When I was 12-years-old, in addition to all the other trials that 12-year-old kids have to deal with, my genes had determined that I would also have huge feet. In 7th grade, I already needed size 13 shoes. I was this rather tall, skinny kid, with long narrow feet. I thought my profile looked like an upper case letter “L.” If there was a part of my body that I would have gladly exchanged, it would have been my big feet. My feet are no longer an embarrassment to me. In fact, I have learned that my feet are important to me. I have learned that are useful anchors when trying to wedge your feet in a rubber raft while white-water rafting. Moreover, my big feet have the added advantage of being able to measure things because my foot is about 12 inches long. I can just pace an area off rather using a tape measure. The things that were a problem or source of embarrassment to me are really very important and useful.
I. In verses 14-20, Paul addresses those who felt that they had inferior gifts.
Paul here builds on the analogy of the body that he used in verse 12. In verse 14, he first restates the principle: “Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.” The body needs to have all the parts to make the body work. In verse 15, Paul uses the example of hands and feet. It would seem that hands are far more useful and important for you can do far more exciting and intricate things with your hands than you can with your feet, like playing an instrument. Since feet can’t do such things, it doesn’t mean that they do not belong. Our hands are great, but you can’t walk for miles on your hands. While not glamorous, our feet are important to our bodies. The same is true for eyes and ears as we see in verse 16. Just because the ears can’t see doesn’t mean that they don’t belong. Paul says in verse 17 if the whole body were an eye or an ear, what a mess that would be. All the parts are important and are needed; even those we think are weaker.
The point for the Corinthians is that those who felt that they didn’t have important gifts do belong in the body and are very important within the body. Just as bodies need feet and ears as well as hands and eyes, the church needs gifts of serving, hospitality and encouragement as much as teaching and preaching. No matter what their gift is, they belong to the body. In fact, verses 18-20 makes it clear that this is the way God arranged them. God, in His wisdom, knew that the church would need a wide range of gifts and abilities in order for it to fulfill its mission.
We may view ourselves as having insignificant gifts, but when it comes to the daily work of God’s kingdom, gifts like serving, encouraging, showing hospitality, organizing, showing mercy and giving are the gifts through which a church’s work is carried out. Your gift, whatever it may be, is very important and needed in the body for the common good.
II. In verses 21-26, Paul addresses those who felt that they had superior gifts.
Again Paul uses the analogy of the body to do this as well. However, in verse 21, Paul states it more emphatically using the term “need.” “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” It is simply wrong to view others as being less important because they don’t have your gift. In Corinth those with the gifts of tongues thought that their gift was the most important gift of all. Such people were saying, “Anyone can teach or serve, but only some can speak in tongues. We have what really matters in the church.”
Notice that Paul, in correcting their wrong thinking, does not say that they must graciously make room in the church for those with the gifts that seem less important. That would be like a big brother allowing a little sister to play with him because he has to. Rather it is those people with those less important gifts that they should give extra care and honor because those with those seemingly lesser gifts deserve such honor.
In verses 22-24, Paul makes it clear that we give special care to the less important gifts. Verse 22 says that the parts of our bodies that are considered to be weaker must be considered as indispensable. If some view their gifts as unimportant, we must view them instead as being crucial. Verse 23 says that some parts are less honorable but they need special care and attention. What is more glamorous: a heart or a thumb? A heart is vital for life, but if one has no thumbs, life can be very difficult and so both hearts and thumbs must be protected. A gift such as hospitality or helping in physical ways may not seem very glamorous, but if it isn’t done, the church will not run effectively as it should.
Verses 23 and 24 say that there are some parts of our bodies that are unpresentable and are treated with special modesty. These are gifts that we don’t want to talk about or are private. For example, some of you may have the gift of giving but it is a gift that is used privately. It is not visible but it is very important and the church must treat it as such. Paul’s point is that we must not hold one gift over the others and say that the less important gifts are not needed or important at all. We often have things backwards anyway when it comes to determining what is valuable.
Good and bad things that happen to the church are shared together. When someone gets hurt in an accident, we all feel the pain that they endure and we share with that person the pain and frustration in this. More than that, the body should leap into action whenever someone is hurting just as your own body springs into action when you hurt your own finger. When someone gets a job or celebrates something it is cause for the whole body to celebrate.
Verse 27 reminds us again that we are the body of Christ here on earth. If the world today wants to know who Jesus is and what Jesus is like, they should see Him in us, the church, even though we are far from a perfect picture of Christ. The church together is a representation of Christ to the world. And in this body, this representation of Christ, every member is important.
III. Finally, Paul gives a sampling of gifts in the list found in verses 28-31.
Let’s briefly look at the list of gifts that Paul gives here. Verse 28 makes it clear that Apostles, prophets and teachers are the most important ministries. These important gifts may well be the higher gifts that Paul speaks of verse 31. Apostles were those exceptionally gifted men who had seen the risen Christ and who were called by Christ to be the foundation of His church. They are the one gift that is not given any longer within the church. Prophets declared the word of God in the power of the Spirit to the church to address the present situation the church was in. This gift of proclaiming the word of God is still given today. Teachers instructed their fellow members in the Christian faith and practice. The content was based on the teaching of Jesus himself. They are the ones whose gift enables them to keep the content alive by passing it down through the generations.
Workers of miracles and healers appeared in the earlier list. These were people who could do miraculous things to help identify and establish the kingdom of God in the world. Such gifts are still evident often times on the mission fields where the presence of the kingdom needs to be established. Helpers were those who attended to the other members’ physical needs. They place themselves at the disposal of whomever needs help. Such a person sees a task and is eager to do it with joy and gladness when others would view it as a drudgery.
Administrators were the “helmsmen” of the church who directed its life. The word comes from one who could pilot a ship into the harbor. Given an overall task, one who is gifted in administration can coordinate and organize people and things toward achieving a goal. Tongues and interpreters are listed, not coincidentally, last in order to underscore the fact that he believed that they were not the most important gifts.
Paul then concludes in verses 29-30 by asking a series of questions. “Are all apostles? Are ALL prophets? Are ALL teachers? Do ALL work miracles? Do ALL have gifts of healing? Do ALL speak in tongues? Do ALL interpret?” Again he is emphasizing that not all have the same gift. We need the diversity in gifts for the body to function well. There are, however, important gifts and so in verse 31 Paul closes by urging his readers to seek after or desire those gifts that are important. Gifts such as prophecy, preaching, teaching and evangelism are vital to the life and expansion of the kingdom of God. If you sense that you may have such a gift, I urge you to explore it and use it.
You have been given a gift to do the work of ministry within the church of Jesus Christ and within Faith Church;it is important that you know what your gifts are. You have a vital place within this church, no matter what gift or gifts you have. Will you develop it? Will you encourage others to develop their gifts so that we can be the healthy body God desires us to be?