3 March 2015

1 Corinthians 12.12-31a

“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.” (v. 12)

Psalm: Psalm 119:33-48


Following on from yesterday's passage, in which Paul wrote that although there may be many spiritual gifts they all come from the one Spirit of God, he goes on to explore how they all serve and are interdependent upon one another.

Paul does this by introducing the image of the human body in verse 12 (above). He begins by reminding his fellow Christians that they have all been baptized into the one Body of Christ, and the nature of their different backgrounds, "Jews or Greeks, slaves or free" (v. 13) indicates the range of possible tensions which might arise.

He then reflects on how the body works. There are many members, limbs and organs in the body, each of which depends on the others. No one limb or organ can presume to operate on its own, or where would this leave the body? "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you' nor again the head to the feet 'I have no need of you'" (v. 21). Indeed, within the body, it is sometimes the case that the seemingly "weaker" members turn out to be the most "indispensable" (v. 22); perhaps here Paul is reflecting on some of the social divisions within the Christian community in Corinth. For God has so arranged things in the body as to give "greater honour" to the lesser members (v. 24), so that instead of disagreement and discrimination there should be mutual respect and care. For "if one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it" (v. 26).

Paul concludes this section by reminding us that what is true of limbs in the human body is equally true of members in the Body of Christ: "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it" (v. 27). It follows that there are a variety of offices (apostles, prophets, teachers) and of gifts (of healing, assistance, leadership and tongues) which God has distributed (verse 28). But no one person has a monopoly on them: "Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?". For all these gifts are intended to be shared in the life of the Church.

Paul closes with an enigmatic challenge to "strive for the greater gifts" (v. 31a); what exactly this means will be picked up in the sections which follow.

To Ponder

  • Have you been called to exercise office in the life of the Church?
  • Do you think we tend to privilege or rank some gifts higher than others? Why?
  • Can you think of some gifts which we tend to underplay and which should be given a higher priority? If so, what are they? Why might this be?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Wigley

Stephen Wigley is a Methodist minister currently serving as chair of the Wales Synod. He is married to Jenny, a priest in the Church in Wales, and they have two teenage sons, David and Andrew.