We’ve all heard the saying that we are supposed to be the hands and feet of Christ. We know that it’s a reminder that together we serve as Christ’s body in this world. We know that it comes from Paul’s famous metaphor of the parts of the body in 1 Corinthians 12.
However, I think this saying unintentionally makes a huge mistake.
The important parts
When Paul wrote that famous passage, he said this: “If the foot were to 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.” (1 Corinthians 12:14-15) He was reminding his readers not to think less of their own part of the body. Today, sometimes we think other parts are more important than we are. However, sometimes the reverse is the case. We are told by others that we are not as important as they are.
For example, consider the person with advanced degrees who is told that their “book smarts” are not as important as someone else’s “street smarts.” Consider the parents who stay at home to take care of children, but they are looked down upon because they “don’t have a real job.” Consider how creative programs in schools — like art and music and shop — often get cut before things like languages or history or math.
The phrase “be the hands and feet of Christ” does the same thing. It says that the hands and feet are the most important parts of the body. No one ever says, “Be the knees of Christ” or “the spleen of Christ” or the “esophagus of Christ.” Even though Paul writes that “the members of the body that seem weaker are indispensable” (1 Corinthians 12:22), it doesn’t often appear that way. You’re either an important hand and foot who is serving out in the world — or you don’t matter.
“You work only one hour a week.”
Pastors and other church professionals hear this too. For example, we’ve all heard, “Pastors work only one hour a week. What do you do with the rest of your time?” We know about the visits we do, the meetings we attend, and the behind-the-scenes administration we take care of. Yet because all of that isn’t well known, this person thinks that the only real work we do is what happens on Sunday mornings.
Sometimes, though, it’s other pastors who disregard the ministry of others. For example, perhaps their congregation has a prison ministry, a feeding ministry, and a clothing ministry, so they seem to brag about it and say, “We’re doing what Jesus said. We’re visiting the prisoners and feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. We are being the hands and feet of Christ in the world. What are you really doing?” It can be demeaning — because not all congregations are the same and not all gifts are the same.
The hyoid bone
If you have ever felt put down and disrespected because you’re not doing what other parts of the body of Christ do, then consider the hyoid bone. It’s a small horseshoe-shaped bone that’s suspended in the muscles of our neck. It is also the only bone in our body that does not articulate with any other bone. Instead, it supports the tongue and elevates the larynx when we speak. In other words, not many people know about this bone, but it is vital in our ability to speak.1
Maybe you aren’t in charge of a prison ministry or a feeding ministry or a clothing ministry. Maybe you feel tired of having to defend yourself when someone wonders what you do with your time. Maybe you feel burned out and disrespected because other people don’t appreciate you.
If so, then remember that you may be the hyoid bone in the body of Christ. Not many people have heard of you. Very few people see what you do. You often feel like you’re floating out there all alone, not connected to anyone else. But it is because of you that the body of Christ is able to speak. Week after week, you do the hard task of proclaiming the good news to others. You do it when you prepare and preach your sermons — and also when you do behind-the-scenes administration, when you visit someone, when you teach a class, and in so many other ways.
Therefore, listen once again to the words from Paul, slightly paraphrased. “If the hyoid bone were told, ‘Because you are not a hand or foot, you do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.” You do not have to be the hands and the feet of Christ. You can be the hyoid bone — or the knees or spleen or esophagus or any other part of the body of Christ. Whatever part you play, whatever gifts God has given to you, you are important. As Paul writes, “As it is, there are many members, yet one body” (1 Corinthians 12:20).
So thank you for being the part of the body of Christ that you are. You matter and what you do matters!