The Christian’s Economy
1 Corinthians 12:7-26
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free —and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (NIV)
In this article I want to build on some teachings about the Christian and the church that we all (should) know. But in writing to such a broad audience, it is impossible to know where you are in your spiritual growth in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord (2 Peter 3:18). But I hope you know the following:
- The church is the spiritual body of Christ
- Every follower of Christ is a member of his spiritual body
- Everyone in Christ’s body shares many blessings: new life, a vital relationship with God, the position of an adult son, the standing of a royal priest, and the possession of one or more spiritual gifts to equip each one for ministry in the body
- These truths have a global and local significance
Each of us is given a place in the body by the Holy Spirit. No Christian is left out (12:7).
Every learner of Jesus has a significant place to fill. Our Sovereign Lord has formed each of us with a unique combination of personality, genetic material, family and ethnic heritage, personal experiences and spiritual gifts to display his glory in special ways. And each part of the body of Christ will be in the process of development or decline. This can be very complex! Surprising as it may sound; you might be improving in some areas and declining in others. What is your spiritual health?
Your place in Christ’s spiritual body is for the common good (12:7).
We live in a very “me-centered” time. “What is in this local gathering of believers for me?” is the only question many seem to consider. Two basic questions about any assembly (church) are: Does it delight in God’s truth? Does it delight to love God and people? Yet countless professed believers will focus on a church’s programs, facilities, “demographics” (ethnicity, economic and educational levels, and age groupings), and other less important matters. However, the Holy Spirit wants us to understand that he places us in a local church “for the common good”. Yes, we all are needy people in various ways.
So then, we dare not look at a church from the standpoint of “what is this church doing for me?” That attitude has crippled churches for years. I boldly ask, “What are you doing for the good of people in Christ with whom you share life?” I think that way of putting it unmasks one of the hindrances to the church in our time. Those who know the Lord Christ share life in him. We want to share our lives with others who know the Lord. Ask, “What can I do for the benefit of my brothers and sisters in the Lord?”
The Spirit equips each one for his or her place in the body (12:8-11).
The Spirit of God does not thrust Christ’s people into positions unprepared. He gives each person special abilities to minister in the body for the common good. Consider Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-13; 1 Peter 4:10-11. Every member has a function to fulfill. For example, those gifted with the gift of showing mercy need to step in and do the job when there is a need for mercy. If you see a need in your fellowship of believers and think that you know how to meet that need, the Lord might be calling you to serve and to meet that need.
The Spirit determines what place each one has (12:11).
This causes people discomfort. We want to fill a function in the church that we like, and we fail to appreciate others who are functioning to the best of their ability. There is no reason to “seek the gifts”, as many use the term, since the Spirit gives according to God’s own pleasure. We can be sure that the Lord has very good reasons for giving people the gifts that he does. This ought to cause us to appreciate and admire the Spirit’s will. We ought to rejoice in the way that the Lord has put his body together. Are you fulfilling a function in your local church? What is God doing through you? How does your ministry show forth the power of the ascended Christ by his Spirit?
Christ’s people have a variety of functions in his spiritual body (12:14).
This is illustrated by hands, feet, eyes, ears and noses (12:15-18). The Spirit of God is teaching us that there are clearly defined bodily functions and parts of the body to fulfill those functions.
Your position in the church is an adult son; you have authority to minister because you are a priest; the place of your ministry is determined by God. Since we have spiritual gifts and have been shaped by the Spirit to serve, we perform various spiritual functions in the local gathering of saints (church) we attend. To use the illustration, God makes you, a priest and an adult son, to act as a hand, a foot, an eye, an ear or a nose.
Many parts are necessary in the body for all spiritual functions to be fulfilled (12:17).
Clearly, this makes the spiritual maturity of every member of the body important. In the new covenant way of life, this is very important. (I will spare you from an overdose of adjectives and adverbs, but I’m pausing here so that you will reflect on this point.) The new covenant way of life is not about pressing people to conform under a code of laws, rules, etc. This “checklist morality” is the focus for Christian behavior that many people are zealous to enforce by “church discipline”. But that is not my subject. The new covenant way of life is about people in Christ sharing life in the Spirit, which involves mutual service. You do not achieve service by investigating whether everyone is keeping the code. You serve because you have a vital relationship with others that impels you to show concern by practical actions for the benefit of each other. It is a sense that all of us, yes, all of us, are necessary for the spiritual health and progress and mission of our local gathering. For example, your timely use of your gift of encouragement might be what the Spirit uses in me today to persevere in the struggles of life. The personal Spirit enables spiritual people to provide care for Christ’s people.
So then, think on a couple ideas.
First, a few people cannot possibly do everything. God intends a better way. That better way is the involvement of every member of the assembly. Some people have remarkable people skills that bring people to open up their hearts to each other. It is a joy to behold.
Second, the tragedy is that people gifted by the Spirit are not fulfilling their function. This means that some parts of body ministry are left unfulfilled and other parts are weakly done by members unequipped to do them. They see the need and valiantly seek to serve, but… it would be so much better if those with the right spiritual skill sets were doing them. Try lifting your fork to your mouth with your ear! I don’t think the job will be done very well. If you are thinking, “That’s ridiculous! You can’t pick up a fork with your ear!” then you might be able to understand the weakness of the church in our time.
In every local church, God arranges the parts as he intended (12:18-20).
18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
If the Lord has saved you and brought you to a gathering of his people, he clearly has a purpose for you to fulfill in it. God your Father wants you to experience the joy of fulfilling his purpose for you as you share life with others. You find your purpose by learning the needs of the body and your desires and abilities in reference to those needs. Others should notice your gifts. But you can’t wait for others to push you to do it. I don’t want someone to tell my liver every morning, “Please do your liver thing, whatever it is.” Start to serve one another in love, and the Spirit will provide insight to you and others that you are learning to function in your local church. If you are not connecting with other followers of Christ, seek a local gathering to join this week.