1 Corinthians 12:1-31 ESV
The Bible is God’s word telling us about himself, his plan to bring glory and honor to himself through the Lord Jesus Christ, and about his desire to share his love and riches with a people rescued from sin by Jesus, the Son of God. This plan involves making that rescued or saved people God’s people. In the OTS the Lord God did not reveal the fullness of his plan, but in the NTS the Spirit tells us that the people are the spiritual body of Christ. This idea is made known in a number of places, but its fullest expression is written in our text for today.
Structure of First Corinthians
- Introduction (1:1-9)
- Response to information about the church in Corinth (1:10-6:20)
- Response to questions from the church in Corinth (7:1-16:4)
- Conclusion (16:4-24)
Ideas and features of First Corinthians
- Paul planted the church in Corinth with the help of Aquila and his wife Priscilla (Ac 18:1-4) and Silas and Timothy (Ac 18:5). He invested eighteen months in planting this church (Ac 18:11)
- The letter is the Lord’s response to the situation that Paul received about that local church and to questions from its members; notice carefully that they wanted apostolic instruction
- One of the key concepts is the way that Paul teaches them with a Christ-structured perspective; study the letter and see how he continually forms his teaching around the Lord Jesus; in addition, the letter is very Trinitarian
- First Corinthians is very useful for leading a church towards a godly way of life in Christ Jesus; Paul emphasizes Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection and builds on those gospel events; throughout it directs love and concern for those in Christ
- Chapter thirteen is the “love chapter” and chapter fifteen is the “resurrection chapter”; sadly however, Christians seem more interested in controversial matters in the letter than on the graces of faith, hope, and love that the letter teaches (13:13)
The apostle talks about the body of Christ in the context of answering questions about spiritual gifts. In the process, he sets forth a few basic ideas about the church.
I. The principle of God’s sovereignty in the forming of Christ’s body
A.The Spirit of God puts us into the body of Christ, the church.
1.He enables us to make the basic confession “Jesus is Lord” (12:3; cf. Rm 10:9-10). Apart from God’s grace we are unable to respond positively to God. We are corrupted by sin to the roots of our being. Sin has made us unable (cf. Jn 3:5; 8:43; 14:17; Rm 8:7-8; 1 Cor 12:3). This is the first of the doctrines of grace—radical corruption. The good news is that the Holy Spirit is able to make you able to call on the Lord and be saved. This is the fourth of the doctrines of grace—effective grace. At the root of our position in Christ’s body is a shared experience of God’s saving grace. This fuels a passion for one another and charges a mutual respect for one another. In the church you are with people who have known the hand of God in their salvation.
2.The Holy Spirit baptizes or immerses every believer into the body of Christ. The point the apostle Paul makes here is this ends all ethnic and socio-economic divisions among those in Christ’s spiritual body. We all receive together the fulfillment of Christ’s promise (12:13; cf. Jn 7:37-39). Everyone in the Christ’s new people is the recipient of the Spirit. Again, this is a level but very high position to share. When we take it seriously, it transforms the way we view all other Christians.
B.The Holy Spirit assigns our place in the body of Christ (12:4-11).
1.The Spirit carries out the will of the Father and the Son.
2.The Spirit assigns spiritual gifts to each one according to his determination (12:11). You and I did not walk through a “cafeteria line” to choose which gift or gifts we wanted. The all-wise Spirit of God knew what gift or gifts to give us what gifts we needed to function properly in the body. At this point or somewhere along the line, someone wonders, “How can I know what spiritual gift or gifts I possess?” The answer is simple. Start to serve the Lord in a local church and your spiritual gifts will be seen by others.
Apply: As we move forward together serving the Lord, our gifts in this local assembly will be demonstrated, and if we need some person with another gift, the Holy Spirit will send or save such a person and add them to our number. This is where it gets exciting!
II. The principles of unity and diversity in Christ’s body – both are present together and both are necessary
A.The principle of unity
1.This unity flows from the unity of the Trinity. God’s “community” creates the gospel community. Though there are different gifts, service, and kinds of working, there is the same Spirit, Lord, and God. This, as Paul had already taught in this letter, builds a correct regard for Christ’s ministers. All serve the Lord together, and for this reason, we must never boast in one above another (3:1-23). Christians must grow up and understand clearly that it is a trap of Satan to boast in men (4:6-7).
2.This unity strives for the common good (12:7). Anyone who acts to exalt self acts very foolishly. Your place in the Lord’s body and your gifts were given by the Spirit so that you might benefit others. Our culture delights in self-exaltation; Jesus culture seeks for Jesus exaltation, and this happens as all his people are benefitted by each other. To Jesus there are no little people—and no superstars! If you don’t grasp this, prayerfully read Matthew 11 about fifty times. The flesh talks about who is first, the Spirit about who is benefitted. If you want to be great, be the servant of all (Mk 9:33-35). And you are really not serving anyone until you act for their good!
3.This unity is real, because there is only one body (12:12-13). And it is Christ’s body, not the creation of people. If we assume we can create a body, be assured that it will not be the body of Christ. It will be a spurious, cheap imitation. But if we are in Christ together, all the parts are pulled irresistibly toward the Lord and love reigns in his body.
B.The principle of diversity
1.There are a variety of parts in the body of Christ (12:14-20). As Paul illustrates, one is a hand, another a foot, another an ear, and still another an ear. And each part is necessary for a functioning body. You might have beautiful green eyes, but if you were covered with green eyes, somehow you would not be quite as attractive. Everybody loves a good set of ears, but at some point your nose might save your life. The Holy Spirit has set you where you are needed! Trust him; rejoice in the function he has given to you. An old children’s song said, “If the Lord makes you a drummer, be a drummer for the Lord. If the Lord makes you a plumber, be a plumber for the Lord.” The same holds true for every believer in Jesus.
2.The different functions require different spiritual gifts (12:8-10, 28-30). The questions in the second list are asked so that they demand the negative answer “no”. The Spirit makes you a certain part of Christ’s body and then gives you the spiritual gift to do it. Do not waste your life wishing for a different gift. “Bloom where you’re planted.”
III. The principle of mutual concern in Christ’s body
A.All members need each other.
1.Every part needs the other parts in order to function properly (12:21). Eyes are wonderfully designed for one kind of work and hands for another. Neither can do what the other does. Your lack of ability to do something doesn’t mean that you are some sort of a second class citizen. Nor does it mean that someone else is somehow better than you. It simply means that you are different because God made you that way, he loves all his people.
2.Some parts might seem “less honorable”. But this spurs us on to seek special honor for certain members. The important idea is to show equal concern for each other. Now, this is a great challenge, especially when education or economic level or social status or ethnicity or age makes us different!
Illustration: I thank God over and over for my two years in Rock Hill as a preacher boy. I had a lot to learn about honoring all parts of the body of Christ. My dear southern friends did a superb job of accepting a northern guy and his fiancée, and patiently allowed me time to grow to like beans and cornbread for supper, to accept Yankee jokes in good humor, and to grow as a young believer. Some situations could have been testy, to say the least, but the Lord gave mutual grace to persevere to love and good works.
B.All members receive honor together and suffer together (12:26).
1.This is an unexpected twist! Everyone gets honored for the health and growth of the body together. Where love, joy, and peace reign, such people will be honored. Where souls are brought to our Lord and Savior, all will receive honor for their part in it, regardless of what you did.
2.On the other hand, if one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it. This is something that people do not want to see. We wrongly assume that we can wall ourselves off from the trials and problems of other. “Oh, we lost an arm? So what, we have another one!” And we can deceive ourselves that we’re doing fine until we lose the second arm.
Apply: My dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to show equal concern for one another. This is God’s will for every local assembly. Yet you cannot live as a Christian, unless you are first in Christ by grace through faith. Do you have a living, active, personal relationship with the Lord Jesus? Or are you simply being religious? It may be that the Spirit of God has pointed out a serious deficiency in you through this chapter. If so, turn to the Lord now; seek true, spiritual change from him.