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Feb 19, 2012

Body Worship

Passage: 1 Corinthians 12:1-31

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Objects for Worship--1 Corinthians 8-14

Category: Life Together

Keywords: spiritual gifts, body of christ, church


God says every single believer in Christ has at least one spiritual gift. Why is it then that so many people are practically speaking non-functional with their gifts and a select few with just a few of the gifts seem to monopolize Christian worship in church? So what can be done about that?


Body Worship

I Corinthians 12—February 19, 2012


At my Dad’s funeral about 2 years ago, most of my extended family was there to celebrate his 97 ½ years of life.  At the memorial service, several family members shared some of the memories we have of Dad.  When my middle sister got up to share, the first words out of her mouth were, “Hello, I’m the middle daughter, and I’m the black sheep of the family.” 

It suddenly struck me that, while I have no memory of anyone in the family ever referring to her in those terms, that is the label she had hung around her neck for the past 45 years.  Yes, she had been a bit rebellious in her younger years, but, as she went on to say, one of the tremendous qualities my father had showered on every one of his family members was an unconditional love that he never stopped expressing towards every one of us no matter what mistakes we made along the way. 


So when it comes to the family of God, the church, your brothers and sisters in Christ with whom you will share both this life and forever, how do you see yourself?  What label do you hang around your own neck?  If you had to identify yourself by who you are in God’s family, what would you say? 

It’s relatively easy when you are a pastor:  “Hello. I’m John and I’m a teaching pastor in the church.” But if you were asked to introduce yourself to someone here this morning based upon your place in God’s family, in His Body, the church, what would you say?  “Hi, I’m Bill, and I’m the one who keeps that chair, second row, 8th in from the middle, tacked down and steady on the floor for an hour and a half most Sundays.”  Unfortunately, that is, at least in the American church, the only way far too many of God’s children feel about their role in God’s family.  “I’m the bump on that log over there.”  “I’m the woman who parks in lot 4, place 96.” 

In I Cor. 12, Paul introduces the Corinthian church to some identifying language and roles that can help us find God’s place for us in His family.  He uses the metaphor of the BODY.  And in today’s text, he explains more fully than any other place in Scripture the different roles different Christians in a church have in the visible expression of Jesus Christ through the church. 


So open your Bibles and let’s begin by reading the passage today starting in I Cor. 12:1. 

1 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3 Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

What is this first paragraph really all about?  I don’t think Paul is talking about some formula or confessional test for discerning between true and false spiritual gifts.  I don’t think he is providing a magic statement that can help us determine whether someone is speaking in tongues under the influence of the Holy Spirit or whether they are engaging in some sort of ecstatic utterance under the influence of demons. 

The Holy Spirit is referred to both in verse 1 and 3.  And in verse 3 the focus is clearly upon the contrast between what those who have the Holy Spirit (i.e. Christians) say about Jesus, and what those who do not have the Holy Spirit (unbelievers, whether Jews or Gentiles) say about Jesus.  The issue here is first, do you have the Holy Spirit (and therefore proclaim him as your Lord) or do you not have the Holy Spirit (and possibly curse against him)? 

            In Romans 8:9-10 Paul makes it very clear that either you have the Spirit of God in you as a believer in Jesus Christ OR you don’t have the Spirit because you have not trusted Christ by faith. 

            “And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.”

            The following discussion on the gifts the Holy Spirit gives to every believer is meaningless if you first haven’t settled the matter of surrender to Jesus and faith in Him. There will be no spiritual gifts if there is no resident Holy Spirit.  (Call to faith in Christ.)


Let’s move on.  I Cor. 12:4ff--4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.


Notice the allusion to the Trinity here—“same Spirit…same Lord…same God at work”?   

  • The Spirit gives different “gifts” (charismata)
  • The Lord Jesus gives or leads us into different kinds of “service” (diakoniai—from same root where we get “deacon” or “one who serves”)
  • God the Father gives different “workings” (energemata—gives emphasis to the power behind the gift more than the gift itself.)

This is really the full range of what we call the spiritual gift experience:  different gifts that express themselves in different service that are energized and moved by different empowering.  But all is accomplished by the same Spirit.

Let’s move on.  Vs. 7-- 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

Notice what God’s word says.

1.)    First, each believer is given some gift-manifestation of the Spirit.  We can’t claim that one gift manifests the Spirit more than another.  (We’ll get to the list of gifts Paul gives in a moment.)  What this means is that my gifts as a pastor don’t make the Holy Spirit any more evident than, say, your gift as someone involved serving or counseling or practicing hospitality or praying for miracles.  When I don’t teach or preach, you can’t experience the Holy Spirit coming through my life.  When you don’t exhort or challenge, serve or display mercy, give or work miracles, none of the rest of us get to experience the Holy Spirit manifested through you either.

2.)    Second, this “manifestation of the Spirit” in the form of gifts, service and workings/energizing is to be something that shows/manifests the Spirit.  The presence of spiritual gifts in our lives, the way those gifts serve God’s church and the empowering God gives for them to bless others is all a powerful evidence of the Holy Spirit in a life and in the church. 

3.)    This work of God in and through us is “for the common good.”  Gifts are not about making ME or YOU look good and spiritual; they are about making the body of Christ, the church, BE good…BE better…BE built up.


Now Paul expands on these points in vss. 8-30.  The first one (everyone has a gift) is addressed in vss. 8-11 and the third (how they are to benefit the whole body of Christ) is dealt with in vss. 12-30. 

In vss. 8-11 we have a list of gifts. 

8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

Now go to the end of this chapter, vs. 28.  28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.

Notice that neither of these is a complete list.  In fact, of the 5 different N.T. passages that talk about spiritual gifts, none of them agree exactly.  Some are longer, like this one.  Some are shorter, as in I Peter 4:11.  Here’s how they break out in each passage.  [See chart.]


In this passage we have 9 of the 20 or 21 gifts mentioned in Scripture (depending on whether you treat the last 2 in Eph. 4:11 as 1 or 2).  That would seem to clearly indicate a couple of things:  1.) Nowhere do we have a complete, exhaustive list of the gifts.  So it is, I think, equally safe to say that there are more gifts than are mentioned in the combined list of 20/21. 

2.) Secondly, the order of the gifts varies significantly.  So you really can’t say that any one gift is more important than another or superior to another.  If anything, the gifts that the Corinthians seem to have had a real affection for and tendency to exalt, tongues, is placed last.  Paul seems to be downplaying that which they had a tendency to overplay. 

3.) Thirdly, there is an amazing mixture of types of gifts.  Some look very supernatural, others more ordinary.  Some are spectacular while others appear plain.  But nowhere does God (or Paul) differentiate.  They are ALL important, all of God, all for the building up of the church. 


Time does not allow us to focus on what each gift is or does.  Paul doesn’t focus there either.  His intent does not seem to be to hold a “gifts-discovery class” for the Corinthians.  They didn’t seem to need to be encouraged to “discover their gift.”  There were no “gift assessment tools” in use.

            I don’t mean to disparage those.  They can be helpful.  But I’ve found that they are usually most helpful in confirming what you and others already have a hunch about when it comes to where and how God wants to use you to build up the church.  THE most effective means of “discovering” a gift is to actually DO a variety of ministries and see where you and those around you sense God using you to bless the church. 


ILL:  Trying to figure out what spiritual gift(s) you might have without rolling up your sleeves and getting to work in God’s family is a bit like sitting around at your birthday trying to figure out what it is people have given you without taking off the wrapping paper!  It may be fun for a while to sit around and guess, but neither you nor anyone else is going to be very blessed by those gifts as long as they stay in the box. 


So let me simply ask, “Is there any particular gift or gifts in this list about which you want to get a better working definition?”  If so, we’ll take a couple of minutes to talk about it.  If not, we’ll move along. 

  • Apostles:  either the 13 (12 + Paul) or those who founded the church through their ministry.  (Epaphroditus—Phil. 2:25; 2 Cor. 8:22-23; Rm. 16:7; false apostles—2 Cor. 11:13).  The word “first” indicates order of appearance in the life of the church.  This tends to lead to the notion that the Apostles laid the foundation of the church and passed off the scene.
  • Prophets:  Wayne Grudem defines it as “the reception and subsequent transmission of spontaneous, divinely originating revelation.”  In simpler terms we might say it is “a message from God given to people.

 I would hold that the N.T. prophet and prophecy is treated differently (not as authoritatively) as the O.T. prophets and prophecy. 

1.) N.T. prophets were to have their prophecies weighed and “evaluated” [diakrino] (I cor. 14:29; I Thess. 5:19-21). 

2.) Their authority was placed under Paul’s (14:37-38).

3.) Early church Fathers didn’t believe that prophecy died with the Apostles [D.A. Carson, Showing The Spirit, p. 96]. 

4.) Paul had to encourage some churches not to treat prophecies with contempt (I Thess. 5:20) and to elevate the cause of prophecy above that of tongues (I Cot. 14).  This indicates that the church did not see or treat N.T. prophecies with the same authority as O.T. prophets or prophecies. 

5.)Some prophecies in Acts were viewed as genuinely from God yet having something less than the authority status of an Old Testament prophecy (Acts 21:4, 10-11; 11:28). 

6.) Paul encouraged women to pray and prophesy in public under certain constraints (I Cor. 11) while forbidding them to exercise an authoritative teaching role over men (I Tim. 2:11ff) or to evaluate the content of the prophecies (I Cor. 14:33b-36). 

  • Teachers:  mature Christians who instructed others in the proper interpretation of the Word of God and the Christian faith.
  • Message of wisdom:  It’s never described or defined.  Difficult to delineate from “message of knowledge.”  Paul doesn’t seem to recognize a dichotomy between knowledge and wisdom.  Wisdom can be doctrinal (2:6ff) and thus the word of wisdom could be the fundamental message of Christianity.  Knowledge can be very practical (8:10-11).  The emphasis seems to be on the “message” (the logos, 1:18), not the “knowledge” or “wisdom.”
  • Message of knowledge:  (See above)
  • Faith:  the grace to trust God for things for which there is no specific promise in Scripture.
  • Gifts of healings:  (vss. 28, 29) the plural strongly suggests that there were different gifts of healings; grace to heal certain types or varieties of diseases. 
  • Miraculous powers:  literally “workings of powers.”  Plural. Exorcisms, displays of power in nature.
  • Distinguishing between spirits:  ability to distinguish when something is of the demonic realm or divine realm.  Displays of power do not in themselves attest to the power of the Holy Spirit. 
  • Those able to help others:  (antilempseis—a hapaxlagomina)  a general term for all kinds of assistance.
  • Gifts of administration:  (kyberneseis)—used of plotting or steering a ship
  • Tongues:  languages.  Tongues in Acts occure only in groups, are not said to recur, are public, and may serve various purposes of attestation.  Tongues in I Cor. Fall to the individual, may be used in private, must be translated if in public, and serve no purpose of attestation. 
  • Interpretation of Tongues

I Cor. 12:12ff

Now we come to one of the New Testament’s most powerful discussions of what God’s people are to be like and experience as the Church.  Paul is going to introduce the metaphor of the church being like a human body.  It is a metaphor that he uses also in writing to the churches of Rome, Ephesus and Colossae (Rm. 12:4-6; Eph. 4; Col 1:22, 2:18-20, 3:14-16).

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

            Paul is not unique in his choice of this body metaphor.  There are plenty of examples of this in the ancient world.  But its use here is particularly interesting since there was a temple in Corinth called The Asclepion that archeologists have excavated.  

The Asclepion was a place where people came to be healed of their diseases and the complex included temples, dining rooms, bathing facilities, dormitories, and other structures.  Asklepios was actually a deified Greek physician and the symbol of Asklepios is an entwined snake (the same as the modern medical symbol). 

Archeologists unearthed a huge number of ceramic body parts that were given in worship at this temple—arms, heads, hands, feet, eyes, etc.  These were the afflicted body parts of people seeking healing. 

But Paul calls on God’s people to be very different.  Instead of lifeless, sick, divided and dismembered body parts, we are all part of a very life-filled, connected and dynamic body. And not just any body but the Body of Christ himself—living, breathing, moving and ministering in this world.

The really surprising phrase in this paragraph is at the end of verse 12.  Rather than describing the church as a body and then saying, “So it is with the church,” Paul says, “So it is with Christ.”  By saying this, he tells us that the church is, clearly, Christ in the world today. 

This was a truth God had impressed upon him from the very moment of his conversion.  Remember when he was on his way to destroy the church in Damascus by arresting, imprisoning and killing the Damascus Christians, that God met him in blinding light, knocked him off his donkey and directed an indicting question to him by asking, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  Jesus didn’t say, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute my church?”  No, Jesus identified himself very directly with his church in the world. 


APP:  Do we really grasp the immensity of this truth?  When people say, “Show me your Jesus and then I’ll believe,” God wants to be able to say, “Fine, take a look at my church.”  Jesus told his followers just before he died in John 14:12, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”  We are to be the living, breathing embodiment of Christ in this world, for this generation.  This is one of the reason I reject the notion that certain or all of the spiritual gifts listed here and in the N.T. have ceased.  I don’t think the miraculous has ceased.  I don’t think healings have ceased.  Jesus said, “WHOEVER believes in me will do the works I have been doing…and even greater things than these….” 

            The problem is not that God has somehow ceased doing amazing things with and in people; it is that we, the church, have stopped doing them in Jesus name.  We have stopped testifying to his power.  We have stopped praying over people.  We have stopped giving ourselves, our time and our lives to make the gospel known in word and deed among people needing Christ. 

            Let’s be honest.  It’s a lot more comfortable not to move outside our comfort zone to confront the powers of darkness in the most needy, pagan, godless places of our culture. It’s much more comfortable to get in our cars, go to a comfortable place our culture calls “a church,” say hello to a few people we know, sit and enjoy nice music and a not-too-boring speaker, go home in about an hour and pick up life (or the remote) where we left off.

Church life at Mosaic may be no different.  We’re only expressing more of Christ IF we do what Christ would be doing downtown here if he were living in Spokane today. Otherwise, we might as well “do church” in a more comfortable suburban setting.

But this core of Spokane is a place of great darkness that needs people to boldly bring the light of Christ.  Every building here needs a church, the physical presence of Christ through children of God—a living, praying, caring, ministering, helping, preaching and teaching body of Christ. 

What a difference it would mean in this city if every residential building here had a vibrant, pulsating, life-changing Bible study group that saw their building as their mission field, every neighbor as souls needing Jesus, hell-bound without Christ.  The body of Christ in this city can be THE most significant force for good…IF we will live and worship and serve together as this passage talks about. 


Vs. 13--This passage says that we who love Christ “were all baptized by one Spirit into one body” and “we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”  This is one verse that clearly teaches that everyone who is truly “in Christ” by faith in Him has been “baptized by/in the Spirit.”  You don’t have to wonder about that.  You have the same person of the godhead living in you who raised Jesus from the dead, did miracles throughout human history and wants to do “even greater things” than what Jesus did while here on earth 2,000 years ago. 


The remaining 12 verses are pretty self-explanatory.  Let’s read them and we’ll simply try to apply them

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being 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 stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

Here’s the first problem we often see in the church:  people thinking that because they don’t have a certain gift, ability or role, there’s really no point for them to get involved.  This is a classic “spiritual inferiority complex.”   We look around God’s family, at certain people in the church who are gifted in a way that we think we are not, and conclude that our presence is really extraneous. We’re not needed.  If we drop out, things are going to be just fine.  WRONG!

ILL:   I feel this every time I get together with a group of pastors.  They start talking about all the amazing things God is doing in their congregation.  Some of these men are brilliant beyond belief.  Others have amazing senses of humor that keep people laughing every service. Some ooze with leadership gifts. Others are seeing people come to Christ every week in their services.  Wow, I wish I either “had the gift” or used what I have better.

            You ever feel like that in the church?  I’ll bet you do.  And the tragedy is, I think we who are “pastors” are probably most guilty of designing church in such a way that makes far too many people feel inferior.  That’s what vss. 21-26 are about.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

            Perhaps we’ve heard this passage so many times that it doesn’t even bother us any more that most churches and most of our experiences in churches don’t look anything like what Paul describes here as the normal church life. 

            Now we wouldn’t come right out and say, “Because you don’t have the gift of preaching or teaching, I don’t need you.”  BUT look at what is the center of focus in just about every church in this town…including Mosaic…every Sunday morning:  preaching.  We wouldn’t stand at the door and tell you, “Hey, if you’re not a preacher or musician, sit in the back.”  But by where we focus our time and how we structure worship services around music and preaching, what do we make it look like are the most important people and gifts around here?  (I’m not picking on musicians or even myself today.  But I am asking us to look critically at what we nowadays call “church” and “church service.”  How many people in a “church service” actually “serve”?

            According to this passage, “those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” REALLY?  Would we actually know that by the way we so often “do church.”  We give a very few, selected number of people the opportunity to do something and ask the rest to sit, watch, listen and otherwise be quiet. 

How do you see the church giving greater honor to those in the body who may not seem to garner a lot of “honor”???  We’ve really turned God’s word here on its head, haven’t we?  Maybe that’s why the church isn’t that powerful anymore:  we’re just not living out the body-life God says we should be. 

Paul goes on.   “And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment.”  How dare Paul talk about the “unpresentable” parts of the church?  Now he’s taking this metaphor of the body too far!  Unpresentable parts?  What could that possibly be referring to? 

There’s a brother in the church who has said to some of us on various occasions, “I think I’m the colon in the body of Christ.”  Now there’s an “unpresentable” part!  J  This brother sees  part of his responsibility in the body as being that of “flushing out” the spiritually smelly waste and excrement that seems to accumulate in people’s lives and in the church.  Let’s face it, with all the spiritual food that preachers are supposedly dishing out ever week in the American church, there better be an active spiritual colon in the body…or we’ve got some seriously spiritually constipated churches! 

Paul’s point is that we should pay attention to and treat in truly “special” ways those in the family of God who are not the spiritual super-heroes, the beautiful people or the super-models of the church.  Where did you last see the church treating people like that? 

So if Paul is talking about spiritual gifts and spiritually gifted people here in these metaphorical terms, what would be the “less honorable” or “unpresentable” gifts in the church? 

Could we say the gifts that don’t attract a lot of attention?  Maybe gifts like hospitality, listening with compassion, serving by sweeping up or scrubbing the floor, administration through planning or organizing an event, giving resources and time that very few people see, helping people learn to shop or cook or handle their finances, exhortation that confronts and challenges people to grow up, leading a small group… these are the ones that don’t seem to be honored every week like, say, gifts of teaching/preaching or leading music, right?   

It’s not just that highlighting people with certain gifts gets the church off-balance.  According to vs. 24, we’re actually working at cross-purposes to what God as designed the church to be. 

But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

First, GOD himself has put into us just what he wants us to have to be a certain part of His church.  HE has put His body together, not us.  And, according to His word, when we sideline, silence or slight those with less public, less flashy or less “attractive” gifts, we are doing exactly the opposite of what He does.  We are giving honor to the more “honorable” parts.  God’s heart is that we should “have equal concern for each other,” not unequal concern. 


APP:  As we are going to see next week, this could have profound implications for what we do here every Sunday.  It could revolutionize what you and I consider to be “church.”  It could bring a huge change to what we experience every week of Jesus Christ and of his body, the church, hopefully a powerful change.


But for today, let me close with a couple of self-examination questions.

1.)     Where do you find yourself on this spectrum of either thinking your gift or role or ministry in God’s family is a.)more important than most others or, b.) unnecessary, unimportant or inferior to others? 

Some of you may be thinking, “Role?  Ministry?  Place in the church?  I don’t have one.  I just show up and sometimes enjoy, sometimes fall asleep, in the church experience.”  That’s part b.) to the extreme.  Functionally you believe your part in Christ’s body is not worth discovering, developing or putting to regular work.

 If that’s the case, then you’re missing out big-time and the body of Christ, the church, is suffering big time.  I’m afraid we have become so used to a very few people being functionally the body of Christ that we don’t even know how terribly disabled the church has become.  We don’t know what we’re missing.  Help me here:  what do I or other church leaders need to do to help you move from the bench to the game?    


Then there is the other end of that spectrum.  I’m afraid it’s where I am, at least functionally.  While I honestly don’t think of people who may not have the teaching or preaching gift as less important or less honorable, the way I’ve exercised God’s gift to me over the past 30 years gives me serious reason to question if the practical effect hasn’t been just what Paul spoke against here in vss. 21ff.  I’m all in favor of strong Bible teaching from competent teachers.  But when “church” for most of us has become primarily coming, listening to a talking head, doing a little singing and going home, something has gone horribly wrong.  (We’ll be examining this much more next Sunday.) Using the “body” imagery, most churches are one (or two) big MOUTHS week after week with hundreds of little ears sitting in rows.     


If we want the New Testament experience of the Spirit-gifted and Spirit-filled life, I think it is going to require more change than any of us can presently imagine.  I’m quite sure it will require more involvement by far more Christians in the life of the Body than we have every seen in our lifetimes. 


2.)    The second question is one I started with today:  Do we see ourselves in this world, this city, this church as Christ body today?  If we take this passage at face value, that is what we must do.  We ARE Christ for Spokane in 2012 in our work place, our neighborhoods, this downtown core, our schools and universities.  God is totally committed to working through us.  He has, in some way, voluntarily limited himself to us.  But just imagine what He may want to do through us, His Body! 


Let’s spend a few minutes just talking to God about this, waiting to hear from Him about the Spirit-directed body life he wants us to experience so that this city we live in can really experience Christ in 2012.  [PRAY]