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One Body, Many Parts September 17, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a.

Summary: Paul begins by noting that the human body is one – though it consists of many parts – and these parts are essential for it to be an organic whole; moreover, this analogy can be extended to the church. Now all believers have experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit – merging them into an organic whole – and they receive the Holy Spirit via that baptism. He then notes that each part of the human body plays a critical role in sustaining the organic whole. Now he stresses that it would be absurd for one part of the human body to complain that it lacks the function that is inherent to another part. Indeed, the very existence of the human body relies on its consisting of many distinct parts that each play a critical role in sustaining it. Now God has determined which parts should constitute the human body, and He has given each of them their respective roles. Paul then stresses that each part of the human body depends on the other parts for its survival. In addition,

  • those parts of the human body that are less prominent are actually more important for survival than its more prominent parts
  • humans are inclined to adorn the parts of their bodies that appear to be less honorable.

The parts of the human body that appear to be more honorable do not need to be adorned, while God has designed the human body so that the (seemingly) less honorable parts are actually worthy of more honor. God has designed the human body in this way so that there should be no opposition of feelings between its diverse parts; thus, the pain/pleasure of one part is shared by the other parts. Paul then applies this analogy concerning the human body to the church at Corinth. In particular, God has given each of the members of the body of Christ at least one of the following roles:

  • serving as direct messengers from Christ
  • communicating occasional truths from God – as inspired by the Holy Spirit
  • teaching
  • working miracles
  • healing diseases
  • serving as deacons and deaconesses
  • serving as elders
  • praying, praising God and thanking Him using languages that they had never studied.

In particular, the body of Christ cannot function as an organic whole if all of its members have the same gift. Paul concludes by exhorting the Corinthians to strive to obtain the most edifying gifts for the body of Christ.

Thoughts: One of Paul’s main points in this passage is that the body of Christ can only exist as a union of diverse members – each with their own gift from the Holy Spirit. Hodge offers an interesting slant on this point in his commentary on verse 14:

To a certain extent what Paul says of the diversity of gifts in individual members of the church may, in the existing state of things, be applied to different denominations of Christians. No one is perfect or complete in itself. And no one can say to the others, “I have no need of you.” Each represents something that is not as well represented in the others. Each has its own function to exercise and its own work to perform.

While I actually agree with Hodge’s point that different denominations are mutually dependent – and no alienation of feelings should exist between them – I am unsure as to whether Paul actually intended this passage to be understood in that way. In particular, it does not appear that distinct denominations had arisen in the church at the time of the writing of this letter. Some would argue that the whole concept of distinct denominations is unbiblical, though that’s a topic for another day.

Another of Paul’s main points in this passage is the importance of shared feelings among the members of the body of Christ; all believers should suffer together and rejoice together. Now this is relatively easy to understand in terms of the human body, as Hodge notes in his commentary on verses 25-26:

This is the law of our physical nature. The body is really one. It has a common life and consciousness. The pain or pleasure of one part is common to the whole.

Unfortunately, this is relatively difficult to understand in terms of the body of Christ, as Hodge notes in his commentary on verse 27:

In this, as in all other respects, Christians are imperfect. The time has not yet come when every believer has the same care for another that he has for himself and rejoices in his joy and grieves in his sorrow as though they were his own. But the ideal is set before us here, and blessed are those who approach nearest to the standard.

I thought about this, and it appears that a lack of time and resources is a major reason for our shortcomings in this regard. As believers, it is difficult to find time to understand the joys and struggles of each member of our local congregation (especially if we attend a relatively large church), let alone those of a fellow believer in Lesotho. This leads me to believe that it is impossible for Christians to attain “the standard” in this life; my thought, though, is that Paul is exhorting us to improve in this regard – which seems more attainable.

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