Used in God’s Service

The Point:  God expects us to use the gifts He has given us.

One Body with Many Members:  1 Corinthians 12:12-22.

[12]  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. [13]  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. [14]  For the body does not consist of one member but of many. [15]  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. [16]  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. [17]  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? [18]  But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. [19]  If all were a single member, where would the body be? [20]  As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. [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." [22]  On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,  [ESV]

”Unity is God’s Gift [12-13].  Before he addresses the problems of Corinth, Paul affirms the undergirding principle that unites every congregation of God’s people. The body is one and has many members [12]. It is a powerful image because we do not think of our physical bodies as made up of many different parts that have come together into some form of constructed unity. Paul wants his readers to think of the church in that way. All the members of the body, though many, are one body. They can have no independent life or existence. So it is with Christ. Every Christian, who is, by definition, united to Christ by faith, also belongs to every other Christian in the one body of Christ, which is the universal church, expressed in its innumerable local congregations. Think of the simple process of eating and digesting food. How many parts of the body are involved! The physical body is a single unit, or organism, which can only live and grow through a great variety of functions, in which different parts of the whole are involved, each performing their particular functions in harmony, for the well-being of the whole. That is how Christ’s spiritual body, the church, must also function. Verse 13 provides the theological reasoning. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. The given unity exists because every member of the body belongs on exactly the same terms. There is an experience common to all believers, described in this verse as baptism and as being made to drink of one Spirit. This is one of only seven references in the New Testament to baptism ‘in’ or ‘with’ or ‘by’ the Holy Spirit. The same Greek preposition is used in every reference and can take any of these meanings. We speak about being baptized ‘in water’, the element or agent used, but equally of being baptized ‘in the name’ of the Trinity, signifying the purpose of the action. Here the one Spirit seems to be the agent, or element used, while incorporation into the one body is the purpose. This matches with Paul’s teaching elsewhere, which makes it clear that immersion into the life of the Spirit, with its consequent membership of the body of Christ, is the experience of the new birth, or conversion. For example, Romans 8:9 affirms that the Spirit of God lives within every Christian. That is what defines the believer as belonging to Christ. Water baptism is therefore an outward sign of an individual’s initiation into the eternal life of God, through faith in Christ. Neither here nor elsewhere does Paul teach that Spirit-baptism is a second separate experience subsequent to the new birth. It is the new birth; common to all who believe in Christ and are saved. That is why Paul can use it as the foundation principle of unity for all members of the congregation at Corinth, whether Jews or Greek, slaves or free. Such distinctions are irrelevant in the church, from God’s viewpoint, and so they must not be re-imported into the congregation. Just as the Israelites in the desert were all sustained by drinking from the water that God provided from the rock [10:4], so also all believers drink the sustaining life of the Spirit and all are equally dependent upon God to satisfy and sustain us, every day of our pilgrimage. This is what unites Christ’s church, and what God has put together no human being dare tear apart. Whatever diversities of gifts and operations God may choose to give to different members of the body, they are never to be used to fragment the given unity. We are all saved by the same gospel, indwelt by the same Spirit and members of the same body. But diversity is the problem at Corinth, and to this Paul now turns.

Diversity is our Challenge [14-26].  This section divides into two, verses 14-20 and 21-26, where Paul deals with two equal, but opposite, errors. First, he reiterates the foundation principle that the body is made up of many parts [14]. Then he proceeds to the first error, which is for one of the parts to say, I do not belong to the body [15]. Imagining that the foot, or the ear, should take up such an attitude, Paul’s point is that even if such a ridiculous claim were to be made, that would not make it any less a part of the body [15-16]. Every part of the body has its own function and its own unique contribution to the body. No one part can be the whole body or there would be no body [19]. And every part is needed, so no individual member should suffer from an inferiority complex because they are not the whole body, or not similar to other parts of the body. God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose [18]. With there being such an emphasis on gifts, especially of the more spectacular kind, it is likely that some Corinthian believers who did not have those gifts were inclined to feel very inferior. This in turn could lead to envy, discontent and division. The foot and the ear are not able to perform the complicated functions of the hand or the eye, but where would the body be without them? No member of the body can perform another part’s task. If the ear cannot see, neither can the eye hear! Similarly, in the church all the different functions are needed; they all matter. There are many parts, yet one body [20]. Yet how many Christians are there who feel their gifts to be inferior to others? They imagine that they have little or nothing to contribute; that others are more gifted and therefore more spiritual – a conclusion that Paul will not allow. From there, it is only a short step to thinking: ‘I don’t belong’, and then to drift away from the fellowship; this only produces division and deprivation for the whole body. But if one danger of the diversity of gifts is that some feel inferior and imagine that they have nothing to contribute to the body, a second is that others may develop a superiority complex, which in effect says to other members, I have no need of you [21]. This is equally disastrous. The mistake once again is that of comparing oneself with other Christians. In one situation it leads to discouragement and envy, and in the other to pride and complacency. Both injure the body, and both are wrong. Doubtless the more ‘gifted’ Christians at Corinth were assumed to be those with the more spectacular gifts, which put them in the public limelight. They became the spiritual ‘personalities’ within the congregations and began to regard other members as unnecessary. Against this, the apostle argues on two grounds, still using the body metaphor. The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable [22]. The body needs them all and so their apparent strength is no indicator of their significance. Secondly, on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor [23]. Human dignity requires us to clothe the least presentable parts of the body with covering, both for decency and protection. They are not dismissed or ignored. So, in Christ’s body, the church, God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it [24], and the way this is to be achieved is that all the parts may have the same care for one another [25]. This is the only way in which the body can function healthily as an entity. We all know that when one part of our body is suffering pain, the whole cannot be at peace. Similarly, in Christ’s body, we all share one another’s sufferings and all rejoice at one another’s honors [26]. Whenever inferiority or superiority prevails, the church is less than God intends it to be. He has organized the church in unity, and appointed its different members to different tasks. That is why the implications of how Christians treat one another within the church have such a profound effect on those outside it. The authenticity of the gospel is at stake.”  [Jackman, pp. 206-210]. 

Use Your Gift in Service to Others:  1 Peter 4:7-11.

[7]  The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. [8]  Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. [9]  Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. [10]  As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: [11]  whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies–in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.  [ESV]

[7]  The previous paragraph ended with a reference to the final judgment [5], death, and the resurrection [6]. Hence, it is not surprising that verse 7 opens with a reference to the end of history. The reason the end is near is that the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ have inaugurated the last days. Because the end is near, believers should live in the following way. We have a typical feature of New Testament eschatology here. Nowhere does the New Testament encourage the setting of dates or of any other kinds of charts. Eschatology is invariably used to encourage believers to live in a godly way [cf. Matt. 24:36-25:46; Rom. 13:11-14; 1 Cor. 15:58; Phil. 4:4-9; 1 Thess. 5:1-11; 2 Peter 3:11-16]. Nor does the New Testament ever invite believers to withdraw from the world because the end is near and to gaze at the skies, hoping that the Lord will return soon. The imminence of the end should function as a stimulus to action in this world. The knowledge that believers are sojourners and exiles, whose time is short, should galvanize them to make their lives count now. We might expect a call for extraordinary behavior, thinking something unusual would be demanded in light of the arrival of the end. Peter exhorted his readers, however, to pursue virtues that are a normal part of New Testament moral behavior. Peter summoned his readers to be self-controlled and sober-minded. The two verbs are virtually synonymous and should be understood together. Believers should think sensibly as they contemplate the brevity of life in this world. Their sensible and alert thinking is to be used for prayer, for entreating God to act and move in the time that still remains. The realization that God is bringing history to a close should provoke believers to depend on Him, and this dependence is manifested in prayer, for in prayer believers recognize that any good that occurs in the world is due to God’s grace. [8]  The imminence of the end should also provoke believers to love. Peter did not merely exhort believers to love one another in light of the eschaton. He said that such love is above all, and he exhorted his readers to a constant love, keep loving. When believers contemplate how to spend their lives in light of the Lord’s coming, in their few days as sojourners, they should remind themselves of the priority of love. In the second half of the verse the reason love should be pursued is explicated, as the word since indicates. The reason given is that love covers a multitude of sins. The proverbial saying here also is found in James 5:20. Two interpretations have been prominent. Did Peter mean that love covers over or atones for one’s own sins? This interpretation should be rejected. It flies in the face of the rest of the New Testament and even 1 Peter [1:18-19; 2:24-25; 3:18] to see the love of believers as somehow atoning for their own sins. The second interpretation is preferable. When believers lavish love on others, the sins and offenses of others are overlooked. [9]  The theme of love continues in verse 9. We need to recall that these exhortations are all shaped by the nearness of the end [7]. Hospitality was one of the marks of the Christian community [Rom. 12:13; 1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8; Heb. 13:2]. Hospitality was particularly crucial for the Christian mission in a day when lodging could not be afforded and hence the advance of the mission depended on the willingness of believers to provide bed and board for those visiting [Matt. 10:11,40; Acts 16:15; 3 John 7-11]. Furthermore, hospitality was necessary in order for the church to meet in various homes. The words without grumbling acknowledge that those who open their homes may grow tired of the service. Hence, they are exhorted to be hospitable gladly, not caving in to the temptation to begrudge their charity to others. [10]  The theme of ministering to one another continues, but the emphasis shifts to gifts believers have received by God’s grace. The word gift (charisma) implies that the gifts believers have are the result of God’s grace and the word received confirms this judgment. Paul used the term gift quite often to designate spiritual gifts [Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 1:7; 12:4,9,28,30-31; 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6]. Believers cannot boast about the gift they have, for otherwise they contradict its gracious character, thinking that somehow they merit its bestowal. The gifts are manifestations of God’s varied grace. It also implied that each believer has received at least one spiritual gift, for Peter addressed his words to as each has received a gift. Even though every believer possesses at least one gift, the gifts are not necessarily the same. God’s grace manifests itself in its various forms, so that the diversity of gifts reveals the multifaceted character of God’s grace. What is most important, of course, is the purpose for having gifts. Gifts are not given so that believers can congratulate themselves on their abilities. They are bestowed to serve one another. The point is that spiritual gifts are given to serve and to help others, to strengthen others in the faith. They are bestowed for ministry, not to enhance self-esteem. Paul emphasized the same theme, reminding believers that gifts are given to build up and edify others, not to edify oneself [1 Cor. 12:7,25-26; 14:1-19,26; Eph. 4:11-12]. When believers use their gifts to strengthen others, they are functioning as good stewards of God’s varied grace. Spiritual gifts are not fundamentally a privilege but a responsibility, a call to be faithful to what God has bestowed. [11]  The gifts are divided into two categories, speaking and serving gifts. It must be said immediately, from verse 10, that all gifts involve serving and edifying others, and Peter was not denying that emphasis here. Now he examines the gifts functionally, observing that some involve speaking and others serve fellow believers in a variety of ways. In placing the gifts into the two categories of speaking and serving, all the spiritual gifts are included under these two classes. It is not as if Peter did not know about the particular gifts. His purpose was to speak of them generally instead of discussing the gifts in particular. Those who speak should endeavor to speak the very words of God. The expression used is oracles of God, which refer to the words God has given His people. Using speaking gifts to minister to others means that the one speaking endeavors to speak God’s words. How easy it is to think that we can assist others with our own wisdom, but those who are entrusted with the ministry of speaking should be careful to speak God’s words, to be faithful to the gospel. Peter wrote so that those who speak will do so in accord with the gospel, not to suggest that the words spoken become part of the revelational deposit for believers. Similarly, those who minister and serve others must not rely on their own strength. They must minister with the strength that God supplies, relying on His power to carry out their tasks. Presumably they rely on His power through prayer. When those who speak utter God’s words rather than their own and those who serve do so in God’s strength rather than their own, God through Jesus Christ receives the glory. God receives the glory because He is the one who has provided the wisdom and strength for ministry. The provider is always the one who is praised. If human beings are the source of wisdom and strength for ministry, they deserve to be complimented. But if understanding and energy come from the Lord, He gets the glory as the one who empowers His people. We should note that God receives the glory through Jesus Christ, for the glory that redounds to God comes through the gospel the Petrine readers received [1:3,10-12,18-19; 2:21-25; 3:18]. This gospel focuses on Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Lord, and hence God is praised for what He has done in and through Jesus the Christ.”  [Schreiner, pp. 210-216]. 

Questions for Discussion:

1.         How can your church help people identify and develop their gifts? What could be done in your church to help people use their gifts for the building up of others in unity?

2.         What are the two dangers we can face as part of a church body concerning gifts [14-26]? What is the primary cause of this danger developing within us. Have you felt either one of these dangers in your life within the church before? What caused you to feel this way? What can we do to avoid falling into the trap of either one of these two dangers?

3.         In 1 Peter 4:7, Peter connects living in the end times with the way Christians should live. Describe how Peter says we should live in 4:7-11. How do spiritual gifts impact the way we live? What does Peter say the purpose of spiritual gifts is [11]?


1 Corinthians, David Garland, BENT, Baker.

Let’s Study 1 Corinthians, David Jackman, Banner of Truth.

The Message of 1 Corinthians, David Prior, Inter Varsity.

The Message of 1 Peter, Edmund Clowney, Inter Varsity.

1 Peter, Karen Jobes, BENT, Baker.

1, 2 Peter, Jude, Thomas Schreiner, NAC, Broadman Publishers.

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