1 CORINTHIANS 12:12-31


One of the greatest desires that people have is to belong.  It is seen in every area of life.  I have only to remember what it was like when I was a child.  The most important thing in my life was to fit in and to belong.


I don’t think it is something that you ever outgrow.  Look at the single scene, look at grandparents, look at the aged and the ancient, and you will see in all of them this same desire to belong.  The reason it is possible to be lonely in a crowd is because, although there may be others around, you do not belong to them and they do not belong to you.


This deep need drives people to join fraternities, bowling leagues, lodges and even churches.  I think that this is one of the key attractions to Christianity.  It is a place where you can truly belong.


When you come to Christ, you get much more than a ticket to heaven.  When you come to Christ, you enter into His family.  You become a child of God.  God becomes your heavenly Father.   He loves you like a father and sometimes He chastens you like a father.  You are now one of His kids.  You belong.


That is not all.  There is another side to belonging to the family of God.  The family of God is not just made up of the Father.  It is also made up of a lot of other children.  These are now your brothers and sisters.  You have been united with them.  You belong to them and they belong to you.  You are joined to them in a way that transcends every other bonding known to humanity.  It is much closer than a marriage because a marriage is only “till death do you part.”  This relationship will not be sundered by death.  It is an eternal relationship.  It is a relationship that binds us in the closest possible manner.  It is likened to a body.





            For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).


There is nothing more united than a body.  I don’t think of my body in terms of its parts.  When I get up in the morning, I don’t say to myself, “Self, you had better remember to take your arm with you when you go to work today.”  My arm is a part of me.  I would sincerely hate to lose it.  It is united to me and I am going to protect it at all costs.


In the same say, believers are a part of a body.  Because we are all parts of a body, we should not think of one another as parts, but as one.


1.         United by a Spiritual Baptism:  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body (12:13).


To what kind of baptism does this refer?  When we say the word “baptism,” most people tend to think of a church ceremony in which someone who is dry gets wet.  Baptism is much more than this.  There are a number of different sorts of Baptism to be found in the Bible.


Baptism of John

Matthew 3:1-6

John baptized people to identify them with the coming kingdom

Baptism of Jesus

Matthew 3:13-15

Jesus was baptized by John to identify Himself with the kingdom of which John was preaching

Christian Baptism

Acts 3:38-41

Believers and their households were baptized to identify themselves with Jesus Christ and the cleansing power of His death, burial and resurrection

The Baptism of Jesus’ Death

Mark 10:38-39; Luke 12:50

Jesus was identified with our sins upon the cross

Baptism in the Holy Spirit

Acts 1:5; 1 Corinthians 12:13

All believers have been identified with Christ through the ministry of the Holy Spirit

Baptism into Moses

1 Corinthians 10:2

The Israelites coming out of Egypt were identified with Moses and the God whom he followed


Each of these verses makes mention of a baptism.  But only in a few of them is the idea of water to be seen.  The one idea that IS always present in each of these cases is the idea of IDENTIFICATION.  When you are baptized, you are being identified with something.  This is seen in every baptism within the New Testament.


Neither is this idea of baptism and identification found only in the New Testament. It is vividly seen in the writings of Xenophon, the Greek mercenary-general.  He tells of soldiers who BAPTIZED their swords and spears in blood to seal a military alliance (The Persian Expedition 2:2:4).  The idea was that they were identifying their weapons with blood so that they would be allied together against all enemies.


In the same way, Paul tells us that by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.  When you came to Jesus Christ and trusted Him as your Lord and Savior, you were given a place in His body.  You were placed into the body of Christ and you were identified with Him.


You now have a new identity.  You have become a new person.  You are not the old person you used to be.  You have a new identity.  This new identity is rooted in the person of Jesus Christ.


Because He is the Son of God, you are also a child of God.  Because He has eternal life, you also have eternal life.  Because He is righteous, you have also been declared to be righteous.  Because He was crucified, you are considered to have been crucified with Christ.  Because He rose from the dead, you will also rise from the dead.  Because He is the heir to the kingdom, you are a co-heir with Christ.


This baptism of the Spirit should not be confused with the filling of the Spirit.  They are two separate and distinct phenomenon.



Baptism of the Spirit

Filling of the Spirit


1 Corinthians 12:13

Ephesians 5:18


1st person plural: “You were all baptized”

2nd person singular: “Let each of you be filled”


Indicative: It is an established fact

Imperative: Do it now!


Aorist: A once and for all action

Present: It must be done continually


A once and for all event that continues throughout eternity

A temporal event that takes place intermittently


Places the believer into union with Christ

Empowers the believer for service


The baptism of the Spirit of which Paul speaks is a once and for all event in the life of a Christian.  It took place at the time of conversion.

2.         United in a Unity that Transcends all Boundaries:  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit (12:13).


The prejudices that existed between Jew and Gentile is unrivaled in all of history.  The Jew would not even eat at the same table with a Gentile.


Likewise, the barrier between those who were slaves and those who were free was so great that one group were considered to be property while the other group were considered to be people.


Do you see what Paul is saying?  There is not to be one church for Jews and another for Gentiles.  There is not to be one church for slaves and another for free people.  There is not one church for upper middle class and another for street people.  There is not to be one church for whites and another for blacks and Hispanics and Haitians.


We have all been baptized into the same body.  We are all one in Christ.  This is the only place of true equality.  This is the only place where all men are created equal.





            14 For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot should say, “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. 16 And if the ear should say, “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.

            17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be? (1 Corinthians 12:14-19).


Have you ever stopped to think that it is good that you are different?  Most people like to be the same.  We buy fashion magazines so that we can al buy the clothes that are in style so that we can be the same.  When you say about someone, “He is different,” you usually think of someone who doesn’t quite measure up.


God says that His people are different and distinct from one another and that it is good that they are different.


1.         The Many Membered Body:  For the body is not one member, but many (12:14).

Just as my body is made up of the sum total of its parts, so also the body of Christ is made up of many different members that are very different from one another.


Have you ever been around someone who insisted that you have to fit into their mold?  Some churches are like that.  They want you to dress like them and talk like them and bomb your hair like them and use the spiritual gift that they use and, if you don’t, then they say that something is wrong.


2.         The Equality of Belonging:  If the foot should say, “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. 16 And if the ear should say, “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 (12:15-16).


There were Corinthian believers who had bought into this line of thinking.  They thought that, because they did not possess certain spiritual gifts, they were not a part of the body of Christ.


Can you imagine how silly this would be on a football team?  The players would enter their huddle to plan their next play.  Suddenly the two guards say, “Wait a minute.  If we can’t be the quarterback, then we will go and sit in the bleachers because we really are not a part of the team.”


This brings up another point that we ought to mention.  Christianity is not a spectator sport.  You know all about spectator sports.  We have become a people who are involved as spectators.  A football game has been defined as 22 men who desperately need rest being watched by 50,000 people who desperately need exercise.  Christianity is not like that.  At least, it is not supposed to be.  Christianity is a religion of involvement.


The illustration that Paul uses is a humorous one.  Imagine the idea of a foot saying, “I’ve been watching the hand up there and he does all sorts of things that I have never done.  He plays the piano and writes letters and pats babies on the head and presses buttons.  I never do any of those thing.  If that is what it means to be a part of the body, then I must have lost out.  I guess that I’m not really a part of the body after all.”


3.         The Imbalance of Uniformity:  If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? (12:17).


A healthy body has many different parts of the body to support many different functions.  It is not enough for the church to support one function and to ignore the rest.  To do that would be to cripple the church.


I believe this to be one of the dangers of the “one man ministry” -- a ministry that is led exclusively by a single man rather than by a plurality of elders.  The leader of such a ministry has a tendency to push only his own spiritual gift and to ignore all of the others.  Thus, teaching might become important but evangelism and the helping of others and faith are all left by the wayside.  The result is a church that is crippled.


God has not created a crippled church.  He has given to the church an entire body with all of its members in working order.


3.         We are Different by Design:  But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired (12:18).


God has made the body as a corporate group of many working parts.  He is the one who has assigned the various functions to the different parts of the body.  This means when you take people who are different and try to make them the same, you are fighting against God’s design.





            20 But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And 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.”

            22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those members of the body, which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our unseemly members come to have more abundant seemliness, 24 whereas our seemly members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25 that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.

            26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. (1 Corinthians 12:20-26).


We live in an age of independence.  We are bombarded with a philosophy of standing alone and doing your own thing and being your own man.


By contrast, Christianity is not a religion of independence.  It is a relationship of interdependence.  You enter that relationship through the door of dependence -- through dependence upon the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Once you have become a part of the body of Christ, you begin to experience an interdependence with other members of the body.


1.         Interdependence Illustrated:  But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And 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.” (12:20-21).


In the illustration that we saw back in verse 15, the part of the body was saying, “Because I’m not like them, they don’t need me.”   Now we see the member of the body saying just the opposite: “I don’t need them.”


Verse 15

Verses 20-21

“Because I’m not like them, they don’t need me”

“Because they’re not like me, I don’t need them”


Independence is not a part of God’s plan for His people.  Neither does He have two alternate plans.  He doesn’t say, “Oh, you don’t want to interact with other Christians?  That’s okay, we have this ‘Go It Alone’ plan that allows you to walk only with me.”


There are no self-sufficient Christians.  I cannot do it without you.  And you cannot do it without me.


2.         No Unimportant Parts:  On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary (12:22).


There are some members of the body which, at first glance, seem unimportant.  When you first see a body, you tend to look at the face -- the eyes and the ears and the nose.  You may never get around to noticing the feet or the knees or the spleen.  But that does not mean that these are unimportant.


The same is true of the body of Christ.  There are no unimportant parts.  God has no unimportant people in His church.  They are all necessary.


Furthermore, it is often the most neglected or dishonored portion of the body that would be the most hurtful to the body if it ceased to function.  These can turn out to be the most necessary.


3.         A Relationship of Suffering:  And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it (12:26).


I hurt when you hurt, even if I do not realize it.  When someone in the church is hurting, everyone ought to be saying, “Ouch.”


One of the things I hate to do is any find of construction work.  It isn’t that I am adverse to manual labor, but it is because of my awareness of my own lack of ability in that realm.  I have to admit that I am not at my spiritual best when I am so engaged, especially when something goes amiss.  Something always goes amiss.


When I am hammering a nail and I miss and hit my finger, I want you to know that my whole body responds.  My feet begin to jump up and down and my eyes water and bug out and my mouth makes known the pain that is communicated to it.  The same ought to be true when someone hurts in the church.  Everyone ought to respond.


4.         A Relationship of Honor:  If one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it (12:26).


The unity of the body is also to be seen in good times.  When something good happens to one member, then it ought to make us all happy.  We are called to be cheerleaders for one another.  We are here to cheer one another on in the Christian life.





            27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.

            29 All 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? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?

            31 But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way. (1 Corinthians 12:27-31).


Paul now gives us a list of spiritual gifts.  It is not an exhaustive list.  It is not meant to be.  We saw another such list at the beginning of this chapter.  It contained different gifts from the one on this list.


Paul is not trying to teach us everything there is to know about spiritual gifts.  He does not tell us anything about how to recognize a spiritual gift.  He does not explain what the gifts are.  He isn’t focusing upon the specifics of any one gift.  Instead, he wants to teach us that God has made us different and that He has provided these differences for our benefit.


1.         Gifts are God’s Appointment:   And God has appointed in the church (12:28).

God is sovereign over His church.  He is the one who has made us what we are and He is the one who has made us to be different.  He decided what those differences would be.


2.         A Divine Order to the Gifts:  And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues (12:28).


There are eight gifts that are mentioned here.  As we have noted, they are representative and are not meant to be an exhaustive listing of the gifts.  At the same time, they are given in a very specific order.


·        First apostles.

·        Second prophets

·        Third teachers

·        Then miracles

·        Then gifts of healings

·        Helps

·        Administrations

·        Various kinds of tongues


Paul seems to go out of his way to emphasize an order to these gifts by the use of the terms “first, second and third.”  Why is this order important?  Why is it even mentioned?  Paul does not say, but I think it is because the first gifts that are mentioned are FOUNDATIONAL gifts.


            So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone (Ephesians 2:19-20).


            And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12).


Notice the purpose of these foundational gifts.  They were to get the saints ready for the work of service.  They were to prepare believers to do the work of the ministry.


We often speak of those who “go into the ministry” as some special class of believer who is paid to be good while the rest of us are good for nothing.  That is wrong.  All believers are to be in the ministry.  All believers have been equipped for the ministry.  They have been equipped with spiritual gifts from God and they have been given a firm foundation.


3.         Desiring Greater Gifts:  But earnestly desire the greater gifts (12:31).


How are we to understand this passage?  Is Paul telling the Corinthians that they ought to covet the foundational gifts?  Such a command would be inconsistent with what Paul has been saying throughout this chapter.  He has just finished explaining how all the gifts are necessary and how the one that tends to get the least honor might indeed be that much more important.  How then can he say that believers ought to desire one gift over another.


Furthermore, God is the one who gives gifts and He has appointed them according to His own will.  Is Paul teaching that you ought not to be satisfied with your own particular gift?  I do not believe so.


There are several interpretations that have been suggested to answer this quandary:


     ·     View #1:  This is speaking of desiring the greater gifts for the benefit of the corporate church.


This view sees this as a call to desire that the church be gifted with those who possess greater gifts.  It would be like saying, “I desire for my church to have a gifted pastor and a gifted evangelist.”  The problem is that some of the gifts that Paul put in the first place were temporary by nature.  Most Christians today agree that there are no apostles as there were in the New Testament age.


This view also has a problem with Paul’s earlier words that emphasize how all of the gifts are important to the health of the body.


     ·     View #2: Paul’s words are to be interpreted as an indicative rather than as an imperative.  Instead of Paul telling the Corinthians, “You are to earnestly desire the greater gifts,” he is telling them of their ongoing actions as he says, “You are earnestly desiring the greater gifts.”  The difference is between the imperative and the indicative.


Imperative Mood

“I command you to desire the greater gifts”

Indicative Mood

“I know that you have been desiring the greater gifts”


Do you see the difference?  Instead of telling them to do something, Paul would be rebuking them for what they have been doing.

This view sees the Corinthians as having picked out certain gifts as the best ones.  They were attracted to those gifts that made them look more spiritual and that centered people’s attention on themselves.  They played a game called, “King of the gifts.”  They got into arguments over who had the best gift.


     ·     View #3: The greater gifts are described in the next chapter and are exemplified by love.


This view suggests that Paul explains what he means by desiring the greater gifts by pointing to “a more excellent way” -- the way of love.  It is not that this gift or that gift is particularly important.  The important thing is not the various gifts.  The important thing is love.


All of the spiritual gifts are temporary except for this one.  There will come a day when preachers and evangelists are unnecessary.  There will be a day when gifts of prophecy and of knowledge and of tongues will be no more.  But love will never go out of style.  Love lasts.


4.         A Better Way:  And I show you a still more excellent way (12:31).


In contrast to a focus upon what might be the greatest gifts, Paul proposes a better way.  It is the way of love.  This was the root problem facing the Corinthians.


The reason there were divisions in the church is that there was no love to hold them together.  The reason there was pride in the church is that they loved themselves and their own reputations rather than each other.  The reason there was a lack of church discipline is because there was no “tough love.”  The reason for immorality in the church went back to a false concept of love.  The reason there were problems at the Lord’s Supper was because they had no love.


If you come to this chapter looking for which gift might be held up to a place of preeminence over other gifts, then you are in danger of missing the point.  It is that the gifts are only a means to demonstrating our love for one another and for the Lord.  It is not the gift that is important.  It is our love that is important.


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