Big Toes and the Best Corn
Several years ago I told the story about a young man who lived a normal, average life. He worked hard in a factory and every so often on a Sunday he might attend church. It didn’t matter much to him if he went or not because he didn’t think his presence was very significant and doubted that anyone would even notice when he wasn’t there.
One day he was helping a coworker move a load of steel. In the process, some of the steel came loose and he found himself – or more precisely he found his foot – in the wrong place at the wrong time. A steel bar fell on his big toe – a bar so heavy it took twelve men to get it off. His foot was ok except for the aforementioned big toe which had been crushed and had to be removed.
A few weeks later the man returned to work. The place that had once been home to his big toe no longer hurt, but after a few days of walking around and doing his normal tasks he noticed his knee was bothering him. In time, his hip started to bother him also. And, after a while, his back started hurting as well. Finally the pain became too great and he ended up going to a doctor.
The doctor explained it simply: No matter how unimportant the big toe may seem, it plays a crucial role in providing balance as we walk. Without his big toe he had been walking differently and the change put more stress than normal on his knee. Eventually as he tried to compensate for that pain, his hip was affected. And finally, the stress and aggravation spread to his back. In the end, the doctor made a special shoe for him with a prosthetic toe of sorts. Soon the man was walking like new (or old!) and the aches and pains had gone away.***
There is a sense in Western Christianity especially, but I find it in other parts of the world too, that Jesus is all we need. We don’t need others in our walk as believers. We can manage just fine with Jesus and the Bible. At the deepest levels, there is some truth to this. Jesus is all we need. But the reality is that we need to be connected to our brothers and sisters in the faith – the Body of Christ – or we are in danger of developing aches and pains and not growing into maturity like we should.
Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 12 that we are connected to one another. Every part is necessary. “God has arranged 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” (vv 18-20). And we can’t say to other parts, “I don’t need you! (v 21)” Paul tells us that God has combined the members of the body…so that there should be no division…but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it (vv 24b-26).
Whether we like it or not, we are connected to one another as followers of Jesus. That connection helps us to know and love God more. It helps us grow in our faith. It helps us to live out Jesus’ commands to love one another. In Ephesians 3:18 Paul prays that the believers would have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:18-19a, emphasis mine). It is together with the body of believers that we learn about God’s love. We get to be Jesus in flesh – Christians – “little Christs” – to one another. We get to show the love of God to one another in tangible ways. This is not to say that Jesus will not communicate his amazing love through his Spirit and through his Word and through other means…but it is to say that we play a vital role in helping one another know the riches of God’s amazing love for us.
We are busy people. I know that. We have work; school; families; roommates; deadlines and duties; commitments and responsibilities. I get that. But if we want to know the fullness of God’s love for us and if we want to grow to maturity as followers of Jesus, we need each other.
A lot of us approach this half-heartedly, if at all. We know there is truth and so we attend church one day a week and think we’ve done our duty. We’re “connected”. Maybe we go a bit further and attend an adult Bible fellowship or a small group. But we never go deeper than the surface in our conversations. We never truly open up and share our joys and struggles – and we shy away from those who do!
Some time ago I read the story of a farmer whose corn always took first place at the county fair. He had the habit of sharing his seed with his neighbors. Many people scoffed at that. “Why would you share your best seed with those who are your competitors? Are you crazy?”
He answered them, “It’s really a matter of self-interest. The wind picks up the pollen of their corn and carries it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, then the cross-pollinization brings down the quality of my own corn. That is why I’m so concerned they plant only the very best.
When we carve out time to live in community and connectedness with other believers, we need to make it a priority and give our best. As we create a safe, caring environment for them to be themselves and to share from their hearts, we will find that sort of environment open up for us as well. Sometimes we have to take a step of faith to be vulnerable first – to risk being hurt or laughed at or whatever – so that others will be brave enough to share with us too.
Our relationships with each other nurture and spur us on in our faith. They allow us to model and live out the love of God for one another and the world around us. They enable us to practice the principles we find in God’s Word and to serve others – and be served by them – that we all might grow up to maturity in our faith (see Ephesians 4:12-16).
Jesus said, “They will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
***Those of you who have attended the Amman International Church or played softball with the “Green Monsters” may already know that some time ago Justin Hiester gave me the nickname “Big Toe”.