The last time I preached to you, we began a section of this letter in which Paul is using an extended metaphor in order to make a theological and practical point. The metaphor is a well-known one, and it is the image of the church of God as the body of Christ. The body of our Lord Jesus. He is the head, and all believers united to him by faith become a part of his body.
And this passage in first Corinthians 12 helps us to both remember that image, of the church as the body of Christ, but it also does more. Paul reminds us of how the body of Christ ought to function, by remembering how our physical bodies function.
And my aim today is to press the metaphor a little more, in order for us to draw out helpful lessons about how the body functions.
But before we get into that, let’s begin by reading our text. 1 Corinthians chapter 12, starting in verse 12 and going to the end of the chapter. Hear the word of our Lord:
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[d] 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,[e] 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, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
And I will show you a still more excellent way.
As our Lord Jesus said: He who has ears to hear, let him hear. Let’s Pray.
The bulk of this sermon will circle around verse 27 of our passage, although I will be moving up and down the passage as we travel along. Look back at verse 27 again:
“You are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” The first you there is plural which, if you’ll grant me a little artistic freedom, might be rendered, “Y’all are the body of Christ, and individually you are members of it.”
In this verse Paul addresses the individual, and the collective; the part and the whole. And we need to understand each properly, if we are to get the other correct.
Let’s start with the end of the verse first. “You are individually members of it, of the body of Christ.” Paul is reminding them of something very elementary. Something that sounds fundamental. “Duh Paul, we already know that.”
But the problem in Corinth is not that they didn’t know it; the problem was that they’re not acting in accordance with it. They were forgetful of the fundamentals, and it was producing big problems. And if we’re not intentional, the same can be true of us. We can forget who we are, and we can forget who our fellow church members are.
So first then, who are we? Well, the bible teaches us that we are all sons of Adam. We’re born in the image of God, and we’re meant to commune with God, meant to fellowship with him, just like Adam did in the Garden. Genesis says that Adam walked in unbroken communion with God in the cool of the day.
No sin, no deceptions, no fear, no barriers to fellowship, no pretensions. Just pure, delighted, contented, communion. That’s what we were made for.
But Adam wouldn’t let it stay that way. He instead chose to violate that fellowship. He chose to ignore the truth of God, exchange it for a lie, and violate God’s covenant with him. And in doing so, he brought sin into the world, thus putting up a barrier between himself and a holy God.
He, and all of his offspring, were now separated from God. Estranged. Alienated. Unable to commune with their creator. We’re fallen. Tainted by sin in every aspect of our being, and unfit to be in the presence of an absolutely holy God.
And therefore Adam had to be cut off. He was kicked out of the garden, the symbol of perfect communion with God, and an angel with a flaming sword was posted to prevent him from returning. There appeared to be no hope. There appeared to be no way of reconciling, no way of restoring that lost communion.
Even though man tried in thousands of ways, fallen man couldn’t work his way back up to God. He tried to build a tower at babel to reach up to God, but it couldn’t work. Man tried to purify himself through good deeds and noble acts, but no man was able.
People tried to follow the law of Moses, but in their own strength, they only became Pharisees. Man was unable. Just like you and I weren’t able.
Many of you know this by experience. You tried to clean yourself up, but you couldn’t assuage your defiled conscience. You tried to be righteous on your own, but you could never do it. You tried to bring satisfaction and significance to your lives in all sorts of ways, but nothing in this world could make you feel satisfied and significant.
And that’s because it is impossible. We were made to be in fellowship with God, and outside of fellowship with him, we are incomplete, and nothing on this earth can fill that void.
And there is the tension that we’re left with. Designed to be one with God, but unable to do so because of sin.
But God. God decided to do for us what was humanly impossible. God decided to save, when we were unable to save ourselves. When we were unable to build our way up to heaven, he brought heaven down to us. When we were unable to clean ourselves up, he himself brought purity down to us.
He sent his only Son, Jesus, the eternal word of God himself, to take on human nature, and to redeem that which we could never save. He became one of us, yet without sin, in order to take us up where we could never go. He walked the life of righteousness we could never, and would never do on our own.
He never succumbed to the lies of Satan. He never failed to perfectly protect communion with his Father. He never once betrayed the fellowship that was so dear.
And yet although he was sinless, he was murdered as a sinner. He, the innocent one, was treated as guilty. The holy one, was treated as corrupted. The righteous, became as the unrighteous. The one with perfect communion, was abandoned on the cross of death.
He was estranged so that his body might be redeemed. He was neglected so that his people might be adopted. He was treated as vile, so that we might be brought from beyond the veil. He was treated was worthless, so that we would be seen as the apple of his eye.
That’s what it means to be individually a member of the body of Christ. It means to be united to Christ by faith in him. Trusting in his message and mission. Believing that you are a sinner, and worthy of being cut off, but that because of the sacrifice of Christ in your place, you can be in fellowship with him.
The Formerly unholy, made to commune with the holy. The imperfect, embraced by the impeccable. That’s the good news.
It’s what Peter talks about in 1 Peter 2:
“9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, …10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
Do you know that good news? Do you believe it? If you believe it, then embrace it again and let the majesty of it warm your soul anew. You were a terrible sinner, you were a liar, you were an adulterer, you were a murderer, you were wicked in your thoughts, your ambitions, your motives.
And yet God has ransomed you so that you might commune with Him. He’s made you clean and holy through the sacrifice of his Son. You were without a family, isolated from true fellowship, and you now have a spiritual family, brothers and sisters, and a heavenly father, with whom you will never loose communion again.
Don’t be like the Corinthians, who were tempted to forget that they were individually made to be a part of the body of Christ.
And if you’re not trusting in Christ, if you haven’t yet found communion with God, then know that your fate is still like Adam’s. You’ve been separated from God because of your sin, and there’s nothing that you can do to make up for it.
You can’t study your way into communion. You can’t pray your way to God. You can’t earn it through charity or generosity, or through kind words, or through doctrinal knowledge, or through any other kinds of devotion. You can’t do it.
Christ must do it. If Christ is not your mediator, your high priest, then you have no hope.
But. If you come to Christ, if you hear of his work and his heart for sinners, and believe what God has said about him in his word, then you too can be counted as righteous. You can be made a part of the body of Christ. You too can share in the fellowship and communion of the holy Spirit. You too can walk with God himself, like Adam did in the garden.
There’s no other religion that can offer that. No other path to satisfaction. No other segue to significance. Every other path leads you to dead ends. Only Christ is the path to lasting communion and contentment. Only Christ is the way to have the very thing for which you were created: fellowship with God.
Won’t you trust in that Christ? Become a member of him, and have the connection you have always craved. Don’t fall for worthless excuses, and don’t wait. You’re not promised tomorrow. Come to him today, and you too can be made personally, “individually a member of the body of Christ.”
Now. Now that we have made a certain gospel foundation, now that it is clear that in order to be a part of the body of Christ you must first be united to your head, we need to address some of the dangers that Paul is addressing in this passage. And to do that, we ought to go back to the controlling metaphor of the body of Christ.
We might say that the last sermon was a study of the anatomy of the body of Christ. The anatomy. We talked about the hands and the feet and the head. We discussed the FACT of different parts, and the NECESSITY of different parts.
Today, I’d like to spend the remainder of our time talking less about the anatomy, and more about the physiology of the body of Christ. The physiology of the body. That is, how the body functions, how it works together. How its various systems cooperate and relate, in order that the collective whole might operate according to its design.
Back to verse 27 again: “You are the body of Christ.” Ya’ll are the body. You plural. There’s a collective element. We weren’t merely saved as individuals. We aren’t just united to Christ, and then we live otherwise unaffected lives.
We’re grafted into the vine, and there are other branches on there with us. We’re made a part of a family, and families are full of different kinds of people, whether we like it or not.
And as we get into the physiology of this body, the internal dynamics, we have several dangers that we need to be aware of in the body.
A first danger to the body is this: radical individualism. Radical individualism. There is no denying that our culture is radically individualistic, and we’d be fools to think that that temptation is not impacting the body of Christ.
For example, people today change churches as quickly as they change their banks. I don’t like the way the bank changed this service or that policy, so I’ll just use the one across the street. This bank doesn’t have the accounts and the investments that I want, so I’ll head out.
People do this in churches all the time. I don’t like this change in Sunday school, I don’t like this ministry or that decision, so I’m out of here. Not one single thought to being a part of a larger body. Not one conversation with the leadership or with fellow members. Totally self-concerned.
We’re called to be better than that. We’re part of the body of Christ.
Don’t hear me wrong, I’m not saying there aren’t legitimate reasons to leave a church, and maybe that will be another sermon. But if in leaving a church your motives are entirely self-interested, then you need to check your heart.
Radical individualism is natural for our sinful flesh, so don’t let it deceive you to think that church membership is all about YOU. It’s not. It’s about Jesus, and it’s about your fellow brothers and sisters too.
Radical individualism is really just a sociological term for selfishness and pride. The selfish person is concerned only with themselves and with their preferences. The proud person is unconcerned with the well-being of those around him. If that’s you, then you need to repent, and remember the gospel explained in the first point.
Christ wasn’t selfish toward you. Christ gave up his preferences in order to serve you. Praise God he wasn’t totally self-concerned. Beware the allure of radical individualism.
Second. A second and much more dangerous threat to a healthy body: is a subtle individualism. A subtle individualism. This kind of individualism is similar to the first, but is harder to detect.
This is the kind of individualism that is upstream of radical individualism. That is, if the subtle goes unchecked, it will inevitably lead to the radical.
The person who has succumbed to this temptation is still present. He still comes to church. He maybe even participates in other ministry areas, might even lead some of them. But, and this is the key, his heart is not in it. His body is present, but he’s spiritually, emotionally, mentally, elsewhere.
He doesn’t truly sing to God, even if he mumbles the words. He may put something in the offering plate, but there’s no sense of joy and cheer. He’s simply going through the motions, out of duty rather than devotion, or maybe out of simple routine, rather than reverence.
In other words, he’s begun to coast. He’s simply here. He’s near the vine, but not attached. He appears to be fruitful at first glance, but it’s not genuine fruitfulness.
To go back to our body imagery, it’s like when your foot has fallen asleep. It’s still connected to the body, but it’s no good for walking at the moment. If you try to move it to wake it up, it stings a little. If you fail to do something with it, and just let it remain asleep, damage could be done. The situation is unsustainable, and if unresolved, will produce harm to both the foot and the rest of the body.
We’re called to something more. We need one another in the body. Which means several things. It means that to be an active part of the body of Christ you must be present. You must be with the body to be a part of the body.
We have some people who, either because of COVID or some other excuse, have gotten out of the habit of gathering with the body, and you have become like the foot that has fallen asleep.
I hope you will think about Paul’s imagery here and ask yourself if you are behaving like he intended us to. Are you acting like you’re a connected part of the body of Christ? If you’re never here, or rarely here, then we warned, you’re putting yourself in undue danger, and you’re robbing the body of the gifts that the holy spirit has given you.
But perhaps even more subtle, if you’re here, if you’re faithful to be physically present, but your heart is consistently not in it, if you find yourself just going through the motions, if you’re simply driven by routine or duty, then you need to take heed as well. You may look pious on the outside, but God views the heart.
Listen to Jesus’s words to the church in Sardis, from Revelation 3:
“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. …
Repent, Jesus says to you. See your sin, your coldness of heart, and turn from it. But don’t just stop there. Listen to the promise that he uses to close his letter to Sardis:
5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Turn from your sin, why? Because God has saved you and will keep you to the end. If you’re drifting, remember the gospel. If you’re asleep, let the good news wake you up again.
If you’re coasting, remember the severity of your condition outside of Christ, remember the terrible fate from which you have been spared, and remember the heart of your savior who has redeemed you. Linger on those things, let him warm your heart again, and resolve to be a faithful member of the body of Christ, faithful both inside and out.
Don’t let us succumb to individualism, of either the radical or the subtle kind.
A third and final danger to a healthy body is what I will call a ME-complex. A Me-complex. This complex views the life of the body through one lens: the lens of me. I am the filter through which I view the life of the body.
Paul has mentioned it earlier in the passage, but I want to press a little more into the dynamics of it. The physiology of it, it you will.
One example of the ME-COMPLEX is a sense of inferiority. We see this in verse 15 for example:
“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. ”
One part of the body can’t say it’s not needed, simply because it is not created like a some other part. But sometimes we don’t do this. We turn our gaze onto ourselves, and have some inferiority complex about it.
“Well, I’m not really special, I’m not gifted like so and so, and so I don’t think anybody would miss me if I was gone. I don’t really matter to the body.”
It sounds kind of holy to speak like that, “Oh, I don’t have any fancy gifts, I’m just nothing special.”
But such nonsense is actually just pride. It is false humility. You hear how ME-Centered it is: “I’ll never by like them, I don’t really matter, nobody would miss me if I never came back.” It’s all sinful pride, and Satan has that poor person all twisted up where they have become their own lens through which to view the body of Christ and the Christian life.
But Paul addresses a second expression of this ME-Complex too. Verse 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.””
If the first problem was an inferiority complex, the second problem is a superiority complex. The eye can’t say that the hand isn’t needed. You can’t look down at another part of the body and say that it’s irrelevant, or redundant, or ugly. All the body needs all the parts of the body.
But we sometimes act as if we have the ability and authority to judge different parts of the body. We may have different motives for doing so, but we’ve all done it.
Maybe you’ve been envious of the gifts of another, and out of that envy sprang bitterness, disdain, or even gossip and slander.
Maybe you’ve been jealous of the position of honor given to another part of the body. They have prominence, and you don’t, and so you feel insignificant. And rather than embracing the station that God has given you, you clamor and claw for prominence, or you bad-mouth their performance to others, or you minimize the significance of the other person’s achievements in order to make yours seem more impressive.
Maybe you’ve been impatient with another part of the body, because they are differently gifted, and you think their gifting is a lot less important than your kind of gifting.
There’s a hundred different ways we can let a ME-centered superiority complex dominate our vision, and undermine the health of our soul, and the health of the body.
Whatever it is, it’s rooted in pride. Pride that forgets that God has distributed the gifts according to infinite wisdom. That’s the next verse. Verse 28: “AS GOD HAS APPOINTED.”
There’s no reason to boast, if God has allotted the gifts.
Nor is there any reason to lament. God gave you your gifts.
No reason for envy or false humility or any other species of pride.
God has allotted the gifts, God has appointed the stations, God has knit together the body of Christ with no less care or wisdom than he has knit together your human physiology.
No part is needless. No part is inferior. No part is unimportant. No part is redundant. No part is superfluous. And no part is the same. That’s where he goes in the final verses. A bunch of rhetorical questions with the implied answers of NO. Not all are apostles. Not all are prophets. Not all are teachers, or helpers, or leaders.
Instead, we’re called to a higher way. A better way. A way expressed through the most important thing of all: love. And that’s where we head in the next chapter and in the coming weeks.
But for now, let’s conclude by reflecting on the greatest act of love ever committed: the sacrifice of Christ.
Christ felt the punishment that we deserve. Think about the contrast in imagery, between our text this morning, and what is presented in the Lord’s Supper. Christ’s body was broken, so that we, his body, might be united. Christ’s body was separated (the body from the blood) in order that a separated people might be re-united. His body was put to death, so that we might be brought back from it. He was abandoned to the grave, so that we might have communion with God, and with each other.
We have in the supper, a picture of the un-doing of the fall and the curse. Through brokenness and cursing, communion is repaired. Through death, life is restored.
If you’re trusting in Christ, following after him and the truth of his Word, if you’re devoted to fellowship among the body, true genuine fellowship, not mere physical presence, then we invite you to join us.
If you haven’t trusted Christ and obeyed him in baptism, please let the plates pass. We’ll pass the plates, and then partake of the meal together.