RPM, Volume 14, Number 12, March 18 to March 24, 2012

1 Corinthians 12:12-20

A Sermon

By Rev. Scott Lindsay

We are continuing this morning in our study of Paul?s First Letter to the Corinthians, focusing our attention on verses 12-20 of chapter 12. These verses form part of a larger sub- section of this letter that runs from the beginning of chapter 11 to the end of chapter 14, and which is concerned with a number of issues related to their public gatherings together as a congregation. Two matters have already been addressed in chapter 11 and we are now into the third one - spiritual gifts and their use and abuse in public worship.

Last week, we began looking into all of this by studying the first 11 verses of chapter 12. In taking a look at that we highlighted some background issues - such as what went on in pagan temples, and the Corinthian misunderstanding of what ?time? it was, in terms of God?s overall plan. We then drew two basic observations from the passage:

1) Experiences, in themselves, do not necessarily prove anything. The content and context of those experiences is crucial in judging the value of any given experience.

2) God?s plan for the church is that it would be an expression of both unity and diversity.

Finally, after thinking about those sorts of foundational ideas, we looked very briefly at Paul?s list of representative ways in which God, through His Spirit, goes about creating a diversity of gifts within his church, and then finished up by thinking about how what we have seen so far is significant for God?s people in our own day.

This morning we will continue looking at chapter 12 to see how Paul builds on what he has said thus far. But before we go any further with that, let?s pray together....

During our time together this morning, there are four main things I want to draw your attention to in this passage. First of all, please notice that the church is a body composed of many members...

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
Paul uses an analogy here to talk about what the church is meant to be like and, in doing so, he makes use of an image that was certainly very familiar to the Corinthians and, in fact, had been used by their own philosophers in various ways for over 400 years. The analogy he uses is the human body and how the various parts of it work together, in a unified fashion.

Now, of course, in one sense at least, it is not a terribly difficult concept to grasp. However, actually applying it to the church, and keeping both aspects of it in view is more difficult than it might seem. Because, on the one hand, the church is meant to function in a unified manner - with a common goal and purpose and profession, etc. And yet, as important as that unity is, it is not to be pursued in a way that obscures or hides or obliterates the individual members that make up the unified body. Thus, unity is important, but trying to achieve it through uniformity - by making everyone the same - would be a disaster.

And so, not only is the unified body of the church important - so are the individual members. It is their uniqueness and variety - and the fact that all the various pieces are there - working together - that make the body - a body - in the first place. So the various members are important too.

And yet - as important as they are, they cannot function in a way that undermines, or works against, the fundamental unity they are meant to have as part of the one body. The left leg can?t decide to go forward while the right leg decides to go backward.

A similar illustration is an orchestra. An orchestra wouldn?t be much of an orchestra if everyone was playing the same instrument, or if there was only one instrument. Conversely, it might have a great variety of instruments - but if all the instruments played different pieces of music at the same time - or some chose not to even play at all - then it wouldn?t be much of an orchestra either. There has to be an appreciation of both unity and diversity for things to work out.

This is the same point that Paul is making about the church by means of the analogy of the body and its members. Again, these things seem fairly straightforward on paper but as they work out in the life of the church - they are much more challenging.

This was certainly the case in Corinth. If you remember from last week, one of the main purposes for Paul?s writing these particular chapters on the gifts was to talk about two of them in particular - the gift of speaking in tongues and, to a lesser degree, the gift of prophecy. It is apparent from what Paul says later on in these chapters that the gift of speaking in tongues - among the Corinthians at least - was THE gift to have - it was the most prized one of all - so much so that those who didn?t engage in this practice were either being pressured into seeking it, or else they were being made to feel inferior - like some sort of second-class citizens amongst God?s people.

In short, the Corinthians were not interested in there being a diversity of gifts, they were acting as if there ought to be some sort of uniformity - as if all Christians were meant to have the same gifts or - to use our analogy - to be the same ?part? of the body, performing the same functions. Paul?s words here are an attempt to correct that sort of practice. Rather than going around trying to make everyone the same, he wanted them to value the different gifts and roles of one another.

The second thing I want you to notice here is not only that the church is a body composed of many members but also that the church is Christ?s body - made manifest in the world...

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
Paul surprises us a little bit here because, right at the end of verse 12, just when you think he is going to say one thing, he says something else. What we expect Paul to say in verse 12 is, ?...For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with the church...? We expect Paul to say ?church? at the end of verse 12 since that is the subject matter in these verses. But he doesn?t say that. He says ?Christ? - and, in so doing, is at least drawing a mental comparison, and even equivalence, between Christ and his body - the church.

Now why does Paul do this? He does it because he sees that there is a very real, very strong connection between Christ and his people - those who are ?in? him and united to him by the Spirit. The connection is so strong that, at least in some respects, to speak of the one is to speak of the other. And by making this connection so explicit - by drawing attention to Christ in this manner - Paul is increasing the stakes of what he is talking about. He wants to make sure that the Corinthians - in thinking about this whole matter of how they relate to one another as a church - he wants them to remember that it is not just their reputation that is on the line here - it is Christ?s reputation that is either being adorned or degraded by their actions.

They are the body of CHRIST. Not just some group of people with a few things in common. Not merely a voluntary society or organization. Not even some highly specialized sort of ?club?. They are the BODY OF CHRIST. And in all their dealings with one another - as they think about things like unity and diversity, and using their gifts and how they treat each other - in all these things they need to keep it foremost in their mind just who it is that they are representing.

This is crucial because, as the world looks on and sees what is going on in the Corinthian congregation - it is not merely an opinion about the church that they are forming from what they see. It is their view of the Lord Jesus Christ himself that is being affected - for good or ill - by the goings on in the Corinthian congregation.

And one of the things that was going on in the Corinthian church, and that would have been obvious to any on-looker who paused long enough to pay attention, was that there was a great deal of disunity, and division, and positioning going on in the congregation. Groups and class distinctions were forming in the very place where all such things ought never to happen.

And this is the third thing that I want you to see in these verses this morning - the way that Paul appeals to the Corinthians here to put an end to all their division and one-upsmanship and self-centeredness by reminding them, again, in verse 13 of what happened to them in and through the cross of Jesus Christ...

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body?Jews or Greeks, slaves or free?and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
Put simply, Paul reminds them here that the church ought to be the most level playing field of all since through the work of God?s spirit the human distinctions of race and culture and society and economics have all been superseded as people are united in Christ. This is what Paul is referring to here with the language of ?baptism? and the language of the ?drinking of the one Spirit? - he is talking about our being immersed into the Spirit, and so being completely identified with him, and thus with Christ - both inside and out.

In other words, he is talking about the work of the Spirit that took place at conversion and not some experience subsequent to conversion. Amazingly, over the years, some have used these very verses to talk about some sort of second working of the Spirit that not all Christians have received. A worse misreading of these verses could hardly be imagined - taking verses Paul wrote to unify the church and using them to re-introduce a new disunity!

Paul?s point is absolutely opposed to that. He is saying that when it comes to approaching God in Jesus - distinctions that might mean something in the world are all for nothing. Jews do not have any greater access to God than non-Jews. The free are no more able to come and the slave no less able to come to Christ. Those with wealth cannot use their wealth to gain any advantage before God, and those who are poor are not in any way disadvantaged by that fact as they approach the Creator. The ?ground is truly level at the foot of the cross? - as the saying goes - and no person?s head stands any higher than any other.

But the leveling and flattening out of class and cultural and economic distinctions that took place when the Spirit did His work in the heart of the Corinthians - all of that was now - and quite sadly - being re-asserted amongst them. A new kind of ?haves? and ?have-nots? was appearing. A new form of division - not based on the possession of things - although that was clearly an on-going issue in Corinth - but the particular sort of class distinction that was taking place now was between those who were seen as possessing more of the Spirit and His Gifts and those who were seen as possessing less, and had ?lesser? gifts.

And, of course, Paul sees all of this happening in Corinth and it is a great tragedy. And he sees the consequences of this sort of thing on some of the believers in Corinth - particularly those who did not measure up, who were made to feel by the actions and attitudes of their brothers and sisters, that they were not so useful to God as others. They didn?t have the same gifts - and certainly did not have any of the more noticeable ones - and so questioned their worth and contribution to the Body of Christ. Which is what motivates Paul to then write...

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 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. 16 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. 17 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? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
Continuing to use the analogy of the body, Paul imagines this rather absurd scenario where one part of a person - a foot - might express its feelings of uselessness to another part that it saw as more worthwhile - the hand; and likewise with the ear in relation to the eye. Now, of course, in thinking about that situation it is not hard for us to see how wrong such perceptions would be. Clearly our feet are just as important to us as our hands. Clearly our sense of hearing is of great value to us - as much as our sense of sight. And this is what Paul wants us to see. He uses this analogy that points out the wrongness and silliness of this sort of thinking because he wants the Corinthians - on both sides of this issue - to see this, and to then do something about it.

In examining Paul?s point here, I want you to notice the way he goes about making it. He tells them, first of all, that saying something is so, does not make something to be so. Some of the Corinthians might feel like they are less important - but that doesn?t mean they are. The way a person feels about a situation is not necessarily an indicator of what is actually true about a situation. And Paul wants them to know this.

And from there, he goes on to address what is an unspoken but undoubtedly true aspect of this situation - namely, that not only are some of the Corinthians feeling rather useless within the congregation, but these same people are likely looking upon their brothers and sisters with a certain amount of dissatisfaction and even jealousy.

In other words, not only is the person with ?foot? gifts noticing the difference between himself and the person with ?hand? gifts - but he is also envious of the other person?s gift - wishing that he too were a hand instead of a foot. And so Paul addresses this reality in vs17, saying that if everyone got their wish in this situation, the result would be a deformed and deficient body - something that was un-natural and even grotesque - a body that had lots of hands and no feet, or hundreds of eyes and no ears. A body that would be incapable of functioning normally as a body and unable to be what bodies were meant to be. A body that would be distinguished more by what it couldn?t do, than by what it could do - it couldn?t move, it couldn?t hear - it couldn?t do a thousand other things because its various members did not value their role and so abandoned them and, instead, sought after roles that they thought more worthwhile than their own.

And so Paul rightly asks, ?If all were a single member, where would the body be?? And the answer is: it would be nowhere. It wouldn?t be a body at all. Just a big body part. Just a big eyeball laying on the ground. Or a hand just sitting there. And anybody, in real life, passing by such a tragic spectacle would not respond by saying - ?Wow, look at that, that?s great? - No anyone seeing such a thing would be horrified - and their first and immediate question would be - ?Where?s the rest of the body??

And then, as if Paul has not already made this point strongly enough, he adds the observation in verse 18 that ?God arranged the members of the body, each one of them, as he chose.? Which means that the person who does not value his own gift and contribution to the body - whatever it might be - is not only doing the body a disservice from a functional standpoint - but such a person is actually calling into question the wisdom and goodness of God. He is the one who made them as they are - and gave them the place that they have within the Body of Christ. And you either have to believe that God knew what He was doing, or He didn?t.

Well, that?s enough un-packing of these verses for one morning. Let?s think about some ways that these things are significant for us.

Firstly, just as the Corinthians needed to hear the truth that the church is a body composed of many members - so too do we need to hear these things. In the Corinthian situation, Paul?s teaching arose as a result of their lopsidedness with regard to the spiritual gifts. A few gifts were highly sought after - namely tongues and prophecy - while many more were being ignored or de-valued in their own eyes.

And so, it is a fair question to ask whether there is any parallel to that situation in our own day - and indeed within this very church. Is there? To be sure there is no exact parallel. Speaking in tongues and prophecy are not being promoted or pursued in this church as they were in Corinth - with all the problems that went with that. But what about other gifts? Are we lopsided in our own way, emphasizing and prizing and holding in high esteem some gifts and some roles within the body - and ignoring or de-valuing others?

For example, what about the gift of teaching? I mean, we?re Presbyterians, right? We?re all about teaching, aren?t we? Gifted teachers are held in highest esteem in PCA circles. Tim Keller and Joe Novenson and Richard Pratt - people like that are in the ?Spiritual Gift Hall of Fame? in our denomination....

Now, of course, I?m only having a bit of fun there. Those guys really are gifted teachers and I thank God for them, and if you ever get a chance to sit under their teaching - you need to take it. You will be blessed. Teaching is an important thing in the life of the Church. Of course I believe that or I wouldn?t be doing what I do or put the time into it that I do.

But friends, as important as it is - it is not all-important - and I think Keller and Novenson and Pratt would be the first ones to tell you that. It?s one role among many. It?s one gift among many. It?s one part of the Body of Christ that - without all the other parts - quickly reduces to a monstrosity or even a deformity. When we are together - being the church in this context - it takes a very central role and is a very important part of our corporate worship. But when we are being the church in other contexts or other ways, then it moves to the background - and it is no longer center stage. Instead other gifts, other roles, other members of the Body of Christ take the lead.

For example, a number of us have been working on the Voelkel?s house for the past couple days. And it has been steady, hard work - and yet great fun working together. I love it. I love doing those things together. And one of the great things about it - for me - is watching how when we are in that context other peoples? gifts and experience and expertise comes to the foreground.

Over the past couple days - dozens and dozens of technical questions have been asked about everything from electricity to sheet rock to priming and painting to wallpaper to water heaters - you name it. And I can tell you that when those questions were asked - no one was looking to me for any answers because I don?t know anything - and that becomes obvious as soon as I open my mouth. I mean, someone actually had to give me lessons on how to ?cut in? and do trim work - what kind of brush to use, how to hold it, what direction to work - the whole thing. And this person was very patient with me - and I was glad for the lesson.

But the point is, there we all were, being the church in that context - and various people were clearly the ?go to? men and women whenever there was a question or a problem. And the rest of us were just unskilled labor. And it was great to watch the way that the gifts of others rose to the foreground in that context. And the same thing happens in other contexts - like the work with Hope ministries. I can tell you that when I am there, working in that situation - it is not those with teaching gifts that are important. The people who really shine in that context are those with a great capacity for kindness and gentleness and compassion. It?s a beautiful thing to watch.

And all I can do when I see those things is say ?thank you? to Jesus for making the church a body with many members and different gifts. And as I think about this in relation to the Corinthian problem of over-emphasis, I think that if we have the same problem of over-emphasizing some gifts - like teaching, maybe - then perhaps one way forward toward becoming more balanced will be as we continue to grow and develop as a church, and as we expand the number of ways and contexts in which we minister to one another - and within this community. So, please pray for that, and more than pray - be open to being a part of that when the opportunities come along.

Secondly, we need to take on board Paul?s reminder to the Corinthians that by the Spirit they have been brought together - in spite of their cultural, ethnic, social and economic differences that might otherwise have separated them. And so, those things that have no bearing on our becoming Christians in the first place, are to have no bearing on our continuing fellowship AS Christians. There is simply no place in Christ?s church for distinctions and divisions to appear along racial, social or economic lines. We have no right to re-build what the Gospel has dismantled.

Now, to be sure, we have to be clear that what we are talking about here, fundamentally, is an attitude of the heart - and not mere showcasing. Further, it needs to be kept in mind here that having the right heart attitude does not mean that every situation will immediately or automatically result in there being this great, diverse, multi-ethnic church that is a living illustration of inclusiveness.

For example, I have friends who pastor in towns that are so small they can stand on main street and, looking left, can see where the town ends that way, and then looking right, can see where the town ends the other direction. And they pastor churches that are made up of people that are pretty much the same. Not a lot of variety or diversity is there. But there are other reasons for that - and, more importantly, the reason they are that way is not a result of internal attitudes and heart perceptions that are missing the plot.

So, having a right heart and spirit about these things does not automatically translate into churches which are a showcase of humanity in all of its expressions. But it ought to be our hope and our goal that we will be a church that demonstrates the Gospel?s ability to transcend every sort of distinction - whatever that might look like in OUR context. Further we ought to pray that when these things happen, they do so in a deliberate, conscious way, but not in any sort of artificial or contrived manner.

Thirdly, just as Paul was seeking, by these words, to encourage those Corinthians who did not feel that their own gifts or place in the Body of Christ was very important - so it should be our goal and practice to encourage one another in these things. Some of you here this morning may feel this way about yourself. If that is you, then please take to heart the things that your brother Paul has said. Remember that Christ?s body has many members - and you are one of those valued members. Remember that without you - something will be missing. The body will be deformed - this body will be deformed.

And the degree to which you hold back, to that same degree we will be misshapen and dysfunctional as a church body. Remember, further, that you are not who you are or what you are by accident. Remember that God has saved you and placed you in his church - and He did so with perfect wisdom and understanding and kindness and holiness.

Perhaps you are a person who would agree with all this, but you are still unsure what your gift or role is. It is not clear to you how you fit in and what function you serve within the Body. And if that is you, then let me make a blanket invitation here - let me invite you to talk with myself or with any of our pastors or elders - as one place to start. Let?s talk about these things and what can be done to get a better handle on them so that you do understand better what your role is and how important it is that you fulfill it - for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of this Church, and for yourself.

Or it may be that you are not a person who wonders about these things, but you know others that do. The clear opportunity for you in this is to come alongside your brother or sister and encourage them in these matters. Tell them what you see in them that perhaps they do not see very clearly themselves. Who knows? It may be that you are the very person that God will use to be the catalyst for moving another person into a more confident and understanding use of their gifts for the glory of God.

And as we pursue all these things, we all need to keep our eyes focused clearly on Jesus and remember that none of these things are a means of personal worth or personal validation. We have received all the validation we will ever need in the Cross of Christ and in the knowledge of his great love for us. And he has not loved us because we were so gifted and capable. He has gifted us and enabled us because he loves us so. And so, seen in that context, our stewardship of his gifting is simply a great way to say ?thank you? for his undeserved mercy.

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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