We Are the Body

1 Corinthians 12: 1-27

 

*Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

*4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

*7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, *10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

*12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

*15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 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? *18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 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!” 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. But God has put the body together, giving 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.

*27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

 

 

As with every letter, or book, in the Bible, knowing the context is very important to our overall understanding and application of its contents. First Corinthians is no different. This is a letter from the apostle Paul to the church he planted in the city of Corinth during his second missionary journey around 50AD. You can read more about that journey in Acts 18:1-17. After staying in Corinth for approximately 18 months he then continued on in his journey to Ephesus. We know this from verses 18 -19 of Acts 18. It is from Ephesus that Paul wrote this letter around 55 AD.

 

We also know that this is not the first letter he wrote to the Corinthian church as he talks about another letter in *1 Corinthians 5:9, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people.” This previous letter must not have achieved what the apostle wanted, because he received word from “Chloe’s household” that there still remained serious problems.  We can assume that maybe the Corinthians misunderstood Paul’s command in his original letter. Maybe they thought he meant that they should avoid immoral non-Christians, when in fact he clearly was talking about grossly immoral and unrepentant believers. He makes this clarification very clear when he writes in verse *10 & 11, “not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people”.

The letter we have in our Bibles is Paul’s response to the disturbing information he received. There were certain factions and splits within the church at Corinth. These factions were a result of many differences of opinion that had arisen between the members of the congregation. For example, they had split along the lines of certain leaders and their teachings. There was also the distinct sense that their disunity was a result of their immaturity and arrogance with regards to the Christian faith.

As is often the case these days the most immature in the church think they are mature enough and they have reached the top of ladder. They have gone as far as they need, and they don’t need to try or learn anything new. These people are very easily recognized because they tend to play down their need to be challenged by God’s Word and they place a great deal of emphasis upon and even boast about their accomplishments in life. Chapter 4:8 in this letter gives us Paul’s sarcastic response to the ‘immature who think they are mature’, “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you!”

One of the things I have realized after walking with the Lord over the years is, just how much I still need to learn and put into practice His will. The process of our sanctification will not be complete until the day we die, and we meet face to face with Jesus. I pray every day that I will not become so arrogant as to think that I have ‘arrived’ and I don’t have anything else to learn or do. God has always answered this prayer by convicting me through His Word that I fall far short of His glorious standards. My prayer everyday is the same for all of you.

 

Chapter 12 of 1st Corinthians, within which our passage is located, tells us that these factions and splits were affecting how individual believers took part within the local church. These splits caused the apostle Paul to write this letter as a response to this particular issue of division in the church. One of the areas that was causing division among the Corinthians was the practice of spiritual gifts. Paul then feels that it is necessary to teach them about the purpose of spiritual gifts and place that teaching firmly within what he knows as the nature of the body of Christ.

 

        *Even though Paul refers to many of the spiritual gifts by name, he doesn’t actually give an explanation of what each gift is. In verses 8-11 he says that some people are given a “message of wisdom” while at the same time others are given a “message of knowledge”. However, he doesn’t give any more information about each one or even how they differ from one another.

 

        In the same verses he also refers to the gift of prophecy and the gift of tongues. But, again, he doesn’t explain either one or tell exactly what they are. Therefore, we are left to wonder whether the gift of prophecy that he is referring to is the same as the office of the prophet in the Old Testament. Or does he just mean someone who preaches the Word of God? As far as ‘tongues’ is concerned, a lot of scholars are debating still if this gift has to do with speaking in a heavenly language or is it the gift, described elsewhere in the New testament, that enables a believer to speak in a language that they have not learned?

 

        Thankfully, answering those questions are not the theme of this sermon. For the simple fact that, lacking any detail about what the gifts are and do, then it is probably better and wiser for us to look at what Paul does in fact say.

 

        So, what does he say?   Well, he says in *verse 4 of chapter 12 that, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them”. We are told that these gifts all come from the same source, that is the Holy Spirit. We are also told that these gifts are not for show. The fact that there are different kinds of gifts can be observed in the variety of services they perform for the Lord. We are therefore not surprised by the statement in verse 6 that God is the One who empowers these gifts as they work in various areas of ministry.

 

          We can quickly determine that Paul wants to impress upon the Corinthians that unity within the body does not mean that we are all the same or that we have the same gifts. He does not expect everyone to be the exact same.

 

          Think of this same principal in terms of a sports team, say a soccer team. Now if everyone was a defender then they would likely not score many goals or win many matches. No, a successful soccer team is one that has a group of 11 skilled players who play according to their positions. When they play in their positions well and work together as a team then they will usually win.

 

          We can also apply this same principal to UCC. We are a group of individuals with a variety of unique talents. Can we say that we are a team that can win? By ‘win’ I mean glorify God. I believe we are glorifying God. However, if I was challenged to point out one weakness it would be this. It seems that we are playing with a few players short, we are an incomplete team.

 

          I come to that conclusion based upon *verse 7 where Paul says, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good”. Now I want you to make note of this, there are no exceptions with this statement. The very clear declaration is that God gives every Christian, everyone who has been born again, man or women, a spiritual gift. And Paul makes the further assertion that these gifts are to be used by each individual “for the common good”. Another way of saying this is that spiritual gifts are to be used for the good of the church.

 

After dealing with the real purpose of the spiritual gifts in verse 1-11 and concluding that, if used properly as they were intended by God, then they would not cause division within the church but instead build it up, Paul then tackles the issue of the nature of the body of Christ in verses 12-27. Now we may not experience the exact same issues as those in the Corinthian church. But we do experience divisions and splits that only serve to weaken our testimony to younger believers as well as the watching world.

 

For example, there is a false notion amongst some that they can be a Christian apart from the church. Their reasoning usually is like this: I can pray and read my Bible at home. Now, thanks to the internet, I can watch Christian programming, read Christian books, I can even attend virtual church services. If I live my life according to the principal of treating others as I want to be treated, then why do I need to attend the church?

 

*Verse 13 of our passage completely destroys that false notion. In this verse the apostle reminds us that, “were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body”. What he is reminding us of, is the fact that, because of our baptism which unites us with the Holy Spirit and with Christ, we are at the same time united with the church, which is Christ’s body. In verse 20 Paul writes, “there are many parts, but one body”. And then in verse 27 Paul expands on what he has said in verse 20 by saying, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” Paul’s point in these three verses couldn’t be any clearer, being united with the body is the exact same as being united with Christ.

 

          Paul uses this illustration that we are each individual members of Christ’s body to explain that we can only be truly complete when we are attached to the body. As he explains each Christian is an ear, or maybe an eye, a hand or, even a foot, he is showing that, if we live apart from the body, the church, then we are incomplete, useless. He makes this point in *verse 21 where he says, “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!”.

 

          This teaching is also applicable to us here at UCC. In the same way that the human body needs all of its members to be complete, then we need to be joined with other Christians in order that we experience all that God intended for us. In other words, the church also needs each one of you so that it can be all that God intends for it to be.

 

          How many of you have tried to complete a jigsaw puzzle only to find at the end that there are a few pieces missing. It doesn’t matter how beautiful and detailed the picture on the box looks, take away a few pieces and it will not look quite as beautiful on the table or floor. It is the same with the church, the beauty and effectiveness of the church is weakened without all of its members being present and committed.

 

          In today’s passage Paul reminded us in *verse 7 that “each one” has been given a spiritual gift. These gifts are not given for the benefit of the individual believer but for the good of the body. God has determined that we all should receive a gift in order that we all would make valuable and helpful inputs to the health of the church. We should also notice that God does not provide one person with all the necessary gifts. He distributes to each person a different gift or gifts as he sees fit so that we are then compelled to depend on each other.

 

          I want to use the analogy of the soccer team just one more time to explain this principle of unity that comes from our diversity and how it can result in the formation of a healthy church. The soccer team has a common purpose to which all the team members are focused. That purpose is to score goals. However, each player is different, they play different positions with different responsibilities. According to the position they play, each player may differ physically from others on the team. For example, the winger may be small, fast, and agile which will enable him to outrun the midfielders and the defenders and then cross the ball into the strikers. The Centrefielder will be taller and need more stamina as he plays forward as well as defense as the need dictates. His height will help him reach those high lobs from the opposing team as they try to pass the ball to their teammates. Anyway, you get the idea.  The team is united in their efforts to score but each player has a unique role to play in accomplishing this task.

 

          If we then extend this analogy to the church, we can think of Jesus as the head of the team. He is like the owner who sets the direction for the team. The pastor can be thought of as the coach whose job it is to put the plans of the owner into action. In the case of the pastor this means equipping, encouraging, and organizing the believers for the work of ministry.

 

          Now I don’t want UCC to become an unhealthy church. But this can happen if the congregation expects the pastor to not only coach but also play all the positions on the field.  If the congregation just sit there as spectators while the pastor and his coaching staff just run around trying to fill every position on the field then, unfortunately the end result will be an unhealthy, ineffective body.

 

          This is not what God wants for His church. This is not what He wants for UCC. This is not how he wants His team to be managed. God wants every member of His team to take a position on the field. The pastors job then becomes the organization of the players, to explain the plan to them and equip them to take up their positions so that they can achieve their main purpose. *Ephesians 4:12 gives us our purpose for coming together as the church and using our giftedness, it is, “so that the body of Christ may be built up”. The pastor’s job is to make sure that everyone is using their gifts “for the common good”.

 

          Many unhealthy churches are produced when members don’t admit that they need to be equipped for ministry. They go off on their own with their own enthusiasm and energy but unfortunately, they have no idea what the plan is. They are unaware of how they need the gifts of others and even how others depend upon them. So, how can UCC be a healthy church? First there must be qualified leaders who are committed to equipping others for ministry. Second, every member must identify their role and be committed to serving the Body with their gifts.

 

In this morning’s passage it is as if the apostle Paul is encouraging each and every believer to get out of their seats and run onto the field and play their assigned positions. It is as if he is urging us on as UCC to work towards achieving the same goal of glorifying the name of Jesus.

*Ephesians 3:21, tells us that, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen”. This teaches us that, God has chosen the church as the instrument through which He will be glorified. We should not think that our Christian service will bring glory to God if it is done outside of the body. We can be confident that even in our weakness, when we are involved in ministry together as the body, then God will surely use our gifts to advance His kingdom in this world.

 

Let me ask you this morning, are you willing to serve the body of Christ into which you were called? Can we at UCC count on you to play your position? I hope so, because the church needs you. UCC needs you.

 

 

Let’s pray:

Lord, thank you so much that you inspired your apostle, Paul, to write this letter to the church in Corinth. You did not want them to continue in their ways and bring dishonour upon you. Thank you for using Paul to teach them and us that you are the one who gives all the gifts. Thank you for reminding is that if a gift cannot be used for the common good of building up the believers, then we can say it is not from you. Help each of us to discern the gift or gifts that you have given to us and use them here in UCC to glorify your name by using them as you intended.

Thank you, that you have adopted us as your children and that we are now a part of the body of Christ. Jesus is the One who gave everything so that we could be reconciled to you and live a life that is pleasing to you. Please be with us here at UCC so that we can live as the as you intended. Our hope is that one day we will see You as you really are and spend eternity with you.

 

In the mighty name of Jesus, we pray. Amen