Recently, I was asked to teach the adult Bible class at the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene. Highland is my home church and I regularly teach the Living in the Promise class. Covid-19 has moved our class online.
1 Corinthians 12
The Body of Christ
I am glad to be with you, Highland church, even if it is within this limited virtual media. 1 Corinthians 12 is a loved text that describes us, the church, as the unified body of Christ. While not Paul’s only metaphor for the church, the body is Paul’s best-known image of the church, especially when Paul speaks of unity within diversity. [READ TEXT]
Within our one community, God has unified the body. From the wholeness of God, God gives a variety of gifts to people which produces diversity in the body of Christ. Within this one community there are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; and there are different ministries but the same Lord; and there are different activities but the same God. The wholeness of God, by one Spirit gifts the one body of Christ for the purpose of (v. 7) the common good. Paul will double down on the purpose of building up the body of Christ in chapter 14. And in the middle of the discussion of spiritual gifts in chapters 12-14, Paul will encourage us all to pursue the common good by a more excellent way, the way of love.
1 Corinthians 12 addresses unity in the midst of diversity in order to establish the significance of each individual member’s contribution to the body. While churches often disagree, disagreement within the body of Christ is not objected to by Paul. Paul is not against disagreement, but division. Disagreement often comes with diversity. And Paul not only values diversity within the unity of the body of Christ, Paul proclaims diversity is God ordained.
The unity of the Christian body is not based on ethnicity, social standing, or culture but on the idea that we all [were] baptized in one Spirit into one Body…and we were given to drink of one Spirit. We are related to, connected with one another not by DNA but by our baptism in the Spirit into the church. The Spirit gives life to the body of Christ. Furthermore, Paul values the weaker and more vulnerable parts. Paul wants those who are (self-) important to see their obligation to the most vulnerable in the community.
Once again, Paul uses the plural you when he says, you are the Body of Christ, namely, the community of believers. Even though the Spirit equips individuals for particular tasks within the body, it is the community collectively that the Spirit gives life to. Individual gifts are subordinated to the operation of the Spirit in the group as a whole. So, just as in the previous chapter about the Lord’s Supper not being an individualized or private practice, the Spirit gifts individual members for building up the whole. The Spirit is not a private commodity or something for one’s individual spirituality but for the common good of the church.
So, how does a diverse body of Christ work together as a unit for the common good? Let me give you some implications.
We all have our place in the body of Christ.
- Have you ever tried to do a job where two hands were just not enough? You try to use your elbow, and then your knee, and if you become desperate, you use your chin. Maybe if I put the nail in my lips while my knee holds the picture, my left hand holds the level, and I swing the hammer with my right. Or, you use a screwdriver instead of a chisel or prybar. And I break off the tip of the screwdriver. You drive a screw into the board instead of a nail and you wonder why the two boards did not hold tight.
- Paul says, You are the body of Christ and parts of each other (12:27).
We all have our place, and we honor everyone’s place.
- Laura, a few years back bought a mirror that magnifies everything by 10. I took a long look into the mirror. What did I see? Ugly. Why in the world would I want to magnify ugly? I put the mirror down and have not used it since.
- We spend our time each day trying to fix up the outside. In my case, fixing up ugly. Trying to fix up what Nature has given to us. We wash, comb, powder, spray, brush, floss, cleanse, cut, manicure, tease, curl, shave, primp, apply, and all over again. The face is the most important.
- I rarely think about my liver. I have not taken the time, as far as I know, to do anything for my liver lately. But if the Dr. asks for a liver profile, then that which is of greater value takes on greater value. I cannot live without it.
- Yes, my face, this is what you have come to see — but are there not some things of greater value? And that’s the way it is with the body of Christ.
So, we honor everyone’s place. And such honor produces mutual concern for one another.
- How much more so do we see the need for mutual concern in the midst of a pandemic.
- The virus flourishes among those most vulnerable, people of color, essential workers, people with underlying conditions, and those who cannot afford to take preventive actions. This virus does not respect folks forced to choose between working in public and paying rent; those without health insurance or access to basic care; or those living in crowded spaces or long-term care facilities.
- The pandemic provides the church the opportunity to express its mutual concern not only for one another, but our neighbors and city.
1 Corinthians is all about how the message of the cross unifies us all. We all have the “one mind” the “mind of Christ.” Our unity is because of the action of God. God unifies us in Christ and in the Spirit. God placed us into this body when we were baptized into it. All of us entered into this body by the same Spirit. And Paul emphasizes how God has arranged this body as God sees fit. Four times Paul asserts:
- All of these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and the Spirit distributes them to each one, just as the Spirit determines (1 Cor. 12:11).
- God has arranged the members in the body, each one of them as God chose (1 Cor 12:18).
- God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it (1 Cor 12:24).
- And God has appointed in the church… (1 Cor 12:28).
Within in this one community, this diverse and wondrously different body, God has unified us. And you, all of you, have your place in the unified body of Christ. Therefore, we honor everyone’s place. And such honor produces mutual concern for one another.
Questions (Only questions 1, 2, and 4 were posted at Highland)
- We believe that God is one God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. How does the church reflect God’s nature (1 Cor 12:4-6)? If humanity was created in the image of God (Gen 1:27), name ways you see that image expressed in other people?
- If God has arranged the body of Christ just as God discerns, where do you fit? Describe a time when you most felt included and affirmed that you not only belonged to the body of Christ, but that you “fit” and you were useful in the body of Christ.
- While not often emphasized, 1 Cor 12:12-13 describes “we all [were] baptized in one Spirit and into one body.” No matter how many or how diverse, every believer has baptism as a shared story. The “body” is Paul’s best-known image for the church. Does being baptized “into the church” change your understanding of baptism? If so, how and why? [NOTE: “baptized by one Spirit” is an odd translation. “εν” one Spirit agrees with the Gospels, e.g., Matt 3:11].
- Name ways you have seen the body of Christ “honor” one another, especially those who are often overlooked.
- How can disagreement and unity co-exist?