We’ll sign the kids up to soccer, or gymnastics, or dance, because our KIDS benefit. We join the swimming club because we enjoy the exercise and the friendship. We join the dog obedience school so our dog will learn to behave. We enrol in a course to learn how to knit, or use our camera, or build a website.
And that may last a week, a month, a year, a DECADE. But when we decide the BENEFIT is no longer worth our TIME, ENERGY OR MONEY. Or it doesn’t meet our NEEDS anymore. Or we no longer feel COMFORTABLE. We STOP. Because it’s all about US. WE’RE the customer, THEY’RE just providing a service. That’s just the way things WORK.
The problem in Corinth was that people were treating the CHURCH like that. As if it was all about THEM. As if it was for their benefit. Or for their glory. AS if it was all about RECEIVING, rather than GIVING. And Paul says that’s just not on.
We saw last week how that showed itself in the way they ate the Lord’s Supper. Instead of focussing on JESUS. Instead of including and caring for each other. They focussed on feeding themselves, and getting drunk. It was THEIR supper they ate, not the LORD’s supper.
THIS week we look at ch 12. And Paul turns to another of the questions they’d asked in a previous letter. “Now about spiritual gifts,” verse 1 begins.
Right from the first few paragraphs of the letter we can see the Corinthians’ focus on spiritual gifts. In v4 of Ch 1 Paul thanks God for them because they’ve been enriched in every way – in all their speaking and knowledge. They don’t lack any spiritual gift.
And as we keep reading, we see their PRIDE and BOASTING. We see their emphasis on wisdom and knowledge. And their jealousy about who’s GREATER.
And by the time we get to chapter 12, we see how those attitudes show themselves in the use of spiritual gifts. They want to be FIRST, and BEST, and MOST IMPORTANT. They want to be SEEN, rather than SERVE.
And Paul’s going to turn what they think about church upside down. Because church should be THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE of the way groups work in the world. First, church is about GOD, not about YOU. And second, church is about MANY, not ONE.
- It’s about God, not you
The chapter begins. They want to know about spiritual gifts. So he’ll TELL them about spiritual gifts. From v4. Sure, there’s different kinds of gifts. But it’s the same SPIRIT who GIVES the gifts. Sure, there’s different kinds of SERVICE. But it’s the same Lord everyone is SERVING. And, v6, there are different kinds of WORKING, but the same God who works, or energises, all of them in everyone. It’s GOD who’s at work, not just THEM.
The Corinthians thought gifts SEPARATED people. Split them into the HAVES and the HAVE NOTS. Into those with the SPECTACULAR, ATTENTION-GRABBING gifts. And everyone else who WASN’T spiritual. But Paul says gifts don’t DIVIDE, they UNITE. That’s not God’s purpose.
There’s ONE GOD. One Spirit who GIVES all the gifts. One Lord everyone SERVES. It’s about furthering HIS agenda, not THEIRS. And there’s one GOD who energises and guides the working OUT of the gifts. It’s about GOD, not YOU.
In fact, v4-6 suggest the nature of GOD HIMSELF shows us what the church is like. Father, Son and Holy Spirit each contribute differently to the gifts of the church. Yet there’s ONE GOD. Diversity working together in unity. Each person of the Trinity working WITH, but not dominating the others. Cooperating, but not controlling. And that’s what the church should be like. Diversity working together in unity. Working for the common good.
The very fact that they’re called GIFTS should move the emphasis from PEOPLE onto GOD. GIFTS are about the GIVER, not the RECEIVER. Gifts produce thanks and humility, not comparison and pride.
Paul moves on to get specific about gifts. Verses 7-11 describe a whole range of gifts. Given for the common good. The Spirit gives wisdom, or knowledge, or special faith, or gifts of healing, or miracles, or prophecy, or tongues. And then the conclusion. V11.
11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to EACH ONE, just as HE determines.
It’s about who and what GOD decides. Not about how good WE are because we have a certain gift. God decides the total shape of the gifts across an entire church. Right down to the particular gifts of each individual person.
If we jump ahead a couple of paragraphs. Down to v18. We see a similar point. Instead of different GIFTS, the picture is of one BODY made up of MANY PARTS. Each one doing a different JOB. And then v18 concludes
8 But in fact GOD has arranged the parts in the body, every ONE of them, JUST AS HE WANTED THEM TO BE.
GOD is at work as people use their gifts. He’s DISTRIBUTED them, just as he wants. Which means we should be CONTENT with our gifts, and our place, and our church. Rather than JEALOUS or DISCONTENTED.
As LEADERS, we can moan about how we don’t have enough piano players, or evangelists, or kids club leaders. And how there’s not enough people to run a mid-week lunch time service. And as INDIVIDUALS, you can wish you could play the guitar, or be friendly and hospitable. But God’s distributed the gifts, and arranged the parts of the body, JUST AS HE INTENDS. We have exactly WHO God needs/ to do WHAT God needs for his church here in Ashfield at the moment. Which is comforting.
It MAY mean, as leaders, rather than being content with mediocrity, that we need to work hard at IDENTIFYING and ENCOURAGING and the people we DO have. TRAINING and RELEASING them to develop and use their gifts BETTER.
And, as individuals, it may mean you should look to identify OPPORTUNITIES TO SERVE, rather than trying to identify what spiritual gifts you might have. Look OUTSIDE for NEEDS, then look to GOD to equip. Rather than looking WITHIN.
That’s Paul’s FIRST point about the spiritual gifts. It’s about GOD, not YOU.
- It’s about “many”, not “one”
His SECOND point is connected, and woven through the chapter too. God’s purpose is that spiritual gifts are about MANY, not ONE. Back up in verse 7 we read 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given FOR THE COMMON GOOD.
God reveals himself to individuals, not so that ONE PERSON can be built up. But FOR THE COMMON GOOD. FOR EVERYONE’S benefit.
Gifts are given to be SHARED, not kept to yourself. How are YOU using the gifts God’s given YOU? EACH ONE has been given the manifestation of the Spirit. Or v11. The Spirit gives gifts to EACH ONE, just as he determines. Or v18. God has arranged the parts of the body, EVERY ONE OF THEM, just as he wanted them to be.
God has GIFTED you. Gifted you for a purpose. For the COMMON GOOD. To SERVE OTHERS. Are you DOING that? We show our GRATITUDE for his gifts by USING them for the common good. Not keeping them locked up in a cupboard, wrapped up and unopened.
Or, the OPPOSITE. We shouldn’t use our gifts to PROMOTE ourselves, or build our own kingdom. I was talking to someone last weekend. His church is going through a difficult time. Transitioning from tradition-based to Bible-based. And the song leader wasn’t a Christian. She told my friend that the only reason she came to church was to sing up the front. To perform. She might have had a good voice, but it wasn’t WORSHIP. And she wasn’t doing it for the COMMON GOOD.
From v12, we get a long section describing how the church is like a BODY. ONE, but made up of MANY PARTS. Which seems simple enough. But right at the beginning, in v12, there’s something unexpected.
12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with … Christ.
We expect to read “so it is with THE CHURCH”. But instead it says Christ. CHRIST has many parts, but one body. And that’s because the church is CHRIST’S body. Yes, the church is one body. It’s full of individuals who are united, and connected. But only because the individuals are each connected to CHRIST. HE’S the source of our unity. It’s not a song book, or a rule book, or a constitution that bind us together. It’s Christ. It’s not common interests, or friendship, or agreed goals that bind us together. It’s Christ. V13 continues
13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free-and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
WHICH body were we baptised into? Christ? Or the Church? Well, YES! When we became Christians, we were initiated into, and immersed in CHRIST HIMSELF. Gulping down HIS Spirit.
But that means we were initiated into his body, THE CHURCH. A solo Christian isn’t natural. It’s not healthy, it doesn’t help YOU / OR anyone else. And it’s not God’s DESIGN.
The Presbyterian way of doing things reflects that. Baptism as a believer is always baptism INTO local church membership.
And that connection with each other, as part of one body, has A NUMBER OF PRACTICAL CONSEQUENCES. First, it means each person BELONGS EQUALLY. V15.
15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.
A foot may not be as be able to pick things up. Or have the fine motor skills of a hand. But it’s pretty good at walking across hot sand, or climbing up a ladder. It’s perfectly suited to the job it does as part of the body.
And Christ’s body, the church, is the same. Each person belongs. WHATEVER it is they contribute. It’s not only ONE type of person who belongs. Do our attitudes and the way we do things REFLECT that truth?
Secondly, one body many parts means that EACH PART CONTRIBUTES. V17.
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?
It’s meant to be ludicrous. Imagine a body that was just an EAR! Or an EYE! And a church made up of all the same types of gifts is JUST as unhealthy. All talkers and no listeners. All preachers, and no helpers. All thinkers, and no feelers. Or all young families, and no grandparents. Or all oldies and no kids. I think there’s something basically unbiblical about churches that are designed to cater for ONE TYPE of PERSON. Like a church for young professionals, or musicians, or youth, or families. It might be EASIER. But are they missing out on some of the rich diversity of God’s distribution of gifts?
The THIRD practical application of “one body, many parts” is that EACH PART NEEDS EACH OTHER PART. V21.
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!”
This one’s really the flipside of the FIRST point. (The application for the one who thinks he’s BETTER.) There’s no room for PRIDE if you’re just a PART. An eye might be very sophisticated, and do an important job for the whole body. Same with the head. But they can’t do without the parts that do a SIMPLER job. They can guide and direct, but they can’t ACTION anything without hands and feet.
LEADERS and SPEAKERS in the church have a temptation to think that they don’t need anyone else. Same with ANYONE who has an upfront role. But the reality is the unseen, less complicated, less noticed jobs are just as important.
If the treasurer didn’t pay the electricity bill, there’d be no light or sound for people to HEAR the preacher. If no one opened the doors, or replaced the paper towels, or turned on the urn, or mowed the lawns. Then things would be more difficult for EVERYONE.
But Paul goes one step FURTHER. V22. Not only are the less impressive parts EQUAL with the impressive parts. God’s given them GREATER honour.
He begins by describing the HUMAN body. V22.
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.
A shoulder, or a kneecap, is pretty STRONG. And they’re in public view for everyone to see. But the reality is they’re not CRUCIAL. We can live WITHOUT them. But a heart or a liver is easily damaged. And God’s hidden them away inside ribs to protect them. But we can’t live without them. They’re indispensable. And then there are our PRIVATE EMBARRASSING bits, we’re VERY careful about who gets to see those.
God’s designed it that way with the HUMAN body. And, interestingly, that’s what it should be like WITH CHRIST’S BODY, THE CHURCH. (halfway through v24.)
But God has combined the members of the body and HAS GIVEN GREATER HONOR TO THE PARTS THAT LACKED IT,
The way God has put together the church makes it UNIQUE in the world. He’s given GREATER HONOUR to the PARTS that LACKED it. What does THAT mean?
Every other club or group PUTS UP WITH the weak or obnoxious or different or exhausting. Or excludes them ALTOGETHER. But a church that’s healthy will WELCOME all those sorts of people. In fact God gives them GREATER honour.
Let me give you an example. My friend Jacob has two mentally and physically handicapped sons. He posted a video the other week of one of them up the front at church during the singing. He was clapping and dancing and having a great time.
Ethan can’t speak. And it’s hard to know how much he understands about being a Christian. But he’s communicating without words something of God, and his response to him. It was as inspiring and encouraging to me as the clearest, most eloquent sermon. And it says something special about the song leader, and the church, who didn’t even bat an eyelid at it. God’s given GREATER honour to, and USES MIGHTILY, the parts that LACKED it.
Or as I think about Frank and Janet. Married 65 years. Frank’s 90. But they show up week after week despite their failing health. And they read the Bible and pray together every day. And they still hold hands. They’re not able to do much more, but they have a great impact on people here. God USES them to encourage and build us all up.
Or as I think about the testimonies that have had the greatest impact on me. It’s not the people who’ve had one victory after another. The people who have everything together. The most powerful witness comes from people who are clinging to God with everything they’ve got. Whose life is falling apart. People who are weak, and struggling. God works IN them, and he works THROUGH them. God’s given GREATER honour to, and USES MIGHTILY, the parts that LACKED it.
So let’s REJOICE in our awkward and inconvenient people and weak people. And look for God’s training and encouragement through them.
That’s the sort of thing that will really set us apart from the world around us.
As we work at THOSE attitudes and actions, we’ll see God’s purposes worked out in us. See what the results will be? (v25)
(But God has combined the members of the body and has given 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.
By God’s design, as we generously and patiently and faithfully include and honour the weak and dishonourable. We find that, miraculously, divisions and boundaries drop away. There’s no us and them, just US.
And instead, of being concerned for the wealthy, or spectacularly gifted, there’ll be EQUAL CONCERN for each other – WHATEVER people are able to contribute.
And as we start to SEE each other, and EMPATHISE with each other. Then, v26, we’ll actually begin to weep with the weak who weep. And we’ll rejoice with those who are honoured. WHATEVER the world thinks, or doesn’t think, of them.
And we’ll start to see EVERYONE contributing to building up EVERYONE. With the wide variety of gifts described from v28. Young or old, educated or not, active or not, experienced or not. EACH ONE part of the body, and contributing to its health.
And because we all WANT to see the body healthy, v31, we’ll eagerly desire the GREATER gifts – the ones that build people up the most. That point people to Jesus, and lead them to maturity in the clearest way.
And the more we can do THAT, the LESS like the WORLD we become. And the MORE we become Jesus’ BODY. The more we reflect the reality of what Paul describes in Ephesians 4.
11 Christ gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ… speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.