1. Corinthians 12. - Members of one body

Erkki Koskenniemi

The great blessing of the Church of Corinth – which at the same time became problematic – was the bounty of spiritual gifts. On one hand, the Holy Spirit worked mightily in the spirituality of the Corinthians. On the other hand, they used these gifts in ways that lead to disputes.

In chapter 12 Paul tries to get the Corinthians back on track. This is the overall aim of chapters 11-14, which speak of the worship in the Church of Corinth.

What is the Spirit known as? 12:1-3

Paul knows all too well that everyone seemingly working for the Spirit is not necessarily doing the right thing. The old pagan religions knew the religious ecstasy very well. The Corinthians had a past: they had earlier worshipped the pagan idols. Prophetic utterances had been made in front of graven images. You have to pay close attention, Paul says. A distinction should be drawn between the demons and the Spirit of God. The Spirit of the God, along with the Church, is always in agreement with the Confession that Jesus is the Lord. A demon will never confess this, but might even curse Jesus. The Spirit of the living God would never do so.

There are a lot of Spiritual Gifts 12:4-11

The gifts are different and they are given to different people, but all are from same source: God’s Holy Spirit. He blesses one with the gift of faith, a second with the gift of healing, the third with the gift of prophecy and the fourth with the gift of speaking in tongues. Among these gifts there is also the gift of administration. All these things will work together for good, for the benefit of the Church.

The purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate to the Corinthians that even though spiritual gifts are all different, they all come from the God and each has been given in the best interest of the Church. None of them should be repelled and none should be set against each other.

Paul lists several gifts of Spirit without explaining them in detail, because they were already known by the Corinthians. We, however, know this less well, so it’s good to look at the list again
- The words “message of knowledge” in verse 8 apparently simply refer to the wisdom and knowledge that the Corinthians seem to have been appreciative of (see 1. Corinthians 1-4).
-Faith is included in the list of these grace gifts, because it never comes from the work of a human, but is a gift from God.
- The gift of healing and the power to perform miracles probably need no explanation.
-Prophesy here means that a person receives a message from God which is to be given to other people. It is distinct from the rest of the teaching, because it is charismatic in its nature (see chapter 14).
-The gift of discernment between spirits means that the person can distinguish between evil spirits and the Holy Spirit.
-Speaking in tongues mean that a Christian prays and praises God in a language that is not spoken by humans. This kind of speech is inexplicable to everyone, even to the one speaking it, other than the one that has the gift of interpretation. The latter, who receives this gift, works as an interpreter between the one talking in tongues and the rest of the gathering of Christians.

It is worth noting that verses 4-6 talk about the very depth of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Anyone reading these verses will notice that they are built according to the same formulation. “The Spirit, Lord (Jesus) and God” are behind these grace gifts. The New Testament contains quite a lot of direct teaching about the Holy Trinity. In some chapters, e.g. the Great Commission for baptism and missionary work (Matt 28:18-20), the Holy Trinity is clearly displayed. Still, much remains obscure, as a mystery of God. In any case anyone who denies this and becomes anti-Trinitarian, (e.g. Jehovah’s Witnesses) is not a Christian.

Who belongs to Christ? 12:12-13

In this section Paul begins to speak in an amazing way about how Christ’s own together all make the body of Christ. This lesson can also be found in other Bible passages (e.g. Rom. 12, Eph. 5). This is by no means a dead corpse, but a living and functioning creature. Every Christian is a member of this living body. When Christians team up, and work together, this living and functioning entity carries out God’s tasks in the world.

The basis of belonging to Christ is not a person’s own ability, excellence, or personal achievements, nor does it rest on their God-given gifts. To become Christ’s own and a member of his body, a person must be baptized. In the Sacrament of Baptism the Holy Spirit grafts the person onto the Body of Christ, as a member of the body, irrespective of their race, gender or social status.

This is the basis of Christian equality. It is not that everyone has the same skills or same tasks, or even opportunities. Equality means that even where the Spirit has given different people different types of gifts and tasks, every Christian belongs to Christ because of their Baptism. This means no one has to feel bad in the Church and no one gets to feel superior either.

How does the Body of Christ work? 12:14-31

Everyone baptized into Christ become members of the body of Christ and each has their own tasks. Paul points out that just as the physical human body does not have just one type of part - there are hands, ears, a nose etc. - and all those have a role to play; so too has also every member in the Body of Christ. If a man had only one body part, used alone, life itself would be difficult. That is why God has given a person just the right amount of different body parts, that all work together, so that all the tasks will be done. The same happens in the Church: Everyone in the Body of Christ has their own role to play.

It is not a problem that we are different. On the contrary, it is precisely the variety which helps us to see many important things. In our bodies, our hands do not fight against the legs, and in the same way a Christian should not fight against others in the Body of Christ, which is the Church. No one has to feel bad in comparison to another, not even if the other person has a bigger or seemingly more important task. Similarly, no one is allowed to look down on another Christian. In the eyes of the God, we are all in the same line, his beloved children.

We are to learn to rejoice in the successes of others and grieve for each other when necessary. We work in this way with our own bodies. If there’s something in your eye, your legs take you to stand in front of the mirror and your hands, fingers and thumbs, will try to fix the eye. Paul tells the Corinthians that it should be this way in the Church too.

God’s gift is that he called some to be apostles, some prophets, and some teachers to the Church. In addition to these offices he provided a variety of other spiritual gifts. No Christian will have them all, and that is how it is supposed to be. Not everyone needs to be an apostle, or speak in tongues, or offer prophetic words. The basis of our salvation is not the spiritual gifts from God, but Christ and his cross alone.

Paul emphasizes the gift of salvation very strongly. In our time we may feel the power of the Spirit, which is good and proper, but the downside of this is when a Christian feels being bad because they have no special gifts to deliver. The gifted Christians might not see that they are looking down upon others, as they feel God’s Spirit’s force better than the others. What is important here is not the gifts, however, but salvation. A Christian needs no gift to be worthy of salvation. Christ - and his grace- is sufficient. We belong to the Church of Christ by baptism, not by being excellent.