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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Christ's body has both unity and diversity
Text:1 Corinthians 12:12-27 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Building

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 68:1-3

Psalm 25:3 (after the law)

Psalm 68:7,8

Hymn 49

Psalm 29

Scripture reading:  1 Corinthians 12

Text:  1 Corinthians 12:12-27

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Saviour Jesus,

Our passage for this morning addresses a certain kind of attitude towards church membership.  It’s the attitude where we look at it just as a matter of survival.  We’re just trying to survive as individuals as we carry out our duty of belonging to this religious organization.  Have you ever encountered that attitude?  Maybe that’s even your attitude.  

Our passage was originally addressed to Christians who thought of their church membership in an individualistic way.  They didn’t give much consideration to others in the church.  Instead, being a Christian was more of an individual thing.  Being part of the church too, that was just something you did as an individual, you did it for yourself, with the focus on your own benefit.  But that’s not what God intends for the church.  That’s not what God intends for us here.  Let’s listen to God’s Word this morning as it shows how Christ’s body has both unity and diversity.  We’ll look at:

  1. The problems presented
  2. The powerful picture
  3. The purpose of the passage

If you’ve ever read through First Corinthians you know the church at Corinth was a mess.  Talk about a dysfunctional church.  You get 11 verses in to the book and we already read about the quarreling taking place.  There were divisions in the church – some people claimed to be followers of Apollos, some of Peter, some of Paul.  That was just the beginning.  In chapter 6, we read of how members of the church had defrauded one another.  Then came the lawsuits.  It was just a young church and it was plagued with interpersonal conflict.  The people who made up this church were quite new to the Christian faith.  They still had a long way to go in understanding how to live together as a church of Jesus Christ. 

Let’s look closer at chapter 12.  This chapter begins with some teaching about spiritual gifts.  The Corinthian church needed more instruction on that subject.  Everyone who genuinely says Jesus is Lord says that because of the Holy Spirit.  That’s verse 3.  Then we read that there are varieties of gifts, service, and activities.  Through the Holy Spirit, God has given all kinds of talents to individual believers.  That certainly remains true today.   It’s true even though some of the gifts are not the same.  For example, speaking in tongues is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12, but that gift expired with the time of the apostles.  Nevertheless, if you’re a Christian, the Holy Spirit has given you some gift or other, maybe even several gifts.  How do you know what gift or gifts he’s given you?  Sometimes, for some of us, it may be quite obvious.  But for others, perhaps you have to think about it.  Perhaps you have to ask a fellow believer who knows you quite well.  But loved ones, be assured, if the Holy Spirit dwells in your heart, he’s given you some kind of gift.  It might be listening, it might be teaching.  It could be hospitality, it could be counselling.  Maybe it’s practical skills or perhaps management skills.  The list goes on and on.

So the Corinthian Christians individually had spiritual gifts.  But there was an attitude problem that came along with that.  It had two dimensions. 

The first was an inferiority complex.  There were those who looked at others in the church, saw the gifts they had, and felt inferior.  They felt inferior because the gifts of others were not only different, but better.  Or they felt inferior because they couldn’t see their own gifts.  Because of this, they felt as if they didn’t really belong to the church.  They didn’t have a place.  That’s the problem the Holy Spirit is identifying in verses 14 to 16.

The second dimension of the attitude problem is in verse 21.  It involves members of the church looking around them and saying, “I have no need of you.”  There were church members who looked down on other members as being weaker, less honourable, and unpresentable.  For these members, they were the only ones with gifts and all these other members were just useless.  Whether they were there or not mattered nothing.  They were unneeded.  That was just sheer arrogance.  That was pride talking.  There were church members who pridefully saw themselves as indispensable, but those others were dispensable – they’re like an appendix or a gall bladder, you can do without them.  You don’t need them. 

This two-dimensional attitude problem impacted on the unity of the church in Corinth.  You can’t have unity if a segment of the congregation feels like it doesn’t belong and doesn’t fit.  You can’t have unity if a segment of the congregation looks down on others as not belonging and not fitting because they don’t measure up and they’re not needed.  When an attitude problem like that takes hold in a church, what results is disunity and fragmentation.  It’s not a close community of believers, but an organization of assorted individuals doing their own religious thing.  The only one who is pleased with that kind of situation is Satan.  When believers are disjointed from one another and disconnected, Satan rubs his hands together.  This is exactly what the Devil wants for the church of Jesus Christ. 

Let’s think about this for ourselves.  What would Satan think if he were to take a look at our congregation?  Would he applaud?  Would Satan be pleased with our attitudes?  Do we have a congregation where every member feels like they belong and they fit, they have a place?  Is there any arrogance or pride among us? 

Let’s listen to God’s way of addressing these things in our text.  He does it by inspiring Paul to make this powerful illustration of the body.  This is an illustration unique to the apostle Paul.  He uses it in a couple of other places in the New Testament, but this is the one place where the illustration is used to maximum effect. 

Through Paul, God is saying that the church is the body of Christ.  This is a figure of speech, an illustration of a spiritual reality.  Christ is the head of the body known as the church, just as your physical head is on top of your physical body.  Christ is the control center of his body.  But like all human bodies, the spiritual body of Christ has many members or parts.  The church is one in Christ, but diverse in its individual members and their gifts. 

Now let’s dig a bit deeper into this powerful picture. 

Look with me at verses 12 and 13 [read].  Verse 12 introduces the picture.  One human body has many members.  For example, there are widely considered to be 79 different organs.  That includes your heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and so on.  But together they all make up one human body.  So it is with Christ.  In the church he has many members, but they are all one in him. 

Now where does this unity come from?  That’s in verse 13.  It says, “in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”  The translation of the NIV is better here, “by one Spirit.”  This isn’t referring directly to water baptism.  It’s speaking more about baptism in a metaphorical or figurative sense – that sometimes happens in the New Testament.  What it’s saying is that God, through the Holy Spirit, immersed us into Christ so we have a vital, spiritual union with him by faith.  The concept runs parallel to what we read at the end of verse 13, “all were made to drink of one Spirit.”  All Christians have “ingested” the Holy Spirit.  He dwells in them and works faith in their hearts.  The Holy Spirit proceeding from Jesus Christ lives in Christians and connects them spiritually speaking to Christ, and then also to one another.  It doesn’t matter who they are:  ethnic background doesn’t matter (Jew or Greek), neither does social status (slave or free), or anything else.  All believers are united to Christ and to each other. 

Moreover, it’s also important to see God’s hand in all of this.  Look at verse 13 again – notice how it says, “we were all baptized” – you don’t baptize yourself, it’s something you have done to you.  Who baptized them?  God through the Holy Spirit.  Notice how it also says, “all were made to drink of one Spirit.”  Who made them drink?  It was the sovereign God.  God was behind this.  So in his mercy and grace God was at work in individuals so that they’d look to Christ in faith and be united to him. 

But God was also at work to take those individuals and put them together into a church.  Look at verse 18:  “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.”  In his sovereignty, God put them together.  In his sovereign wisdom, God has put us together in this congregation.  The same thought is expressed further down in verse 24, “But God has so composed the body….”  The body is God’s composition.  He’s behind it.  He made it.  It’s important to realize that so we don’t fall into the trap of looking at the church as a religious club or organization.  In the introduction, I mentioned that temptation to look at church membership as a matter of survival in fulfilling your duty to be part of a religious organization.  Part of the way we resist that temptation is to go back to Scripture and see again how the church is not our idea.  It’s God’s church.  In his sovereign grace, he sent his Spirit into our hearts, so we’d believe the gospel and trust in Christ.  But in his sovereign grace, he has also put us all together into this church.  We’re here because of God.  You’re here because of God.

With that in mind, we can look at how the illustration of the body works to address the two-dimensional problem we looked at earlier.  Remember, there was that inferiority complex which led some believers to feel out of place, disjointed from the body.  Then there was also the arrogance of some believers – they believed that certain members were just not necessary.  They were the important ones and those who appeared weak could just as well disappear. 

With regard to the inferiority complex, Paul writes that it’d be ridiculous for a foot to say that it doesn’t belong to the body because it’s not a hand.  A foot has its place and so does a hand.  Just because they’re different doesn’t mean that they belong any less to the body.  Similarly, it would be silly for an ear to say that it doesn’t belong to the body because it’s not an eye.  Eyes and ears are different, but they each have their role in the one body.  Paul says it would be ludicrous for the whole body to be an eye, because then there would be no hearing. If the whole body were an ear, there would be no sense of smell.  A human body by definition has diversity – you can’t imagine it being otherwise.  It’s the same with the body of Christ, with the church.  It’s going to have diversity amongst its members.  They’re all going to have different personalities, but more to the point here, they’re going to bring different gifts to the body.  Each part has a contribution to make.  Brother, sister, you have a contribution to make.  Every believer does.  Every believer is valuable to the body.  Every part of the body ought to be treasured by every other part. 

Then there’s the other dimension of the attitude problem:  the arrogance which dismisses others as being unnecessary.  Paul says, “Imagine the eye saying to the hand, ‘I don’t need you.’”  Or the head saying that to the feet.  It’s just completely foolish.  We realize that bodies need all their parts – forget about appendixes and gall bladders for the moment, the illustration isn’t meant to be pressed that far.  The point is bodies should have all their parts. When it comes to our human bodies, we recognize that there are “weaker” parts.  We have delicate parts like our eyes.  There are “less honourable” parts or even “unpresentable” parts – our invisible parts or our private parts.  But we don’t lop these off.  We don’t treat them as unnecessary and discard them.  No, we treat them all with appropriate respect.  This is just like how it should be with the church, the body of Christ.  As the head of the body, this is how Christ wants his body to be treated.

There may be members of the body that appear to be weaker or lacking in greater honour.  You might even say that there are members that are in some sense “unpresentable.”  There are those with gifts that, by their very nature, are more public.  But there are others who might have gifts that aren’t so public and obvious.  For example, you could have that church member who is quiet by nature.  This person doesn’t put herself out there.  Don’t view her as unnecessary to the body of Christ.  You see, she has a gift for just listening, encouraging by making others feel like they’re being heard and cared for.  Imagine a congregation member with Down Syndrome.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of viewing such members as unnecessary or unimportant.  After all, what can they contribute?  You might be surprised.  Someone with Down Syndrome can be extraordinarily loving and kind.  They can make wonderful contributions to the body of Christ.  Such members are precious to Christ our head, and they ought to be precious to us too. 

The important thing to come back to is that God has composed the body in this way.  He has put members who appear to be weak in the body.  This drives home a gospel truth found earlier in 1 Corinthians.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1 that God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  God uses what is low and despised in the world to accomplish his purposes.  The chief example of that is our Lord Jesus.  As we look to Christ hanging on the cross, we see utter weakness.  We see zero honour in a dying man nailed to a Roman instrument of torture and death.  As we look to Jesus at Calvary, we see what’s unpresentable.  He suffered and died entirely naked.  God worked through that to bring about our salvation.  God worked through the weak, dishonoured and unpresentable body of Christ to bring us to himself in fellowship.  Now, God continues to work through the weak, dishonoured and maybe even unpresentable body of Christ in the church.  God’s ways are not the way of the world, and so our ways can’t be the way of the world.  The world puts a premium on strength, honour, and presentability.  God says, “No, look to the cross and you see what I value.”    

What does that mean practically speaking?  It means as you look around you at your fellow church members, look past whatever weaknesses or other negative things you may perceive.  Realize that God has put us together and he did it for a reason.  With that in mind, we treat each other with dignity and respect.  Above all, we love one another.

That’s really the point being made in verses 25 and 26.  This is where we see our last point, the purpose of this passage.  The Holy Spirit first puts it in a negative way:  “that there may be no division in the body.”  In a human body, the parts don’t talk like they did in the passage.  In human bodies, you don’t get division or schism like what’s described here.  But in the body of Christ, sometimes there is division.  It happened in Corinth.  But it shouldn’t happen.  It’s wrong when it does happen.  It’s against what the head of the body wants.  Christ is the head of the body, the church, and he wants unity among all the diverse members.  That’s not uniformity, as if he wants them all to be the same.  No, it’s unity, oneness, harmony amongst members who are all different and who have different gifts from the Holy Spirit. 

So disharmony and division are not what God wants.  Instead, he wants “that the members may have the same care for one another.”  In other words, just as you would care for yourself, you care for others too.  You look to others around you in the church with love and concern.  This means you’re looking outside yourself.  It means you’re getting turned outward and then also using whatever gifts you’ve been given to serve others as the need arises.  And that leads to what we read in verse 26, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.”  When a congregation member gets that dreaded phone call that the test results have come in and they’re not good, we walk alongside, we suffer with them.  We’re parts of the same body.  To a certain extent we feel the pain with them.  When a congregation member gets an award for something or other, we rejoice with them.  We’re parts of the same body, so to a degree we feel their joy with them.   

Isn’t all of this easy?  No, if we’re honest, this is really tough.  If I’m honest, I know I’m inclined to be selfish and self-centered and that breaks down our unity.  How do we make any progress?  How do we work at building up the unity of the body of Christ in this place? 

Loved ones, first of all, let’s keep looking to Christ our head in faith.  Trust that he has paid the penalty for all your selfishness, arrogance and whatever else destroys the unity of his body.  At the cross, all of that was taken care of, wiped away, so that you don’t have to be consumed with guilt.  The gospel relieves you of your guilt for all your failures.  But then also look to Christ’s example.  Look to the head of the body and you’ll see amazing selflessness, humility, and everything else that builds up the body of Christ.  Learn from him how to be members of his body.  Learn from the head. 

Then pray as well for his Holy Spirit.  Pray for the Holy Spirit who dwells in Christ, to dwell in us richly so that we reflect him.  We want to reflect Christ individually, but then also as the body of Christ in this church.  We don’t have the strength in ourselves to do it, and that’s exactly why we have to pray for it.  Pray earnestly for that strength to be both diverse and yet one in Christ.

The amazing thing about the Corinthian situation is that, even with all their problems, God still says, “You are the body of Christ.”  It was a messed up church, dysfunctional in so many ways.  Yet God mercifully says, “You are the body of Christ.”  Brothers and sisters, that grace is extended to us too.  Even though we are far from being a perfect church, God graciously says, “You are the body of Christ.”  What an awesome statement!  But also what a high calling.  In dependence upon the Holy Spirit, let’s strive for being the body of Christ in a meaningful and harmonious way, where we’re all being built up for the glory of God.  AMEN.


Our gracious Father in heaven,

We thank you for your sovereign grace.  You gave us your Spirit so that we believe in Christ.  You gave us your Spirit so that we’re united to Christ and to one another in his body.  Father, we acknowledge the weakness of our unity.  We’re not immune to the problems that the Corinthians experienced in our passage.  Father, we’re weak and sinful too.  So we ask for your help.  Please help us to look to Christ constantly.  We look to him for forgiveness for everything that ruins our fellowship.  But we also want to look to him for guidance in growing as the body.  Let your Holy Spirit dwell in all of us richly so that more and more we look and act like Christ our head.  Father, please give us more unity in this church.  Help us value one another, whatever our gifts may be.  Help us treat one another with dignity and respect.  Please give us more care for one another.  When there is suffering, help us to suffer together.  When there’s honour, help us to rejoice together.  Through all of this, we pray that you would build us up for your glory.   

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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