There isn’t any doubt that God honors, blesses and promotes our individuality. He also rebukes, admonishes, and corrects us in regards to that individuality. Consider Ezekiel 18:20, where God decrees that a son will not suffer chastisement for the sins of the father, or a father won’t be punished for the sins of the son. He goes on to declare that the righteous will be judged by their individual righteousness, and the wicked by their individual evil. These clear statements demonstrate God’s expectation of individuality, and his focus on it.
Paul touches on the same idea in Galatians 6:4 where he argues that one should “ test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. ” Paul recognized the individual nature of life. But now consider his argument for Individuality 2.0 in 1 Corinthians 14:7 where he rhetorically asks, “ If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? ” The obvious answer is that they can’t know what is played without individual distinction. But what makes this argument different than the others is that he references musical instruments, which are often played in concert with other instruments. When all the instruments do their individual parts, and hone themselves toward a common goal, beautiful music is made and tremendous value is added to their individual talents. In that passage he is correcting the Corinthian church on their misuse of tongues, and how their community does not benefit from everyone doing their own thing without a collective and distinguishable purpose. Without that order of purpose, there’s just noise and monotonous notes.
The individual is immensely important in Paul’s thinking, but only in so far as he or she voluntarily adds value to the faith community. Paul was so serious about this that he told his young protege, Timothy, that if anyone didn’t take care of his own family, he should be considered worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8). There was an expectation on Paul’s part that one’s individual voluntary efforts (or lack thereof) were profoundly tied to the well being of the faith community.
Discipleship is deeply integral to the maintenance and growth of such a community. That word — “community” — is significant. It denotes life together, and the sharing of experience. Notice that in the explosive days of the early church, that discipleship did not happen in the context of church buildings, but in the context of everyday life (Acts 2:42-47). In what ways are you using your individuality to promote, strengthen, and grow your faith community? How do you think God feels about that?