TEXT : 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31
DATE : 17 /07 /2011
So you became a Christian . You were baptised and you became a member of the local church. And then you were “just there” …a little duty performed here and there . Somehow you had never thought of yourself as a gifted and vital member of the church, whose spiritual gift actually makes a difference . You thought that it is elders, deacons and other committed people that make the real difference in the church . On top of all this you had perhaps never quite figured out what your spiritual gift might be , and so you were a member just visible enough to alarm no one , but if the truth be told , you wouldn’t be missed if you quietly disappeared from the church- the body of Christ .
That of course is quite unthinkable when you think about your physical body . The pancreas is an invisible , unassuming organ - a small gland , producing enzymes and hormones which helps break down the foods we eat. One of the most known hormones it produces is insulin. When this little gland fails , your life- your body is immediately at risk !
Today, we want to take time to hear what our text has to say in response to such secret thoughts we may have , as “ My spiritual gift does not matter to the church ” or “ I am not important- the church can get on without me” before we close with a number of important principles and applications .
The primary theological truth of this section is that Christ by His Spirit has fitted us together ( v 12 ,13) . We are Christ’s and we are each other’s .
v. 12 The church of our Lord Jesus Christ may best be described as one body composed of many members. Who is a member ?
v. 13 tells us : “ For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body- Jews or Greeks , slaves or free – and we all were made to drink of one Spirit .” The common experience is baptism ( immersion) in or by the Holy Spirit into Christ , or if you like ‘ conversion’ . It is the conversion experience that makes us one with Christ and one with His body . That is why we should never separate baptism from conversion and from church membership. We are Christ’s and we are one another’s.
Paul looked at this disheveled church at Corinth and he is convinced of this . But is the church- are the individual members of the church convinced of this ? We may have a genuine Christian experience , but our heads are not always in alignment with our hearts in this matter . The Corinthians had a very ‘ me centered’ or self centered approach towards life in the church and towards the gifts that God had sovereignly dispensed among them . The members acted as if they each were the only member of the church . So we see then that from v. 14 onwards Paul deals with this mindset . It seems that church members in Corinth expressed their participation in the body or their lack thereof in two ways :
Vv 14-20 - “ inferiority “ - you don’t need me
Vv 21-27 - “self-sufficiency” - I don’t need you
1. vv 14-20 : “Inferiority “ - you don’t need me
Vv 15-16: 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be 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 cease to be part of the body.
What is the problem with this kind of thinking ? It is feeling inferior to the other gifts or members of the body . “I am a foot . I don’t think that this gift is as significant as being a hand . I am an ear . I don’t feel significant. I think an eye is more significant … therefore you don’t need me .” Therefore there is a lack of willingness to get involved with each other. You think that if you're not like somebody else , you are inferior and you say to yourself – “I’m not good enough “ . This church , this body can get along without me. My gifts are not important. My presence there makes no difference .
If on this account of feeling useless people withdraw their gifts , we need to know that this is felt in the body . The burden falls on the rest. The rest of the body will have to work harder , and therefore may be in danger of becoming exhausted , and if exhausted then irritable and if irritable then in danger of sinning .
This is true of your own body . Say for instance that your right knee is injured and out of action ; the left knee will compensate, but soon that left knee or your back will show signs of strain and degeneration . We weren’t made to walk on one leg alone . We have already seen what the improper functioning of the pancreas or thyroid gland can do to the body .
What is Paul's remedy for this thinking ?
He challenges this sort of thinking with three strong arguments :
(i) vv 15 and 16 : It is not true that your spiritual gift is inferior . Paul argues that if you make such a comparison between your gift and another person’s gift and conclude that yours is inferior , then you are wrong ! There is no such thing as an inferior member in the church . The truth (fact ) is that every part contributes to the whole ! You are a part of the body and therefore you are important .
(ii) vv 17-18 : “Imagine we all had the same gifts ! “ v 17 : If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole were an ear , where would the sense of smell be? The illustration is hilarious and powerful . Imagine all of us had the same gift . That would be the same as saying that the whole body is an eye or an ear . Imagine an eye or an ear coming to church . Imagine we all had the gift of helps – who would teach us ? Imagine that we all only had the gift of administration ! We would organize this church to perfection , but we would never evangelize or do works of mercy ; we would never have anyone to preach and teach or exhort or speak into our lives .
Note how Paul responds to this in v.18: “But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them , just as He wanted them to be. Do you see this ? God has given us the necessary variety of gifts. So , stop arguing about what you have or what you do not have . Put that which you have into practice ! Above all trust that God is sovereign and wise in His design of all the parts of the body. Trust Him to have made no mistake when He gave you your spiritual gift ! And think about this : If you say you are useless, not only do you deny to the idea of the variety of the body, but worse still – you are challenging the wisdom of God , and you are challenging God’s design in your life ! You are actually insulting the God who made you and who has gifted you !
(iii) vv 14 and 19-20 : Feeling useless in the body is opposed to the very concept of the body. Paul shows in that there are many parts to the body . The body is not made up of one part , but many." That's what it means to be a body ! The logic in v.19 is inescapable :”If they were all one part, where would the body be?" In other words, the body would not exist if there were no diversity. If all were one, there would be no body. V. 20 repeats that. The point of verses 14 and 19-20 is that the very existence of the body depends on having a diversity of parts. That's what it means to be a body. You are an essential part of a diversity .
2. Feelings of self sufficiency : “I don’t need you!” ( 21 – 27)
Here Paul addresses the opposite end of the spectrum :
V. 21: "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you'; or again the head cannot say to the feet, 'I have no need of you.'"
V. 22, "On the contrary…” i.e. quite the opposite , I should say that do 'I have need of you'. This is especially important to say to the members of the body which seem to be weaker ! Now that is profound , and a very sensitive way of talking. Paul says they "seem" to be weaker. We must beware of the temptation to feel and think and give the impression that those “who appear weaker” are obsolete or irrelevant . Paul goes further and says in v. 25 that we ought to have equal concern for each other. Life in the human body is like that . And the reason why we need to respect all the members of the body lies in the fact that we must have respect for God’s composition of the body . Vv 24b-25, "God has combined the members of the body."
The weaker or less honourable or the less visible parts of the body are not insignificant , as we have seen in the case of the pancreas ort the thyroid gland . Brothers and sisters , it does not help to have a church that is sound in doctrine , exercising the gifts of teaching , preaching , exhorting and all the speech gifts respectably without having a lot of good deeds and mercy and helps and sound administration accompanying the preached gospel . Don’t despise the so called small gifts . A big door turns on small hinges . A big ship is steered by a small rudder and is driven by a comparatively small propeller . The impression that a church makes on those who are not Christians is more often not made by its preaching , but by its many good deeds in the community . It is of course not the good deeds that will change them , but the gospel ! But a show of good deeds makes many a non Christian want to listen to the gospel without bias .
What is it that you need to hear? Do you still wonder if you have a place or purpose the church?
Then settle these principles in your mind :
1. Nobody is useless in the church ! Every true Christian is needed in the body of Christ!
2. Are you not sure of your gift ? Allow me to remind you again of some tests that you may apply :
· Pray ( ask) God to reveal them to you .
· Study the Scriptures to discover their nature and purpose
· Examine your God given desires in ministry
· Confirm them through ability
· See whether there is blessing following the exercise of your gifts
3. Understand that it is not the visibility of the gift that matters .What matters is that you use your gift faithfully ! Whether you are a foot or hand , eye or ear does not matter . You will be judged by God by how you exercise your gift. It does not matter whether you get attention or not, whether what you do is seen by others. If you possess a higher "higher gift," ( one that gives you more attention) then remember that it is God’s gift through you for the benefit of others . Paul told some of the proud Corinthians in 4:7: "What do you have that you did not receive?" So , don’t exalt yourself . And you with the so called ‘ lesser gifts’ don’t envy those with the higher gifts . They will be held more accountable. Pray for them that they may not fall into error or sin .
4. Consider how freeing this teaching about being gifted members of the church body is. Everyone of you is needed . Everyone is valuable . Those with the so-called lesser gifts no longer have to be burdened with guilt that you do not do more spectacular work. God desires obedience to what you have been given , and not how your gift compares with anyone else. Those of you with the more visible gifts may also know that you were not given your gifts because you are in any way better . You are merely God's servant . When you have exercised your gift, God commends you merely for doing your duty with the gift He has given you. Consider also how freeing this teaching is for the church body. There is no need to show our gifts off ; there is no reason for jealousy or pride. We are all merely doing what God has chosen each of us to do , and if we do it then we also know that what we do , we do in God’s authority and strength , and we know that this will be a blessing to others .
5. Spiritual gifts are grace gifts . Christ has won for us the favor to be used by God. The Holy Spirit gives us all we need to do what we are called to do , and the result is that we can achieve the purpose for which we were made – to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.