Contributor: Leye Olayiwola
Last week, we had an in-depth study of the diverse gifts of the Holy Spirit. It was emphasised that these gifts are given by the Holy Spirit, as He wills! We also learnt that a great spiritual gift is no indication of spirituality. It is possible to be gifted and not be spiritual. Continuing further in verse 12 through to 31, Paul further emphasised the importance of these gifts through the diversity and unity of the physical body as an analogy. Due to the competitive nature of bodybuilding, in order to win a competition one cannot have any weak body parts. Bodybuilders understand the value and significance of every single part of the body. There can be no undeveloped or lagging parts. Every single body part must develop and function at its absolute best.
Did you know that God is also interested in bodybuilding? God wants to build every muscle in His church. He doesn’t want there to be any superior or inferior body parts. There can be no undeveloped or lagging parts. God expects every part of the body to grow and do its work. In our passage, Paul is going to discuss the importance of church teamwork. This is not to depreciate the fact that people become Christians on an individual basis, but that once one is a Christian the focus is always on the health, unity, and well-being of the whole.
1. Appreciate the solidarity of the body (verses 12-13)
• These first two verses give the theological basis for the body imagery that is developed in the rest of this passage. Paul states that every part of the body is essential because every believer is a member of the church
• The emphasis here is on unity and oneness. Our body of many members is unified in one body. Paul is so intent on driving home this point of our oneness in the church that he refers to Christ as the church. This is one of the places in Scripture where all believers collectively are called “Christ.” (See Acts 9:4)
• Paul had been persecuting Christians, not realizing that in so doing he was persecuting Christ. Saul, who later became Paul, would one day learn that every believer is a member of Christ’s body. Likewise, you and I are members of the body of Christ…and we are one body
• In verse 13, Paul explains the reason for the oneness of the church: we have all been placed into the body of Christ. Paul argues that every Christian has experienced Spirit baptism. Notice the word “all” as well as the past tense, “were baptized.” Every believer shares in this experience. It occurs the moment we trust in Jesus Christ
• In Spirit baptism the Holy Spirit baptizes the believer into the body of Christ. He makes us a part of His church. The baptism of the Holy Spirit means if you belong to Jesus Christ, you belong to everyone else who belongs to Jesus Christ. This means the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not a matter of having a certain level of spiritual maturity, achieving some advanced spiritual state, or receiving a “second blessing.” On the contrary, every believer experiences Spirit baptism regardless of his or her race or social status. We are now on equal footing in the sense that we are all members of the body of Christ
• Now, having been introduced to this important analogy between the human body and the body of Christ, there are two key problems that constantly plague the church and prevent us from enjoying unity in diversity. Those two tendencies are what we might simply call an inferiority complex and a superiority complex, or self-pity and pride. When certain Christians think they just don’t have anything to offer and therefore fail to participate in the life of the church, the body cannot be complete. On the other hand, when some think of themselves as God’s gift to the church and don’t allow others to contribute their gifts, again the body cannot function well. This passage teaches that both inferiority feelings and superiority feelings are out of bounds in Christ’s church. Everybody is somebody because we’re in this together.
2. Do not underestimate your importance to the body of Christ (verses 14-20)
• In these verses, Paul attempts to pass his points across that every member of the body has a different role to play, but that all of these parts are needed in order for the body to function as a unit. In 12:14, Paul writes, “For the body is not one member, but many.” Paul is making a simple statement of fact that every part of the body, every organ, is valuable.
• The phrase “I am not a part of the body” occurs in both verses 15 and 16. This is an indication of a feeling of insignificance: “No one thinks that I am important or significant. I have little to contribute to this ministry. I don’t really matter to this church.” For example, the ear feels inferior to the eye. The foot is jealous of the hand because he is covetous of the hand’s prominence. The hand is in the public and in the limelight, but the foot is in confinement inside a shoe. We manicure hands and put ointment on them. We make hands beautiful by putting rings on them. We put jewellery on the hand but rarely on the foot. Hands take a scalpel, do delicate operations, play the piano or violin. No wonder the foot feels inferior because the hand is in the limelight!
• Yet, the body would be in bad shape without a foot. Did you know that you use more than 200 different muscles to walk? If your feet and their muscles are not working well you aren’t going very far. Furthermore, if you dislocate a tiny bone in your foot your whole body is miserable. Feet are awfully important. So why should the foot say, “I don’t count; I’m not important; no one ever notices me; no one cares about what I do.
• God rewards the foot based on being a foot. If you have been gifted as a foot it’s easy to look at those gifted as hands and think how skilled, how capable they are, and that you’re not important at all. However, all God expects is that you do what you can with what you have.
• Unfortunately, some at Corinth who lacked the more spectacular gifts of others were discouraged and began to ask whether they had any place or function in the church. So Paul moves from the sublime to the ridiculous by envisioning an absurd scenario. In 12:17, he asks, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?”
• In verses 18-20, Paul emphasizes that God sovereignly places the gifts in the church that He desires. Paul makes it clear that God is the one that has gifted every church the way He wants her gifted. The church is all about the sovereignty of God.
3. Do not overestimate your importance to the body of Christ (21-26)
• Beginning at verse 21, we have a transition from those who feel inferior in their gifts to those who feel superior. In this section, we see members who suffer from a superiority complex. Paul explains that we need to squash spiritual pride because we all need each other. Paul needs to get across that all of the members in Corinth need each other, and no one is dispensable.
• In verses 22-25, Paul argues that every member of the body is necessary. There are no exceptions. Those body parts that are deemed weaker, less honorable, or less presentable are all critically important. How does this apply to the church? Every church has people who are out in the forefront and love the public spotlight. But what is really essential to the ongoing life of the church is the people behind the scenes—those who serve faithfully and quietly (and often are the ones who make the leaders look good
• In verse 26, Paul pens one of the most powerful verses in the Scriptures: “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it”. As members of the same body we are so closely bound together that we actually share the same feelings. What causes joy for one member delights the whole body. When one member suffers the entire body hurts. If we are family, why is it so difficult to see another member of our own body receive honor? We must desperately yearn for the success of others.
4. Celebrate the diversity of the body (27-31)
• Paul takes the analogy of the physical body and applies it practically in terms of gifting and how ministry is to be expressed. He lists eight kinds of members with special functions. The ranking of the first three items corresponds to their building up the local church. We will briefly discuss these definitions.
• Apostles - the ability to begin and/or to oversee new churches and Christian ministries with a spontaneously recognized authority.
• Prophets - ability to receive and proclaim a message from God. This could involve the foretelling of future events, though its primary purpose as seen in 1 Cor 14:3 is forthtelling
• Teachers - ability to clearly explain and effectively apply the truths of God’s Word so that others will learn
• Miracles - ability to serve as an instrument through whom God accomplishes acts that manifest supernatural power.
• Gifts of healings - ability to serve as a human instrument through whom God supernaturally cures illnesses and restores health. The possessor of this gift is not the source of power, but a vessel who can only heal those diseases the Lord chooses to heal.
• Gifts of helps - ability to enhance the effectiveness of the ministry of other members of the body
• Gifts of administrations - the ability to steer a church or Christian organization toward the fulfillment of its goals by managing its affairs and implementing necessary plans. A person may have the gift of leadership without the gift of administration
• Various kinds of tongues - ability to receive and impart a spiritual message in a language the recipient never learned.
God’s expectation is that every Christian will serve in the local church. Yet, someone may say, “I am an inactive Christian.” There is no such thing. That is like saying, “I am an honest thief” or “I am a godly prostitute.” An inactive Christian is a paradox in terms. No Christian is without a special, supernatural gift from God.
Conclusion (verse 31):
Paul’s final words are found in verse 31: “But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.” The command to “earnestly desire the best gifts” is not addressed to the individual but to the collective church. The implied “you” is second person plural in the Greek. We cannot select our gifts because that is the prerogative of the Holy Spirit. However, as a congregation we can “earnestly desire” that the “best gifts” (superlative gifts) be manifested among us. The “best gifts” are those that benefit the general body of Christ.