’s contribution to the body.

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Romans 14:4 (ESV)

Who in your local body could use an encouraging word from you today? A reminder that God sees them as essential, and so do you?

Photo by milan degraeve on Unsplash

Bernadette Veenstra
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