“One Body, Many Members” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)
Listen to the Sermon:
Hear now the word of the Lord from 1st Corinthians 12:12-13,
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.
1st Corinthians 12:12-13, ESV
This is the word of the Lord that’s given to us this morning in great love. Now in my opinion the oboe produces more beautiful music than any other instrument. I don’t know if you’re familiar with an oboe; it’s a long clarinet kind of looking instrument except instead of a mouthpiece with a single reed it has what’s called a double reed, just a two sided very thin reed that you play.
Johann Sebastian Bach’s Oboe Concertos are among my favorite music. There was also a band I listened to a lot in college, a guy named Sufjan Stevens. Some of his albums had these great orchestras that often featured the oboe. I believe it was 2006 when I went to a Sufjan Stevens concert and my biggest memory is how disappointed I was that he didn’t bring his oboist with him for that concert. The rest of it was just not worth it, in my estimation, because of the lack of oboe.
I love oboes, but I would also say in my opinion, the oboe produces the most wretched music of any other instruments. There’s perhaps nothing better than listening to a really really really good oboe player, and perhaps nothing worse than listening to anyone else. Unless you are a really really good oboe player the oboe has a unique ability to sound like a cat dying, it is awful to listen to this instrument.
You have to be so good at it which is, as I understand, one of the reasons that symphonies and orchestras pay the oboists at the top level of their pay for the professional orchestras. It’s a really hard instrument to get right, but it’s so beautiful when it works well.
So, what’s the difference between the really really good oboe players and everybody else? Well, the key difference is perfect coordination, perfect command, perfect control of the whole body. Now this is probably true for any instrument, but it’s so important because there is a razor-thin margin of error in the oboe, that you have to have complete command over your posture, over your diaphragm and your lungs, your breath control, all the muscles in your mouth have to be perfect to form the embouchure you need to play the double reed. Your lips, your tongue, your cheeks, in addition to having your fingers work in the correct way to get the correct fingerings. If any one of your limbs or any one of your organs goes rogue, you will end up with that terrible sound as opposed to the beautiful sound. The oboe can very much produce both.
Well in this passage Paul is saying something similar about the church; that the church is a body of limbs and organs that must operate in perfect coordination to produce music, or rather to accomplish the mission that God has given to us. So, our big idea from this passage is; the Holy Spirit makes us many members of one body.
Now this passage is getting at deep fundamental issues of what it means to be a Christian, of what it means to become a member of a church. So, we want to frame this study with three questions that are going to help us to work through some of this.
1. What has Happened?
Paul is saying that something significant has happened.
2. Why has This Happened?
What’s the logic, what’s the rationale, what’s the reason for what has happened here?
3. How has This Happened?
How has God brought this about?
What has Happened?
So, let’s start with the first question, what has happened? Let’s review a little bit at the beginning from the beginning of chapter 12 in verses one through three. Paul defined the mission of the church as being the work of the Holy Spirit to work in and through the church to lead other people to confess that Jesus is Lord. When we talk about confessing that Jesus is Lord we are talking about a trusting, dependent, acknowledgment that Jesus is Lord over all other lords and King over all other kings.
Then in verses 4 through 7 Paul demonstrated that this mission of the church is accomplished by the unified, coherent, coordinated work of each of the three persons of the Trinity; the Father is working, the Spirit is working, the Son is working, but they are working in perfect coordination to carry out this mission. Then in verses 8 through 11 Paul gave us a list of the various gifts that were given by the Holy Spirit to equip us for the work that God sends us to do.
So now here in verse 12 Paul is turning and he’s saying, okay take all that I have just said and let me give you an illustration of it. This illustration of the various members of the body that are not all firing at random, but in perfect coordination. This doesn’t sound like a middle schooler picking up an oboe for the first time, this is the oboist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It’s just absolutely stunningly gorgeous stuff when you talk about all of the members working together like this.
When we talk about membership it’s really important for us that we take out of the picture our own cultural ideas and assumptions of what membership means. We use membership to talk about all kinds of things you can be a member of; your gym, you can be a member of Costco or Sam’s Club, you can be a member of a car wash. It’s a membership where you give a minimal kind of commitment of some fee and you get a minimum return from it in some benefits from your membership.
That’s not at all what Paul is talking about here when he’s talking about membership in body of Christ. He’s talking about an integration and interdependence, a coherence, a coordination between all of the various members of the body of Christ into one unified, coherent, coordinated body. This is not low commitment, low reward; this is the highest commitment with the highest possible reward.
There is one translator who I think is right when he says the word is members, but he says we really need to paraphrase this, because of our cultural baggage, as limbs and organs. That’s what this idea of what the word members is it’s talking about, the limbs. Our feet, our hands, our fingers, our toes, and the organs within the body of a unified, interconnected, interdependent whole.
Now you may know that Paul talks about the various members of the church as the body of Christ in another passage. In Romans 12:4-5 he says,
4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Romans 12:4-5, ESV
In that passage though Paul is emphasizing something different, the other side of the coin from what Paul is emphasizing in our passage. There are essentially two sides to this when you’re talking about members. You’re talking about diversity, and when talking about the body you’re talking about our unity. Well in Romans 12 Paul is teaching the people in the church in Rome to play off their diversity. In the very next verse he says,
6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them:
Romans 12:4-6, ESV
Everyone should be using your unique gifts in the body of Christ. Here in 1 Corinthians 12 Paul, looking at the church in Corinth, and he’s a pastor, the planter of this church, recognizes they have a whole different set of issues going on. There this is a church that’s dividing and they’re factioned and they’re being puffed up with pride over against one another to say my gift is better than your gift and I’m smarter than you about this and I’m following the right teacher. Faction, faction, faction, faction.
So, because of these specific issues Paul doesn’t in the least need to encourage them to lean into their diversity, they’re all too aware of it. Rather he needs to urge them to lean into their unity. That’s what Paul is doing here he’s urging us to depend on each other. Rather than to think about my gifts, I need to think about your gifts. I need your gifts and you need my gifts, we all need each other’s gifts.
So to answer a question what has happened? The Holy Spirit has brought us into the deepest, most interconnected, interdependent relationship upon one another in relation to Christ possible. He has made us as members, limbs and organs, of the body of Christ. Now we do see higher levels of commitment than just thinking about you know the car wash or the gym or wherever you do your super mart shopping.
There are other unions, for example citizens of one country unite with citizens of another country and that’s a big deal. We see men and women uniting in marriage, families that were separate are now joined together and that’s a big deal. Elsewhere Paul uses those metaphors, he says you become citizen of a different country and you’ll become the bride now of Christ. Yet here he uses this image of the body to show how absolutely interconnected we are in this union. If one member goes rogue, if one organ goes off-script the body can die. One limb or one organ can destroy the entire body of Christ. We all need each other.
So, Paul then goes on to talk about why this is so important, why this such a deeply significant issue. It has to do with the way Paul ends verse 12. Paul writes this,
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.
1st Corinthians 12:12, ESV
Are one body, so it is with the church. That’s not what Paul has there, “so it is with the church.” We expect him to go there, that’s the image right you’re talking about the church as the body of Christ. It’s interesting Paul doesn’t go there. He doesn’t say, “so it is with the church”, he takes one further step than that and he says so it is with Christ. Understand your union to Christ is so deep, so significant that you are now not only united to Christ, you are identified with Christ.
Why has this Happened?
So, our second question, why has this happened? Paul is saying we have become so united with Christ that we are identified with him. Well what does that mean? Well there are other religions that talk about becoming one with something greater than ourselves and the idea there is that our personality somehow becomes absorbed into that greater thing, entity, being, whatever they want to call it. That’s not what Paul is talking about here, we are united to Christ and yet we are distinct from Christ. We never become Christ, but we are united to him in the closest possible spiritual union.
Now the closeness of this union is a deeply important issue to Paul. Think about different aspects of Paul’s own life. Formerly Paul was not a believer in the Lord Jesus, in fact he was a persecutor of the Lord Jesus. He was someone who tried to find Christians who believed in Jesus and put them to death. At that time, he went by the name Saul, he later changed his name to Paul after becoming a believer in Jesus. When the Lord Jesus first encountered Saul, at the time he came to Saul and stopped Saul on the road to Damascus and Jesus said, “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?” He did not say, “Why are you persecuting my people? Why are you persecuting my church?” Jesus said, “Why are you persecuting me?”
To persecute my people, Jesus says, is to persecute me. To persecute the church is to persecute Christ. There’s such a close connection between the two that the harm you do to one affects the other. Even in the church in Corinth, and Paul is looking at them and saying, look at all the factions you’re dividing up into.
Iou may remember the very first question that Paul asked the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 1:13 had to do with this union he said,
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
1 Corinthians 1:13, ESV
He doesn’t ask is the church divided, he says is Christ divided? He says understand you’re so united, to divide amongst yourselves is to divide up and split up Christ. You can’t do it.
So, why has this happened? Again why is this so important? What’s Paul getting at? Why does Paul say so it is with Christ at the end of verse 12? It’s because our union with Christ forms the foundation of the gospel. The gospel is the announcement, the message that Jesus Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures and then he was dead and buried and on the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures.
When we talk about that message the Scriptures insist that isn’t a story that took place a long time ago in a place far far away. This is a story that’s not far off from us, this is a story that God has actually brought near to us, that he has united to us. We have been brought into it so that it isn’t that Jesus just did something a long way away for us, but that we are actually in the middle of it, identified with it. His death is our death and his resurrection life is our resurrection life.
Paul writes this explicitly in Romans 6:4,
4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Romans 6:4, ESV
Here’s what the Scriptures teach us; because of my sin, because of your sin, you and I deserve the full infinite wrath of God. Here’s the problem, that’s not something we can escape, we cannot sidestep it, we cannot get out from under it, it has to come. Justice requires that God infinitely punish us with his eternal wrath against our infinitely evil sin. But the gospel declares not that Jesus did something unrelated to us a long time ago in a place far far away, but that for all those who look to Christ in faith that judgment has already come. It’s already happened, we have already passed through it and brought been brought safe to the other side.
Just as Noah passed safely through God’s wrath at the flood in the ark, just as the Israelites passed safely through God’s wrath against the Egyptians by walking through the Red Sea and only later did the Red Sea come crashing down on the Egyptians, so we have been brought through the wrath of God in Christ. Not because of what we have done, but because we are in Christ and he has done it for us.
Christ was fully man and fully God, so he was able to drain and exhaust to the dregs all of the infinite wrath of God against you. When the Holy Spirit unites you as a member of Christ you gain what Christ has. Understand it worked the same way too because you have been united to Christ your sin has become Christ’s; he who knew no sin became sin for us. It was my sin that became Christ’s on the cross so that his salvation and his perfection and his holiness can become mine. Not only does his death become your death, but his resurrection becomes your resurrection, as you are called even now to walk in newness of life as you await the fullness of that in the resurrection is still to come.
We have been spiritually united to Christ. We are distinct from him and yet as united to him as the limbs and organs of your own body are connected to you. You know that your eye and your ear and your hands are all distinct parts of your body, but you also understand that each is a part of you. It’s not like it’s me and then there’s my hand over here, it’s a part of my body.
So, we are with Christ, so that’s why this has happened. This has to do with the fundamental aspect of the gospel, of our union with Christ where we gain from being in Christ. Judgment has passed over us in Christ because of his death and we gain through his resurrection, in Christ, through our union with him.
How has this Happened?
How though has this happened? That’s our third and final question, how has this happened? Paul addresses that in verse 13. How does this happen? Well Paul gives us two explanations of how this has happened. He talks first of our baptism in the Spirit, “for in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” Then second, he speaks of being made to drink of one Spirit.
So, let’s look at both of these, baptism in the Spirit. What are we talking about? Well someone talk about baptism of the Spirit and they refer to it as a second level, higher tier, additional experience beyond mere salvation that only some Christians experience. If you’ve experienced this baptism of the Spirit you can do more things, you struggle less with sin. It’s a higher victorious life and for everyone else, all the rest of us, well we need to keep praying that will receive this second experience.
If we look at what Paul says here, that’s not at all how he describes baptism in the Holy Spirit. Look at what he says,
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.
1st Corinthians 12:13, ESV
All of us. If you haven’t experienced this baptism in the Spirit, you’re not a Christian, you’re not a believer. All have experienced this baptism in the Spirit, but also look at the fact that it’s a completed action. For in one Spirit we were all baptized. We’re not awaiting it, we’re not in the process of it.
This happens in the past when the Scriptures talk about baptism in the Holy Spirit. they present the baptism of the Holy Spirit not as an ongoing series of events, but as something that happened once for all in the history of the church. In God’s redemptive history of working in this world for our salvation the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the final act of Christ’s work before the day when Jesus Christ comes again. This is Christ’s work.
Think about all of the work that Christ did, it was all once for all. Christ was incarnated once for all, that is he was made, he took upon himself, a human nature, a human body, and everything about us that makes us human except not including sin Jesus took all of that. He did it once for all. He doesn’t experience multiple reincarnation, we don’t think that Jesus comes back now in this way and oh there he is again and now he’s come back in this way, like the Dalai Lama or something who experiences multiple reincarnations as they teach it in Buddhism.
That’s not what Christianity is about Christ’s incarnation was once for all. Then his life, he lived a perfectly obedient, righteous life once for all. There was nothing left to do, nothing less to accomplish, and Jesus himself told us this with his final words when he declared it is finished at the cross. Then Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross was once for all. He didn’t have to suffer repeatedly. We’re told especially in Hebrews chapters 9 and 10 it happened once, and it was done.
Then his resurrection was once and for all. He doesn’t redo his resurrection every once in a while, to show us that he can still. We celebrate rather the once-for-all resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday, so many years ago and it has ongoing effects to this day. His ascension was once for all. 40 days after his resurrection Jesus was teaching his people and then he ascended to his Father and spread before his Father all of his completed work of his earthly ministry and the Father accepted that work so that we might be saved. It happened once for all. Christ doesn’t have to continually renegotiate with the Father for our salvation.
Then of course we come to the baptism of the Spirit, not a series of events throughout church history but once for all poured out on the day of Pentecost. In Acts chapter 2:33, Peter preaching on that day speaking of Jesus being therefore exalted at the right hand of God and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit he has poured out. This that you yourselves are seeing and hearing, Christ’s outpouring of the Holy Spirit, was once for all. He does not repeat it, we rather enter into the once for all outpouring of the Holy Spirit from the day of Pentecost. Just as we enter into the once-for-all resurrection of Christ to walk in newness of life. Just as we enter into the once for all death of Christ as we are united to him in our baptism. It’s once for all.
So again, anyone who has not entered into the baptism of the Holy Spirit which was poured out by Christ once for all is not actually a Christian. In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body to enter into the Holy Spirit.
How has this happened? Well here’s the answer, to enter into the Holy Spirit is to enter into the fullness of Christ’s completed work for your salvation to receive the promise of the Holy Spirit.
Well what about the second description, being made to drink of the Holy Spirit. What does it mean to drink of the Holy Spirit? This is probably a reference to Jesus’s words that he taught on the Feast of Booths in John chapter 7. We read in John 7:37,
37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
John 7:37-39, ESV
To drink of the one spirit is to experience the fullness of the joy of Christ’s salvation. To find satisfaction, a quenching of the thirst that you experienced in the deepest parts of your soul, and this is an experience that we all have in part but as it grows over time as we come more fully to experience the person of the Holy Spirit. We were all baptized in one spirit, into the one body of Christ. We’ve all been made to drink of the one spirit.
The final thing Paul tells us in verse thirteen is the result. He says,
Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
1st Corinthians 12:13b, ESV
All of us, regardless of ethnic and class boundaries, have been united. There are no longer Jews divided from Greeks, no longer slaves divided from free. We have many members, with many gifts, from many backgrounds, having many stories, have been integrated, brought into the one body in Christ.
What then should we do with this?
1. Confess that Jesus is Lord. Again, to confess that Jesus is Lord is to have a trusting, dependent, acknowledgment that Jesus is Lord of all lords and King of all kings. That announcement that he has accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection is good news for your salvation. God’s eternal plan, the plan of salvation, was to send his Son once for all to establish this firm foundation for our salvation; the foundation of Christ and him crucified.
So, Jesus became a human being, he became incarnate, once for all. Jesus lived one perfect human life, fulfilling all the requirements of God’s law, once for all. Jesus remained under the power of death for three days, once for all. He rose from the dead on the third day in victory over sin, death, and the devil, once for all. He ascended into heaven exalted as the Lord at the right hand of the Father, once for all. On the day of Pentecost, Christ received the promised Holy Spirit from his Father and poured out his Holy Spirit upon his people, once for all.
What our Lord Jesus has done is good news for sinners. It means that you can be forgiven for your sins and judged to be perfectly righteous, having absolutely met God’s holy standards for your life. Not because of what you have done, but because of what you have done in Christ, that is what Christ has done for you which you benefit from because you receive it by faith.
By faith what you had done became Christ’s at the cross and he was cursed for it. By faith what he has done becomes your life and blessing and salvation. Believe therefore in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. Enter into the once for all baptism of God’s Holy Spirit. Find living water in the person of the Holy Spirit to quench your spiritual thirst. Confess that Jesus is Lord and hear the promise of the gospel from Romans 10:9,
9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Romans 10:9, ESV
2. Press past divisions in the body. Press past divisions, bind them up, heal them, find ways to reunite that which was broken apart. We have as the church been made into one body in Christ, Jews and Greeks, slaves and free.
Now this week I think is actually a major step forward in our unity as a church. This morning we added an early worship service for anyone who needs a service with stricter health guidelines, masks and everything and that’s a good thing. We had about eight families here this morning and it was a joy to see people that I had not seen for quite a while as we worshiped together.
Yet as a pastor my concern is that as Satan always tries to use any circumstances in our lives to sow division and soon, I fear that he may try to do that here. As we have two services it becomes perhaps harder to see our unity, harder to realize it and recognize it and feel it.
Brothers and sisters, we cannot divide from one another based on our outlook on COVID-19. If you are worried about the disease, I said this mainly to the people at the 8:30 service, if you’re worried about the disease do not resent those who are not worried. Instead find safe ways of maintaining those bonds, continuing and building contact and relationships with the other members of the body.
If you are not worried about the disease, don’t despise those who are worried, don’t look down upon them. Go out of your way to accommodate and serve them. We must not, we cannot, allow different opinions about this crisis to divide us because we’re members one of another.
If one member goes rogue, if one member goes down, we all suffer for it. We have to be a coordinated, a comprehensive body of Christ not the firing at random, uncoordinated work. We have to sound like the professional symphony or oboist, not the middle school band or someone picking it up for the first time. Whatever your personal opinions are, find ways to press past divisions in the body whether it’s this issue or any issue in the body of Christ. Press past divisions in the body.
3. Encourage others to use their spiritual gifts. Now often on sermons on spiritual gifts I encourage you to use your spiritual gifts. You need to use yours and you need to use your and however we differ each of you has to use yours. That’s true, I said that two weeks ago and I will affirm it again. But the emphasis of this passage is not to play up our diversity like, wow look what I have isn’t that great you need me? The emphasis is rather, look what you have, I’m in such desperate need of that I need your gifts you need my gifts. We all need each other’s gifts, we’re mutually interdependent.
As a pastor, it may surprise you to know, that I am perhaps the most aware of the limitations of my own gifts. The reason for that is because pastors so often feel a pressure, usually self-imposed pressure, to do it all. I’m the one on staff, I’m here, they called me to this, I should be taking care of all of this, I should be doing all of these things. Then you burnout and you crash and burn and you see so painfully that you can’t do it all. Then you look at the other person and you say, look at the gifts of mercy that person has, look at the gifts of evangelism that person has, look at the gifts of exhortation and encouragement that these people have, why don’t I have those gifts?
Understand it’s because of the sovereign will of the Holy Spirit who apportions to each as he will. God wants you to have the gifts that you have and me to have the gifts that I have because he wants us all to be interdependent and interconnected to one another. I need what you’ve got, and you need what I have got. We all need what each other has.
So, this week let me give you something very practical to do, and I’d love to hear you tell me about how you do this if you want to follow up. Find another believer and urge that person specifically to use gifts that you see that God has given him or her. Encourage what you see of how the Lord is working in his or her life. Point out the fruit of how you have seen the Lord working in and through his or her life. Remind that person that we need his or her gifts in the body of Christ and pray that the Holy Spirit will fan into flames the gift that he has given that person for the building up of Christ’s church.
Brothers and sisters this is such a glorious thing that we’ve been given. We have been brought into the body of Christ, united with him so that what’s ours, our sin, our misery, our death, was put on Christ for us. Also, what is his, his life and joy and peace and health and salvation he’s credited to us in Christ. We’ve passed through death into life, we’ve been made citizens of a new country, we’ve been made the bride of a new bridegroom, and we have been made the members of Christ’s own body. What a great joy! Confess that Jesus is Lord, press past divisions in the body, and encourage one another to use their spiritual gifts as you see God has laid on them.
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father we ask that you would bless us and give us grace in Christ build up your church. We pray by having everyone use his or her gifts, not to stand apart from others in pride, but to serve one another and to build up the body of Christ as we seek interdependent connectivity one to another. We pray this in Christ’s name and for his glory and the good of his church. Amen.