READ : 1 Corinthians 12:25-27
That there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
1 Corinthians 12:25-27, rsv
The apostle Paul wants his friends in Corinth to know how gifted they are, where their gifts have come from and what they are for. Through his words, God wants all of us to see our giftedness in the light of the gospel.
VARIED GIFTS, ONE GIVER
As Paul deals with this question in 1 Corinthians, chapter 12, verses 4-6, he teaches that there are varied gifts but only one Giver. Listen: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one.” Think first about this remarkable variety. There are several lists of spiritual gifts in the New Testament. Let me give you an idea of the kinds of things they include. Some are gifts we usually associate with ministers and missionaries: gifts of apostleship, of teaching, pastoral oversight, evangelism. Others, like those described here in 1 Corinthians 12, sound strange and unfamiliar to many: things like prophecy, the word of wisdom, gifts of healing, working of miracles, distinguishing between spirits, various kinds of tongues, interpretation of tongues. Still others, on the other hand, sound more ordinary, closer to everyone’s experience: things like service to human need, encouraging and comforting others, contributing to the Lord’s work, giving help in various ways, acts of mercy.
What are these gifts? In some cases they are obviously capacities or abilities that we had before we became Christians, now directed toward a new purpose, enriched, enhanced. Or, they may be new capacities, abilities we never had before. But here’s what’s vital to remember: no one is without some gift. Each person has a contribution to make. There’s a marvelous diversity among us in our endowments and capacities, in what we can contribute, in the ways in which we can serve. But never forget it, each of us represents a unique package of gifts and potential.
But, says the apostle, all of these proceed from the one Giver. It’s the Spirit who distributes the gifts, the Lord who equips for service; God Himself who calls them forth in every one of His people. And when we talk about God and the Lord and the Holy Spirit, we’re speaking of the one Creator and Ruler of the heavens and the earth, the triune God. Whatever our talent as believers in Christ, whatever our abilities, all of them have been given us by God. It is by His express purpose that we have the particular gifting we enjoy. Paul says that the Spirit “apportions to each one individually as He wills” (v. 11). And all the gifts, in all the persons who receive them, are meant to serve His purpose. There you have it – many gifts, one Giver, one goal.
MANY MEMBERS, ONE BODY
Now the apostle uses a different image. Each individual believer in Christ is a member of His body. A great multitude of believers with a rich diversity of gifts all are joined to the one risen Lord. Listen: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (vv. 12-13).
Here we see what it means to be baptized by or in the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Spirit is that mighty work of God whereby we are joined in a living bond to Christ Himself. We are born again. We receive new life. We become new creatures in Christ. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell within our lives. Being baptized in the Spirit and receiving Christ by faith are two ways of expressing the same wonderful reality. Christ lives in us and we live in Him by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Think of it like this: Christ is like a dynamo of electric power. We are the powerless ones, living in our darkness. The Holy Spirit is the One who makes the connection between us, who so joins us to the living Lord that His power flows into us and lights up our lives.
Or think of Jesus as a reservoir of living water. We are the dry and barren land, the thirsty ones craving refreshment. The Holy Spirit is the aqueduct. He so links us to the Lord that waters flow into our parched and barren lives, making the desert bloom like a garden.
Or again, Christ is the mighty life giver while we are dead in our trespasses and sins. The Holy Spirit so unites us to Jesus that we are raised from this death to walk in newness of life. Thank God for the miracle of the Holy Spirit grafting us into Christ, in whom we find all our salvation!
Let me ask you, has that become true for you? Friends, Jesus Christ, God’s Son, died for your sins and rose again that you might have life. If you will acknowledge your wrongs and turn from them to Him, trusting in Jesus Christ as your Savior, you will receive the gift of the Spirit. You will not only be forgiven and accepted by God – you will be marvelously united to Jesus Christ in a life that will never end. You will be baptized in the Holy Spirit.
Now since Christians are given varied gifts, they function like the members of a body. Each has a part to play and the contribution of each is vitally significant. It was at this point that the believers in Corinth had gotten the wrong impression about spiritual gifts. They had the idea that some were more outstanding and desirable than others. Further, they seemed to feel that the possession of a particular kind of gift would give them special eminence and prestige in the church. They yearned for the most noticeable gifts, even the most spectacular.
In this kind of atmosphere, those who did not possess and exercise the more prominent gifts tended to feel insignificant and deprived. They wondered if they could really belong to the body. Hear how the apostle Paul speaks to that situation: “If the foot should say, `Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, `Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose” (vv. 15-18). In other words, it’s God who puts the body together, assigning a specific function to each of the members. Let each be assured that his or her contribution is significant. Everyone belongs.
Now Paul speaks to those who tend to pride themselves on their outstanding gifts. “The eye cannot say to the hand, `I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, `I have no need of you’” (v. 21). There are no solo performers in the fellowship of Jesus Christ, no superstars, no prima donnas. The work of each depends upon the contribution of all the others. It’s the height of foolishness for any Christian to believe that he or she can get along well without the family of God, without brothers and sisters in the Lord.
The image of the body drives home the truth that the more prominent and visible members are not always the most vital. Unseen and unnoticed organs are often absolutely essential. We can manage without a hand or a foot, but no one can live without a heart. Even with altered hearing or impaired vision, we can function, but if something should happen to our hidden brain, all life would cease. Sometimes, Paul says, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker, are indispensable. We are many members and yet we make up one united body which sustains a common life.
THE PURPOSE FOR THE GIFTS
How then are we to look at our gifts? For what purpose has God entrusted them to us? The apostle is very clear about this. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (v. 7). It’s for the welfare of the whole, for the blessing
of the body. The Apostle’s test, accordingly, for the relative value of the varied gifts, is this: What most builds up the church? What most effectively ministers to our fellow Christians?
He compares, for example, the gift of prophecy with that of speaking in tongues. For many in Corinth, speaking in tongues seemed the eminently desirable gift. Paul agrees that it is a grand endowment of the Spirit, but he points out that unless someone interprets the tongues-speaking, the church is not built up. No one is helped. One who prophesies, on the other hand, Paul says, edifies the church. He speaks to others for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. So whereas Paul would be happy for his fellow Christians to speak in tongues, he desires even more that they might prophesy, so that others might benefit from their gift.
In the light of the gospel, we understand that our respective gifts are not given us for personal distinction but for loving ministry. They enable us to care for and serve one another. Christians are not rivals, competitors for honor and eminence. We are brothers and sisters, members of the same body. God has put us together in the way that He has, the apostle says, so that there may be no schism or discord in the body but that the members may have the same care for one another. “If one member suffers,” he writes, “all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (v. 26).
Now in the case of a physical body, that is simply the way it is. If your tooth aches, the rest of the body cannot ignore that, can it? When your tooth is hurting, you hurt. On the other side, something like the pleasure of a back rub makes you “feel good all over.” The members of the human body cherish and protect each other. The eyelid flashes down to protect the endangered eye. The arms fly up to shield the face. The shoulder turns to defend the torso with its vital organs.
That’s the way it’s meant to be in the church. The joy and fruitfulness of your fellow Christians is really your gladness too. Their pain grieves you as well. The closer you are to Christ, the Head, the more you will respond to what is happening in the lives of your brothers and sisters in Christ.
YOU ARE THE CHURCH
Paul says to Christians in Corinth and to all who believe in Christ: “You are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (v. 27). Have you ever pondered what that means? You are the church. It’s not a building or a bureaucracy. The church is people, joined to Christ. You are the church. That means that wherever you go, the church goes. For good or ill, you take the presence of the Lord, the name of the church with you wherever you go. You involve Him and His people in all your activities, either for credit or for shame.
Yes, and as we’ve just been seeing, whatever befalls the church befalls you. You can rejoice in the fruitful witness of your fellow believers, even on the other side of the world, because you’re involved in that. You can blush and weep at the shameful fall of other Christians because you are similarly vulnerable. You’re no detached observer. You’re a part of the living tissue of the body. Whatever befalls Christians anywhere has its effect on you. You are the church.
And since you are, friends, this is also true: the church’s job is your job. Is it the calling of the church to be a servant people? That’s your calling then, not to be served but to serve. Is it the task of the church to be salt in the earth and light in the world, so to live that people will see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven? Then that’s your task, because you are the church. Is it the church’s mission to take the gospel to every person on earth, to see that everyone has an opportunity to learn of Christ, to repent and believe? Why then, that is surely your mission, because you are the church.
To sum up, here’s what the gospel says to us about our varied gifts: the one Lord has drawn us into the one body for union with Himself and with each other, all so that He may accomplish in and through us His gracious will. He wants to reveal His glory in us, to express His love through us and by us to send His gospel to the whole world. So let’s make our gifts, whatever they are, fully available to Him!
FATHER: Help us to so trust in Christ that we may be living members of His one body. And then help us to use our gifts to build up the church and to make the Savior known. In His name. Amen.