This is the second week of our series on the Church as the Body of Christ. Our text this week is 1 Cor. 12:1-11 and in that text, Paul once again tells the Corinthian church that they are missing the point of what it means to follow Christ.
If you’ve ever looked closely at the New Testament, you’ll notice that right after the book of the Acts of the Apostles (which is after the Gospels), we’ve got the letters written by the apostle Paul. And those letters are ordered, more or less, by length. The letter to the Romans is the first and longest letter, probably because Paul hadn’t ever been to Rome
and so wanted to make sure he was really clear with them on what he believed. But next come the two letters to the Corinthians. Actually, experts believe Paul wrote at least 4 letters to the Corinthians, and probably more. Only 2 survived. And between those two, it seems pretty clear that Paul wrote more to the Corinthians than to any other church. And the reason he did so is because they had problems. That’s the reason Paul wrote most of his letters: to address problems or issues that had been raised by the churches. And so, from all that he wrote to those Corinthians, it’s apparent they had some problems.
And one of those problems was gifts. Not just that the members of the church had gifts—like wisdom or discerning spirits or speaking in tongues—but rather, the problem was what they did with those gifts. The problem was that they used them to try and one-up one another. They figured out ways to rank the gifts from most to least important, and the ones with the “more important” gifts sort of strutted around, while those with the “less important” gifts just sat around feeling inferior. It reminds me of just about every school I ever went to and every job I ever had. The Corinthians were using their gifts for their own purposes, to make themselves look good, to give them ascendancy over whomever they could.
And so Paul writes them this letter telling them they’re missing the point, because the gifts they are using as lines of demarcation to divide up the church are just that: gifts. The people didn’t create them. They didn’t earn them. The gifts were just given to them by God. And more importantly than that, the gifts weren’t given to enable the Corinthians to strut around and lord it over one another. They were given “for the common good.” God gave gifts to those Corinthians not for their individual benefit, but for the benefit of the entire community. It’s as if God entrusted the gifts to each of them as a trustee for the benefit of the entire group. So when they went off and used the gifts to try and one-up one another, they were missing the whole point.
When I was a kid, I used to play with Mr. Potato Head. Most everyone knows about Mr. Potato Head. I think of the Corinthian church, and our church, as a Mr. Potato Head. God gives us all gifts. Some are ears, some are mouths, some are eyes, some are hands, some are feet. And we are perfectly capable of just going off on our own and making what use we can of those gifts. The hands can go off by themselves and clap for themselves. The eyes can go off by themselves and see what they’ll see. But in doing so, they’re not fulfilling their true purpose. Their true purpose is to be found in their relationship to the rest of the body.
Without them, the body’s just a brown lump of plastic with some holes in it. The body finds its true function only when they all become attached. It’s nice if the body has legs, but it’s not going to get far if it can’t see where it’s going. And, at the same time, the parts of the body find their true function only in relationship to one another and the body as a whole. It takes eyes and arms and legs, among other things, to walk effectively.
We’re like Mr. Potato Head. God has gifted us. Some are hands, some are feet, some are nostrils. Some have a passion for kids, some have a passion for service, some have administrative abilities, some are effective communicators. Not only does our body—our community of faith—need us to bring those gifts to bear in order to reach it’s God-ordained potential, but so do we. It is in working together with the other parts of the body that we become truly who we were created to become. Otherwise, we’re like those Corinthians: just missing the point.