The deacon leading worship on Sunday came into my office before church and was commenting on how much he loves this scripture. Honestly, it’s always been one of my favorites! It’s wonderful as it stands alone, but then, when you think about the fact that it leads into Paul’s words on love, is even more powerful.
There are so many different directions you can go with this text! I talked about the distribution of work within the Body mostly because I thought it was timely with where we are, as a church, but really the possibilities are endless when you preach this. There’s so much good stuff in it!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
February 2, 2020
1 Corinthians 12
Appointed Into The Body Of Christ
If ever there was a piece of scripture that has the capability to sum up the work of the local church in less than 1,000 words, it is the 12th chapter of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth.
It is in this chapter that Paul names the Body of Christ.
It is in this chapter that Paul says we do not all have to live out our faith in the same ways.
It is in this chapter that Paul admits that we are not called to do it all.
It is in this chapter that Paul assures us that different does not mean bad; that not only is it okay that we all possess different spiritual gifts, but that it is actually necessary for the church to survive and thrive in the generations to come.
I think it is easy for us to read this scripture today and think, of course this makes sense, this is the only way that societies and businesses and communities function. You need different people fulfilling different roles in order for all of the roles to be fulfilled. Think of it this way: I am very happy to be your pastor and most days even think I do a pretty good job at it; but if y’all need advice on your taxes between now and April 15th, I am so not the person you should be talking to. And on the flip side, I do not think my accountant wants to be preaching, either!
But this is exactly my point: We all take care of a piece of life so that other people do not have to do it all. And those other people take care of a different piece of life so that we do not have to do it all. It seems so logical; and yet for this church Paul is writing to, it is countercultural.
You have to remember where the Corinthians were coming from. This was a relatively new church. Paul had gone to Corinth and founded this church; but after he left to continue evangelizing in new cities, he heard reports of conflict back in Corinth.
From the very beginning of this chapter, Paul names exactly why the Corinthians are struggling. He says in verse two, “You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak.” In other words, Paul is saying, I know this whole “one God” thing is very new to you all.
A majority of the Corinthian church is made up of Gentiles (people who were not Jewish prior to their conversion to Christianity) and only a small percentage of people in this church are Jewish Christians (people who were Jewish prior to their conversion to Christianity). Because of this, it is safe to assume that most people are not accustomed to monotheism – to worshiping one God. The Gentile people – the majority of the people in this church – even if they were not practicing, had at least been influenced by the pagan culture in Corinth before Paul entered the scene. And so they were used to this notion that if you had one gift, you worshiped a certain God and if you had another gift, you worshiped a different God.
But here Paul is saying that, no matter what gifts you possess, you will all worship the same God. Because “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord.”
This is a very different way of life and spirituality than most of these people are used to living. What it means is, that instead of silo-ing themselves into different groups of people who all possess like-minded gifts and worship a God that is pertinent to only that like-minded gift, they are now being called to open themselves up to be one body and to serve one God.
I think sometimes when I talk about the Body of Christ, I talk about it in a more superficial way. I use it for recruiting and for affirming all of the many ways that you can serve this church. But when Paul talks about it here, he is really digging deep into the depths of how the people in this community understand the world to be.
And so Paul is saying they need to step outside of these silos and embrace not only that which they hold in common with the other members of this church, but also that which stands in stark contrast with them. Because diversity does not mean lack of unity; it just means that together we create the Body of Christ.
When Paul talks to the Corinthians about the Body of Christ, he is not doing this as a way of “volun-telling” people for various boards and committees, like say, perhaps, yours truly might do; he is actually talking about the Body of Christ in order to shift an entire community’s way of thinking, drawing them together in one body, instead of allowing them to remain divided.
And so, when we read these words today, I think there are actually two really important takeaways for us. The first is the one that we fall back on a lot – that we all have a different, but really vital role to play in the church.
Paul says at the end of this chapter, “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.” As we seek to do the hard work, today, that is proclaiming the Gospel and nurturing our local church, it is absolutely crucial we remember that we each have a unique role to play, that we all can contribute in ways both large and small.
It sounds so cliché, but this church needs you and the gifts that you possess. This church needs people to sing in the choir, hand out bulletins, ring the bell at the beginning of worship, manage our money, clean the building, teach Church School, arrange the flowers, participate in mission projects and volunteer at events. This church needs people to donate money and various items to different collections. This church needs people to show up faithfully in worship and be ambassadors for the church out in the community.
What this church does not need is for you to try to do all of these things. Like God appointed the Corinthian people to be apostles, prophets, teachers, healers, assisters and leaders, God appoints us in this church today to fulfill these various roles in confident hope that others are being appointed to fulfill the other roles.
In other words, the work that each and every one of us does matters; but we do not have to do it all or do it alone. Instead, we have this incredible opportunity to stand in awe of the way God is not only using us within this church, but then also putting all the pieces together to create the whole of this beautifully holy, grace-filled and life-changing church.
The second important takeaway for us, today, has more to do with what Paul was specifically addressing in Corinth – and that is this hard to live out truth that it is okay for us to be different.
It is okay if we view the world differently. It is okay if we understand our faith in different ways. It is okay if we live out our faith differently from those around us. We do not have to be of the same mind in order to be united in Christ.
There are very few places left in the world where you can gather with people who may share vastly different views as you and yet still be encouraged to love them and encourage them and embrace them and serve alongside them. There are even fewer places left in the world where you can gather with people who may share vastly different views as you and yet know that they are loving you and encouraging you and embracing you and serving alongside you.
This is church. This is a place where we are all called beloved and claimed as God’s children. This is a place where we look each other in the eyes and see one another’s humanity. This is a place where we do not try to change one another; but instead where we meet each other where we are and love one another as Christ loved us.
This is church. This is the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ that has many members. The Body of Christ where all are baptized as one and made to drink of one Spirit. The Body of Christ that does not consist of one member, but of many. The Body of Christ where God has appointed us to use our gifts to nurture the church, to love one another and to share the Gospel.
The Body of Christ is not just something we are called into, it is a gift; it is a gift God gives to us so we can be united with one another, so we can be part of something bigger than ourselves and so, together, we can gather the church and proclaim Christ’s message of light, love and grace.
Welcome to the Body.
Thanks be to God!