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Spirituality and Spiritual Gifts - Part 3 (1 Cor. 12:12-31)

Body Language

12 For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those members of the body, which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our unseemly members come to have more abundant seemliness, 24 whereas our seemly members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25 that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. 27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. 29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? 31 But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.

Introduction

Not very long ago a man was cutting down a tree when, instead of falling the way he expected, the tree ended up on his leg, pinning him to the ground. Realizing that help could not arrive in time, he knew he must free himself. After much effort to move the tree, he reached for the chain saw, started it, and proceeded to cut off his leg with the saw.164

My mother is an amputee, having lost her leg in a hit-and-run car accident years ago. I can assure you she did not willingly give up her limb. Only in the most dire circumstances does one make the choice to remove a limb or some other member of the body. The Corinthian Christians seem not to have seen it this way. In a spiritual sense, they are a “leg” cutting off the remainder of the body. They effectively cut off every member of the body except those who had a certain kind of gift and ministry. The Corinthians do not esteem all of the spiritual gifts, but seem to fix upon only one or a very few gifts and disdain the rest. As a result, those who do not possess the prize gift(s) conclude they have nothing at all to contribute to the church body. Others who do possess the highly regarded gift(s) feel smugly independent of the rest of the body. Paul has much to say to both in verses 12-31 of chapter 12, likening the church, the body of Christ, to the physical body and showing us that every single gift, every single saint, is indeed vitally important to the body.

Overview of Verses 12-31

The entire section of chapter 12:12-31 might be summed up by the title, “Body Language” or, “Principles of Body Life.” The term “body” is introduced in verse 12 and then repeatedly employed by Paul some 17 times throughout the remainder of the chapter. In verse 12, Paul indicates that the church is Christ’s body and that this imagery is instructive as to the nature and function of the church. In verse 13, Paul reminds his readers that individual members are “baptized” into this one body, the body of Christ, the church. Our membership in Christ’s body begins at the time we are saved, and it is the work of the Holy Spirit, who baptizes us into the church by identifying us with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection (see also Romans 6:1-11).

On several occasions in the Book of Acts (chapters 2, 8, 10-11, 19), the baptism of the Holy Spirit is dramatic and visible. What Paul emphasizes about this “Spirit baptism” is the unity which God brings from such great diversity among those united with the church, the body of Christ. As he describes much more fully in Ephesians 2, Paul indicates that the baptism of the Holy Spirit unites Jews and Greeks, slaves and free. The “one Spirit” of which believers partake unites them. This is the “unity of the Spirit” to which Paul refers in Ephesians 4:3.

After repeating that the “body is not one member, but many” in verse 14, Paul goes on to illustrate how this truth can be denied in verses 15-17. Those who view a particular gift as the touchstone of spirituality might wrongly conclude that because they do not possess this gift, they likewise have nothing to contribute to the church body. In body parts terminology, the foot says, “If I can’t be a hand, I’ll not consider myself a part of the body at all—I have nothing to contribute.” The ear feels similarly about not being an eye. In verse 17, Paul presses his readers to consider how ludicrous the body of Christ would be if Christians could have their way. In physical terms, can you imagine the whole church being an eye? It might see very well, but it would have great difficulty smelling anything without a nose. The body needs many different members with many different functions, because the body has a great many needs.

The members of Christ’s body each have a specific place and function in the body of Christ, and the One in charge of God’s “placement service” is the Holy Spirit. Each and every member of the body of Christ has been ordained165 to serve in a particular way by the Holy Spirit. Our placement in the body of Christ is not a matter of chance nor a matter of our choice; it is by God’s sovereign will (verse 18). If the Corinthians have their way and everyone possesses the same gift, where would the body be (verse 19)?

Getting back to reality, Paul reiterates again that while there are many different members with different gifts and ministries in the church, there is nonetheless but one body. The members are many, but the body is one (verse 20). In verses 15 and 16, Paul deals with those who seem to suffer from a spiritual inferiority complex. If they cannot be what others think they should be, and what they themselves desperately wish to be, then they will not consider themselves a part in the first place. They will pick up their marbles, so to speak, and leave. But what of those who do possess the spiritual gifts which are thought to be most spiritual and most significant? Some who appear to possess the most coveted gift(s) may begin to disdain those with different gifts. They should not think their gift is to their credit, or that their gift frees them from the interdependence which God designed for His church described by Paul in “body” imagery (verse 21). Contrary to a popular misconception at Corinth, it is much truer to say that the so-called “weaker members” of the body are indeed quite necessary (verse 22).

From the way we treat our own bodies, we can see that seemingly inferior parts of our body are not written off as non-existent. Rather, those parts of our own bodies we deem less honorable are those for which we compensate. We give “more abundant honor” to these apparently “lesser” members (verse 23). And so some people paint their toe nails or manicure their nails. Ladies put lipstick on their lips (they may think they are too plain otherwise), they lengthen their eyelashes, they put make-up on their faces. The most important members of our bodies do not need such compensation because we know they are vital (verse 24a). God has designed the “body” (the church) in such a way that the lesser members receive a greater honor or prominence to compensate for their inferior status, while the really important members do not need such compensation (verse 24b).

God designed the church as a body with many members and each with its own unique function. Every member of the body has an important role to play in the body. All the members of the body are interdependent, and none can be independent. The purpose for God designing the “body” of Christ in this way is to promote unity, not dissension and divisions (verse 25). God has created the “body” with various members, none of which can function without the support of the rest of the body. All the members of the body should thus have the same care for the other members of the body. Whatever affects the body as a whole affects each member of the body. When one member of the body suffers, the whole body suffers with it; when one member is honored, all the members should rejoice with it (verse 26). The church, the body of Christ, is designed in such a way that each member is interdependent upon all the other members. Every member of the body should be highly esteemed, because each makes a unique and valuable contribution to the whole body, and thus to all the other members.

The Corinthian believers (the “you” of verse 27 is plural) are Christ’s body, and every individual Corinthian saint is a member of that body (verse 27). God has placed every member of that body. First comes apostles, then second prophets, third teachers, then follow miracles, gifts of healings, helps, administrations, and various kinds of tongues (verse 28). This order seems quite different from the Corinthians’ “pecking order” (order of significance). Indeed, it may almost be a mirror image reversal of the Corinthian order of importance. It seems quite clear that the apostles are losing status in the minds of the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 4:6-21), while the up and coming false apostles are gaining in popularity (2 Corinthians 11).

The way the Corinthian saints view it, there are very few gifts which really count for anything. Their teaching—by inference, if not by direct statements—is that everyone who is really spiritual should possess the gift(s) they value so highly. Paul constantly stresses that the body has many different members, each sovereignly appointed by God. Now he confronts them with the facts: Everyone is not an apostle, is he? Nor is everyone in the church gifted and appointed as a prophet, teacher, miracle-worker, healer, tongues speaker, or interpreter. In each case where Paul asks a question, the form of his question indicates he expects an answer in the negative. Of course all are not apostles, prophets, or teachers! Yet this is precisely where their teaching and practice ends up (verses 29-30). Everyone is forsaking their gifts and ministry to obtain the “best,” or “most spiritual” gifts, or ministry as the Corinthian status-seekers perceive them.

For the life and health of the entire congregation, the church should covet the better gifts, but these “better gifts” are not those the Corinthians think to be better (verse 31). Rather, they seem to be the gifts many of the Corinthians disdain. As I understand his words, Paul is not instructing individual Christians to seek after the better gifts, but rather he instructs the whole church to desire those gifts which are most profitable for the church. We shall soon begin to see which “gifts” these better gifts are, if we have not already done so. There is a far better way to go about the Christian walk and ministry than the Corinthians have been doing it, and Paul sets out this better way in chapters 13 and 14. In chapter 13, Paul shows that love is the key to employing spiritual gifts in a way that is edifying to all, and in chapter 14, he shows how the principle of edification is intended to regulate our use of spiritual gifts.

Body Life Principles

So that we may focus on the major implications and applications of Paul’s words in verses 12-31, let us highlight four major “body life” principles which Paul applies to the Corinthian church and to us.

Principle One: The Church Is a Body, the Body of Christ

One of the serious problems facing the Corinthian church is disunity. Paul does not hesitate to bring up the problem of factions in the first chapter (1:10ff.). These divisions are certainly related to allegiances to certain leaders (1:12, etc.), but they are also tied to what we might call strengths and weaknesses (1:18-31). Divisions are so intense they have even resulted in lawsuits brought before secular courts (6:1ff.). There is a kind of rugged individualism which then, as now, prompts many to seek their own interests even at the expense of their fellow-believers. The Corinthian Christian who thinks he is wise and knows so much is the one who believes he is free to participate in heathen idol worship ceremonies. And this he does, without any concern that his doing so might cause another saint to stumble (8:1-13).

Paul wants the Corinthians to stop thinking and acting as rugged individualists and to begin to act with a sense of corporate identity and responsibility. In athletic terms, Paul wants the Corinthians to begin to think and behave like a team, rather than like some kind of spiritual “Lone Ranger” or, in more contemporary terms, a Christian Rambo. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul introduces the imagery of the body to correct the Corinthians’ misconceptions concerning spiritual gifts.

Many images are employed for the people of God. The people of God, Old Testament and New, are referred to as a priesthood, a race, a nation, and a temple (see 1 Peter 2:4-9; Ephesians 2:11-22). God’s people are referred to as a vine or a vineyard, which is to produce fruit (Isaiah 5; John 15, etc.). The people of God are described as the bride, or wife, of God (see Isaiah 62:5; Jeremiah 2:32-35; Hosea; Revelation 21:2, 9; 22:17). We are also likened to a flock of sheep, of which God is the Shepherd (see Psalm 23, John 10; 21:15-17), and elders are under-shepherds (1 Peter 5:1-4).

It is the apostle Paul alone who speaks of the church, the people of God, as a body.166 The church of Jesus Christ is His body. Every believer, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, is joined to the body of Christ by the baptism of the Holy Spirit (verse 13). There is one body into which every saint is baptized. There is but one people of God. The distinction between Jew and Gentile is abolished in Christ:

11 Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:11-22).

The concept or imagery of the church as the body of Christ underscores the unity of all believers (Ephesians 4:3-6). It shows how evil and counter-productive the divisions in the Corinthian church are. My identity is found in Christ, because I am a part of His body. My righteousness is Christ’s righteousness. His death is mine; His resurrection and new life, mine (see Romans 6:1-11). I dare not think only of myself as an individual Christian; rather, I must perceive myself as a part of the church, the body of Christ. To identify with Christ by faith is also to identify with His body, the church. No wonder Paul so quickly joins himself to fellow-believers (see Acts 9:19, 26). As a wife merges her identity with her husband, becoming one flesh, so the believer merges his or her identity with the body of Christ, the church. Those who fail to identify themselves with the body of Christ are disobedient in so doing (see Hebrews 10:25).

Principle Two: The Church Is One Body, but With Many Members

The Corinthian church is blessed with the full spectrum of spiritual gifts (see 1:4-7). Yet, in spite of this very broad range of gifts granted to this church, only a very select few gifts are valued. It is certain that paramount in the minds of most of the saints is the gift of tongues. It seems as though those who possess the “greater gifts” (in their minds) are those who dominate the church’s ministry and the church meeting (see 12:21; chapter 14). Those who have gifts which are considered “lesser” gifts seek to hide them and to obtain the greater gifts (12:15-17).

If the church has its way, the entire body would be only one organ, but Paul shows how foolish this would be:

17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired (1 Corinthians 12:17-18).

Repeatedly throughout chapter 12, Paul emphasizes that the body is one, but the members are many (see verses 12, 13, 14, 18, 20, 27).

Christian unity does not flow from uniformity. God has not made us “cookie cutter Christians.” While there is but one body, there are many different members, many different limbs and organs, each of which has a unique role to play in the body. Paul emphasizes that while there is but one body, there are many different members, each with a unique role to play, a role essential to the health and ministry of the body, the church. The body is not composed of one member (one gift or ministry), but many (verse 13).

As a member of the church, the body of Christ, we find we are a part of a much greater whole—we belong to an organism whose “head” is Christ and whose function is to represent Christ to a fallen world. As a member of the church, the body of Christ, we also find our true identity as an individual. The body imagery illustrates the individuality of every Christian. Each believer is, in body terms, an individual organ or member. Each believer is uniquely gifted with a blending of spiritual gifts and is given a particular function within the body. No two saints have the same place in the body. Thus, each believer is unique. In one sense, the Christian is inseparably joined to the whole body, and in another, each believer is absolutely unique in the body. We have our identity with Christ’s body and in His body.

The body is not composed of one member (one gift or ministry) but many (verse 13). And the placement of each member of the body in the body of Christ is by the sovereign appointment of the Holy Spirit (verse 11, 18, 28). Our unique place and function within the body of Christ is not a matter of our choice. It is not a matter of merit on our part, but a matter of sovereign grace. God has placed us within the body to perform the function for which He has divinely enabled us (verse 18).

Notice how this union with Christ’s body shapes Paul’s view of his own ministry, particularly of his sufferings:

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. 25 Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, 26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, 27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ. 29 And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me (Colossians 1:24-29).

Paul sees himself as inseparably joined to the body of Christ. He views his ministry as Christ’s ministry. He views his sufferings for Christ as Christ’s sufferings. He sees his message as that of Christ and the power by which he ministers as His power, manifested through him. Paul sums up this matter in his own words to the Philippians:

19 For I know that this shall turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I shall not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:19-21).

Principle Three: The Church Is One Body, With Each Individual Member Sovereignly Placed

Most of the Corinthian Christians want to be something they are not. The “foot” wants to be a “hand” (12:15); the “ear” wishes it were an “eye” (12:16). The matter of spiritual gifts and placement in the body of Christ is not a matter over which we have control. Our spiritual gifts, our place of service in the body, and the results of our ministry are all divinely determined (12:4-6). In particular, our placement into the body of Christ occurs as a result of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (12:13), and our place in Christ’s body is the sovereign choice of God through the Spirit:

11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills (1 Corinthians 12:11).

18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired (1 Corinthians 12:18).

28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:28).

When one is discontent with the gift(s) he or she is given, that individual’s protest is against the Holy Spirit of God, the sovereign Giver of gifts. To question either the Spirit’s goodness, or His infinite wisdom in giving us our gifts, is like an Army Private questioning the orders or the battle plan of the Commander-in-Chief. The Spirit knows what the whole body needs far better than we.

Spiritual gifts are “graces” sovereignly bestowed upon believers. Spiritual gifts, like salvation, are not a matter of merit. Gifts are not earned; they are sovereignly graced upon us. Because of this, those who take pride in their gifts reveal their own foolishness and ignorance:

7 For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1 Corinthians 4:7)

Those who mistake gifts as an evidence of spirituality or of status are wrong, and those who mistake their gift as a symbol of insignificance are just as wrong and demean the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

This sovereign gracing is amply evidenced in the Book of Acts. Where are gifts ever given as a reward for service? Where are particular gifts granted because men sought them? In Acts 2, Acts 8, Acts 10, and Acts 19, the baptism and the gifts of the Holy Spirit were not sought; they came as a surprise to those who are granted them. I do think that because the Corinthians highly value a very few gifts and disdain the rest, these prized gifts are sought and perhaps even falsely pretended. I see Christians today trying desperately to obtain certain gifts, and I have to ask why. If they are sovereignly bestowed, why must men strive to get them?

Principle Four: As Members of the Body of Christ, We Must Cooperate, Not Compete

Only recently a memorial service was held in Oklahoma City due to the bombing of the Federal Building there. Billy Graham was one of the speakers. To the degree that Dr. Graham was able to proclaim Christ and hold forth the Word of God, every Christian should rejoice. My grandmother and many like her have faithfully made small monthly contributions to his work. Does she not share in the fruits of his labors? Do we not all share in them? Then why should any be jealous of his prominence? Why should we spend great effort to criticize certain aspects of his theology or methodology, which are not matters of fundamental truth?

The Oklahoma City disaster was revealing in many ways. Less than 200 lives were cruelly snuffed out by cruel and violent men. But at the same time, hundred of thousands of people are dying in the more distant land of Africa, and there is not the same concern and reaction. Why? Because we feel some kind of identification with those in Oklahoma City, but not with those in Africa. When we truly begin to appreciate the intimate union which exists between all the saints, we will begin to care more for one another and to think more corporately than just individually. The body does not exist primarily to “meet our needs”; the body is the body of Christ, God’s appointed means by which the church lives out the life of Christ in the world today. Our task is to meet the needs of the body which God has gifted us to meet, so that the body of Christ can reach maturity (Ephesians 4), and so the work of Christ is carried out through His body.

A New Set of Standards

Here is the real surprise of our text! The imagery of the body amazingly illustrates that the most visible, most attractive parts of the body are not the most important. The “body principle” overturns the value system by which the Corinthians appraise the significance of spiritual gifts. The gifts most prized in Corinth are those with fleshly and worldly appeal, gifts which give the appearance of wisdom and power (see chapters 1 and 2), not gifts which are humbly received and employed in sacrificial service to others. The most prized gifts are visible, verbal, and sensational. This is the way, the Corinthians suppose, that the presence and power of God is most clearly demonstrated.

Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:22-24 surely come as a slap in the face to the status-seeking saints at Corinth. He turns their value system upside-down. The body illustrates what he is teaching. Those members of the body which are of the least importance are those to which we devote the most attention and effort. We paint our toenails, put rings on our ears (men, too!) and noses! We put rings and jewelry on our fingers. But the truth is we can live without ears (or hearing), eyes (or seeing), fingers, hands, legs, toes. The least needed members of our body are the ones which are most visible and to which the most “glory” is given. And yet, they are the lesser gifts. Those gifts which are most visible, most vocal, most glorified in the Corinthian church are, in reality, the least important gifts. These Corinthians have been storing up sand in their safety deposit boxes and using gold for stepping stones.

As the body illustrates, just the reverse is also true. The most important gifts, like the most important organs, are those which are not visible or spectacular, those of which we are the least conscious. You cannot see my spleen, my kidneys, my liver, or my heart, but I cannot live without them. They do not get a lot of attention. I have never seen “pancreas powder” or “heart highlighter.” I do not have to glorify these organs. They do not need any compensation. They are, in truth, the most vital members of my body, whether I see them or not and whether others value them or not.

Paul assures his readers that “to a much greater degree, the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary” (verse 11; note marginal note here). The Corinthians disdain Paul because of his apparent weakness, while, in their minds, they are so strong (see chapter 4). But it is out of Paul’s weakness that the power of God is revealed (chapter 12). Those gifts which seem weak only appear to be weak. Those gifts which appear to be powerful and impressive are not as significant as they appear. The most necessary gifts are those which we might be least likely to desire or to appreciate.

Elijah’s thinking was just like the Corinthians’. He wanted to do something sensational to manifest (or perhaps even to force) God’s power. This appears to be why he prompts the confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. But you may recall that when God speaks to Elijah, he is depressed because his scheme for a spectacular revival of his people, the Israelites, has not worked. God speaks to Elijah, but not by a great and mighty wind, or by an earthquake, or by a fire. God speaks to Elijah in a still, small voice (1 Kings 19:9-12). We are impressed with the spectacular and with what is seen. God loves to work through what is unseen and unspectacular.

Look at our Lord. He was not outwardly impressive either:

1 “Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. 2 He will not cry out or raise His voice, Nor make His voice heard in the street. 3 A bruised reed He will not break, And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not be disheartened or crushed, Until He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law” (Isaiah 42:1-4).

1 Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. 3 He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him (Isaiah 53:1-3).

44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 And Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see” (John 1:44-46).

The Jews of Jesus’ own country rejected Him as Messiah, because He was too common:

3 “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him. 4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his home town and among his own relatives and in his own household” (Mark 6:3-4).

Our Lord’s disciples had nothing to brag about either. They were mere Galileans, who were uneducated and untrained:

73 And a little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; for the way you talk gives you away” (Matthew 26:73).

11 And they also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

7 And they were amazed and marveled, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans?” (Acts 2:7)

13 Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were marveling, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. 14 And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply (Acts 4:13-14).

And so it is with us:

26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, 29 that no man should boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

1 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4 And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

Many think of Paul as a man whose abilities God “baptized” into the faith. They believe that since Paul was a “fireball” as an opponent of the gospel of Jesus Christ, all God had to do was to turn him around so that he became a “fireball” for Christ. They think the same about people today: “Why, if ___ would only get saved, what a work he or she could do for Christ!” Paul does not revel in what he was as an unbeliever; he renounces it in no uncertain terms:

2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; 3 for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, 4 although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. 7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:2-8).

God did not utilize Paul’s strengths to make him the great apostle he was; rather, God used his weaknesses. And these very weaknesses caused some of the Corinthians to look down upon him:

1 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4 And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

8 You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and I would indeed that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you. 9 For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. 11 To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; 12 and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; 13 when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now (1 Corinthians 4:8-13).

7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves; 8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body (2 Corinthians 4:7-10).

7 And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me—to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

Conclusion

Paul’s use of “body language” here (as elsewhere) gives us what might be called “the anatomy of spirituality.” Let us then consider several avenues of application for the “body principles” set down by Paul in our text.

(1) The concept of the church as the body of Christ should change our way of thinking of ourselves and of the church. We are far too individualistic in our thinking and not nearly as collective in our thinking as we should be. We are far too competitive in our thinking and actions, so that the advance or success of others is viewed as a personal setback for us. We must begin to think cooperatively, realizing that the success of other saints is our victory, and, more importantly, our Lord’s victory. We need to strive not only for our own growth in Christ, but for the corporate and collective growth of the entire church (see Ephesians 4:11-16).

(2) The concept of the church as the body of Christ should cause us to think in terms of the local church, but also beyond the local church. The “church” is the body of Christ, but in the New Testament the “church” is often bigger than just one local church. Paul speaks of “the church” as those believers in a certain political or geographical setting (e.g., the seven “churches” of Asia in Revelation 2 and 3). In contemporary terms, there are many local churches in Dallas, Texas, but we might also think in terms of the church that is in Dallas, the entire body of believers living in Dallas. We speak of the church “in America” or “in Russia” or “behind the bamboo curtain.” In prison ministry, we speak of the church “behind the walls.”

Just as individual believers think and act competitively, so local churches can fall into the same error. There should be ways in which we, as individual believers and as a local church, express our identification with the larger “church.” For example, when the Federal Building was blown up in Oklahoma City a couple months ago, many individuals in Dallas were greatly concerned and sought to help in some way. Less than 200 people were killed in that explosion, as terrible as that is. But at the same time, hundreds of thousands are dying of a terrible virus in Africa, yet there is not the same degree of concern or involvement. Why? Because we do not feel a part of those dying in Africa. In the case of the Oklahoma City tragedy, we are thinking of ourselves, “That could have been me, or one of my family, or a friend.” If the whole body benefits from the success of one member, or suffers from the hurt of one member, then you and I ought to be very concerned about fellow believers around the world. They are a part of the body of Christ. They depend upon us, as we upon them. There must not be such a thing as isolationism in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(3) While there is a sense in which the body is to support and provide for the needs of each individual member, let us never forget that this is not the primary purpose of the church. Too many people attend church to have their “needs met.” Too many people leave churches, complaining that the church has not met their needs. The church is to build up itself in love, but the goal of the church is to live out the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, to His glory. We, the church, are the body of Christ. This means we, as the church, are to carry on His ministry in the world today. The church ministers to itself, to build itself up so that it may carry out its mission, and that mission is living out Christ in a fallen world. We have become so preoccupied with the church’s ministry to us as individuals that we have failed to concentrate on the church’s mission to the world, and our obligation to sacrifice ourselves in ministry to and through the church to the world. The question is not, “What is the church doing for me?” The question is, “What can I contribute to the church to participate in its fulfillment of its mission and calling?“

(4) Christians who are a part of the church, the body of Christ, need to understand that while differences may be the basis for division and strife in the world, these differences are by divine design and are intended to enhance our dependence upon one another, and thus to illustrate true Christian unity. Unity is not evidenced by uniformity but by harmony and interdependence as each individual saint carries out his or her unique function in the body. That which results in division in the fallen world in which we live should be the occasion for unity and harmony in the church. We should not all want to look alike or function alike, but each should function as God has made him or her, so that the body is benefited by our presence and ministry. As God made Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, male and female, one in Christ, we need to demonstrate this unity in diversity, because we are one body.

(5) Our text and the concept of the church as a body calls into question one of the important operating principles of the modern day “church growth movement.” Years ago, a brother from India told me that while he appreciated many of the contributions of the church growth movement, he had serious concerns with their principle of homogeneous grouping. The principle goes something like this: Birds of a feather flock together. People are more comfortable around “their kind.” It just so happens that the churches which are growing the fastest are those whose membership is largely of the same racial, social, and economic class. And so the church of today is encouraged to appeal to, or target, a particular segment of society, and, rather than apologize for this, to enjoy the fruits of success. It seems to me that the principle of homogeneous grouping flies in the face of the imagery of the church as the body of Christ, and indeed in the face of the gospel itself. Let us not seek to all be alike, look alike, think alike, and serve alike. Let us be different, as God intended, each contributing our unique gifts and ministries which He has given, to the edification of the church and to the glory of God.

After I delivered this message one Sunday, one of the men in our church came up to me with this song which he had written a few years ago after hearing a sermon on this same text. I think you will enjoy it.

You are a hand
And you are grand.
You can type or sew or write,
And play guitar all night.

But I’m just a foot, A lousy foot.
Wrapped in this smelly sock,
And stuffed in this dirty shoe,
O, how I wish that I were you.

Well I’ll never get to shake feet with my neighbors
Or paint a pretty picture or hang it on the wall.
But I guess you’d never find your guitar
If you didn’t have me to take you down the hall.

So I guess we really need each other
To do what the Lord has planned for us to do.
‘Cause if He didn’t want us, brother,
I know He would have never stuck me here with you.

You are a mouth,
And what a mouth.
You can talk or eat or sing,
In fact, do ‘most anything.

But I’m just an ear,
Covered by people’s hair.
And mothers make kids wash behind there
‘Cause I’m full of lots of goo-ooh!
Oh, how I wish that I were you.

Well, I’ll never get to sing at Christmas,
Or kiss my pretty sweetheart, or tell her I’ll be true.
But I guess you’d never know she loves us,
If she ever whispered those same words to you.

So you see, we really need each other
To do what the Lord has planned for us to do.
‘Cause if we didn’t work with each other,
The Lord will find some others to replace me and you!


164 A friend told me he had read this story too, and that the man actually cut off his leg with his pocket knife!

165 I am not at all sure why the translators of the NASB failed to use the same English word to translate the identical Greek term in verses 18 (“has placed”) and 28 (“has appointed”).

166 Only Paul employs the “body” imagery, but he does so frequently in his Epistles: Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-20, 22-25, 27; Ephesians 1:23; 2:16; 3:6; 4:4; 5:23; Colossians 1:18, 24; 2:19; 3:5.

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church), Spiritual Gifts