In 1 Corinthians 12 the Apostle Paul insists that a local church is not primarily a human institution. It is the work of God. He says “you are a church because you have been baptised into Christ by the Holy Spirit and been filled with the Holy Spirit.” This is not something you vote yourself in or out of. God has done this in you. He has brought you into his family, into the body of Christ, so you are in, full stop. Just like a human body has lots of diverse parts so the body of Christ has lots of diverse parts, and in particular he mentions different ethnic backgrounds and social status – Jew and Greek, slave and free. But you are united by the Holy Spirit."
His implication is that therefore controversies about other people’s gifts and service for the Lord ought to be completely ruled out. In-fighting in the church, not valuing the contribution other people make, is crazy. Its like saying “God I don’t want the diversity that you have put here for the building of your body.” That destroys the ability of the body to function as a body. And it is self-destructive because God has given other people gifts to serve us and, regardless of what we think, if God has given them we are crippled with out them.
Paul says exactly that in v14-26. That when parts of the body don’t work together then it is like a human body being crippled. And he says it happens in three ways:
- V15 body parts can say “I am going to be separate because I am not like other parts. I don’t quite get on with them, I wish they were a bit more like me. I will be self-sufficient. I have gifts of my own, I can get on without being in the body.”
- V21 body parts can say to other parts “we don’t like you very much, push off.” In the first case it was “I’m alright on my own, I will separate myself off.” In this case its “You are surplus to requirements, I will separate you off.”
- V22 body parts can suggest that they are more indispensable, more attractive or more important. They say “I am superior, I have a better role in the body.”
We can sum up these 3 ways to cripple the body of Christ:
- I won’t participate
- I refuse to let someone else participate
- I belittle the contribution of others
All of those are abominable because they are destroying the work of God, disparaging the diversity that he has put here for his glory and our good, and refusing to accept those whose gifts I dislike have a contribution to make.
Those are the kinds of things that happen when church gets political. And if 1 Cor 12 tells us anything its that politicking was damaging the body of Christ. And God hates that. That is the opposite of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit for the common good. And it isn’t the way he has organised his church.
In v18 it says:
But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be
In v25 it says:
God combined the members of the body so there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured every part is honoured with it.
And then they must have known v27 was coming: “you are that body, you church in Corinth. You claim to be spiritual but you talk down other people’s contributions. You claim to be serving God, but you are dismissive of the service he has given other people to do. You should be rejoicing that God has made the body like this, but instead you moan and do people down.”
He finishes the chapter with a list of gifts. All presented with rhetorical questions: do all have this gift? Do all have that gift? Of course not. God gives lots of different gifts so that the body works and everybody gets to have a go. And therefore, v31, they are eagerly to desire the greater gifts. 14:1repeats it: follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts. And the breathtaking ch13 on love, which wouldn’t be there if they didn’t need to be exhorted to love each other in the matter of spiritual gifts.
We could sum up the message of 1 Cor. 12 like this:
- Eagerly desire spiritual gifts and the manifestation of the spirit for the common good
- Love each other in the exercise of them
- Enjoy God’s rich diversity and don’t despise the contribution of others. If we do we are despising God’s plan for us as a church
Let’s rejoice when we want to be like Corinth in their desire for spiritual gifts. Lets rejoice when we aren’t like Corinth in their attitudes towards each other. Lets rejoice when we love those with different gifts, all bringing their contribution to the service of God. And where we have been guilty of damaging the body by being dismissive of the gifts of others I pray 1 Cor 12 will lead us to go away and repent to the Lord and to them.
Excerpt from Bible message on 1 Cor. 12. Full message here