Studies in First Corinthiansby Bob Burridge ©2018
Lesson #30: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (ESV)
The Parts Taken Together
Like many other garage work-areas, mine has boxes of spare parts. Every now and then I dig around to see if I have a good light socket, a certain size bolt or screw, a cable of some kind, or scraps of wood that fit a particular need. It’s great when I can avoid a trip to Home Depot when I need to make a quick repair. But for most of the time, things just sit there in a box doing very little but being available.
Sometimes, even valuable things might sit around unused. When I was very young I found an old guitar stored in our attic. My mother hadn’t used it since she was quite young herself. I hauled it downstairs, found out how to tune it, and in time taught myself how to play it. But for all those years, a beautiful Gibson guitar sat in it’s case just being a nice guitar, but not doing what it was made to do … no one was making music with it.
Your car needs a working engine, transmission, battery, and tires. But it also helps to have a good air conditioner, comfortable seats, and clean windows. Each part works with the others to effectively, safely, and comfortably get you where you want to be.
Individual things are seldom worth much, until they’re put together with others so they can accomplish something as a whole.
Spare parts are important when they’re needed by something that uses them. Guitars are only helpful when somebody plays them. Automobile parts are only useful when assembled to make a working vehicle.
Even things that might seem unimportant, can be vital to getting the larger job done. An “O-Ring” seemed like just a boring piece of hardware until one doesn’t work right. That’s what contributed to the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger in January, 1986. Seven astronauts were killed and our space program was halted until things could be re-designed.
But it wasn’t just the o-ring itself that caused the problem. It was also how it was integrated with the joints, and sealed effectively by the putty. It depended on how the sealing ring and putty reacted to the cold temperatures that January morning, and how well problems were being monitored and reported by NASA workers, contractors, and managers before and during launch. Several engineers recommended before the launch that is should be delayed. Management rejected their recommendations saying there wasn’t enough data to prove their concerns about the temperatures and the o-ring seals.
God created people to work together effectively, not just to be good on their own. Good managers need good engineers who faithfully manage the information they find and act on it. Similarly, God made his church to do its best work when everybody supportively works as a spiritual family. All the parts working together.
This was part of the problem in Corinth. There were trouble makers who disrupted things and stirred up dissent. Different opinions about things became bitter issues that turned people against one another. The church became divided into factions ignoring the union they had together by God’s mercy.
Sadly many today look at chapters 12-14 of 1 Corinthians only to find supernatural powers. They long for impressive abilities that make some believers feel special about themselves. They want to be able to heal diseases, perform astounding miracles, receive prophetic messages from God, and speak in tongues.
But they miss the whole point of these chapters.
First, they fail to see that the gifts here are not to be expected for the entire church age. The biblical meaning of them only fits with the transitional church of the first century.
Second, they become proud of their own abilities, boasting about them, and at times becoming jealous and covetous about gifts God gives to others.
Third, they become bickering and disruptive in the church as if the Gifts of the Holy Spirit could be legitimate apart from the Fruit of the Holy Spirit.
The first part of chapter 12 is about the gifts God gives to individuals in the church. In that study we saw that they should be appreciated and put to use responsibly, rather than becoming obsessed with them, prideful of them, or jealous of what others have.
This next section of chapter 12 is about the church as a composite unity. The parts aren’t only to be content with what they are, they need to respect the others and learn to work together as a body.
Paul uses the human body to show how
all the parts need to work together.
12. 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.
It’s like that old saying that we miss the forest when we only look at the individual trees. Paul takes us a step back so we can see the forest. While we all have our individual abilities and duties, we need to see the body of Christ as a whole
We might take the parts of our bodies for granted, until one of them stops working as it should. When we have a sprained wrist or ankle, we have to readjust how we do things. When we get an infection somewhere, the whole body feels weak and sick, and gets involved fighting off the pathogens.
It’s amazing how we all start out as a single cell .
Then, inside our mother, it divides into things like muscles, skin, lungs, stomachs, and brains.
We’re quite a complexity of differentiated things: from cells and different tissues,
to various organs, and the systems that keep us alive.
But all the parts working together are important for our health and effectiveness.
In the church, every member’s abilities, gifts, and opportunities are important too.
Together they make the organism healthy.
We need to keep aware of how we all should respect one another in the work of Christ.
This means we need to look beyond our own comforts and interests,
and remember that God hasn’t called everybody to lead, or teach, or to make hard decisions.
But all the parts of the body are important when they work together as God enables them.
13. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
Baptism isn’t just an outward object lesson or magical ritual. It’s a covenant sign that identifies and seals us together as God’s people in Christ. Those who take on that sign in unbelief are living a lie and deeply offend God. But those who are united by God’s grace, regardless of their nationality, status or background, partake of one and the same Holy Spirit who enables them.
Those trained in the Bible can teach, and those who know how things work repair broken things. Some individuals become missionaries, and some who are physically disabled humbly pray. But all are joined together by grace to do Christ’s work here on earth.
Paul illustrates with an obvious example:
14. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.
15. 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.
16. 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.
17. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?
18. But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.
19. If all were a single member, where would the body be?
20. As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
We all know that we need our feet as well as our hands, and our ears as well as our eyes. If we had four feet and no hands, humans wouldn’t have developed certain appreciated skills. Skilled fingers are important for surgeons and guitar players, but surgeons also need good eyes, and guitar players need good ears. If everybody in the church had the same skills and callings, the body of Christ would be impaired.
God in his infinite wisdom and sovereign power has assigned to each what he knows is best. To wish things were different is to rebel against the will and wisdom of God.
This doesn’t mean we don’t try to develop new skills or to improve the ones we have. But it does mean that we recognize that every believer isn’t supposed to have the same jobs. No one should see their part as unimportant as if they weren’t really part of the body. There is no job too small if God has called you to do it. Each person is important to the body so that it can function as a whole.
Sometimes, this imbalanced view leads to
disrespect toward others in the church.
21. 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.”
Arrogance and pride have no place in the church. It disrupts the work of Christ when individuals just want to show off their own gifts to be praised by others, or when they gossip and complain about somebody else, or when they stir dissent and negative attitudes about others in the body of Christ.
In Corinth, there were those trying to turn the people against those God called to lead them. Some of these disrupters made it particularly hard for the leaders to bear their heavy responsibilities. But still, the hard decisions had to be made, even though it often meant bearing the harsh words of those less mature in Christ. Moses found out in the wilderness that it’s not easy to be the one who makes the decisions.
While not everyone is called by God to have the same duties and responsibilities, we all have the same duty of showing support and respect for what God calls others to do. Galatians 5:22-23 tells us that we’re all called to demonstrate the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. That’s the gifts of, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”
But as for the more particular skills, we need to appreciate them in one another:
– The skilled craftsmen in the time of Moses knew how to make the parts for the Tabernacle.
– The Elders of Israel and in the church are given the duty of overseeing what goes on in worship.
– The Levites of Israel and the Deacons in the New Testament church oversee the benevolences.
– Mothers raise their children. Husbands work to support and protect their families.
Each is to do his part, while recognizing the importance of what the others are called to do.
We live in an age where jobs are seen more as personal choices than as callings from God. But it’s God who sets the boundaries, enables us, and gives us our interests, skills, and opportunities. Our aspirations should be to do our own job well, rather than to judge others for the job God called them to do.
But even those who disrupt churches need to be cared for and encouraged to get right with God. That’s why Paul was writing this letter. As hard as it must have been for them to hear these things, they needed to end their disrespect and divisiveness. When there are differences, we should follow the teachings of Jesus and go to individuals privately to resolve our differences peaceably and with respect.
The Corinthians had to learn that before they criticized others, or disrespected their gifts, they needed to be respecting God’s Sovereign and Loving distribution of gifts in his church, and to learn how to use their own gifts responsibly for the good health of the body.
Even in our bodies, the parts we consider
weaker or less honorable, are still important.
22. On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,
23. and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty,
24. which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it,
25. that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.
26. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
The parts of our bodies we cover up most carefully are usually important parts we’re very concerned to protect.
Our eyes are a good example.
We need to look out for those in the church who aren’t the center of attention.
Often, those quiet prayer warriors in the church, the humble ones who are faithful in attendance,
those who are cheerful and seldom complain, are the real pillars of the church.
They need to be respected, protected, and encouraged.
Some Christians are called to more high-profile duties in the church.
Others aren’t as visible in their service to the Lord. — But all are important.
As a true family (as a body is effected by all it’s parts)
every church member should be empathetic toward the others.
Unlike the world wrapped up in its own comforts and little complaints,
we need to understand the needs of all individual members, and of the whole body taken together.
When we do, we find an inner comfort the world will never know.
Over the years, church members have mourned together, and rejoiced together,
laughed together in times of fellowship, wept together in times of loss,
and found comfort together as those united by grace in a cause greater than themselves.
That greater concern is the work of Christ’s Kingdom, and the promotion of the glory of God.
In that early transitional time of the church,
there were some highly specialized callings of God.
27. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
28. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.
29. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?
30. Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?
In those days before the church had the completed New Testament to guide them, God was actively revealing himself through Apostles and Prophets.
To attest their authority God specially was performing miracles, and healings. And to show the end of the Jewish era and his judgment on apostate Israel, God was causing some to speak miraculously in other languages.
But even in that Apostolic time, not all had these specialized gifts. They were given to only some in the church for the benefit of all.
But this doesn’t mean that there’s anything
wrong with these greater special gifts.
31. But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
While no one should covet gifts God hadn’t given him, the giving of them to the church should be treasured by all of us. We should desire them and use them responsibly when God gives us the more impressive gifts.
But rather than everyone focusing on specialized gifts which only apply to some, there’s a more excellent way which applies to all believers.
The fruit of the Holy Spirit, particularly the gift of love, is never a divisive thing. It’s a set of attitudes, a gift to be sought by all God’s children. It’s not just for some. This is the topic of the whole next chapter.
But attitudes that stir dissent, jealousy, pride, and contention have no place among God’s people. The church as the body of Christ is best served by the care of all the members for one another. It should be a place where each is glad to do his part to help the others, without complaint or dissent about matters God hasn’t committed to them.
The hand feeds and cleans the body, rather than doing harm to the feet or head. So each person in the church should prayerfully see how his own energies and opportunities can be used in the very best way possible to enhance what the others in the church are doing.
The question is not, “how can the church better serve me? or to make me shine more brightly?“, but “Where can I best help the body of believers God has assembled as my spiritual family?”
(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)