One Spirit, One Baptism, On Body
One Spirit, One Baptism, One Body
1 Corinthians 12:12-31
by William Klock
This morning we’ll continue our look at 1 Corinthians 12. Last Sunday we saw how St. Paul addressed the factions or parties in the Corinthian church. They were taking sides as some of them claimed a greater level of maturity in the Holy Spirit and elevated the gift of tongues over the other gifts. And of course, there was naturally an opposing party that took a defensive position that questioned the gifts of the first group and that tried to squelch the use of at least tongues in response to the first group’s abuse of that gift.
So Paul stepped into the middle of their divisions and reminded them of their unity and stressed that if they wanted to look for the Spirit, they weren’t to look for a particular gift – they were to be looking for a profession. Paul said in verse 3: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” The greatest work of the Holy Spirit happens when he takes a heart at enmity with God and turns it to Jesus Christ. We are one in the Spirit if we have made Jesus our Lord, and yet he reminds them that while we’re all one, the Spirit gifts us diversely. Everybody gets something, but nobody gets everything and everything is given by the Spirit in accordance with his will in order to equip his Church perfectly.
This morning I want to look at the second half of the chapter, starting with verse 12. St. Paul’s still working through the same argument and here he does it with some vivid and profound imagery. Remember from last week: Because of the Spirit’s work we are one in Christ, but diverse in gifting, abilities, and talents. With that in mind, look at verses 12 and 13:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
Paul paints this wonderful image of the Church as a body. Consider your own body. As a human being you’re made up of so many different parts we can’t even list them all, and yet none of them stands alone. In fact, if you cut a part off, it’ll die and if we cut enough parts off, the whole body will die. That’s the human body. And Paul says, just as the body is both many and one, so is Christ.
And then to give the “how to” part of it he takes us back to the language of John the Baptist. Remember, John came to prepare the way for Jesus, proclaiming a message of repentance and offering a pre-Christian baptism as a sign of that repentance. Now John’s message and baptism didn’t save a soul, but it did prepare the people for the coming of Christ who wouldsave them. He said to people, “I’m baptising you with water. My baptism washes the dust and dirt off. It’s symbolic. But the Messiah is coming and he’s going to baptise you with his own Spirit – it’ll be the real deal. His baptism will not only wash the filth of sin from your soul, it will fill you with new life.”
And so Paul picks up John the Baptist’s imagery of baptism. Again, remember the context. A few verses ago Paul said that if we want to know who has the Spirit, we need to look for those people who have made Jesus their Lord. He’s talking about conversion, not, as some of them thought, a later or a second experience. He takes that up again. It’s our baptism in the Holy Spirit that incorporates us into the body of Christ – that makes us one. Again, baptism in the Spirit is our initial experience of the Christian life. It’s that action that takes Jew and Gentile, slave and free, man and woman, rich and poor, and makes us one with Christ and with each other. In that action, Paul says, we all drink of that one Spirit. “Drink” is an understatement. When I think “drink” I think of someone sipping from a cup or a glass, and yet the Greek word Paul uses has agricultural connotations that involve the flooding of a field – like we think of happening with the Nile in Egypt. As a result of our baptism in the Holy Spirit, we don’t just sip at him here and there. No, we get flooded by his life; his power washes over us like a river swollen by spring rains washes over a field. And Paul makes it clear here that this is the privilege of every Christian – this is our new birth into Christ’s body.
And it’s this indwelling and abiding of the Spirit that not only makes us Christians, but that keeps Christians Christian. If we didn’t have the fellowship of our living Lord day by day and minute by minute, every one of us would fall away. We’re not Christians because we’re smarter or more reasonable or intellectual and understand the things of God better. We’re Christians because the Holy Spirit has drawn us and given us understanding and fuels our passion for God – and keeps doing that on an ongoing basis.
Consider what Jesus said in John 14:20 when he described our relationship with him: “You in me, and I in you.” That’s what baptism in the Holy Spirit is. Christ baptises us into his body by his own Spirit: “you in me.” He joins our life to his. He makes himself our source of strength and life. But as we are indwelt by his Spirit – as we drink and are flooded by his Spirit – we find “him in us”. That’s what makes a Christian – the dual ministry of the Spirit, baptising us into Christ’s body, filling us with himself so that we are both “in Christ” and he is “in us”. That’s the mystery and marvel of the Body of Christ – of the Church.
The problem is that not all of us in the Church understand all of this – or maybe we understand it in our heads, but we aren’t living it out. We often end up in one of two errors. Some of us look around and start to feel insignificant. Some of you are here this morning and thinking to yourselves, “I love coming here, but I don’t feel like there’s anything for me to do here or anything I can contribute. I don’t have the gifts or the knowledge that this or that person has.” Well, starting in verse 14, that’s exactly what Paul addresses, because there were people thinking just that in Corinth.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. (1 Corinthians 12:14-16)
What if you were a foot and you looked up at a hand and said, “I can’t do all the things a hand does. I’m not that flexible. I don’t have an opposable big toe. I can wiggle my toes, but I can’t hold things like fingers do. I just can’t do what that hand can do, so I guess I just don’t belong in this body.” That’s ridiculous. The foot’s deceiving itself. But we do the same thing when we say things like, “I can’t preach like the priest. I can’t sing like the choir. I can’t teach like the Sunday School teacher. I can’t evangelise like Bill Hedges. I’m thinking that I’m pretty much worthless to the Body of Christ.” You’re deceiving yourself, just like that foot. You need to start looking at yourself the way God does and see the vital part he’s given you in the body.
There aren’t any unimportant parts in the body. We fall into the trap of thinking we’re unimportant because we have a wrong view of what the Church is. We mistake the Church for a Sunday morning gathering where we come to hear the word proclaimed, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, to pray, to praise God, and to fellowship with each other. We see the people who use their gifts as part of all that and if we’re not directly involved we think, “Well, I don’t have gifts to do those things, so I must be unimportant – I don’t have a part to play in the Church.”
Brother and Sisters, what we do here on Sunday morning, as important as it is, is only a small part of what it means to be the Church. The work of the Church is to take the Gospel message to the world. To share the saving grace of God found in Jesus Christ with the world. To share it in word and deed that the people out there might be delivered from the guilt and misery of sin and find new life through the Spirit of Christ. That’s the work of the Church. Sunday morning here with each other is a pit-stop where we come to be equipped and strengthened so that we can go back out into the world. Sunday morning is when we come to give God thanks and praise for what we’ve seen him do during the past week as we were out doing the work of the Church in the world. It’s only a small part of the Church’s work that goes on here. Most of it should be going on when you leave here – as you go back to non-Christian family members, friends, and co-workers; as you go out to serve the poor and weak and oppressed; and especially for you parents, as you return to the missionfield of your own home as you raise your kids in the love and fear of the Lord. This place is a place of equipping. Some of us have a primary role ministering here, but most of us are going to find our gifts put to work in other places. That’s Paul’s point here. Don’t let yourself be deceived into thinking that because you can’t preach, teach, lead a Bible study, or aren’t musical that you have no part in the body. Paul goes on:
If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? (1 Corinthians 12:7)
I read this week about a youth pastor who made this point by painting a football to look like a giant eye and covered it in some clear gel to make it look nice and slimy. He wrapped it up in a baby blanket and then paraded it around to the kids in his church, cooing to it. “How do you like my baby? Isn’t he cute?” he’d say. And then he’d fold back the blanket the kids would shout, “Oh, gross!” Well, that’s what it would be like if your body were nothing but an eye. The body needs you. If you’re an eye and you remove yourself from ministry, the body can’t see. But you need the body too. If you’re an eye and you remove yourself from the body, you might see a lot, but you won’t be able to do anything about what you see. We need to remember the unity of the body and the fact that God has gifted each of us and placed us here for a reason. Look at verse 18:
But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.
God is sovereign. He knows what he’s doing. That means that wherever and with whomever he’s put you is the place he means for you to do the work of the Church. Again, Paul says:
If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:19-20)
If there’s any question about your significance as a part of the body, this should settle it. God has given you gifts and a place to use them. Don’t deceive yourself into thinking that there’s no place for you. If you have trouble figuring out what you need to be doing, start praying that the Spirit will show you what he wants you to do and ask you friends here to help you see what your gifts are
Put feeling insignificant is only one problem. On the flip side, there are some people who start to feel superior because of their gifting. Paul turns to them in verse 21:
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.”
Paul’s speaking to those people who think that because they have this or that gift, they can get by on their own, but he’s also speaking to the people who compare their gifts to the gifts of others and feel superior – thinking that their gifts are more important or that their gifts are a sign of greater maturity in the Spirit. Both those attitudes are wrong. Look at verses 22 to 24:
On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require.
The human body has some parts that we don’t think much about or that don’t seem very significant, but if you remove them can serious hamper their function. As a preacher I worry about my voice. It’s important to my ability to share my gift, but there’s more than just my voice involved. As I stand here my big toes are at work applying just the right amount of pressure to the floor as they sense my leaning and shifting. If they weren’t there, I’d have trouble standing here. Toes are important.
And St. Paul is saying that the body is like that. We have people here with a gift of helps. They see stuff that needs to be done and they do it. They fix things, they setup, they clean up, they take care of people. That’s what they’re gifted for. And we might say, “Well, they’re nice to have around, but they’re not essential like the preacher or the layreaders or the singers. Or they’re not as spiritual as the person who prophesies or who has a gift of faith.” Hogwash. Think for a minute of what would happen around here if those people were gone. It wouldn’t take long for everything else to fall apart. Pretty soon the preacher, the layreaders, and the singers wouldn’t have a place to use their gifts.
Notice Paul talks about these parts as the ones that “seem” weaker or that we “think” are less honourable. It doesn’t mean that in actuality they are weaker or less honourable – that’s just how we’re prone to thinking of them and in doing that we make a big mistake. Paul compares them to how we treat our private parts. We modestly cover them. And yet that doesn’t mean that they’re weaker or less honourable. We might hide them from the public, but if it weren’t for those parts, none of us would be here! There are parts of the body of Christ that are often away from public view, not because they’re bad or ugly, but simply because they’re the parts who work behind the scenes – and often because the bearers of those gifts are happy to exercise their gifts without calling attention to themselves.
I think of the many people who have a ministry of prayer for the Church. The people who, when I get up at six in the morning, have already been up for three or four hours so that they can put in four or five hours of prayer before they have to get to the rest of the day’s work. I think of some of the elderly shut-in’s I’ve known over the years who rarely made it to church, but who spent many hours every day in prayer. It’s often the case that very few people know about their ministry, and yet it’s there and it’s powerful and it’s essential and God gives it immense honour. Paul says:
But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. (1 Corinthians 12:24b-25)
This is the idea that we need to grasp if we ever want to start seeing the Church as God sees it and start caring for every member the way God does. If this is how you see the Church, you can never say that one gift is more important or more essential than another. The Church doesn’t operate on foolish worldly “wisdom”. What man dishonours, God lifts up to the highest place. His desire is to have us all functioning as a unified whole, just as our own bodies are made up of so many parts that each contribute their part to a harmonious whole. God has brought us together; we need to show love and respect and honour to each other. He says:
If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.(1 Corinthians 12:26)
Notice that Paul doesn’t say that we should all suffer or that we all should be honoured. He says we do suffer and we are honoured with our brothers and sisters. When one of us stumbles and falls into public sin, we all suffer for it.
The reverse is true too. If one of us is honoured, we’re all honoured. As each one of us reaches out and touches others for Christ, we are all blessed by that action. One of my greatest prayers for the Church is that we would all grow in love for each other, in holiness, and in sound doctrine so that our testimony in the community would be increasingly pure, beautiful, and attractive to unbelievers. That is my number one daily prayer for us. Our desire should be that Christ is honoured in us. That means that the responsibility for the reputation of the body of Christ rests with every one of us, and how we act is going to govern how others see the body of Christ at work in the world. We belong together and we suffer together.
In closing, Paul returns to his main point:
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12:27)
Again, the Spirit gives us amazing diversity, but he does it as he makes us one in Christ.
And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. [There’s the diversity again, and yet we need to remember:] Are all apostles? [No.] Are all prophets? [No.] Are all teachers? [No.] Do all work miracles? [No.] Do all possess gifts of healing? [No.] Do all speak with tongues? [No.] Do all interpret? [No.] (1 Corinthians 12:28)
No one has all the gifts and for that reason no one can be the Church all by himself. Paul’s point is that God has established his Church in such a way that we all need each other. None of us has any business looking down on a brother or sister because their gifts differ from ours. And none of us has any business thining we’re any better than anyone else because we have a certain gift. Remember from last week that these are gifts of grace – and the point of grace is that we don’t deserve it. But by the same token, consider that when any one of us absents him- or herself from the body, we’re forgetting that God has put us each here for a reason and gifted us to meet the needs of the body. If you’re not here and if you’re not working with your brothers and sisters, you’re leaving a hole that makes the body less effective in doing the things that God has called us to do.
He closes in verse 31 saying:
But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
It struck me this week as I was studying that he addresses these words not to any one individual, but to the Church as a whole. The verb is plural, not singular. “You guys – the body of Christ – desire the higher gifts.” It has to do with our ministry. Brothers and sisters, he’s talking to us. As a people our desire should be to take ownership of the gifts God has given to each of us and to use them to the fullest. In his sovereignty, God has given us the people and the gifts he wants us to use here, but we can also be confident that as we are faithful in using the gifts he has given, he will grow his Church. And as we grow, he will gift us with new people who have new gifts and new passions for ministry. I’m reminded of Jesus’ parable of the talents. We need to be faithful with the small things he has given to us and as we are faithful, we can be confident that he will entrust us with greater things. So let us work in such a way that we, as Christ’s body, will one day hear those wonderful words from our master: “Well done, good and faithful servants….Enter into the joy of your master.”
Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, thank you for baptising each of us in your Spirit and making us a part of Christ’s body. Thank you for gifting each of us. Teach us all how and where to best use the gifts you’ve given and teach us all to value the ministry of our brothers and sisters. Keep us faithful in your service that might be effective in building and growing your kingdom. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.