We are looking at the thought of one body, many gifts; one body, many gifts, 1 Corinthians 12:12 through 31. I suppose that you have seen the television commercial with the rugged, bearded, strong, he-man type who runs around the woods with a big bear. Have you seen that? It’s a beer. It’s Hamm’s beer, I think, does it. But this guy is, you know, this guy big guy with a beard, and he’s got this big, fuzzy bear that runs everywhere with him, and paddles the canoe and all.
And, you know, there’s a method in a commercial like that, and that is that has a tremendous appeal to people, because people generally really admire rugged individualism. I mean here’s a guy who has tamed a bear, who runs around the boondocks all by himself, doesn’t need anything but a periodic deliveryman who drops off six-packs. Apart from that, apart from that he needs nothing. And when you look at the billboards that show the Marlboro ad, it’s the Marlboro man: one man, all alone on a horse, out in the middle of nowhere – rugged individualism.
We honor people who go across the Atlantic in a dinghy, or who make amazing solo flights, or who climb Mount Everest. We have this mentality that says rugged individualism is the stuff that separates the men from the boys, the scientist who walks out of his laboratory after ten years and says, “Eureka!” and receives a prize for what he’s discovered. And something that appeals to us.
There’s something about the fact of doing something all alone, all by yourself, with nobody else, that says, “I have conquered everything. Everybody else I don’t need. I’m independent; I’m self-sufficient.” And that appeals to us. Do you know why that appeals to us? Because we’re depraved, that’s why. Thank you. I even know who that was, but I’m not going to say. That’s true though. The reason that appeals to us is because we’re depraved.
You say, “What do you mean, John?” God wants us to have a tremendous sense of dependency. God wants us to be a family. Do you remember when Cain had slain his brother, that God said to him, “Where’s your brother?” And what did Cain say? “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Ever since the fall, man has disdained the thought of responsibility for other people. Man has definitely wanted to be independent of any responsibility, and that’s one of the reasons that in the Old Testament, God even made an individual who sinned carry a weight of responsibility that hit a whole family, such as in the case of Achan, because God was getting a message across, and that message was, “Yes, you are your brother’s keeper. Yes, you are dependent on other people. No, I don’t want rugged individualism.”
And so Satan has, in response, I believe, built into the heart of man this concept of independence, this concept of needing nothing, needing nobody, being the epitome of life. When the fact of the matter is that that’s the very opposite of what God wants.
The philosophy of today, “Do your own thing,” the music of today, “I did it my way,” all echoes the same philosophy that the man with the bear and the beer echoes, same philosophy, that you don’t need anybody, that you don’t need anything, that you are sufficient. It’s Invictus: “I’m the captain. I am the master of my soul.”
And that’s the attitude that I think pervades our society to the degree that it even gets its way into the church, and we kind of translate it a little bit into our theology; and we think that we, because we have Christ, are sufficient; and we, because we have the Holy Spirit, are sufficient; and we really don’t need anybody else; and we’ve missed the point all together. And because we don’t live communally perhaps as they did in old times when in the Old Testament, for example, they lived by tribes; and in the New Testament, even they lived in the father’s house. And since our independence, we have fostered continuously that same attitude, even as Christians. And so in the backlash of all of that, the church today struggles to try to get back to the concept that the church is one body – doesn’t it? – with many members; and that we have a tremendous responsibility of dependency on each other.
As I said this week, I was at Dallas Theological Seminary speaking every day to the student body and the faculty. I was thrilled to be there; I thank God for that institution. They have over a thousand young men training for the ministry, fifty-four on the faculty. And I had to stand there and speak to all of these people training for the ministry, you know, who were scanning me and checking me out, and sitting around me on the platform: fifty-four faculty members with their Greek texts open, you know, finding out whether I got the right jots and tittles and everything. And I figured if I can just get in and out of here with my hide I’ll be all right, you know.
But the first thing I said when I was there was that I wanted to let them know that I had never been to the seminary in my life, and I had never really met the faculty, and I only knew a handful of the students. But I wanted them to know that my life and ministry would be eternally indebted to them. And I said the reason is because of the writing contribution of the faculty, and the fact that I have studied under some who have studied under them. And I pointed up the fact that all of us is so tremendously dependent upon others, that anyone who would think themselves to be independent, to think themselves to be a rugged individual, this is not really looking at the facts. And beyond the input we’ve already received, we have the same responsibility to minister back. And so I told them, “In view of all that has been given to me from here, I hope this week I can give something back, and mutually minister to you.”
And that has to be, I think, the general attitude for the whole Christian life. I suppose there was some people who’d come along and say, “Well, look at Jesus. Jesus was a rugged individualist.” Was He?
Do you realized that Jesus spent the thirty years of His life, the first thirty years of His life living with His family? I don’t think He ever even left and got His own apartment. I think the first thirty years of His life were spent in the family. He lived with the family. And the next three years of His life and His ministry He spent with twelve men, didn’t He.
You say, “But Paul was a rugged individualist.” No, I don’t think Paul ever went anywhere without somebody. I don’t like to go anywhere without somebody. I like to have somebody to lean on, somebody to minister to me and to whom I can minister, somebody to pray with, somebody to share with, somebody to labor with.
And Paul was that way. If you read the end of the book of Romans, he lists all those names of people who helped him, and who accompanied him, and whom he loved, and who ministered to him, and with him, and for him. And then if you go over to the fourth chapter of Colossians you’ll read another list of the same names of these people who ministered, and cared, and served, and did all kinds of things, and traveled with him.
If you go to 2 Timothy chapter 4, from verses 9 to 21, more names, more names, more names. If you read the book of Acts, he starts out with Barnabas, and then it’s Silas, and then it’s John Mark, and then it’s Timothy, and he’s always got somebody; and then it’s Luke, and so forth and so forth. He’s always got somebody that’s going along in ministry with him, somebody to whom he can minister, somebody to whom he can pour out his heart, somebody for whom he can be a source of strength.
There’s no place in God’s plan, there’s no place in biblical theology for rugged individualism. There’s no reason to think that you’re isolated; you are your brother’s keeper. The New Testament is loaded with things that say you’re your brother’s keeper. There’s no question about it.
But sadly there are so many Christians today who just don’t really get into the mainstream of that ministry; and usually that’s two problems. There are some Christians who feel inferior and unnecessary, and so they just sit on the fringe and don’t ever get involved; and many of them I’m sure come to Grace Community Church. And God loves you, and we love you, and lots of people love you. But you just don’t think you matter that much, and so you’re just content to kind of hang on the fringe, and you never do get involved. And so what you do is you short-circuit the ministry of the Spirit of God through your life to somebody desperately in need of it.
And then there are, on the other side, the kinds of people who say, “Well, look. Boy, you know, I’m a spiritual celebrity. I’m sort of a modified spiritual superstar. I don’t need all these people, I can go on my own.”
And, you know, we all fight that attitude. You know, sometimes I’ll preach a message, you know; and, boy, I’ll pour it out, and I’m all done. Somebody came up and say to me, you know, “You really blew it on that one. You said, ‘Buh-buh-buh-buh.’” My first reaction is, “Who needs you, fella, you know. I can handle it.”
Or else, you know, I’ll come in Monday. Boy, I’ll say to somebody, “It was a great yesterday. Boy, I just feel God really blessed.” And I’ll open my mail, “You so and so,” you know. I’ll go, “Who needs it? I know what I’m doing. I don’t need your criticism.”
You know, that’s your first response. And then you sort of come off of that and you say, “Well, Lord, yeah, probably they’re right. Well, yeah, yeah, yeah,” and you begin to realize that God puts all these people around you to minister to you, to keep the thing in perspective.
And that’s the way it has to be, you know. You’ve got to realize that there is no place for this individualism. Either the individualism of isolation or the individualism of a superstar kind of attitude, where you just don’t bother to mingle with the peons, you know. Both of those are wrong.
There’s a tremendous sense of interdependence in the body of Christ that defies the spirit of pride, and it defies the attitude of inferiority. Now that’s Paul’s major message in 1 Corinthians 12. Let’s look at it together. That’s really what he’s trying to say here, and he uses the familiar metaphor of a human body, and then makes an application, and then a final appeal. So those are the three things we want to look at: the analogy, the application, and the appeal. And these three things will draw to a great truth, I think, this idea of interdependence and mutuality within the body of Christ.
Now we began last time by looking at his analogy, and his analogy is a body. An analogy is simply another way of saying something. And he wants to say a spiritual truth, but he says it in another way by using a human figure, or an illustration, and his illustration is a human body. And he develops the analogy along four lines. He says, “A human body illustrates unity, a human body illustrates diversity, a human body illustrates sovereignty, and a human body illustrates harmony. And those four things are all summed up to be what a human body is, and that all illustrates what the church ought to be.
Remember unity in verses 12 and 13. He pointed up the fact that the body is one: “We’ve all received the same Spirit. We’ve all been place in the same body; there’s a beautiful unity. There aren’t any higher or lower. There are any greats and non-greats. There is neither Jew nor Greek, or bond nor free. We all have the same Spirit; we’re all in the same body; we’ve all been placed by the same Spirit.”
So basically then we are one. There aren’t any upper and lower-class Christians. There aren’t any highbrow, lowbrow Christians. There’s no strata involved. There’s a beautiful unity. The body is one. We all have flowing through us the life of God. We all possess aiōnios zōē, eternal life. And so we are one. There’s a beautiful unity in a body; and a human body’s the same way. There is a tremendous unity, a common life principle flowing through every cell in the human body.
Secondly, he says in his analogy, a body must have diversity, in verse 14. He says, “The body is not one member, but many.” And here we see that it is true about a body. It is one body, and yet there are many members: eyes, and ears, and a mouth, and arms, and hands, and feet, and organs. And all the functions of a body are many, and yet the body is one; and so this is his illustration. A body has unity and it has diversity. It must maintain its diversity in order to experience its unity.
Thirdly, we saw last time that a body has sovereignty. You see that, don’t you, when your children are born. You talk with your wife or your husband, and you say, “I wonder what he or she will look like.” Now they’ve got x-rays and all that stuff where they’re supposed to be able to determine a lot of things. But basically I saw one of those x-rays a couple days ago and it was pretty fuzzy. You really couldn’t tell a whole lot. You could see there was a fetus there, but you certainly couldn’t tell anything else.
And there’s a lot of ways to try to test it. But, basically, you don’t know what’s going to happen until all of a sudden, the life is there, and you have to say it’s a sovereign design. I mean God put it together. If it’s a perfectly whole baby, and it’s got ears that stick out a little bit, and red hair, and a certain kind of nose, God made it that way. There are genetic factors, but still it’s a creation of God independent of any effort on your part. A body is designed by God. If it comes out and it has an infirmity, or a malformation, or malfunctioning, again, that has to be a sign to the sovereign allowance of God, something beyond your ability to control.
The same thing is true of the body of the church. The origination of the various members, their design, the way they’re gifted, and the way they’re placed into the body is all dependent on God. And didn’t we see that in verse 18? “God has set the members.” Verse 24: “God has mixed them together.” Verse 28: “God has placed the leaders over them.” So you have then unity, diversity, and sovereignty planned by God to make the body function. And God has given us a sense of real dignity in this study, because we now understand that we are exactly what God made us to be, and that’s exciting. He planned it all; He put it all together.
Now where those three things function, you’re going to have a fourth, and that’s harmony. But you’ll never have that until you have those three functioning. Now in the case of the Corinthians, they did not really experience unity, did they? He says to them verses 12 and 13, “You ought to have unity. And there isn’t either Jew or Greek, or bond or free. And you are all one.” But they weren’t acting that way.
In chapter 1, verse 10, it says, “I beseech you,” – and here he’s begging them right off the bat in his letter – “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no division among you, that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” In other words, “Get it together.” “It’s been told to me” – he says in verse 11 – “that there are contentions. You’re arguing” – according to verse 12 – “over certain spiritual teachers.”
If you go over to chapter 3, he repeats the same thing in verse 3: “You are carnal, because there is envy, strife. One is saying,” – in verse 4 – ‘I am of Paul,’ another, ‘I am of Apollos.’ Are you not carnal?”
You go over to chapter 4, verse 7: “You are glorying as if you had something that you had earned. You have spiritual pride.” Chapter 6, they were suing each other in acts of antagonism, and bitterness, and resentment, and revenge. Chapter 8, they were using their liberty to defraud each other. They were stepping on the neck of the weaker brother in their pride and independence. Chapter 11, verses 18 to 22, they came to the love feast to share their meal, and they ate their own food, so that when the poor came there wasn’t anything for them to eat – selfishness again. So, you see, there was anything but unity.
You come to chapter 12, and the implication here is that instead of ministering their gifts, the proud people are saying, “We’re the only ones that matter.” The humble people are saying, “We don’t matter; we don’t have the right gifts,” so they were trying to seek for the ecstatic gifts, and winding up with a pagan counterfeit. And so they had just destroyed the whole concept of unity.
Secondly, the didn’t function in diversity. Here they are in chapter 12 all trying to do the same thing, all trying to get the same ecstatic gift, all trying to get the same showy gift, instead of recognizing that God had ordered them to be independent, to be individual in the sense of their uniqueness. They were all trying to be the same: get the same ecstasy gift, get the same showy gift – everybody be a spiritual hotshot.
And, thirdly, they were denying sovereignty. Instead of accepting what God had given, they were discontent with what He had given, and were seeking other gifts, and seeking other manifestations, and seeking other experiences. So they had violated all three. Consequently, number 4, harmony, didn’t exist.
And so having straightened them out, and talked about unity in 12 and 13, diversity in 14, sovereignty in the verse I mentioned, look at verse 15 and let’s hear what He says about harmony. And here’s how he dives into the concept of harmony. And he does it really by showing the foolishness of anything other than harmony, and he takes it from two angles. First, the people who thought they were nothing and envied the ones who had the showy gifts. Secondly, the people with the showy gifts who thought they were something, and thought the other people were nothing. Let’s look, first of all, at the people who felt themselves to be nothing: the gripers, the envious, the people who felt that they were cheated.
Verse 15: “If the foot,” – these are the foot people – “if the foot shall say, ‘Because I’m not the hand, I’m not of the body,’ does that make it true? Is it therefore not of the body?’” Here’s a foot, and a foot is nothing beautiful or lovely, particularly. A foot is something, if you’re smart you cover up somehow, generally, especially if you happened to live in that day and age when your feet were what you walked with; and they were mostly exposed. Foot was not – they just considered a foot a rather ugly thing.
So one might say, “Well, I’m just that out-of-the-way thing, usually covered by dirt, and not seen. And when I am seen, it isn’t something to see. And because I’m not a hand, I’m not a part of the body.”
Now what is this saying? What is the principle here? The principle is this: that no member by complaining and depreciating his own importance can accomplish removal from the body. Just because you don’t think you’re important does not eliminate your responsibility to function in the way God called you. You can’t sit in a corner and say, “Well, because I’m a foot and I don’t have what some others have, I’m not going to do anything; I’m just going to not be a part at all.” That does not make you not a part, that only makes you disobedient, you see. The principle is you cannot remove yourself from a God-given responsibility simply because you’re not happy with what you are. The foot feeling clumsy wanted to remove itself. But that isn’t the way it is. God made you a foot, if that’s what you are, because it’s vital, it’s critical.
I got a prayer request this morning to pray for a little boy, the little Johnson boy, four years old. He’s going to have major surgery to try to correct his feet, and they’ve asked us to pray for him, because he needs to have his feet made functional, because the rest of him is so very dependent on those little feet. Well, that’s a vital thing. And to say that you don’t want to be responsible for what you are doesn’t relieve you of any responsibility, it only makes you disobedient.
And don’t be intimidated. You know, that’s one of the things that we’ve seen – haven’t we? – in our study of Colossians, how the Charismatic Movement intimidates a lot of feet, and says, “Because you’re not out there on display and doing the ecstatic thing and the showy thing, you’re not significant.” That’s exactly what was going on at Corinth. There were a lot of feet sitting in the background saying, “Boy, I wish I was an ear, or an eye, or even a hand wouldn’t be half bad, I mean at least a little bit up the ladder.”
Look what it says in verse 16, and you can see how that this same things goes – it’s only relative anyway. “The foot is saying, ‘Oh, if I could only be an ear.’ – verse 16 – “And the ear is saying, ‘Because I’m not the eye, I’m not of the body. Is it therefore not of the body?’”
You get up a little higher and it’s relative too. Some ear is saying, “Boy, I wish I could be an eye. But since I’m only an ear, I’m cutting out.” In the vernacular, “I’m going to lay back. If I can’t be an eye, I’m out of it; they don’t need me.”
Does that remove you from responsibility? I mean when a foot is jealous of a hand, does that remove the responsibility of the foot to be what it is? When the ear is jealous of the eye, does that eliminate its responsibility? Not in God’s eye it doesn’t.
Whatever your gift is, it is essential, it is needed; and God wants it, and it has to be there, and it has to operate. And there’s no sense sitting in a corner on the fringes saying, “Well, I don’t have that much to offer anyway; there’s no sense in me getting involved.” But so many, many Christians do that, don’t they. Some of you do it. Some of you’ve been doing it for years. You’ve never known the joy of ministry, because you’ve just thought nobody wanted feet – that isn’t so – or ears.
But look at verse 17: “If the whole body were eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?” I mean it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense, would it? If everybody had the same gifts, it would be pretty ridiculous.
Isn’t it amazing that that’s what people today keep telling us we need to have, “We all need to get the same gifts”? It’s not true. There’s no place for envying another gift.
Verse 4 of chapter 13 says, “Love envies not.” There just isn’t any place for that, but for a contentedness. You can’t have one organ. The body can’t be a whole eye, or a whole ear, or a whole nose.
One organ, no matter how prominent it is, can’t survive alone. You can’t just cut off your ear and set it down and say, “I have to leave. Would you hang around and listen and see if you pick up any information while I’m gone.” It doesn’t do that. Can’t pluck your eye out and have it look around for you while you’re sleeping. There’s no such thing as a spiritual loner, see. There’s a tremendous sense of dependence in the body of Christ.
I think about Grace Church. Do you realize, all the people behind the scenes make it possible for me to get up here and speak to you, all the people that type up little things for me, and all the people that give me input, and all the people that turn on things and turn off things, and plug things in and make things possible, and squirt off the patio and clean the parking and do all kinds of other things. You didn’t know we cleaned the parking lot. We do clean the parking lot. A lot of other things that go on behind the scenes that you never even know about that make it all possible.
You know how many people there are that take responsibility that normally would be mine to free me to do preparation so that I can minister to you? Without those people, I wouldn’t be able to say what I say to you; you wouldn’t be able to receive and grow the way you grow; and the whole idea of ministry would be reduced. Vital.
You can’t start putting price tags on gifts. So, he says, “You can’t all be the same.” And verse 18, “That’s why God set the members the way it pleased Him.” He didn’t leave it to us to figure out. He didn’t say, “Get organized.” Be said, “Be an organism, and I’ll run it.”
In verse 19, he says – we’ve already looked at verse 18 last time in detail. But verse 19 says, “If they were all one member, where was the body? If everybody was the same he wouldn’t have a body.” But the Corinthians were saying, “We’ve all” – they’re chasing after tongues – “and we’ve all got to speak in prophecies. We’ve all got to have these ecstasies.” They were just going like mad after the same things, and he says, “All you’re going to come up with is one great big eye.” That isn’t how it is.
So he sums his main point in verse 20: “Now are they many members, but one body.” That’s his point. And from 15 to 20 his point is, “Don’t think yourself inferior. Do not underestimate your importance.”
Now from verses 21 to 25, he says, “Don’t think yourself superior. Don’t overestimate your importance.” Look at verse 21. And now we’ve gone from the foot, to the hand, to the ear, to the eye. Now we’re going from the eye, to the ear, to the hand, to the foot. We’re going to go backwards now from the other side.
“And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of thee,’ nor can the hand say to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” Now we’re going back down the line from the viewpoint of the superiority. And this was going on, of course, in the Corinthian assembly. There were overestimating their importance. The people who were doing the fancy, showy, public-speaking gifts were assuming they didn’t need those other people, that those people were nothing; they were the superstars, they were the celebrities, they were the superiors, they were the leaders, they were the hotshots; the rest of the people could just disintegrate into nothingness, into oblivion, and it would have no effect. That isn’t right.
“You can’t say, ‘I have no need of you,’ – in verse 21 – “and again you can’t say, ‘I have no need of you.’” There’s a tremendous sense of dependence. And now he’s going to expand this thought, and he says some most fascinating things.
Verse 22: “No,” – he says – “much more those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary. Eyes and ears and hands and feet are nice. But you want to hear something shocking? You can live without eyes, ears, hands, and feet – do you know that? – even the ones that are kind of the showy ones, the external ones, the strong ones. You can live without them. But there are some more weak ones that you can’t; they’re more vital.” Now notice verse 22. He talks about the members of the body that are more feeble; that means they’re weaker, they’re weaker.
Now I want to show you; we’re moving down into the body in his metaphor a little bit. We’re moving deeper into the body. Since verse 21 has to do with hands and feet and eyes and ears, which are the outward, this moves even deeper – the less showy, the less obvious, the less out front, the less comely, the less prominent ones. They’re more feeble, and they’re necessary.
What are they? These are the internal organs of the body: the lungs, and the stomach, and all of your internal organs, the liver and the kidneys, and whatever – all that. That’s what he has in mind. These internal organs, completely hidden from view, are vital and essential to sustaining life. They’re weaker in this sense: the only protection they have is the protection afforded them by the other parts of the body, right?
You know, I was watching the football game for a few minutes yesterday between Texas and Oklahoma, and I was noticing what you always notice when you see football players: the tremendous padding that they wear. And I remember in the days when we used to put all that stuff on. But it isn’t just a question of padding. You work out with weights and weights, and more weights, and you exercise. Why? So that your physical body on the outside is strong, and the muscle is tense and tight, so that when you’re hit with blow, after blow, after blow, it doesn’t mess you up on the inside. You strengthen the outward members to protect the weaker members, which have no protection other than that which is afforded on the outside.
Now that’s what he’s saying. He’s saying, “Look, there are some members that are so feeble, that they are totally dependent on the protection of some other members. They’re not intended to be out front. You couldn’t live very long if you ran around with your lung just hanging on the outside; they couldn’t handle the environment.
You know, when I think about that, I think about support ministries. You know, I was thinking about some of the secretaries at Grace Church. Do you realize this is a very intense place during the week? We never have more than four or five crises a day though – no, no more than that. But this is a very intense place. Crises things happen here all the time, deadlines all the time. And, you know, I believe that secretaries who work here, for the most part, they would never be able to maintain a sense of mental balance if they didn’t have some of us to help them, to be protected from the onslaughts, because sometimes the frustrations mount. And they’re the gentler members of the body who need the protection of someone else; and they will function smoothly and effectively as long as that protection is there. But if the staff walked away and left all the onslaught to hit all of them, I think it would be a little difficult.
But you want to know something? They’re necessary, and they’re vital. And you may not even know who they are, and you may not ever see them. But believe me, we’re all here, because they’re there.
Let me go a step further with it, verse 23. He’s even getting in deeper in his analogy here. He says – and this is really good: “And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor, and our comely parts have more abundant comeliness.” Now that’s a very interesting verse. Watch what happens here.
The Corinthians had failed to be kind and considerate and protective of those who didn’t have the gift of prophecy, or didn’t have the gift of languages, or didn’t have the gift of healing, the out front. They had failed to be kind. They had failed to be considerate. They had failed to protect those weaker ones, in verse 22. And he says, “Don’t you realize” – in verse 23 – “that even a human body compensates for its less comely members.”
Now what do you mean? You see two terms there: less honorable, in verse 23 – see it? “We think to be less honorable.” Then you see uncomely: less honorable and ugly. Uncomely means, basically, ugly. That’s just about the clearest definition of it: ugly. Now we all have – and it doesn’t mean, you know, horrible, ugly things, it just means the less beautiful part. We have less honorable and less beautiful parts.
Well, what are they referring to? Two different things. Less honorable, most commentators assume to be the middle part of your body: your hips, your trunk, your shoulders, upper part of your legs – the part you put your clothes on. Right? And you basically do that because your face is all right, it’s nice, and people can look at it and enjoy it; it’s okay. And your hands are fine; and even your feet. You can show part of your feet; you can put shoes on and so forth. But, you know, it’s all right. But you cover parts of your body because it’s not so all right; they need a little help. And that’s what it’s saying here.
“Your less honorable members, upon those you bestow more abundant honor.” He says, “It’s just a normal human response to fix up the part that needs it.” You adapt. You do what you need to do.
You know, you read in some of these magazines – every once in awhile on an airplane I’ll get one, and they’ll tell you, “If you’ve got such-and-such a problem, here’s the kind of clothes to wear. If you’re a little wide in this place, don’t wear the squares, wear the stripes going this way,” you know. But that’s the way people – you compensate to cover the less honorable parts, and you wind up bestowing more honor on them.
I mean you go down and you throw down your Master Charge and you buy, you know, $75.00 worth of abundant honor to drape on your less honorable part, you know. And I do too; that’s just how it is, you know. That’s compensation.
And that’s what he’s saying. He’s saying the principle is the less the natural grace, the less the appeal naturally, the greater the effort to adorn it. Right? Sure. But now go a step further.
We’ve talked about the external, which doesn’t need a lot of adornment. Then we go to the more feeble ones, the internal ones; and they are protected by the strength of the others. And then he goes to these parts of your body that you need to put a little honor on. And then he goes a step further, and he says “our uncomely.” The Greek here is “our indecent.” “Our indecent parts have more abundant comeliness.
Now he says it’s a normal human reaction to cover the private parts of a human body, the indecent parts of a human body, not just for adornment, but for modesty sake, with even a greater amount of effort. To show you how far we’ve gotten from what is normally human, just look at our society today. When those parts of the human body which mankind has long known to be private things and to be covered with honor so that they can be held in modesty now are exploited; and that just shows you how far depravity has gone.
But the point is this: the behind-the-scenes part of the body gets the special effort, and the special attention, and the special devotion; that’s what he’s saying. He’s saying, “Look, it isn’t for the highbrow part of the body to say, “I don’t need you.” Listen, that part of the body ought to say, “Hey, I know I’m the only protection you’ve got, and I want to care for you, and I want to put more honor on you; and the more you need that honor, the more I want to give you that honor.”
And instead of running around in sort of a spiritual rugged individualism, we really should be very busy making sure that we stop to honor the people who don’t normally get the honor, huh. That’s what he’s saying. That’s the kind of love he talks about in chapter 13. It isn’t running around in a sense of spiritual independence, but it’s constantly acknowledging our gratitude for those parts of the church of Jesus Christ that maybe don’t get all the glamour, and all the appeal, and all the press. But they’re there, and they’re vital, and they need us to love them, and us to protect them, and us to honor them. So it goes both ways. God doesn’t want you people who are those parts sitting in a corner thinking you’re nothing, and God doesn’t want the other people thinking they’re everything, but rather passing the honor around where it belongs.
Dr. Thomas says, “It is a distorted sense of values when a Christian well-known because of his well-received speaking gift looks disparagingly at other Christians who possess no such gift. This is direct contradiction of the principle of self-concern that characterizes anybody. It is far more consistent with the principle of self-preservation that members possessing greater beauty and functional ability devote themselves tirelessly to the well-being of those not so well-equipped.”
That’s a beautiful statement, and that’s essentially what Paul is saying. Instead of thinking ourselves sufficient and independent, it’s up to us to come down and minister to you, and for you to respond to that ministry and minister to us in return, and for us to say, “I want to help you where you’re weak. I want to strengthen you where you need to be strong.” That’s the kind of thing he’s after.
And believe me, we have to recognize the necessity of this, because God sees a beautiful equality in a body, verse 24. Look, our comely parts have no need. The out-front part we don’t mess with. But God has tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacks. You may be a beautiful eye, and an ear, and a hand, and a foot; but you can cut you off, and we could still make it. But if you happen to be one of those vital organs, we can’t mess with you, you’re too important. And you see how God equalizes things? The people who are out front with the showy gifts, when the long run comes along, when the judgment is all in and the rewards are given aren’t nearly as vital as the people underneath who were the support ministries.
I think one of the most exciting events of the ages, in fact, I’m convinced the most shocking experience we’ll ever have is the bema seat when we go there and see who gets the rewards. I think most of us will be shocked, if there’s such a thing as shocked there. But from this human vantage, you know, “The least among you” – said Jesus – “shall be great. And the one who is the servant of all will be the one who receives the greatest honor.” Now there are some of us who are eyes and ears, and we’re out there, and mouths and noses, and we’re the comely parts, and we’re doing the thing. But God equalizes it, because it is those less conspicuous members who are the more essential to life.
Nobody, nobody ever sees anybody else’s internal organs. And so we always think of people in terms of outward beauty, don’t we. That isn’t what makes them what they are. And that’s the way it is in the church. The purpose of God’s equalization: God wants it all equalized. So verse 25 will be a reality that “there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care, one for another; and whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it.” God wants us equalizing. God wants this beautiful unity. God has made these truths of compensation in order that there might be a real unity.
You know, when your body suffers, you don’t say, “Well, this half of me is suffering, but this half feels terrific.” No. If any part of you suffers, you are all in it. And if any part of you is happy, all of you is rejoicing. And that’s the way it ought to be in the body of Christ if we’re really sharing.
So he says, “Don’t feel inferior; you’re vital, and God’s going to balance. You’re necessary; you’re important; you’re to be rewarded for faithfulness. And don’t feel superior. You’re maybe the out-front, good-looking part; and that’s good, and that’s your part for now, and that’s your ministry for now, and there are certain blessings attended with that. But you can’t distain the other parts, because they’re the more necessary to life. And so rivalry is impossible in the body of Christ. The only thing possible is love; and that becomes his theme in the next chapter.
All right, that’s the analogy quickly. Let’s look at the application. We’ll just briefly comment on it, because it’s so obvious.
Verse 27. Now having given that analogy, he makes application: “Ye are the body of Christ. I’ve been talking about you the whole time, and you are the members in particular. I’m talking about you: you’re that body, you’re those members, you’re the issue here.”
A footnote of interest: “Ye are the body of Christ.” How interesting that he calls one local congregation the body of Christ. What is he saying? Is he saying, “You are the whole body of Christ, everybody else is outside of it”? Or is he saying, “You are one body of Christ, and there’s another one in this town, and another one in that”? No, because there’s only one body.
What he’s saying is this: “You are a proper miniature representation of the body of Christ.” And you know what’s so exciting about that? He is saying to them, “You, as a local assembly, can manifest the fullness of the body of Christ locally.” Boy, that’s so encouraging to me.
He said in the first chapter, “You come behind and no gift.” But isn’t it thrilling to know that each local assembly of believers is given by the Spirit of God all that is necessary to truly represent the body of Christ so that His image may be seen in the world.
We don’t need to say, “Well, we’re half of it over here and the other half down in San Diego. And there’s another bunch up in – if we could just get together we could get the whole thing rolling.” But God manifests the total picture in individual congregations, and supplies them all with all they need.
So, he says, “And you’re the body, and you’re the members I’m talking to. Yours is the unity that’s the issue here. And God has made you one, and God has poured you together in an act of diversity. You’re what you ought to be, and God has sovereignly done it.” – verse 28 – “God has set in the church apostles, and prophets, and teachers, and miracles, and healing, and helps, and government, and diversities of languages. You’re exactly the ones I’m talking about. It’s your unity I’m speaking of. It’s your diversity I’m speaking of. I want you to recognize God’s sovereignty.”
Look at verse 29. “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with languages? Do all interpret?” Now what’s the answer to every question? No.
He says in verse 27, “Remember your unity. You’re the body I’m talking about.” In verse 28: “Remember your diversity. You’re the ones with all these gifts.” In verses 29 and 30: “Remember God’s sovereignty. He doesn’t want you all apostles, all prophets, all teachers, all miracle workers, all healers, and all speaking in language interpreting.” You see, he attacks them at the same three points: unity, diversity, and sovereignty.
“What are you doing all trying to be noses, and ears, and eyes? What are you doing all wanting to be apostles, and prophets, and teachers, and miracle workers, and tongue-speakers, and healers – all the showy stuff? Don’t you know God has called some of you to be teachers, and helpers, and to work in the area of government or administration? And that’s all sovereign. You have nothing to seek for; let there be harmony there. You have nothing to be envious of. You have nothing to be proud about and distain the others.”
The sovereignty of God, where there should be unity, diversity, and sovereignty; and as a result, harmony. And so he applies it lastly. He makes a final appeal, verse 31, a verse misunderstood by many. Let me read you the traditional King James: “But covet earnestly the best gifts. And yet show I unto a more excellent way.”
You know, when you read that now, you say, “Now hold it right there, John. You’ve got to be kidding. You mean he just spent all those verses saying, ‘Be content with the gift you have. Be content with the gift you have. Be content with the gift you have,’ turns right around and says, ‘Covet earnestly the better gifts,’ or literally, ‘Covet the showy gifts.’?”
But that verse is used by people the Pentecostal tradition to prove that we ought to seek the gift of tongues, we ought to seek this gift or seek that gift because it says here, “Covet earnestly the best gifts.” It’s a command they say.
And you know what I say when I look at that? It cannot be. I mean you don’t spend all those verses saying, “Be content with what you have; don’t seek another gift. It’s all sovereign, it’s all been done by God, it’s all His plan. Just take the gift you have and use it. Don’t feel inferior, don’t feel superior.” All that and now say to them, “Go covet the best showy gifts.” Oh, no.
Well, what’s he saying here? Well, let’s look at the verse, and let me read it to you in its two parts as simply as I can. The second part reads this way: “And yet I am showing unto you a more excellent way. And yet I am showing unto you a more excellent way.”
What was the way they were doing it? No unity, no sense of diversity, everybody seeking the same gift. No sense of sovereignty, not willing to accept God’s plan. So Paul is saying, “But I’m showing you a” – what? – “a more excellent way: unity, diversity, sovereignty, harmony. I’m trying to show you a more excellent way, and I’m not done yet, because I’m going to show you in chapter 13 that the capper on this whole thing is that it all functions in love. This is the more excellent way.”
You say, “But what about that first statement, John. What is that first statement?” Listen, in the Greek you have what is called the indicative, which is a statement of fact; and the imperative, which is a command. The form they take in the Greek is the very same, there’s no difference. So in the Greek, this is either a command or a statement; there’s no difference in the form. So it either says, “Covet earnestly the best gifts,” or it says, “But you are coveting the showy gifts.”
Now which do you think fits the context? There’s no question. “But you are coveting the showy gifts, and yet I show you a” – what? – “a more excellent way.” The Greek verb zēloō normally has a bad connotation, and that’s the word “to covet.” It normally has a bad connotation. The indicative sense is the normal sense of the Greek in this passage, and it fits the context. So it should be translated this way: “But you are coveting the showy gifts, and yet I am showing you a more excellent way.”
Do you see the point? He’s not saying, “Go chase after spiritual gifts.” He’s saying, “That’s what you’re doing, and that’s what’s wrong with you. Stop doing that, and do the excellent thing. Accept the unity, diversity, sovereignty, and harmony that God’s already planned, and present it, and built unto the body.” And the way it all operates, the way it all operates, the key to every bit of it is – what? – love. That’s where we’ll be next time, in chapter 13. Let’s pray.
Thank You, Father, for our time this morning. Thank You for ministering to us in Your Word. Pray that these truths might find root in our hearts, and spring up to faithful ministry, and bear fruit. And we’ll give You the praise, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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