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For a moment, think about your body. If it helps, stand in front of a mirror.

Now be aware of the various parts of your body. Look at your hands and consider the intricacy of their movements as you pick up something. Place a hand over your heart and listen to it beating. Feel your lungs as you fill them with fresh air. Enjoy the taste of a favorite food as you chew, then swallow. 

Your body is a complex organism composed of a wide variety of different parts. You might be feeling the limitations of aging, and you might have a few imperfections—even a handicap—but you still have to agree that the human body is a pretty amazing creation.

Now ask yourself these two questions. Of all your body parts, which is the most important? What body part could you do without?

How does this illustration give us insight into the operation of spiritual gifts? 

Let’s read 1Corinthians 12 and find out.

Body of Christ

The apostle Paul uses the human body as a metaphor to portray the corporate nature of Christians. This imagery appears in Romans 12:3-8, Ephesians 4, and here in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. 

Significantly, Paul uses a body, not an institution or an organization. The relationship of Christians to their Lord, Jesus Christ, and each other is intimate, living, and dynamic. 

I even hesitate to reduce the body imagery to a metaphor. In Transforming Discipleship, Greg Ogden writes,

The church of Jesus Christ is nothing less than his corporate replacement on earth. Jesus continues his incarnation by dwelling in his people. … The apostle Paul’s favorite and most fundamental image for the church is that of the body of Christ. When Paul uses this phrase, it is far more than a nice word picture or metaphor. He is not saying that the church is like the body of Christ but that it literally is the body of Christ. This is where Christ dwells.

Here is what Paul writes in 12:12-14:

For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For [in] one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.

Believers in the Lord Jesus (John 1:12) come from every ethnicity, social structure, physical and mental ability, with their diverse histories, and all “were baptized into one body” by Christ (see: “How are you baptized in the Spirit?”) 

This is Christ’s body—one body composed of many parts. The body of Christ is more than lips and eyeballs.

What happens when we act in ways that contradict this wonderful reality? Unfortunately, that contradiction existed in the Corinthian community. Here’s what Paul says about it.

A corrective for inferiority (12:15-20)

Paul imagines a conversation among the various parts of a body. 

If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body.

A foot lacks the hand’s greater flexibility, opposable thumb, and visibility, resulting in a sense of inferiority and even worthlessness. The ears might grow weary of people complimenting the beauty of the eyes and conclude that they are not valued or needed. This sense of inferiority might easily lead to a destructive attitude of envy.

Let each of us acknowledge that whatever spiritual gift or gifts we have, they were given by God, who is all-wise and loving, and give thanks for how He has placed us in the body of Christ.

A corrective for superiority (12:21-26)

There were Christians in the Corinthian church who made out that they were superior to their fellow brothers and sisters. One would say, “I have the gift of prophecy. I don’t need your gift of helping.” Another, “I can make a wonderful display with my gift of tongues. Your gift of showing mercy is of no relevance to me.” In other words, “My gifting is greater and more important, and I can get along without you and yours!”

With this in mind, listen to Paul in 12:21-26:

And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

The photo above illustrates this attitude: a solitary gigantic eyeball. That eyeball thinks it can do without the rest of the body. Yet, ironically, even this bizarre eyeball needs a pair of feet to stay upright and get around. Such a mindset quickly develops into pride.

Again, this corrective should lead each of us to give thanks to our Lord for all the other parts of the body of Christ. We should give thanks for all our brothers and sisters, who nourish, support, and protect us. We cannot function without them.

Nurturing a right attitude (12:27)

After Paul provides these necessary correctives for attitudes of inferiority or envy and superiority or pride, he writes,

Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. 

Paul reminds them that in all their diversity, they are all together as Christ’s body. Each is needed in all the rich variety of their ethnicities, histories, experiences, and gifts, and none can go it alone. They are one in Christ! 

Summing up

What can we learn from Paul’s correction of the Corinthian problem? 

Here are three recommendations—you might have more.

1.     Guard yourself against the twin evils of envy and pride. If you identify either of these attitudes within you, or others make you aware of it, confess it to God as sin (1 John 1:9). 

The following two recommendations are more positive actions.

2.     Be thankful to God for who you are within the body of Christ. In this thankfulness, look for opportunities to be used by the Lord in manifesting the Spirit’s work through your gifting. 

3.     Be thankful to God for the others within the body of Christ. Look for opportunities to nourish and encourage them in whatever way you can.

What else can you add to these recommendations? Let me know by clicking here.


BACK TO 5 principles for discerning authentic spiritual gifting 

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