Paul compares the people of God to the unity and diversity of the human body. In this rich analogy, Paul teaches us how we should view ourselves, how we should view each other and where we should find our worth.
Paul is speaking to a group of believers who are grading and judging each other by whether or not they speak in tongues. In 1Corinthians 12-14, Paul makes a series of points to give them perspective on that situation.
Paul has made 2 points so far:
- The mark of the Spirit of God at work in a person’s life is not what kind of outward experience they have. The mark of the Spirit of God at work in a person’s life is that they say and mean in a profound way that Jesus is Lord.
- There is both unity and diversity in the body of Christ. On the one hand, the Spirit gives all believers the same saving faith, the same spiritual awakening, and desire to follow Jesus (unity). On the other hand, the Spirit gives each believer different roles to play in the body of Christ (diversity).
By God’s design, the human body is meant to be a coherent whole made up of different parts. Similarly, God designed the community of believers to be a unified group of people with a variety of functions.
1Corinthians 12:14-31 is part of his second point.
12:14For the body is not one member, but many. 15If 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. 16And 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. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 19If they were all one member, where would the body be? 20But now there are many members, but one body. – 1Corinthians 12:14-17
How we view ourselves
- Some Corinthians think they are deficient Christians because they have not spoken in tongues.
- Paul says that viewpoint is just as foolish as the foot thinking its useless because it is not a hand. The human body is a collection of parts that God purposely gathered into one person .
- If there were only one body part, the human body couldn’t function the way God intends the body to function.
- Similarly, if everyone played the same part and had the same gift, then the church would not function the way God wants it to.
How we view others
21And 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.” 22On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23and 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, 24whereas 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, 25so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. -1Corinthians 21-26
- Some in Corinth are judging and rejecting those who don’t speak in tongues.
- You don’t say you have no need of your foot or your hand, so why are you saying you have no need of your fellow believer?
- My hands and my mouth play an obviously visible role in what I can do and say. How well my stomach function also plays a role in providing nutrients and energy so that I can do and say those things, but you can’t really see the role it’s playing. It’s a weaker role in that it’s not so obvious or visible. But the “weaker” parts of the human body are necessary and important.
- Likewise, in the church, you may not appreciate or understand the role someone else is playing but by God’s design it’s necessary.
- In 12:23, the “less honorable” are the indecent or private parts. Paul is contrasting the parts of the body that we publicly display with the indecent parts that we cover up.
- What’s the analogy? I don’t expose the flaws and indecent parts of my body but I don’t reject them. I honor and clothe them because it’s all me. I don’t make a distinction.
- While some roles in the community of believers are done in the spotlight of human history and others are done backstage in the shadows, we are all part of the community of believers.
- The analogy is those high impact glamorous roles are like the public parts of my body. The roles no one notices and everyone takes for granted are like the indecent parts.
- Paul’s point is they are all necessarily part of the people of Christ and therefore have the same honor, just like all the parts of my human body are part of me.
27Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. 28And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. 29All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 30All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? 31But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way. -1Corinthians 17-31
- Paul lists various roles that God has given to various people in the church. These roles are analogous to the parts of the human body.
- This list is not identical to his earlier list because he does not intend to give a comprehensive catalog of how the Spirit works.
- Paul starts with apostles and prophets giving us a clue that he has the universal church in mind, not a particular local gathering of believers.
- There is no question that the apostles have a more important, visible, global impact on the universal church than teachers today. How should we think about that? Should we be jealous? Should Paul look down on us? No.
- Paul’s point is think of those differences in roles and ways of serving like you think about your own body parts.
- We have different roles to play in the universal church by God’s design. We don’t need a church full of apostles, just like we don’t need a body full of eyes. Diversity in the church is God’s intention.
- Our honor comes from the fact that the Spirit of God is at work in each of us such that we can say Jesus is Lord.
- The most important issue is not which role you play in Christ’s church. The important issue is: are you a part of his church at all?
For more detail and explanation, please listen to the podcast.