Click here to listen to this sermon.

Read 1 Corinthians 12

Wednesday, we did a little experiment in the Junior High Class. We began by labeling ourselves. “What do you do very well? What’s your gift?” I asked each of them. They gave all sorts of good responses: music, video games, creative arts, sports, hobbies. After that I asked them to argue why their giftedness was the greatest, most important, best of all. They did a good job. They made some outstanding arguments for why their gift was most important. They were subtle about it too: “Well, if it weren’t for my gift, then none of the others could exist.” And so on. We had a lot of fun. Yes, a lot of fun trying to outdo each other.

What we did in the Junior High Class for fun and education is what one church really did. And they were serious about it. This church had the habit of assessing church members on the basis of their talents and spiritual abilities. They were subtle. They claimed that this was nothing more than spiritual growth and maturity. They claimed that certain manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the form of a particular gift, say preaching or spiritual utterance or miraculous gifts of healing, was the peak of spiritual growth and favor with God. Of course they couldn’t agree on what particular gift was the peak of the mountain and that led to some serious argumentation and disagreement. You know the church – it was the church in Corinth.

For that reason and many others Corinth had become a mess. It was bad enough that some of the members of the Corinthian church sent messages to the apostle Paul. They asked him to give a lesson on a number of issues. Some of them probably want him to take their side so that they’ll have leverage over the other factions. Well Paul obliges, but he addresses the whole business of conflict and how they are mishandling it. In fact, every time Paul address one of the church issues that they have asked about, he answers it by demonstrating that unity in Christ is their only way of resolving the issue.

This is what the “body language” of 1 Corinthians 12 is all about. They have brought their debate about spiritual gifts to Paul and he has taken up the subject.
First, rather than picking out certain gifts, Paul affirms that there are many gifts and then points to the source: God is the source of all spiritual gifts. Different gifts, but the same God. Different kinds of service and ministry, but the same Spirit empowers them all.

Second, he follows this logic about unity and points out that if the same God and Spirit gives all the gifts, then we are all connected. And if we are all connected in this way, then the gifts are for the common good and not just for individual fulfillment. We are different parts or members, but we are the same body.

So this is where the body language comes in: Paul leaves it to them to classify the gifts any way they please. They can argue until doomsday about what gift is best, but they have to accept that they are connected to each other by the source of these gifts. And so it doesn’t matter whether they consider a particular gift to be up the scale or down the scale, they have to acknowledge that they must respect each other because God is the source of all works and gifts and he distributes them how he pleases.

The logic and the body language description does two things to their logic of division and arrogant superiority and the way it effects all of them:

  1. It upsets any notion that an individual gift is the only gift worthy of a real Christian. The body isn’t a single member. A human body isn’t all eyes or ears or foot. So everyone in the body of Christ isn’t equipped with the same spiritual gift. This is the message to those who would be so independent and individualistic with their giftedness in God’s Spirit that they would so far as to say, well if you don’t have this gift then you aren’t really part of the church.
  2. It dispels any notion that someone is less of member because they lack a few certain spiritual gifts. If God is the source of the gifts, then no one can say they don’t really matter. The body needs all of its members to function in a healthy way.

We are Christ’s people and we are bound to Christ and thus to one another by God’s Holy Spirit.

At the end of our little experiment in the Junior High Class we did one more thing after we read the Scripture that is our text for today. We grouped together and this time everyone had to explain how they with their particular gift needed the other gifts. I thought they were good at trying to argue for their superiority. They weren’t half as good as they were at describing their interdependence and connectedness. The difference may have been that they really believed in the unity they were describing. They showed me that they were pretty good at being “the body of Christ.”

May the one God who has equipped us through the same Spirit enable us to excel in unity.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 22 April 2007

 Link to next sermon

 Link to other sermons of Chris Benjamin