The Body Is Many Members
Text: 1 Cor. 12:11-31
One and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many…
One of the most important lessons you can learn in life is this: everybody’s weird.
It’s true. Everybody’s weird. Most of us think that a lot of people are weird. Other people. You know, those people. We wonder how it can be that they are so weird. Why don’t they understand our point of view. It is, after all, the normal one. But the thing is, we all think this. We all start off by looking at ourselves as the center, the norm, and then defining everyone else by how they measure up. But we all do this, and so really, what this means is that everyone’s weird.
Within the church, it just gets weirder. Since the gospel is both foolishness to the Gentiles and a stumbling block to the Jews, Christians are weird by definition. If you think about the Biblical narrative of the covenant, modern people can’t help but think it’s weird. After all, some ancient covenant with Abraham developed into the kingdom of Israel, and then, a thousand years down the road, a traveling Jewish rabbi laid claim to that throne and was crucified, and this is what saves the whole world. That’s pretty weird.
So, weird is normal for the church at least. It shouldn’t bother us one bit. Now, we don’t need to try to be even weirder than weird. We don’t need to add up all of the weird things we can do to express ourselves. That’s unnecessary and not too smart. We’re weird all on our own. But for precisely that reason we shouldn’t be worried or disturbed if we look a bit weird to the world. Yes, we do look weird. Because we are weird. That’s normal.
This is important for the local church. As we are told in our Scripture passage, God does not want all of the members of the church to be alike. He wants us to be different. And he has made us different. He has given us different gifts so that we can be different parts of the body. Our sinful fleshly instinct is to see this difference as a problem. Why don’t we have more affluent, sophisticated, or charming people? Why don’t we have more people like me? But in our lesson this morning, Paul point us in the opposite direction. Just as the body has different members and different kinds of members, so too the church has different members with different appearances, different talents, and different purposes. This is good! We must see ourselves as different parts, working together, making up one body, the body of Christ.
Diversity is good
As we mentioned last week, chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians begins a section on spiritual gifts. Now we have to remind ourselves that Paul isn’t writing a systematic theology. This wasn’t originally “the spiritual gifts section” of the letter. No, Paul is addressing real life in the church at Corinth. This new section is really just more of what he’s already been dealing with. They’ve had to deal with spiritual elitism and favoritism, anarchic living, and liturgical chaos. The spiritual gifts were just one more element of their confusion and division.
So we do not see Paul defining spiritual gifts here. He doesn’t make a big theological argument for them. He simply notes that the spiritual gifts were being given to the Corinthians and then tells them how to get along with each other as they use them. And so his main point is that spiritual diversity is good. “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ… For in fact the body is not one member but many” (1 Cor. 12:12, 14).
This is not the only place where Paul speaks of the church as a body, even if it is the most famous. He often uses “body” as a metaphor for a social group. In fact, the “body politic” was a common place of classical thought, as it continued to be in the Middle Ages. We still have some of this today, with the Marine Corp and even the concept of a corporation. Corporations are people who have joined together to form a larger whole. The Latin word corpus, from which corporation comes, simply means body.
For Paul, the church is a body. It is Christ’s body. This is perfectly compatible with the church also being the bride of Christ, for as we learned Genesis 2, man and woman are bone of bone, flesh of flesh.
Paul then takes this metaphor and runs with it. The church is a body, so it has feet, hands, eyes, and a nose. When we think about it this way, the idea that diversity is good is rather obvious. “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?” (1 Cor. 12:17). That’s a pretty funny image if you think about it. Imagine someone whose face is covered with noses. Of course we don’t want a whole body full of the same members!
So diversity is good. Just like we need diverse parts in our human body, we need diverse parts in our spiritual body. The church needs people with different gifts, and it needs those people to use those gifts together for the shared purpose of life together in Christ.
Honor the Weaker Members
At this point Paul gets even a little bit weirder. Still talking about body parts, he says:
But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. (1 Cor. 10:20-26)
The big picture is easy enough. The diverse body should still live in unity. Get along with people who are different from you. But Paul really pushes the envelope here. He starts off with eyes, hands, and feet, but then he singles out “those members of the body which seem to be weaker” and even “those members of the body which we think to be less honorable… our unpresentable parts.” We don’t want to be crude here, but Paul is in fact talking about private parts. Our human bodies have parts which we understand are not “presentable” and so those parts have “greater modesty.”
No why in the world does Paul bring that up? As I said, we want to be careful with our rhetoric. He is not drawing a direct parallel. You don’t have to try to find any sort of exact match. But, you can see that he’s making a general point. There are parts of the body which we think are really worth showing off, and there are other parts which are the opposite, which we conceal. But this is not because we think those parts are “bad.” No, we cover them in modesty because they deserve honor. “But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it” (vs. 24). Modesty is not shame. Modesty is honor.
And so something similar is going on in the church. We should be sure to show honor to those members which we might be tempted to think of as weaker members. We should not live in “schism” with those members who appear to us weak or difficult. Instead, we should “have the same care for one another.” We need to love each other equally, even as we acknowledge our difference. In fact, we need to see the strengths in our different gifts, and we need to respect and esteem other people’s gifts.
We should live as one body. As we have said before, we need to share things in the church. We need to share our material goods. We do this through tithes and offerings, as well as other forms of gifts. We should also share our spiritual gifts. Use them for one another. And we should share our lives, both our success and our struggles. “If one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” Or, as Paul puts it in Romans 12:
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. (Rom. 12:15-16)
This needs to be our rule for life in the church. Share. Share your gifts. Share your griefs. Share your life together in the body.
Desire the Best Stuff
This chapter ends with Paul running off a list of various church offices and showing how not everyone holds those offices equally. But really the chapter doesn’t end there. Paul says:
Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way. (1 cor. 12:29-31)
What are these best gifts? What is the more excellent way? To find out, you have to read the next chapter, and that chapter is the famous “love chapter.” You’ve all heard it, or at least key parts of it. “Love is patient, love is kind…” I am not going to get into that today. After all, we have to save something for next week.
But what I would like to point out is that Paul is moving to love at just the right time. He’s moving to love because he’s trying to help support what he’s said, that we have to love weird people. We have to be able to celebrate with people when they succeed, and we have to be able to suffer with them when they suffer, and believe it or not, this is really really hard.
It’s hard to celebrate when other people do well because we are sinners. We are all basically selfish, and that means we always covet. We don’t want other people to win because we want to win. Now sure, we’re not always total jerks like this. We can celebrate when our friends win. But when people we don’t like all that much are blessed—then we get irritated. We jump to how the blessing isn’t really a blessing. It’s an excess. A vanity. Or it was undeserved. We get mad. We get bitter. And then we die a little inside. This is sin.
And it’s hard to suffer with those who suffer. It’s hard because suffering people are miserable. They are hurting, and hurt people very often hurt people. Even if they are kind, it takes a lot out of you to be around people who are suffering. It makes you sad. It zaps your emotional strength. It’s a huge sacrifice.
Strong people, or people who think they are strong, will have to fight to love the weak. And you know what, weak people, or people who think they are weak, will have to fight to love the strong! Rich people can look down their nose at poor people, assuming that they are lazy or suffering the just consequences of previous life choices. And poor people can return the favor, thinking that anyone who is rich is a snob, doesn’t know what it’s like to struggle, and is inherently proud and mean. Both sides do have their sins, but both sides also love to see sins in the other. And so both sides need to repent of their own sins and work to love the other.
The only way you can do this is if you believe the gospel. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). We were actively offensive to God, and He still loved us. He loved us so much that He took the loss so that we might be forgiven and saved. He loved us, and so we must love each other.
You muse see the image of God in the face of your neighbor, even if you don’t always like them. You must remember Christ’s calling to love them as yourself. And so as you struggle to see God’s face in their face, you should also try to see your face in their face. You must love them, and if that’s hard, then that’s the point. It’s a sacrifice. It’s a cross. Yet it’s the way of Christ.
And so we must share. We must share our gifts, and we must share our graces. We have to see what sort of gift we have, and we need to do that at this very moment, and then we need to give it to the whole body. After all, it really does not belong to us. It belongs to the whole body. The apostle Peter puts it this way, “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10).
Your gift is the grace of God, and it has been given to you in order for you to be a steward. You must oversee it. You must supervise it. But you must do this knowing that it’s not really yours. It’s God’s first, and He is giving it to you in order to give it to the church. He does this so that you will “minister it to one another.”
And so, the more excellent way is love. Sharing your gifts, whatever they are, with one another—with the whole body of Christ—that is the best gift of all. That’s what Paul is calling us to do. And so that is what we must do.
The body is many members. We are all different. We are all weird. We are all gifted. Let us love our gifts, and let us love one another. We do that by giving our gifts to one another in order to minister to the body of Christ.
Let us pray.