I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Introduction: The Necessity of Sticking Together
Here is an illustration that I read recently from an unknown source. It said:
"The huge redwood trees of California amaze mankind. They are the largest living things on earth and the tallest trees in the world. Some of them are 300 feet high and over 2,500 years old. One would think that trees so large must have a tremendous root system that reaches down hundreds of feet into the earth. But not so! The redwoods have a very shallow root system. If one was to get down on his knees and examine the redwoods' root system, he would find that all the roots intertwine. They are locked to each other. When the storms come, the winds blow, and the lightning flashes, the redwoods still stand. They are not alone for all the trees support and protect each other. Each tree is important to all the other trees in the grove."
This illustration is a great example of what it means to be members of the Body of Christ, the Church. We are not supposed to get through this life alone. A single Christian by him or herself is in danger of falling during the storms of life and the attacks of Satan. But we need to be intertwined with one another, always there to support and protect our fellow brother and sister in Christ. And each of us is important to all the other members of Christ's Body. All are necessary to the well-being of the others. If even one is missing, then we are less strong and less capable of being all that God has intended us to be and to accomplish for His glory.
In I Corinthians 12:12-31, Paul is continuing to answer the question imposed to him by the church at Corinth on the subject of spiritual gifts.
From the context, believers in Corinth seem to have been asking why some Christians were given spiritual gifts while others seemed not to be "spiritual ones." It's possible that some in Corinth had been demonstrating obvious supernatural power through speaking in tongues, for instance, while others lacked this ability."
From what we read later, in chapter 14, it becomes apparent that there is some division going on amongst the Corinthians as well because of jealousy and envy that was taking place in the use and abuse of certain of these gifts. Some thought that they were better than others because they possessed certain gifts.
Paul's aim, to begin with, is to show that the believers have it all wrong in their reasoning behind this question. The truth is that all Christians are 'gifted ones.' We all have been given the same Holy Spirit who has gifted each of us in some way.
Now, in this last part of chapter 12, Paul is showing that there are no believers that are better than others. All are important and we need each other and each other's gifts. Further, there are no inferior gifts. We are rather to be unified in our diversity of gifts.
To demonstrate this unity from diversity, the apostle uses the illustration of an actual physical body to show the interdependence that we all have with one another. By the word interdependence we mean that we are all mutually reliant upon each other. One of us cannot function well without the other. We are designed to live in community.
And for the Body of Christ, that community is fulfilled through commitment to a local church. The church is one body made up of many different individuals who have placed their faith in Jesus. We are called to commit to a particular local church where we can use our spiritual gifts to love and serve each other and build up the Body of Christ in love. And if that be true, then it goes without saying that we are not doing church by sitting at home simply listening to a preacher on the radio, internet, or watching a service on television. Church demands interaction to be the genuine Body of Christ.
As we look closer at I Corinthians 12:12-31, we see that there are at least 4 facts about Jesus' Body that cannot be disputed if we are to function as we were intended to do in the community in which we were placed. Let us look at these facts and see what they show us today.
I. We Were All Baptized into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit (12-14).
Fact number one is that we are all baptized into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit. Paul begins this section by telling us, in verses 12-14, that we are all part of the same body because of the Holy Spirit who baptizes us into the body. This is not a physical baptism of water here. It is a Spiritual baptism that happens the moment a person trusts in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for their sins. He or she then is immersed or placed in the body by the Holy Spirit. There cannot be a believer who has not been Spirit-baptized. It is this baptism that makes us part of the church in the first place. Here is how the apostle puts it:
"For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body- whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free- and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For, in fact, the body is not one member but many."
Paul talks about this further in Ephesians 4:4-6 where he tells the believers this:
"There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling. One Lord, one faith, one baptism. One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all."
That 'one baptism' is none other than the working of the Holy Spirit who brings us all together in unity as He places us within the Church. Once again, this is not something that we had anything to do with. It was all a supernatural effort.
This leads us to Paul's second fact
II. Saying You Aren't Part of the Body Doesn't Make It a Fact (15-19)
The next fact that Paul wants to get across is that we are in this together. We are a part of each other, whether we accept that fact or not. And we can say that we aren't a part of the body all day long, but that doesn't make it true. The Spirit has united us for God's glory. And we are united for eternity because of the good pleasure of the One that united us. Here is what the apostle says in verses 15-19. He states:
"If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be?"
Just like every part of the physical body is there because God has placed it there for a function, so every part of the spiritual body has a function to accomplish something to help the body grow and thrive. A body without many functioning parts is not a real body. And the Body of Christ is a real spiritual body.
And Paul goes even farther with this analogy by showing that another person's perspective of us doesn't change things either. This is fact number 3.
III. Another Saying You Aren't Part of the Body Doesn't Make it a Fact (20-26)
In verses 20-26 Paul tells us that another person telling us that we aren't a part of the body doesn't make it so, any more than thinking it ourselves does. My feelings that I am not a member of Christ's body are irrelevant. And someone else's feelings that I have no place there are irrelevant as well. I am a member because God has made me a member. Only He can change that fact, and He chooses not to do so. The Apostle says this:
"But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it."
God has composed the spiritual body to care for each other, to build each other up. And we honor one another for the contributions that each makes, even if it seems to us to be a minor contribution. We are to seek unity with one another and not schism.
Paul goes so far as to say that if something happens to someone else in the body, we should take note of it, whether they are honored or they suffer, we should honor them or empathize with their suffering.
The analogy that I have heard for suffering is that of stubbing your toe on a piece of furniture. No matter what you were doing at the time of the stubbing, your attention goes immediately to the toe and doing all that you can to relieve the suffering that it feels. The same should be true if a fellow believer suffers. We must treat them like we would want to be treated in times of suffering. And, of course, treating them as we want to be treated should also apply in times of their honor as well. We should not be jealous but rejoice with them.
IV. The Various Gifts are Appointed by God Individually and Not Indiscriminately
In the last section of chapter 12, Paul gives us a final fact that we all should know about Spiritual gifts. Fact 4 is that those gifts that were given were appointed by God to individuals. It is true that all receive gifts. However, not all get the same ones. They are not given indiscriminately to all without any thought by God. They are not random or haphazard. He chooses to whom He gives certain gifts and to whom He doesn't give them. They are truly given by God's grace for the Body of Christ. In I Corinthians 12:27-31 Paul tells us:
"Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way."
So, if you don't have the prominent gifts, then don't worry about it. Use the gifts that the Lord has given you. He gave them to you just like he gave the gifts of pastor, teacher, administrator or any of the others that most people might tend to notice.
That doesn't mean that we don't admire and even seek to find the more prominent gifts for our church. They are truly necessary. That's what Paul is probably saying in the last verse when he said:
"But eagerly desire the best gifts."
He likely means that they should want to see gifted apostles, prophets, and teachers in their church. Not because there isn't honor and value in all the gifts but because it is through these particular gifted functions that God is best able to communicate needed truth to His people.
Rather than feel bad that you yourself don't have them, thank God that some in your church do have these, just as we all should be thankful for all the gifts that are given.
In this area of the more prominent gifts, just as in other areas, Paul, most likely has, once again, had to correct the Corinthians in their understanding and practice of Christianity because it's possible that they either lacked or did not receive good teaching from gifted leaders. And so, they were needed at Corinth.
However, even better than seeking any of these things for your church, there is a better way of looking at spiritual gifts than merely finding out what they are and which ones you have. It is a more excellent way of looking at them. That is through the lens of love. Paul uses this last part of verse 31 to transition, in chapter 13, to show us that spiritual gifts should always be practiced out of love for God and for those fellow believers whom they are benefitting. We will talk about that more when we continue our study by moving into chapter 13 of I Corinthians.
But, in the meantime, George Reavis once told a story of an animal school which beautifully illustrates what Paul has been talking about here in this passage. The fable went like this:
"Once upon a time the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a “new world” so they organized a school. They had adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming, and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.
The duck was excellent in swimming. In fact, better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running, he had to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his webbed feet were badly worn and he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable in school so nobody worried about that, except the duck.
The rabbit started at the top of the class in running but had a nervous breakdown because of so much makeup work in swimming.
The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of the treetop down. He also developed a “Charlie horse” from overexertion and then got a C in climbing and D in running.
The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing class, he beat all the others to the top of the tree but insisted on using his own way to get there.
At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceedingly well and also run, climb, and fly a little had the highest average and was valedictorian.
The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They apprenticed their children to a badger and later joined the groundhogs and gophers to start a successful private school."
Just like in the story of the animals, we all have our gifts and abilities and cannot be judged because we don't have what others have. And they don't have the supernatural abilities that we do. None of us are better than the others and we are all necessary parts of the whole Church. We were given those unique gifts to use to do our part to build up the Body of Christ and to bring glory to the God who created us just the way we are.
May God help us to understand that, though the church is made up of many diverse people with all sorts of abilities, that we are all one body with one Lord whom we all are serving together and are seeking to give Him the glory for all that we do. Further, may we take that truth and make it a reality in the individual churches in which the Lord has placed us. May God be praised as we all work together to be the Body of Christ in this world!
© 2022 Jeff Shirley