God’s body parts
Name three body parts that you could live without. What difference would it make to your life without those three?
Division in the church has been a considerable theme in this whole book. There have been divisions over which leader is best, legal issues, freedom in Christ issues and selfish seclusions. In Chapter 11, Paul dealt with the disunity in the church manifested at the Lord’s Supper which was harmful and damaging to the church. There was a double meaning with regard to the Lord’s Supper because it refers to the body of Christ. This refers to Jesus’ literal body that was hung on the cross. It also referred to the bread that is an image of remembrance for his body. It is, as we shall see clearer here, also the church that has come together because of the sacrifice of Christ. His body has given life to the body which is the church. If the church is one body, there ought to be no such thing as division because, who would ever think that a body should be dismantled like that. A head needs a neck…
Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-31
What did you see? (Observation)
- The principle laid out (12-14)
- What this means for the ‘lesser’ parts (15-20)
- What this means for the ‘greater’ parts (21-26)
- Putting some flesh on the principle (27-31)
The principle laid out (12-14)
“Just as a body…so it is with Christ.” Verse 12 is simply put but holds the full weight of this passage. The end of the sentence points us to Christ. This is not simply instruction on how to relate to other people at church but about our relationship with Christ and His body. The principle of this passage is quite clear and simple and will not take much time to understand it. The outworking of this is a little trickier but the hardest part will really come down to who is this included in this passage! If we presume that all at church are part of Christ’s body then this becomes a message of church organisation and structure or something like that. If it refers only to the real body of Christ who are truly born again then how do we discern who is and who isn’t part of the body of Christ? It may then set a huge discussion in motion but hopefully we will come back again to understanding that the body of Christ is a creation of God the Father since it is the church of God that we are referring to. And Paul, in his entire letter has been addressing it to all the saints at Corinth – the church of God, sanctified in Christ and called to be holy. We will teach the principle to all at church and live it out and those who are not truly part of the body will be revealed eventually.
“For we were all baptised by one Spirit…all given the one Spirit to drink.” Using the power of context: Paul wrote in Verses 1-11 about the Spirit distributing gifts to believers and the primary gift is the truth to call Jesus Lord. We become members of the body of Christ as we declare Jesus as Lord by the Holy Spirit – we are baptised in this way. We drink as the Spirit has distributed to each one gifts. The theme of unity, or anti-division, is continued as Paul talks about Jew v Gentile and slave v free. The point of Verse 13 is the same as Verses 1-6. We come to Christ and are enriched in Christ by the work of the Spirit.
“Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.” Here is the new angle that Paul wants to focus on. Being one in Spirit does not make us clones of one another. What we do and how we express our service and works for God will differ and yet will continue to be sourced by the One Spirit and for the good of the church. We then look at what it means to be a body (church) made up of different parts. In applying this text, we need to keep in mind the different layers of what church means. It needs to be applied at the level of the local church, at the level of partnering churches (the Anglican structure), and at the global or universal church (which is every representative body of the authentic Spirit of God). And yet, the primary application will be the local gathering.
What this means for the ‘lesser’ parts (15-20)
“Now if the foot should say…” Verses 15-17 are fairly straight forward. Paul has given a good illustration toward what he is saying. Those who feel themselves to be of less worth to the body should not think that they are not part of the body. These words are here to give courage to those who feel they have little importance to the body. You can live without feet. Many brave humans have demonstrated that. But this is not a lesson in what we could possibly get by without. It is about knowing that the body is the body – no matter how small. In fact, it is when a lesser thing is lost that the rest of the body needs to compensate for the loss! Paul will cover that later.
“…in fact God has placed the parts in the body…just as he wanted them to be.” Have you ever wished that you could speak like that person can? Or if you could play an instrument or sing like that person. Or if you could be as charismatic as that person! Here we are told that God has placed people in a church like instruments in an orchestra. Nobody seeks out to be the oboe player! But the many parts make up the glory of the whole and God Himself has orchestrated that. We’ll see that some of the parts do not even look good when you point them out. But we must thank God that they are all part of the body. If we were God, we would just make every Christian a well toned, beautiful, intelligent, well-off person. You know: Come to Christ and your life will look amazing like the person on the cover of this book! But, the church is about saved sinners who come together because of the great mercy of God.
“If they were all one part, where would the body be?” Paul’s logic is that a body, by definition, has parts. If it did not have parts then it would simply be an object: square, cube, eyeball, etc. The body has to have parts and if the parts are not present then there is no body. So, if you are at church, and engaged with the gospel, you are a part of the body. That is the perspective we all should have.
What this means for the ‘greater’ parts (21-26)
“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’” Now we look at the perspective of those who seem to be more important at church. Their perspective is to be the same: don’t dismiss the other parts because it will damage the body that you are a part of.
“But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it…” It’s fun to think of all the parts of your human body and consider which parts are ‘less honorable’ or ‘unpresentable’. Which parts of the human body lacks honour? Perhaps the feet. Of course, there are parts of the body that we do our utmost to protect and guard and never flaunt around! And yet these parts are very special to us! If that has grabbed your imagination and raised your eyebrows, then good. Now consider the church. Are there parts that we should care for and protect and treat with utmost respect even though we may not place them out the front.
“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.” As the body of Christ we move through highs and lows together. When you cut your hand, the rest of your body is aware of it and compensates. It stops and treats the suffering part. It provides rest for that part while the rest of the body functions a little less vibrantly as it did before until that body part is healed or recovered. We ought to look for a connectedness in our church like this. Growth Groups are just one way of being connected so that we can care for one another. But make sure that your group is not just talking about theology but also listening and rejoicing and praying and lamenting over the things of life – especially as we grow in our maturity in the gospel together.
Division in the church should disappear when we see one another as part of the one body. But now Paul will put some specific details onto his initial principle.
Putting some flesh on the principle (27-31)
“Now you are the body of Christ…” We have been referring forward to this verse a little bit but it has finally come. We are the body of Christ. A great truth which says: you are not Anglican or Baptist. You are a member of Christ’s body.
“…and each one of you is part of it.” For those who are wondering who all this applies to, it is all who are reading and engaged with this text. If you are attending church then you are to react to this news that you are part of the body. We treat all as potential or actual members of the body of Christ. Those outside the church are highly unlikely to be members of that body since it is a very Christian response to actually attend church! Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car! BUT…garages are made for cars and churches are made for Christians. Churches are the number one location that people give their lives to Christ. There is no other comparison (I don’t mean that conversions only happen under the roof of a church building but that conversions 9/10 times happen as a result of someone being in contact and engaging at church. People don’t arrive at church generally saying, I’m saved and thought I’d come to church. Rather, they say, I’ve been thinking of getting back into church and then some time later give thanks that they did because it was there than they found Christ.
“And God has placed in the church…” Remember that God has made up our physical bodies exactly how he planned them to be with special parts and indispensable parts etc – God has placed parts in the church too.
“…first…apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then…” There does appear to be a hierarchy here of gifts which correspond to the parts of the body that seem to be of greater worth – yet they are not greater than the other parts of the body. They are key pieces of the body and the order of apostles, prophets and teachers seems interesting and significant. He ends Verse 30 with instructions to desire the greater gifts. So Paul, while maintaining unity and equality in the church as many parts of the whole, he is also drawing attention to some gifts as of higher value. Let me put it this way, when churches do not have these parts, the body really suffers. Miracles, healing, helping and guidance appear to sit on a second rung to apostles, prophets and teachers.
Teachers – This is the least controversial gift. Some people are capable of teaching. They are able to learn stuff in a way that they can then present to others to know for themselves. They are instructors. When applied to the church, teachers are trainers of the faith through the word of God. Is this the preacher? Preaching and teaching appear to be two separate and yet closely linked things (Matt 11:; Romans 2:21; 1 Tim 4:13; 5:17). Preaching is like exhorting which is to direct people strongly in a direction and yet teaching is more like instruction on scripture. Preaching would go hand in hand with teaching. Not simply knowledge of the scriptures but what to do about them.
Prophets – You may have a gut feeling about what a prophet does cause you imagine a wise old monkey sitting with a stick in its hand and when people come to enquire of the creature, they make strange markings on the wall and predict what the future will hold. But we will rather reflect on what the scriptures tell us about prophets. A prophet is someone who speaks the words of God. It might be helpful to look at the example of Aaron in Exodus 7:1. Moses was feeling incapable of doing what God had told him to do before Pharoah and the people of Israel. God then instructs that Moses will be like God to Pharoah and that Aaron will be your prophet. Aaron is not described as a prophet of God but a prophet of Moses. So that, what Moses intends to say, Aaron will speak the words. He will be like Moses, speaking the words of Moses. Now, sometimes, the Old Testament prophets would take a word from God to the people and it will contain aspects about the future. But by and large, they were expounding the words of God in relation to the promises of God in the past. Yes, they were announcing the words that God speaks. But the words were not a brand new message that contradicted anything that God had said previously. Two judgments are made concerning a prophet: 1) does it contradict what God has already said? 2) did what the prophet say was going to happen come to pass? If either of those are false then the prophet is a false prophet. While the scriptures were still open for addition in the New Testament times, it seems that the gift of prophecy was present and Paul even says to pursue it. Now that the scriptures are complete, it is a fair argument to have whether prophecy has ended, become less frequent, or does it continue under the banner of preaching the gospel to all nations. The word of God has come and His Spirit has been poured out to believers so that we can talk about the result of people believing or rejecting the gospel.
Apostles – The third (and first word) in the list has a double meaning. The word means sent one. And so, all of us who have heard the gospel and the call to go and make disciples are a type of apostle. Paul described himself as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ (sent by Christ 1Cor1:1). He pleaded that surely the church in Corinth recognised his apostleship because they are the proof or seal of this title (1 Cor 9:2). It is a word that can be used widely by someone who has been sent by someone else or by a church (Acts 15:22). But it also has a specific use when we talk about the Apostles of Christ. Paul and Peter and James and John and the other men (not Paul or Judas) who were Jesus’ twelve disciples. Their ministry establishes the first century church and gives us the final word of God in the scriptures. We teach that the scriptures closed with the death of these Apostles. Our church is built upon the Apostolic teaching which is the Word of God about Jesus Christ.
The gifts we ought to hold as key to the body of Christ is the apostoloc teaching, the word of God spoken and the teaching of this word to the whole body. It’s like the head is a significant part of the body because of the brain and the mouth which feeds the rest. It doesn’t change the lesson that the whole body is the body. It does teach that there are those roles that are incredibly necessary for the church to be the church.
“Are all…do all…Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.” Each part of the body will demonstrate different gifts, but as the body overall, there are greater gifts that we need the body to include. These are the gifts of the gospel being presented to the church through teaching the very word of God as handed to us by the apostles.
“And yet I will show you the most excellent way.” This sentence is the intro to the infamous Chapter 13! It almost wipes out everything that we have said because it points us to love. BUT, love without proper teaching soon becomes greed and lust. The most excellent way of love is best understood when the body is taught to understand it well. And then the body will all, every part, express and experience the great gift of love.
What did we learn? (Meaning)
Anyone in the church is to see themselves as part of a greater thing than themselves. Those who feel unhelpful and insignificant must understand the blessing that they are for being part of the body of Christ. Those who have significant parts to play must understand that they too are only placed there by the mercy and grace of God for the benefit of all who are there. The WOW gifts of healing and miracles are to be reoriented to lesser than the message of Jesus Christ who gave his body and blood for the life of the church of God.
Now what? (Application)
Topic A: The joy of being you. You are wonderfully and beautifully made. Like everybody at church, you have Christ to thank for your salvation and your knowledge of God and all His works. The Spirit that you have is the same Spirit that all the members of the church have. No more and no less. You are special because Christ died for you. And you are a member of the body of Christ. You may not be something else that you would love to be but that is a distracting thought away from the best thought that you have been made by God, saved by God and sealed by God with the Holy Spirit. What a blessing you are when you know and love that.
Topic B: The joy of knowing others like you. The body of Christ is made up of many parts that all do their part just as God has made them to be. We are all growing in Christ and being transformed, that is a work in progress that God has promised to complete. But look around at what God is doing in the lives of others at church. Praise God for the servants, the workers, the speakers, the encouragers, the prayers, the readers, the visitors and the faithful men and women who have held the gospel in this place for decades.
Topic C: Be keen for better things. A church that sits on the routine of rosters and meeting times will lose sight of the greater gifts. What we ought to eagerly desire is the word of God to feed us and grow us. If we are one body with many parts, then all of the parts can work together to ensure that what we love best is good spiritual food. And that food is the word of God spoken to us. Taught. Exhorted. Applied. At our church, we meet weekly in large public times to sing and to pray and to hear the bible read and taught. We meet mid-week in smaller groups to coach one another in life through Christ by reading the bible, teaching one another and caring for how we are each progressing in the faith. We also hope to commend and support everybody in a habit of good personal and family bible times. Just as an organism will eagerly desire food to survive, the body of Christ must eagerly desire to be fed by the word of God. That, after all, is how the body with all it’s parts learns to live together as one through love.