1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Last week, we began our look at the last part of the book of 1 Corinthians. Paul had spent quite some time with this group of believers, yet they still had issues to work through. This letter is Paul’s response to a few of their questions. “What about spiritual gifts?” they want to know. Which ones are best, or better yet, how is my gift better than all the others? Whose head can I lord my gift over? Paul’s answer spans a good three chapters. Last week, we heard the first part of his answer. You’re focusing on the wrong thing. You’re focusing on the gifts without recognizing who they’re from. You want the gift, but not the giver. Instead, focus on the giver, the Holy Spirit, the one who has claimed you as His own in Baptism and puts each and every believer on the exact same level. All the Corinthian Christians, along with you and I, are on the exact same level. We are one in Christ.
And that’s the image that Paul now digs into. You and I are not just one in Christ, we are the Body of Christ. A body is made up of many members: eyes, ears, arms, legs, fingers, lungs, the list could go on and on. But no matter how many body parts you name, nothing changes the fact that they are all part of one body. You gain nothing by pitting the knee against the heart or the toes against the cheek. It doesn’t make any sense. You need all your body parts. They are all equally important and equally united. Yes, there are many body parts, but they are all linked together by the fact that they belong to the body. What happens to one body part has impacts throughout the body. You know firsthand how this works. You may only have a headache, but it can wear out your entire body, so that it’s hard to do anything but lie down. You may not notice your appendix all that much, but your whole body will feel it the moment something goes wrong. What affects one member affects them all.
This is the picture that Paul paints of the Christian Church. We are a body. You may have a different role to play than the person next to you in the pew, but you do have a vital role to play. Snow and travel conditions aside, by your presence or absence on a Sunday morning, you affect the faith of those around you. Without you in worship, the voice of the church in song is a little softer. Without you, the prayers of the church are less complete. Without you, the fellowship we share around the altar is lacking something vital. This is the time we have to come together to be the Body wholly and completely, but everyone is worse off when you choose not to come to worship.
You have been given a gift by the Spirit of God that we miss out on when you’re not here. Bible Study is not the same when Paul’s not here asking questions. Worship’s not the same without Carol or Jackie playing the organ. Sunday School’s not the same when Connie’s not around. You have a place and a role here at St. Luke as a member of the body of Christ. You have been given a gift that is meant to be used for the building up of the body of Christ. If you’re not using it, then both you, and we are missing something important.
Paul goes on in verse 28 to spell out a few spiritual gifts, like he did last week. But this time, he expects that you have the right foundation. You know that these gifts are from the Spirit. You know they are meant to build up the body of Christ. You know that none of these gifts makes you more or less important to the body. Now, earnestly desire the higher gifts. In spite of us all being equal, the roles you and I have been given to play are different and come with different responsibilities and prominence. It’s interesting: Paul seems to split his list into two categories. In the first category, he numbers the gifts, in the second, he just lists them. They are gifts of proclamation and gifts of strengthening.
The first category of gifts are the spiritual gifts are gifts of proclamation. As Paul uses the term in 1 Corinthians, the word, “apostle” means someone who has been an eyewitness to the resurrected Jesus. They have seen Him, come to know Him, and have been sent out by Him. In their role as eyewitnesses, they share what they have seen with others, proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. Prophets are those who have received some kind of special revelation from God. Be it in a dream or a vision or a personal appearance, God has shown something to them that they did not know before and it changes who they are and what they do. Because of this revelation, they go around sharing the world of the Lord with those around them, proclaiming God’s spoken Word to the world. And Teachers are those who study the Scriptures, dig into the written word of God, and share their learning with others, helping them to learn along the way. They proclaim God’s written Word to the world.
Paul calls these spiritual gifts higher because they have a direct impact on salvation. People are saved when they hear the good news proclaimed to them. They are saved when they hear the Word of God spoken to them where they are. People are brought into the body of Christ by the work of these spiritually gifted people. Go after these gifts. Share the good news of Jesus with those around you. Work on this. Desire these higher gifts.
But you may not have them. And that’s ok. You still have a crucial role to play. Paul lists several of them: performing miracles, healing people, helping, administrating, speaking other languages, interpreting. This is just a small sampling of the gifts the Holy Spirit gives, but you’ll notice what they all have in common: they are gifts meant to build up the body of Christ, strengthening and supporting the primary mission of the Church which is to make more believers. Both categories of proclamation and strengthening are important and necessary and good, and they both serve the body of Christ. You may not be able to “distinguish between the spirits,” but you can encourage your fellow believers. You may not be able to put together a lesson plan and help a class better understand the Gospel, but you can pray for those around you. You may not be able to lead a church service, but you can help by serving food at a food truck or peel potatoes for the Sauerkraut Supper or corral kids at VBS. While some roles are more visible and prominent than others, they are all important and necessary for the work of the church.
You’ll see this image play out right in front of your eyes just one week from today. Super Bowl LIII is on its way, and in fact, a football team demonstrates how the church should operate. Each player has a different role to play, all extremely important. Sure, the quarterback is the most prominent, but he’s no good without players defending him or someone to throw the ball to. The kicker may only be on the field a couple of minutes throughout the entire game, but he has a crucial role to play. Different roles, one team, all working together. It’s a picture of the church. Different roles, one body- the body of Christ, all working together. You are the body of Christ. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell