One Body with Many Members
(1Co_12:12-14) The fact of unity: believers all belong to a greater unit, the body of Jesus Christ.
All the members of that one body, being many, are one body . . . for by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body: The “body-like” unity of Christians is not a goal to achieve; it is a fact to be recognized. Paul clearly says we were all baptized into one body.
But here, Paul does not have in mind water baptism as much as Spirit baptism: For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Paul here is writing of the common “immersion” all believers have in the Holy Spirit and in Jesus, a common “immersion” which brings them into one body.
One body . . . many members: Paul uses the brilliant illustration of the human body to relate the working of the community of Christians. Even as every cell in a human body is linked by a common root (a common DNA code), yet the parts of our body (members) look different, are treated differently, work differently, and accomplish different purposes. Even so, there is great diversity in the body of Jesus Christ, both in appearance and function, yet each member has a common root and a common goal.
Whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free: Because of the fact of the “body” dynamic, the dividing lines created by the Corinthian Christians were strictly artificial. Jew, Greek, slave, free, did not matter anymore, because they were all in one body.
If the foot should say: If the foot felt, or declared, itself not part of the body because it was not a hand, the foot would be both foolish and mistaken. Diversity does not disqualify one from the body.
Here, Paul puts the question in the mouth of the one who feels excluded from the body. It is as if some of the Corinthian Christians were saying, “I don’t have this certain spiritual gift. I guess I’m not part of the body of Jesus Christ.” After all, hands and eyes seem more important and more “glamorous” than feet and ears. So Paul wants these Christians who feel excluded that they are indeed members of the body, and their sense that they are not, is just as foolish as the foot or the ear who feel excluded.
Yet, the same principle can be stated towards those who desire to exclude others from the body. Paul could have just as well said, “The hand cannot say the foot is not of the body because it is not a hand.” Paul also wants Christians who might exclude others because they don’t appreciate their place in the body to recognize the fact of unity.
If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? Not only is this diversity in the body of Jesus Christ acceptable, it is essential. The body cannot work properly if all are hands, or if all are eyes. The body must have different parts and gifts, or it would not work together effectively as a body.
Just as He pleased: Why is the foot a foot and the hand a hand? Because it pleased the Designer to make it so. So, the hand can take no “pride” in being a hand, and the foot can take no “shame” in being a foot. Each is serving the pleasure of the Designer.
In the design, we see the wisdom of the Designer: everybody has something; but nobody has everything.
And the eye cannot say to the hand: Now, Paul writes to those tempted to pride and a sense of superiority because of their gifts or place in the body. They cannot say to such parts, “I have no need of you.”
Those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary: Often, we consider a part of our body unnecessary or of low importance - until it is hurt. Then we realize how important it is! The hand or the eye may seem to be more important, and may have more “glamour” in its position - but it is not more necessary or important than other parts of the body.
Less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor: The parts of our bodies normally covered by clothes are often considered less honorable - but we give them greater honor by clothing them so carefully!
Even so, God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it: If someone feels they are a “hidden” or “unglamorous” member of the body of Jesus Christ, God knows how to bestow honor upon them.
The parts of the body work together. The eyes and ears do not only serve themselves, but the whole body. The hands do not only feed and defend themselves, but the whole body. The heart does not only supply blood to itself, but serves the whole body. Sometimes there is a part of our body which only lives to serve itself. It doesn’t contribute anything to the rest of the body, and everything it gets it uses to feed and grow itself. We call this cancer.
“I want every member of this church to be a worker. We do not want any drones. If there are any of you who want to eat and drink, and do nothing, there are plenty of places elsewhere, where you can do it; there are empty pews about in abundance; go and fill them, for we do not want you. Every Christian who is not a bee is a wasp. The most quarrelsome persons are the most useless, and they who are the most happy are peaceable, are generally those who are doing most for Christ.” (Spurgeon)
(1Co_12:27-31) God distributes gifts and callings according to His pleasure.
You are the body of Christ, and members individually: Paul sums up his previous point. Even as a human body is a unified whole with many different parts, so also is the body of Jesus Christ. Now, Paul will write about the different parts of the body.
Apostles are “special ambassadors” of the church. Paul and others in his day had a unique apostolic authority, which will never be repeated because the foundation of the church has already been set (Eph_2:20). However, God still has His “special ambassadors” in the church today, though not with the same authority as the original apostles.
Prophets are those particularly called to speak forth for God with the gift of prophecy. There was a unique, foundational authority to this gift as well (Eph_2:19-20). However, God raises up those to speak to the church and the world with a special blessing and power.
However, if one will either claim or receive the title of “prophet” today, let them be held to the standard of a prophet: 100% accuracy, in every word (Deu_18:20-22).
Workers of miracles: Those used of God to do miracles. Yet, the Biblical pattern is for them though on the Holy Spirit’s initiative, not their own.
Spurgeon on those with the gift of helps: “It strikes me that they were not persons who had any official standing, but that they were only moved by the natural impulse and the divine life within them to do anything and everything which would assist either teacher, pastor, or deacon, in the work of the Lord. They are the sort of brethren who are useful anywhere, who can always stop a gap, and who are only too glad when they find that they can make themselves serviceable to the church of God in any capacity whatever.”
Spurgeon describes the qualities of someone who is effective in the gift of helps:
1. A tender heart to really care.
2. A quick eye to see the need.
3. A quick foot to get to the needy.
4. A loving face to cheer them and bless them.
5. A firm foot so you will not fall yourself.
6. A strong hand to grip the needy with.
7. A bent back to reach the man.
An old Puritan preacher once did a great sermon on this text: And Bartholomew (Mat_10:3). His point was that Bartholomew is never mentioned by himself, but always with the phrase and Bartholomew. He is always spoken of doing something good with someone else. He was never the leader, but always a helper.
Do all speak with tongues? Paul’s plain meaning is that the gift of tongues is not for every believer, just as the gifting of apostles, prophets, teachers, working of miracles or healings and so forth are not for every believer. Great damage has been done in the church by promoting tongues as necessary to really live as a Christian, or as the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence. This has caused many to seek the gift of tongues, or to “fake” the gift of tongues, often only to assure one’s self or others that they are indeed filled with the Holy Spirit.
Since tongues is a communicative gift, used in speaking to God, the gift of tongues should be desired when the individual feels a lack in their ability to communicate with God. When one feels hindered in their ability to talk to God using their given language, they can and should ask God for the empowering to communicate with God in a language which He understands, but which surpasses my understanding. If someone feels satisfied with their ability to communicate with God, there is really no need for the gift of tongues, and it should not be desired until one does want a communication with God which goes beyond understanding.
Earnestly desire the best gifts: Though the Holy Spirit gives the gifts, it is good and proper for us to desire them, and to ask for them, all in submission to the plan of God.
Paul will explain the more excellent way in chapter 13, with a focus on love, not the gifts themselves. The gifts are merely ways we can express and receive love from God and love to one another.