Institutes: Book 3, Chapter 7, Section 5, Part b
“But Scripture goes even farther by comparing them to the powers with which the members of the human body are endowed (1 Cor. 12:12ff). No member has this power for itself nor applies it to its own private use; but each pours it out to the fellow members. Nor does it take any profit from its power except what proceeds from the common advantage of the whole body. So, too, whatever a godly man [or woman] can do he ought to be able to do for his brothers [or sisters], providing for himself in no way other than to have his mind intent upon the common upbuilding of the church. Let this, therefore, be our rule for generosity and beneficence: We are the stewards of everything God has conferred on us by which we are able to help our neighbor, and are required to render account of our stewardship.” (3.7.5.b)
You could call this Calvin’s anatomical argument. Because the parts serve and empower each other the whole (human body) exists. No parts - no whole. If the parts did not serve and empower one another, then the whole would not be healthy. Since this is the case with the human body, it should also be the case, by way of analogy, with the body of Christ, aka the church. If a member of the body of Christ has an ability then that ability ought to be uniquely, thoughtfully, wisely, and intentionally used for the “common upbuilding of the church.” If you can, you ought. God has gifted us and God will judge us. We will all give an account of what we did with our God-derived gifts and abilities.
What things tend to hinder you from empowering others in the church? What inhibits you from using your abilities to help, serve, and build up others? We can tend to look for big and bad things as the culprits. But it may be smaller and less (or not) inherently evil things that are hindering us from loving others. For me it is misusing technology. I (sometimes) waste time on the Internet by obsessively checking my email, and mindlessly scanning through Facebook. How does this distracted state of mind relate to not loving others? When I’m distracting myself with the good gift of the Internet, I’m not cultivating habits that will help me love others. Loving others takes concentration, intentionality, presence, etc. And what is cultivated in private is eventually expressed in public, so it can be challenging to be really and truly present when I’m talking to someone in person. What about you? Before we can serve others in big ways publically, we must deny ourselves in small ways privately.
Real self-denial occurs not in the abstract but in the concrete. In what concrete ways will you deny yourself and cultivate habits that will aid you in loving others? Will God be pleased when you give Him an account of what you did with your private and public time? (Justin)