How many of you have ever belonged to a team? Maybe it was a sports team, theatre troop, marching band, board of directors, or some non-profit organization. Teams are able to accomplish more together than its individual members could do alone. In fact, this phenomenon is why teams continue to exist in so many capacities. There seems to be something instinctual, something engrained in us as human beings, that contributes to the formation and use of teams/groups/communities, etc. One of the teams that gets underappreciated in today’s world is the church. That is right, the church! If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, you are a member of a compelling team. The Bible even promises that the church will be victorious over all its foes in the end! How exciting is that!
As we continue to ask and answer the important question, “Who are We?” we are going to look at the church as described in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26. In this text we will come to learn that the church of God is greater than the sum of its individual parts. This we will do by paying close attention to four observations Paul makes about the church in this important text--observations that will help us appreciate the unity, diversity, dignity and care of God’s winning team—the Church.
I. The Unity of the Body-12:12-13
The church of Corinth was a church that suffered a host of issues (sexual scandal, division, heresy, etc.). YIKES! In fact, what we call 1 Corinthians is actually the second letter that Paul wrote to the church (of four—see 1 Cor. 5:9-11 and 2 Cor. 2:3-4; 7:8). Needless to say, this church needed a lot of correction and a lot of instruction. After re-establishing adequate theology as a foundation for his presentation early in 1 Corinthians, Paul provides healthy protocols so that this church can go about her business in an orderly and God-glorifying way. Such instructions were necessary as literally everything the church said and did was becoming an issue leading to discord. After addressing Christian order and the Lord’s Supper, Paul addresses the use of spiritual gifts (a discussion that spans chapters 12-14). Yes, even the exercise of people’s spiritual gifts—a function of the church that ought to have built unity and encouragement—was a sore subject for this group of believers.
To correct this malady, Paul makes a case for unity in verses 12-13. Though many were uniquely gifted and employing their gifts in varying directions, the church needed to be reminded that they were still ONE body. He begins in verse 12, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ,…”. The example Paul provides for the unity of the church body is the unity of Christ himself who, although an individual member of a Triune God, is still one God in Trinity. Just as there is unity and diversity in the context of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Spirit) so too ought there be unity and diversity in Triune God’s people—i.e. the church.
This unity amid such diversity in the context of the church is nothing short of a miracle. In fact, it is not something that the members of the church can create or maintain themselves. Instead, such unity comes by means of the Holy Spirit—“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit,…” (12:13). The baptism and drinking language employed here is meant metaphorically and speaks of the miracle of conversion. Once people make a confession of Jesus as Lord based on compelling belief in Christ’s person and work (as we discussed last week in Romans 10:9-10), they are immediately baptized in the Spirit and from that moment on, the Spirit of God dwells within them.
Acts 2:38-“And Peter said, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”
John 3:5-“Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’”
Every single born-again member of God’s church has been buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life in the Spirit of God and as such has the living Spirit of God dwelling in them. Earlier in 1 Corinthians Paul even says “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19).
The illustration of Christ and the description of the Spirit’s miraculous work in the lives of believers shows that the church ought to be radically unified. It is a reflection of the unity in the Trinity and a product of the unifying Spirit of God. Such unity is supernaturally wrought by God and demonstrates that the body of Christ is greater than the sum of its individual parts. Like the DNA embedded in each and every cell in your physical body, our salvation in Christ and regeneration by the Spirit makes us spiritually united, sharing the same spiritual DNA, with everyone in the body of Christ.
II. The Diversity of the Body-12:14-17
All this being said, the individual members of the church are not the same (they are not clones). Paul continues in his description of the Church with a discussion on her diversity—“For the body is not one member, but many…” (12:14). After all, a physical body, by its very definition, is “the physical structure of a person or an animal, including the bones, flesh, and organs” or “any mass or collection of material(s).” While all the cells in your body share the same DNA, there are different expressions of that DNA that produce different cells in different tissues, organs, and systems that serve different functions. The same is true in the body of Christ. Though we all share the same spiritual DNA because we were all born again by the power of the same Spirit, the expression of our spiritual DNA manifests in different ways to serve different functions in the life of the church.
Such diversity makes sense given the example the Paul cites in verses 15-16—“If the foot says, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body…”. Neither the foot nor the hand nor the ear nor the eye is any more/less a part of the body than the other. Each and every “member” is connected, serving to function, and genetically similar to the body to which it is connected. Such unity and diversity doesn’t just make sense, it is essential that it be this way.
For, as Paul says, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?...” (12:17). For a body to function properly, each and every individual/unique member ought to be serving its special function well—hearing, seeing, carrying, breathing, pumping, regulating, thinking, moving, supporting, etc. An eye is an incredible piece of equipment; but it is not body. It is a body part. An ear is a wonderful gift, but again, it is not a body. It is merely a body part. Both an ear and an eye are worthless if disconnected or at odds with the rest of the body! Similarly, within the context of the church, no one member or group of members (no matter how talented/gifted/important/obvious, etc.) is, by itself, a body. Each is merely a body part and as such ought to realize itsunique giftedness and function only in the context of the greater whole so that the entire body can perform well for the glory of God.
III. The Dignity of the Body-12:18-24a
This renders every body part, no matter how small or unglamorous, wrought with special dignity. After all, “God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body just as he desired…” (12:18). Though we tend to appreciate the concept of the sovereignty of God as it pertains to global issues, salvation, and the like, how many of us can say that they have recently considered that the role they play in the life of the church is also ordained of God? The functions, gifts, and unique capabilities that we bring to bear in the life of the church are just as much God-appointed as anything else to which we give God credit. As such, every service rendered to the church, no matter how small or inconspicuous, is wrought with special dignity. Everyone from the volunteers who help run an event behind the scenes, to the selfless people who give time to update the website, to the childcare workers who invest meaningfully in the lives of our youngest, to the prayer warriors who intercede in special ways for our church and her leadership, to those who count the money or build the budget, are just as much a product of God’s unique choosing and gifting as the small group leaders, preacher, musicians, deacons, committee chairpersons, etc. Every member of every church carries with himself or herself the dignity that comes with God’s choosing him/her for the role in which he/she serves.
Not only is there special dignity granted to each member because of God’s choosing them to serve in a particular function, but there is dignity granted because of their unity to the rest of the body. Paul comments, “If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members but one body..” (12:19-20). Each body part, because of its connection to the greater whole and because of the miraculous DNA it houses in every one of its cells, is a wonder to behold and worthy of dignity. This is true in our bodies as well as in the body of Christ (and even more so with the latter). Part of the dignity we carry as individual believers comes from our connection to something bigger and more sophisticated than ourselves—the church. You and I are part of something greater than we could ever be on our own. Think of it, as great as a brain is for thinking or a tongue is for speaking or a hand is for writing, by itself, severed from the rest of the body to which it belongs, it would be a frightening thing to behold, not an asset. This is the point that Paul makes for the self-important in his original audience: individuals are not more important than the body to which they belong.
Not only do members of the body have dignity because of their special appointment (“God has placed each member…”-12:18) and because of their connection to the greater whole (“there are many members but one body”-12:19-20), they also have dignity because of their necessity—“And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’…” (12:21). What good would an eye be to see things the body needs with no way of picking things up? What good would it be to know where to go and have no way of getting there? Paul is hoping that the church in Corinth would avoid the pitfalls of assigning special significance and/or preference for one element of the body to the neglect of the others. ALL members of the body that God has brought together are essential in one way or another to do what God desires of the church. In our world where some are considered more essential than others and given special permissions to act in certain ways, God’s people can always count on being essential workers in the context of church life and mission. (1 Cor. 12) Paul’s message to the members of the church in Corinth extends to church members today: You are needed! You are Valued!
Given God’s leading, the connection each member has to the greater body, and the necessity of every member to the proper function of the whole, the apostle concludes “…it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it…” (12:22-24a). While the world would seek to subdivide and categorize the population in any number of ways, in the Body of Christ there is unique dignity for all members, regardless of how big or obvious your role may be.
IV. The Care of the Body-12:24b-26
This ushers Paul to his final observation of the body in verses 24-26—the care of the body. Members of the body ought to care about whole body because “God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked” (12:24b). Those the world has discarded, marginalized, written off, or undermined find a special place in the body of Christ upon confessing Jesus as Lord and believing in what he accomplished in redemption. This is consistent with what Paul has already shared in this particular letter: “but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong,” (1 Cor. 1:27).
Because God has so called, connected, and rendered necessary every member of the body of Christ, every member ought to care a great deal for all the others great and small.
This is important, as Paul says, “So that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (12:25). Humility is the glue that holds a church body together. Paul knew that a lack of consideration for others would quickly lead to discord (and perhaps this was already the case in Corinth). Therefore, he invites the church to have special regard for each of its members. The same sentiment is shared by Paul in Romans 12:3—“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”
When the members of the body care for each other appropriately and are united in that care, something amazing happens—they share both the burden of tribulation and the blessing of triumph—“and if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it,…” (12:26). A group in unity rejoices with those who rejoice and weeps with those who weep. After all, does not an infection in one part of our physical body affect the general health of that same body? Does not a therapy applied to one part of a physical body generate wellness for the whole? Similarly, church members united in faith and serving in various capacities know that they are not alone in either the valleys or mountaintops of their spiritual walk. They celebrate together in the triumphs they share and rally together in response to the tribulations they traverse. This is what Paul hoped to see in Corinth and what God wants to see in his church today.
The observations that Paul makes in this passage illustrate that the church—that is the body of Christ made up of those who confess Jesus as Lord and believe in the completed work of redemption—is greater than the sum total of its individual parts. In other words, the question concerning who we are that we are raising in this series can be answered, at least per our passage today, with the following: we are a people in Christ brought together by the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit united as one body of unique and specially-equipped individuals who together make up the church and serve in various capacities, partnering together through thick and thin for the glory of God. What a special thing of which to be a part. May we appreciate anew what God has created, brought together, equipped, supplied, and sent! And may we also recognize, as Paul hoped the church at Corinth would, that what we are together in the context of the church is greater than what any one of us could be by ourselves. May we thank God for bringing us together, celebrate the diverse gifts that are represented in and among our members (no matter how conspicuous), learn to value every member of the church (and their contribution) no matter how great or small, and care for her accordingly so as to stave off division and discord. May we also recognize that without the body of Christ, no matter how impressive we might be in and of ourselves, we are no better than a severed limb in God’s service.
Not yet a part of the body of Christ? Not yet a member of the church? We pray you will give special consideration to what you may be missing without a relationship with God and membership in his family. If we can answer any questions about how that can happen or pray for you to that end, please do not hesitate to reach out.