One day a son asked his father for his inheritance. This request was highly unusual. Normally sons got their inheritance only after their fathers had died. Basically, this son is saying to his dad, “I wish you were dead.” Once he got it, he packed up everything and headed for the good life. He wanted nothing to do with his family. He spent his money frivolously. For him, money was no object. He was the man with the golden touch. People probably used and abused him, but he did not care: he had his inheritance. One day he woke up and realized that the money was gone. One day he woke up and discovered that he was feeding pigs. This was not a cool thing for a Jew to do! He comes to the realization that he does not deserve to be his father’s son any longer, but he knew that his father’s servants had it better off than he did. Imagine his surprise when he got home. There his father welcomed him with open arms. Though he had tried to cut himself off from his family. Though he had done what was wrong in the eyes of his father. In spite of this, he still was welcomed back into the family. The reason being that he never ceased to be a part of that family.
When we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, accept that he is our Lord and Savior who saved us from the death that is the result of sin, we become children of God. As Children of God we are a family. And as a family is one unit, or body, so is the church. The church is the family of God and the body of Christ.
It is very good that Paul uses the body metaphor here to describe the church. You see there were many things going on that motivated Paul to write this letter. As I mentioned last week, he was concerned about the church’s view on spiritual gifts and the use thereof. The rest of this chapter more fully explains it, but it also has to do with how the church was dealing with problems of unity in diversity.
The Corinthian church was made up of a bunch of strangers, and family members who gathered together for regular worship services. As anyone would expect, there were many different types of people. People from many different types of race and social backgrounds. Because of this, not everyone was able to get along. Because of this, some people lorded it over other people. The big issue for them was speaking in tongues. They emphasized this over everything else. Like we saw last week, it was the benchmark of spiritual giftedness. For churches like ours today, a similar bone of contention in the church would be worship. In the same way speaking in tongues was a polarizing issue, so is worship.
Paul’s point in this section of chapter 12 is to open the minds of the people of the Corinthian church. They were too narrow minded in their thinking. They were focussing on only one thing. Paul’s point in this passage is to show them, by letting them know the diversity of God in God’s oneness “there is one Spirit, many gifts, one Lord but many services, one God but many workings” that there is diversity in the church as well.
Verses 12 through 31 contain analogy after analogy to convince the Corinthian church that it ought to reflect diversity. Paul alerts them and us to the fact that we have all been baptized by one Spirit into one body. It makes no difference to the Spirit what our background is or anything. All that is important is that the one Spirit is what has joined us together into one body.
Paul has chosen to use the analogy of the body for a very good reason. One it is an analogy with which the Corinthians would have been familiar. It also is an analogy that works well. If the analogy were a glove and the point that Paul was trying to make was a hand, and then you would have a perfect fit.
Verses 14 through 20 are paralleled by verses 21 through 26. They make the same point but from different angles. In verses 14 through 20 we have an inferiority complex. Here we have people in the church that think that they are not important because they are not exhibiting gifts that are easily recognized. It is much easier to see the benefit of having strong healthy hands verses strong healthy feet. It would be easy to suppose that a foot would feel subordinate to a hand simply because of all the things a hand can accomplish that the foot can’t.
The point that Paul is making is that the body is made up of many parts. No one part is more important than any other part. No one person in this church is more or less important than any other. Right now this church is seeking to find a pastor to lead it. The reason that we are looking for a pastor is because we recognize that this body of Christ is not complete without one. But we would be wrong to think that the pastor is anything special simply because of his role in the church. What Paul is telling us here in the passage is that every member is important. No person ought to feel less important than any other person does. Can you imagine what we would look like if we were just one giant eye? Or one giant ear? It is a ridiculous monstrosity!
Paul goes on to stress his point in verses 21 through 26. But this time he addresses the issue from the other perspective. No one ought to think so highly of himself or herself to believe that they are better than anyone else. Just as an eye cannot say because I am not an ear, I don’t need you, nor can an eye say to the ear, because you are not an eye, I don’t need you. We all need one another. God has arranged all the parts of the human body. They are exactly the way God wanted them to be. Same with the church.
You have heard the phrase; “oh he has a weak stomach.” The reason we use that phrase to refer to someone who cannot handle gross things is because the internal organs are thought of as being weak. Indeed they are, and that is why they are protected inside the body. But, take away one of those internal organs, and you have an incomplete body. Perhaps it might be able to function for a while, but the truth is, the body cannot survive without it’s weaker members. Same thing with the church, it cannot function without the weaker members.
Such examples of what we might consider weaker members are those people who show up every Sunday. Or the people who do all sorts of things in the life of the church, but never seek nor expect reward. They are the ones, working in the background that keep the wheels greased. Likewise with people who do obscure things in the church that are not readily recognized as being important. They are the ones who ought to be given special respect. As for those who have the up-front and obvious gifts, they need no special mention.
The main point is that we are united because of our diversity, and we are united in spite of our diversity. We are united because God has arranged us to be thus. God unites us through the working of Jesus Christ and by the power of His Holy Spirit.
Verses 27-31 illustrate this perfectly. “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” And in the church God has appointed people to have specific gifts. Now here Paul ranks three gifts. The importance he is stressing in this section still has to do with functionality. These three are ranked in function. Apostles were those who witnessed Christ firsthand and who started churches. Prophets were those who continued to build up the believers in the church by presenting a word from God. Teachers helped strengthen the faith of the congregation. The significance of such a ranking has to do with functionality, not with office. That is to say that we ought not to look at Apostles, prophets or teachers as being special or more honorable, but rather that we recognize the importance of those functions within the church. Then Paul lists off more examples of gifts and talents to be used by God’s people for the common good of the church. There again is no special ranking here, but rather an emphasis on the importance of seeing the value and necessity for all the gifts present in the church.
Paul concludes the point that he is making by asking, “are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. No, the Apostle Paul is not telling us that the first three gifts are greater, but rather he is telling us that we are to desire those gifts which build up and strengthen the church. We are to seek after the gifts that will enhance everyone’s worship experience, rich and poor, young and old.
So, how does this chapter inform us about our worship? How can we practically put this into effect? To begin we first have to recognize that we are a church because God called us into being. Then we have to realize that we have the positions in the church because of the way that God has gifted us. Some of us do not yet know how God has gifted us. I have printed out that spiritual gift inventory and I can give it to anyone who wants to have it. Also, I can help anyone learn more about their gifts. We can learn from this passage that we are to use our gifts to the common good of the congregation. We also must not lord our gifts over anyone else, nor think our gifts are less worthy than others. Next week we will look at the most excellent way of using our gifts for the common good of one another.