Agonizomai: 1Cor 12:12-20 - Anatomy 101

Sunday, July 27, 2008

1Cor 12:12-20 - Anatomy 101

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

None of this resonates unless the concept of the loss of self is adopted. Without this, the whole analogy is rather facile. It is easy to see that any body that we have been familiar with, especially our own, though comprised of "members" is all of a piece and does exactly as the head dictates. But Christ is the head of the body of the church and not us. We are members, but not members for our own purposes to follow the dictates of our own passions and desires. That is what happened when we lived in the flesh, but now we are members of a spiritual body - the church - and we follow the dictates of the Head of that body.

So it needs to be seen that a person cannot be self-willed and still a member of the church. He must give up his self-will and submit his whole being to Christ for service to the body, for His sake. Yet this giving up cannot be a work and must be something that is the result of faith. It must be a genuine response to what God has already done to make us accepted in the Beloved. Some will struggle long and hard with this and some will sail through it as if on a smooth ocean with a following wind. Some will struggle only from time to time - but it is in all of us, weak or strong, to lapse into self-justification without realizing it. Our flesh demands that we make ourselves acceptable, that we contribute, solidify, guarantee, underwrite, cover both ends so that we will be acceptable to God. But to do so is not Biblical and it is not the gospel.

Yes we must examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith {2Co 13:5}, and yes, we must be diligent to make our calling and election sure {2Pe 1:10} - but the way to these things is through Christ and not through ourselves. The work of God is to believe in the One Whom He has sent. {Joh 6:29} This is what God Himself is working in us. We must look to what God has done and what He is in order to bear fruit, and we make a big mistake when we begin looking to ourselves.

The good news, however, about losing our lives for Christ’s sake and the gospel that comes in Him is that we find our true lives. We give up that carnal, self-centred, sinful, God-rejecting living death that pleases our senses, but only in shallow and temporary ways - and we exchange it for eternal life, which is to know God and Jesus Christ, Whom He has sent. {Joh 17:3}

But He cannot be known truly apart from the submission of obedience, to which all believers are called. We may see this "submission" as a costly and distasteful loss - but if we do, we are in danger of being found reprobates because we still have a carnal view of heavenly things. The saint sees that what he receives in Christ is infinitely more than anything he loses. He exchanges eternal life for death. He exchanges joy for mere happiness. He exchanges light for darkness, the knowledge of God for ignorance, fellowship with the ineffable, infinite, glorious God for indentured servitude to self and Satan.

And this exchange all finds expression in the life lived, part of which is the life lived with other believers in the body of the church, where we all minister to each other. But we have residual sin in us. We may look at others in the church and covet their gifts. If we know ourselves at all, we may see that we covet all the gifts as we see them in others. And it does not just work from the invisible to the highly visible gifts. A teacher may covet the humble grace of a person with the gift of mercy. While it is not a bad thing to desire to be merciful it is sin to covet the mercy that God has gifted to another. In my closet, let me bewail my own lack of mercy; on my face let me ask God to make me more merciful; in public let me genuinely appreciate the mercy displayed by others in the church and encourage it, exhort it and give thanks for it. The same goes for all the gifts that God supplies in others - and that He supplies in me for others.

This is the glory of God - that He is Who He is and that I am not He. He decides which gifts to give, where, when and to whom. He deliberately does not give all the gifts in their fullest manifestation to anyone. There is only One upon Whom the Spirit rested without measure and Who, as a consequence, displayed the fullness of all the gifts of God in human form - the man, Christ Jesus. We are His creatures. We are dust. We are dead things apart from His grace. We are dependent, non-god, created, finite entities. We are fragments by definition, for none of us could contain the fullness of infinite God. But we can manifest together the nature of that fullness.

When God manifests mercy in one and wisdom in another he is enabling us to see Him at work and to see the fruit of His labours in Christ - and we can see these things in a way we could not possibly see them if they were all in us. We must look outward and not inward if we would see Jesus. Yes, he lives in us by the Spirit - but He does so through faith and that faith looks to Christ and not to us. This is what is meant by looking outward. We see Him everywhere and the dispensing of the gifts aids us by causing us to see Him at work in others, whereas we might overlook Him working in us because of our spiritual myopia.

Paul does not take this emphasis in the text. His concerns are more practical. If the church is to be the body of Christ on earth while He is in heaven and until His return, it must function as a body. Petty jealousies, covetousness, showmanship and prideful bickering over what the best gifts are - these things are decried in favour of an understanding that whatever our gifts may be, we all serve the Head, to do what He purposes with the gifts that He has chosen to tailor specifically for each believer.

The fact that Paul brings up these matters springs from the horrifying and frankly unbelievable behaviour of the Corinthian church. At least, it should be horrifying to us, but if we believe ourselves immune or incapable of such foolishness then perhaps we are missing the point. These things are written precisely because it is in all of us to slide into the most appalling attitudes and habits unless we have warnings and reminders. The sins of Corinth are signposts to us. Their correction is so that we might not stray. Paul’s polemic to them is prophylactic to us. And the grace extended to them in their great error also gives hope of help and forgiveness to us in our own error, whatever that may be.

So - are these verses primarily about the diversity of the gifts or the headship of the Giver?


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