A Tale of Toenails

Rev. Bror Erickson

"For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness." Romans 12:3-8 (ESV)

Paul uses several metaphors to describe the reality and mystery of the church. And yet, there is so much reality to these metaphors that is borders on blasphemous to call them that. He calls the church the Bride of Christ, he likens us to a temple built with living stones, and then he calls us the body of Christ as he does here in Romans 12. It is a recurring theme in Paul's letters. We are the bride of Christ that has been sanctified and made beautiful in the washing of the water with the word. We are also the body of Christ, all members serving different functions the same way toenails function different than the toe itself, and the toe differently than that of a finger or an arm differently than that of a liver or a kidney. This mirrors the one flesh union a man has with his wife that is so intimate that to hate one's spouse is to hate one's own flesh.

This is the reality behind the analogy that Paul provides of us all being members of one body; we all make up different organs and function together for the good of the body. Therefore, we should not look down upon others or become haughty—thinking that we are better than or more necessary to the life of the church than others. We all have our place; we all have our functions. And perhaps it is in the body of Christ they are not quite as fixed as the parts of an actual body. They can change and grow as we change and grow alongside the church. At different times in our lives we all receive different gifts that are needed at different times in the life of the church, and perhaps a toenail becomes a hand or lips, eyes or a nose. And yes, we can live without toenails and even toes, but God created us with both for a reason and we function and live better with both.

It's easy to do that in the church: to become haughty and look with exasperation upon others who don't seem to be doing their share. Young pastors become familiar with the 80/20 rule rather quickly in the church. This rule states that 20 percent of the congregation does 80 percent of the work and 80 percent of the congregation does 20 percent. There is debate about actual percentages in the scenario and how true it is, but every pastor soon learns who it is he can ask to do what with the confidence that it will get done. Yet, with over time in the ministry a pastor also sees changeover. A pastor will see families and individuals with sporadic church attendance become the backbone of the congregation as older members hand over cherished responsibilities they can no longer maintain. That is, we see toenails become hands, and hands become toenails. And sometimes the hands become exasperated with the toenails they are constantly serving and wondering what good they are, but the toenails are part of the body of Christ so it is Christ who is served when the toenails of His Bride are painted by His hands.

Yes, a person can live without toenails. Yet, on the day of her wedding a bride is up early for her pedicure. She is concerned to make herself as beautiful as possible for her groom. She bathes herself in scented soaps, and has her friends do her hair just perfectly as others tend to her makeup. And then she pays attention to her feet. Somehow, in some way, her beauty is just not complete until her toenails are painted. She would look weird without them. So, wanting to please her husband, she paints them red to match her fingernails, and there they serve purpose for the body. They make her beautiful.

There is nothing vain about that: a woman wanting to look beautiful. In this world, beauty is a gift from God who created man to enjoy the beauty of His creation. And of course man and woman share the crown of creation in all its beauty. Christ died to restore this beauty—the beauty in the world as well as in man and woman. What we see now is a mere shadow of the beauty that was lost, and but a foreshadow of the beauty to come Jesus comes again and our bodies are transformed in the twinkling of an eye to enjoy the new heavens and the new earth forever. The beauty that remains is foretaste of the feast to come with consummation of the wedding feast in heaven.

So yes, the toenails don't look like much. For the most part they just sit there. At times they can look as ugly as the calloused and blistered hands that serve them. Still, they are the body of Christ, members of His church who need to hear the Gospel. It doesn't do to look down upon them or be haughty with them. These toenails belong to the Bride of Christ, and when they are painted red with His blood they make her sanctified body shine with beauty. He would have her no other way.

Rev. Bror Erickson is pastor at Zion Lutheran Church, Farmington, New Mexico.

Created: June 16th, 2016