Why is the foot jealous of the hand?

You’ve most likely read or heard about Paul’s illustration of how the church is the body of Christ. We are the body which, while made up of many parts, is one. While it is one, it has many members. The problem that Paul sees in the church is that some parts are thinking of themselves as lesser than others (or being made to feel as though they are less). Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:

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.

His illustration makes sense to us without any further cultural insights, but his point is even stronger when we learn how certain body parts were viewed. His example of a foot is not chosen randomly. The foot, being the very bottom of the body, was (and still is in some cultures in the Middle East) seen as dishonorable. It would be offensive to show the sole of your foot to someone if you were to travel to certain countries. So what Paul is doing here is picking the part of the body that would most likely be seen as a lesser part and using it as the example of that which should be kept in high esteem.

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.

Using the foot Paul makes his point that even those that may be seen as the lowest should be valued in the church body. There is no exception. The body is one and should live with unity, not stratification or divisions.

No Leader is Good Enough to Replace Christ

An issue that arises in this first chapter is the way in which factions have developed within the church, each seeking to ally themselves with a different teacher. Some follow Paul, others, Apollos, Cephas, or Christ.

This may have reflected ethnic divisions in Corinth, with the Roman contingent in the city preferring the Roman citizen, Paul. The Greeks identified with the Greek, Apollos. Jews with Peter, here identified with his Jewish name, Cephas. Ken Bailey writes:

Breaking into ethnic enclaves is unacceptable. Furthermore, loyalties to individuals is not an excuse for breaking the unity of the church. Their leaders are not adequate centers for primary loyalty. (Emphasis mine.)

We still fall into this trap of lifting individuals up into a role that is only properly filled by Jesus Christ. That is a clear emphasis of Paul in chapter 1: Jesus Christ is who matters more. Did Paul die for you? Were you baptized into Paul? No. Jesus Christ, and he alone, has died for you and could do so. Being indentified with Christ is what is greatest importance and he is whose name we call upon and whose name is placed upon us. After all, we’re called Christians.

Again, Bailey sums up the issue well and very succintly, “The question is not ‘Who is my leader?’ but rather, ‘Who died for us?’” These divisions are problematic, but the solution lies in turning to the cross, which dominates the next section of 1 Corinthians.[1]


Today I saw this article on the front page of Christianity Today that I thought (was going to) fit perfectly on this topic. It’s titled ‘Our Unhealthy Obsession with Pastors,’ by Luma Simms. The article does do a good job of hitting on this point that we can focus too much on a local church leader, and Simms writes, “Many of us have come to believe, consciously or unconsciously, that the man standing up front every Sunday is the only one doing real ministry.”

Of course that is not true. Pastors are just one group among the whole royal priesthood of God’s people. While we need to be cautious that we are not idolizing the man or woman that stands behind the pulpit, we need to at the same time lift up the varied work of the whole church.

I said that I thought this article was going to be a perfect fit, but it went from being a critique on the celebrity culture that seems to trace itself from 1 Corinthians 1 to today and became more an article about making sure that people don’t idolize the pulpit so that women don’t covet that sort of leadership. It is as though the greatest concern here isn’t a pastor taking attention from Christ, but that a certain group of people thought to be disallowed from the pastorate are sinfully drawn to it.

There is a better reason to not idolize the pulpit, and it is so that Jesus Christ remains as our focus. And we have no reason to fear a woman leading, as this letter of 1 Corinthians itself will give us examples of both men and women who exhibit leadership as they prophesy in the church.


  1. Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, 71. ↩