1 Corinthians 12b
1 Corinthians 12:12-14… 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.
Paul sets out to explain in vv. 12-31 just how all the different spiritual gifts he listed in vv. 8-10 fit together. When believers come together with their gifts they form the body of Christ.
The analogy of the human body is Paul’s illustration and parallel to how the church works. The human body is one piece, but it has many different “members” – a word that refers to arms, legs, eyes, ears, etc. Though the body parts are many, they come together to form the one body. “So also is Christ.” Christ IS the church because the church makes up his body. And just as the human body is one, so too is Jesus Christ. He is one, yet he is made up of many, and Paul shows how this is possible through the teaching of the spiritual gifts. Each Christian has a spiritual gift, and in the same way that the arm benefits the body so too does each believer benefit the body of Christ, that is the church. One believer is no less or greater than another.
Paul explains what he means in v. 13 as indicated by the explanatory “For.” Most English translations say that it was “by” one Spirit that all were baptized. However, John the Baptist, in speaking of Jesus in Matt. 3:11, said “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” So it is Jesus who is the baptizer, and it is WITH the Spirit that he baptizes. The word “baptize” literally means to be “dipped,” as in water. The ancient Greek writer Plutarch used the word in reference to being in “over one’s head” in debt (baptized in debt). Plato uses the word in reference to being “soaked in wine.” It is used in the Bible as being “washed” both literally and figuratively in an act of ceremonial cleansing. The sacrament of water baptism in the Christian church today represents one’s inauguration into the body of Jesus Christ. However, the water baptism the church participates in today, as in first-century Christianity, is nothing more than an outward symbol to the world of one’s being identified with Christ’s death (cf. Rom. 6:1-10) that took away our sins. Water baptism is NOT what 1 Cor. 12:13 speaks of. This passage refers to the spiritual act of baptism that Jesus performs on a convert to Christianity the moment he/she comes to faith in Christ. Christ baptizes that person spiritually with the Holy Spirit just like John the Baptist said he would. The baptism in v. 13 is in a verb tense (aorist) that reflects a past tense, once-and-for-all baptism. All Christians have been baptized by Jesus Christ with the Spirit into “one body.” This is the work of God solely, and it is synonymous with salvation. There is NO second baptism as some believe. MacArthur says, “Paul’s central point in v. 13 is that baptism with the one Spirit makes the church one Body. If there were more than one baptism, there would be more than one church, and Paul’s whole point here would be destroyed. He is using the doctrine of baptism with the Spirit to show the unity of all believers in the Body.”
The latter half of v. 13 says that God shows no favoritism between race and social status. Jews and non-Jews alike – rich and poor – are “made to drink of one Spirit.” And v. 14 sums up what he’s has been saying all along, namely that the “body is not one member but many.”
Food for Thought
Contrary to what many teach today, there is no need to seek a second “Spirit” baptism. The moment a person receives Jesus Christ as Lord/Savior they are simultaneously baptized with the Holy Spirit. Water baptism is like a wedding ring – symbolic of our Spirit baptism. Rejoice today if you possess the Holy Spirit. You are a full and vital member in the body of Christ.
1 Corinthians 12:15-17… 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?
Many Christians today go outside the bounds of admiring the gifts of other believers to the point of envying them and coveting their gifts. This was (and is) sinful, but the first century Corinthians fell into that trap. In keeping with their carnality they all wanted the more visual and prestigious gifts given by God – gifts such as the ability to speak in languages they’d not previously learned (tongues), gifts of healings, and miracles so that more attention and esteem would come to them. Paul stays with the human body analogy to show the Corinthians, and all modern-day believers for that matter, how vital each Christian is to the body.
In v. 15 Paul gives the foot a voice and imagines what would happen if the lowly foot got tired of being a foot and wanted to be a hand. He also imagines the ear coveting the abilities and beauty of the eye. If either the foot or the ear began to feel unimportant in their role in the human body Paul imagines what that would do to the body. Notice that the foot (an unattractive and aromatic part of the human body) wants to be a hand (a more attractive and recognizable body part). Notice also that the ear (something rarely noticed on the body) wants to be an eye (usually very noticeable on the human body and containing great beauty). This is a parallel to the body of Christ which also has noticeable Christians in relation to those who are hardly ever noticed for their work. In the same way that that human body would be handicapped without a foot or an ear, so too is the body of Jesus Christ without its more unnoticeable members.
In v. 17 the question is asked as to what would happen if the entire body were an eye. If the whole body could see, then it would have no ability to hear. Likewise, if the whole body consisted of an ear, how would it be able to smell those foul-smelling feet? The answer from the analogy is obvious because the whole idea is preposterous. As the human body is one, though made up of many different and vital parts – each one having its proper function to bring the whole body together as one working piece, so too is the church – the actual body of Christ. The pastor typically gets the most attention. He can be compared to the human eye. But in the same way that the eye cannot make up the whole body, neither can the pastor by himself. He needs some ears, legs, etc. In other words, the pastor, though the most visible part of the local church, cannot make up the body of Christ. All cannot be pastors, elders, and deacons. All cannot lead music, and all cannot make coffee. All cannot lead, and all cannot follow. The body of Jesus Christ, like the human body, is one. Yet, it is made up of different parts with each one having their assigned role as given to them in their spiritual gifts. When each one functions as it is intended to function, the whole thing comes together like a finely tuned and oiled machine.
Food for Thought
If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, where do you fit into His body? The feet take the gospel out (evangelists), the eyes watch over the church (pastors/elders), the arms serve the church (those with the gift of helps who serve the sick/poor), the mouth teaches God’s Word (teachers), the ears hear about the needs of people (encouragement gifts), and the list goes on. If you’re a believer in Christ you have at least one of these gifts, and if you aren’t using it to glorify God, then you’re missing out on a blessing and also depriving the church of your usefulness.
1 Corinthians 12:18-24a… But in the present God has placed each of the members in the body just as he decided. 19 If they were all the same member, where would the body be? 20 So now there are many members, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor in turn can the head say to the foot, “I do not need you.” 22 On the contrary, those members that seem to be weaker are essential, 23 and those members we consider less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less presentable members are clothed with dignity, 24 but our presentable members do not need this.
Christians are the members of Christ’s body. Each one has a God-given purpose in that body to keep the body working properly. God’s gifts given to believers are essentially ministries that each believer is to be involved with. A Christian without a ministry is self-defeating statement akin to saying, “Hi, I’m a Christian atheist.” Each member of Christ’s body has a ministry just as each member of the human body has a function. In the same way that the human body is handicapped when one limb fails to work, so too does the church when believers fail to use their gift(s). The whole body suffers, and vv. 18-19 say this very thing. Notice that it is God who places each Christian in his/her proper place in the church body – “just as He has decided.” To not like our given place in the church or to wish we had another type of gift is to insult God in some sense and to steal our blessing away from serving where we’re called to serve. Because some folks today fail to use their gifts, the ones that do end up picking up the slack. It’s the same thing as when one loses an arm. The load that was once carried by both is now carried by one.
In vv. 21-24 the analogy is given of the eye scorning the hand and of the head scorning the foot. In the body of Christ, the pastor can’t look down on the janitor, and the Sunday School teachers can’t look down on the church administrator. They have differing roles, one with far more prestige than the other, but they each play an important role. Verse 22 explains the friction that exists within the church. Those members who appear to be weaker (janitors, children’s Sunday school teachers, maintenance men, etc.) are “essential” – a word that means “indispensable; cannot do without.” A church cannot function properly without teachers at the lowest level, people who maintain order and cleanliness, and those who administrate. These people, members of Christ’s body, are to be “clothed with greater honor” so that they will be “clothed with dignity.” They may seem unnecessary, but the church cannot live without them any more so than the human body can live without a brain, a liver, or a heart. The outward members that receive most of the credit for ministry are reliant upon the less presentable members who are behind the scenes praying and serving. They, like the liver and heart, are vital instruments in ministry even though they aren’t clothed with great honor. The body can live without eyes and ears, but without a heart or lungs it dies. So it is with Christ’s body. Those with higher positions in the church like pastors & elders, in v. 24, do not need greater honor, for their positions offer that already. Their ministries thrive only when the “weaker” ones do their jobs.
Food for Thought
Remember Apollo 13? That spacecraft was a “successful failure” in that it never made it to the moon, but it came home safely. The ones people remember are the astronauts and the flight director. However, the most important ones were the “grunts” behind the scene working the problems. The most crucial members in churches are the ones that few know about. They’re the ones praying behind the scenes, taking meals to the sick, and keeping the church finances. These are faithful saints who receive little notice, but they are the critical organs of the church.
1 Corinthians 12:24b-26… 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.
When God knit the human body together he hid the vital organs beneath the surface of the skin. The heart, lungs, skeleton, stomach, liver, and the like are hidden. They receive little honor in the human body compared to the outward features of the body. Yet without any one of them the body dies. On the other hand, God has made the human face to be beautiful, straight white teeth that are seen, muscle structure that gets noticed, and eyes that sometimes mesmerize with their beauty. Yet without any of these – even all of these – the body is actually able to function just fine. The outward features get all the glory, and they aren’t even the vital organs for survival. So it is in the church, and even though many long for the more noticeable positions, it is actually the behind-the-scenes jobs and tasks that God has bestowed great honor upon.
Verse 25 teaches that “there should be no division in the body…” Just as God gave the more abundant honor to the body parts that lacked (heart, lungs, etc.), He has also given more abundant honor to the lesser positions of authority in the church – the body of Christ. The reason He did so was to keep division out of the body. The word “division” is “schism,” but it’s clear that in first-century Corinth this wasn’t the case. Divisions clearly existed between various people groups. The earlier schism Paul spoke of concerned the division between those that preferred Paul as their preacher and those who preferred Apollos. Now the division consists of those who prefer one type of spiritual gift over another. Apparently there were bragging rights associated with certain gifts, and the ones who didn’t have the gift of tongues were looked down upon. But God never intended for it to be that way. All the gifts – both the outward gifts and the behind-the-scenes gifts were to come together in perfect harmony. Paul wrote that “the members should have the same care for one another.” Whether they were high-ranking pastors in the Corinthian church or if they were old widows who made bread for Communion, they were to have the same care for one another and bring their gifts together for the common good.
In v. 26 Paul’s analogy of the church and the human body is unmistakable. In the same way that when one breaks an arm or a leg the whole body hurts with it, so too in the Christian church. When one member, whether great or small, suffers or rejoices, the whole body suffers or rejoices right alongside him/her. This is the essence of the true body of Jesus Christ because one cannot conceive of the human body not hurting alongside a wounded member any more so than the body Christ hurting alongside another member that suffers.
Food for Thought
What do you do when someone in your church gets recognized? Do you rejoice, or do you find yourself growing jealous and/or angry? We should spend time rejoicing with those who rejoice instead of growing jealous over their success. After all, their success brings the whole church body success, and ultimately – and far more important – it glorifies Christ. When one member of our church suffers in any way we all suffer in the same way that when our toe hurts our whole body hurts along with it. God composed the body of Christ, the church, and even though some people receive more honor and credit than others, resolve to rejoice when one member succeeds – even if you don’t like that person. Remember that serving Christ has nothing to do with you but has everything to do with Christ Himself and Him glorified.
1 Corinthians 12:27-31… 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.
Verse 27 is a summary statement of what it means to be a Christian – whether in Corinth in the first century or in any present-day Christian church. A believer’s relationship to Jesus Christ is that of being part of his body – “individually members of it.” In v. 28 Paul shows not only that God is the responsible One for creating the diversity in the members of Christ’s body, but he also illustrates what some of that diversity looks like with another list of “charismata.” Notice that it is God who “appoints” (to assign; to place). The first three are in descending order of rank as signified by “first” apostles, “second” prophets, “third” teachers. The apostolic office is obviously first because they are the ones who saw the risen Christ and received His words. The prophets received their words from the Holy Spirit as He gave it, but that word was measured against what the apostles spoke. The final group, “teachers,” are the ones who basically espouse and explain the Word of God as given to the apostles and prophets. Since the Word of God (Bible) is complete in its present form there is no need today for apostles and prophets, but teachers are the ones who guide God’s people through an explanation of God’s written Word.
Verse 28 continues with “then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.” In Paul’s previous list the “gifts of healings” preceded “miracles,” so it’s safe to assume that these gifts are not ranked in order of importance. The fact that “tongues” is listed last signifies that this was the gift that Paul was going to expound on further (as in chapters 13-14). The gifts after “teachers” do not refer to people as in the previous three but refer to the various ministries of the apostles, prophets, and teachers. It is noteworthy that the gifts of miracles and signs (healings?) were exclusively apostolic gifts in 2 Cor. 12:12. Their ability to perform signs and wonders made their message believable. Today we have those testimonies.
The gift of “helps” literally means “to lay hold of; to aid.” It is listed in the NT only once, but as a spiritual gift it refers to those who are passionate about giving to the needs of others and performing acts of mercy. The gift of “administrations” literally refers to a “a pilot; a captain.” Though often mistaken for one who can organize well, this gift is in reference to those who have an extraordinary ability to lead a church. This gift refers to the ability of one who can provide guidance and wise counsel to the community of believers as a whole – not just one or two.
Verses 29-30 rhetorically asks if everyone can serve as apostles, prophets, teachers, work miracles, and perform healings. The obvious answer is NO. This is the whole point. Each person has different gifts, but when they all come together they form the unified church – the Body.
In v. 31 Paul concludes with a command to pursue the greater gifts – those gifts that are intelligible (not tongues) because they build up the church. Tongues only edify the one speaking.
Food for Thought
As believers God has appointed each individual to a task. Each task is about service toward others – ultimately toward God Himself. If He appointed us for such, and if we fail to show up regularly for church and/or fail to serve with our various gift(s), can we really expect His full blessings upon our lives? Stop asking what God can do for you, and start doing for God.