A reflection on 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 for the Third Sunday After Epiphany, January 23, 2022.
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. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to 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. And if the ear were to 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. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 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.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (NRSVA)
Prior to this passage, the Apostle Paul spoke about the one Spirit that gifts and unites us.
Above is a continuation of this message. Now, however, the metaphor employed is the ‘body’. One Spirit. Now One body. The focus is, however, slightly – and importantly – different. We have moved from a discussion on the one church-empowering Spirit to the oneness of the church itself.
Essentially, the church is like God – one.
Not that it started this way. ‘Jews or Greeks, slaves or free’ is a reminder of the hard-cut divisions that once were. This message is counter-cultural in that the walls built by society are irrelevant in the church. The one Spirit has been consumed (‘drink’) by all and the division story has changed radically. So much so that the metaphor of the ‘body’ can be employed of the church.
Bodies function as a single entity. It is an absurd notion that the members of a body would work independently – denying the need of one another, or even denying the value of the function that each member plays.
This would be a disfunctional body.
There is a repeated – and telling – phrase here: ‘God has arranged…’ There is also purpose to this arrangement: ‘…that there be no dissension…’ After all, ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.’
I hope you both understand – and do not get too attached to this metaphor. ‘Body’, here, is a powerful way of talking – not about bodies – but about the nature and purpose of the church community.
We are equipped differently and moving in the same direction.
And yet, so often we ‘strive for the greater gifts’. In the Greek this phrase can also be translated as a rebuke of the Corinthian church. It can read: ‘But you have striven for the greater gifts’. Could it be that the church in Corinth have ranked the gifts of the Spirit and decided to fight for the more significant ones?
If so, the body metaphor is not only pertinent, but the blatant invitation to a ‘more excellent way’ takes on new dimensions. Love is simply a better direction than this church is headed.
It is the difference between a disfunctional and a functional body; a healthy and a dying body.
How does your behaviour unite or divide the church?
Do you see each act of love as a uniting force?