1CORINTHIANS 12:12-30 – THE CHURCH: THE BODY OF CHRIST

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015

Paul addresses the Corinthians misuse of gifts by giving teaching about the church as the ‘body’ of Christ. He has already indicated that the gifts are ‘for the common good’ [verse 7] and are from the one source. Now he stresses the unity and inter-dependence of believers and expands on this ‘common good’ purpose of the gifts.

A. BAPTISM INTO THE BODY OF CHRIST - 1Corinthians 12:12-13

Read verses 12,13. Answer these questions:
[1] What does Paul say about the physical body?

 

[2] How does this relate to the Church?

 

[3] What does being baptized by the Spirit do to believers?

 

[4] Which believers are included in this?

 

In 1Corinthians 12:13 baptism by the Spirit is clearly defined. Paul states: ‘For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.’

These verses teach us:

Every member of the body of Christ has been baptized into that body by the Holy Spirit. This means that every genuine believer in Christ has, at the point of entry into the body of Christ, been baptized by [in or with] the Holy Spirit. In fact, the baptism of the Spirit is the mode of entry into the body of Christ. To ask a Christian ‘have you been baptised with the Spirit?’ is the same as asking them if they are a Christian.

There is no basis for distinguishing between Christians on the basis of the baptism of the Spirit, for all believers are baptized by the Spirit.
There is nothing in this passage that suggests a need for this Spirit baptism to be confirmed by the presence of any ‘spiritual gift’. There is nothing to suggest that ‘speaking in tongues’ is the initial evidence of either salvation or Spirit baptism. It simply is not in the passage.

There is no difference between baptism in the Spirit, baptism by the Spirit, and baptism with the Spirit. The Greek preposition en translates as either.

This baptism of the Spirit has happened equally to all, irrespective of who they are, what their prior religious background is, and what their social status is. It, like every work of God, is a great equalizer.

As a companion of, indeed as a central part of its meaning, this baptism into the body of Christ by the Spirit, believers are also ‘all given the one Spirit to drink’ – which speaks of the one Spirit who indwells all believers. This divine indwelling is described at length by Jesus in John 14 to 16, and referred to by Jesus in his prayer in John 17. This twofold mutual indwelling is the deep and simple meaning of Christ’s promise of what would happen when the Holy Spirit was sent from him and the Father: ‘On that day you will know that … you are in me, and I am in you’ [John 14:20].

It is the same spiritual truth that is elsewhere similarly described:

‘You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ [Galatians 3:26-28].

‘Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.’ [Colossians 3:11]

Paul mentions all of this in this context to stress the essential unity and interdependence of believers. Rather than Holy Spirit baptism being a point of division between believers – the haves and the have nots – it is, correctly understood, that which binds all believers together into one body in a relationship of mutual support and dependence. In the context of the Corinthian church, where spiritual gifts had become a point of division and pride within the body of Christ, Paul’s reminder is pertinent.

Optional reading on the church as the body of Christ:
Romans 12:3ff
Ephesians 1:22,23
Ephesians 5:23-30
Colossians 1:18; 2:19


B. THE UNITY AND INTER-DEPENDENCE OF THE PHYSICAL BODY – verses 14-26

Paul now gives a lengthy discussion about the physical body and the way its various parts are all needed for the proper working of the body.

List the significant points Paul makes in the following verses, and suggest how this applies to the Church:
Verse 14:


Verses 15,16:


Verse 17:


Verses 18-20:


Verse 21:


Verses 22-24a:


Verses 24b-25a:


Verse 25b:

Verse 26:

As in the physical body, so in the Church, the body of Christ into which every genuine believer has been baptized:

There is only one body.
It is made up of many different parts.
Just because a part is different, it is not by that difference separate from the body.
Each part is necessary and has its special function.
All of these functions are needed for the proper working of the body.
This diversity of parts and functions is designed by God.
No one part is independent of the other parts.
Those parts of the body considered ‘weak’ or ‘unpresentable’, are given special treatment.
This is God’s design to avoid division in the body, but rather mutual concern.
If one part of the body suffers, every part suffers; if one part rejoices, every part rejoices.


C. PRELIMINARY APPLICATION TO THE MISUSE OF THE GIFTS

1Corinthians 12:11-29 emphasises the unity-in-diversity of the body, and the mutual interdependence of the various parts of the body. In the context of the Corinthian church this is yet another pointed message against their divisions, particularly the divisions and the self-exaltation over spiritual gifts.
Paul has already given a list of gifts in verses 8-12, and now gives two more lists in verses 27 & 28, and 29 & 30. It is obvious that there is no such thing as a set list of ‘spiritual gifts’. Each of these Corinthians lists differs from the others. [They are also different from the lists in Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and 1Peter 4.]

Read the three Corinthians lists of gifts. Make a list of the gifts in each:
1Corinthians 12:8-12     

 


1Corinthians 12:27-28     

 


1Corinthians 12:29-30

 


C.1 The God-appointed order of importance of the gifts – 27,28
In the second list [verses 27,28] Paul specifies the order of importance that God has appointed [this is clear from the Greek text] :

First - protonapostles
Second - deuterosprophets
Third - tritos – teachers
After that – epeitah – miracles
After that – epeitah – gifts of healings, helps, administration and different languages.

Paul is not here just making an arbitrary list in no fixed order, but listing the God appointed order of importance of the gifts he mentions. The teaching gifts – apostle, prophet, and teacher, are ranked first, second and third. What he says in Chapter 14 contrasting the significance of prophecy and speaking in languages bears out this order of importance.

Note that in Paul’s list ‘languages’ ranks lower than even the non-teaching, non-spectacular gifts of helps and administration.

C.2 The God-appointed diversity of gifts – 29,30
Paul makes a definite point that individual people do not have all the gifts, and that there is no gift that is given to every individual. Not one gift is possessed by all the people; and no one person possesses all the gifts.

C.3 Paul’s criticism of his Corinthian readers – 31
The NIV translates the first sentence of verse 31 as a command to eagerly desire the greater gifts. As the NIV footnote indicates, an equally valid translation is a statement of criticism: ‘you are eagerly desiring the greater gifts’.  [In this particular verb the Greek imperative mood [command] is identical to the indicative mood [statement], so translation of this text comes down to interpretation.] Given that Paul has just taught that the gifts are distributed according to the Spirit’s determination [verse 11] and by God’s appointment [verse 28] it seems reasonable to understand that Paul is here in verse 31 rebuking his readers for their wrong attitude to the gifts – for coveting gifts other than those allotted them by God. We should, therefore, follow the NIV footnote, rather than the NIV text in this verse. What follows in the rest of verse 31, and in Chapter 13, supports understanding verse 31 as a statement of criticism.

The single Greek word translated ‘eagerly desire’ can also be translated as being envious or jealous. Its use in the New Testament is about half in terms of a negative covetous attitude [envy, jealousy] and half in terms of a positive desire for something good.

[But even if we take verse 31 as a command, in which case it would mean that we should eagerly desire the gifts God has designated ‘first’, not ‘last’, Paul then states that he will show them something even better than that – so even the ‘greater’ gifts are nothing, compared to the more excellent way he describes in Chapter 13.]