When I was in high school, I developed a theory about studying. I theorized that if I fell asleep with my forehead pressed against the pages of the book, the content would actually soak into my brain and I would remember it for the test. I thought it was a great theory! And in fact, I tested it more than a few times, but it never worked. Soaking content into the brain just doesn’t work. “It’s a great theory, but will it work?” You have likely heard that question more than a few times in your life, right? Someone comes up with a plan to fix a problem and it sounds like a great plan, but we wonder if it will really work. Some great theories, like my studying theory, are little more than wishful thinking.
In the last two weeks, we have been looking at the spiritual gifts. We have seen that a person who believes in Jesus as Savior and Lord has at least one spiritual gift, a significant ability to serve Christ and his kingdom. Our goal is to use our gifts so that we may meet each other’s needs for the common good and that the kingdom of God may be advanced. That is the theory that Paul lays out, but will it really work? In the next two verses in 1 Corinthians 12, we see that it is in fact not only possible but it is happening! We can be the Spirit-filled and gifted body of Christ because of the amazing presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s read 1 Corinthians 12:1-13.
I. The analogy of the body
In this section, Paul addresses the problem of divisions within the church based on spiritual gifts. Some said they had the gift of speaking in tongues and that was the most important gift and everyone should speak in tongues. Others said that prophecy was the most important gift. There were many tensions and divisions as a result.
And so Paul says in verse 12, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts.” Look at yourself in the mirror and you will see ears, eyes, a nose, hair, mouth, teeth and so on. There are many more parts on the inside as well. There are many parts in our bodies. Paul continues, “And though all its parts are many, they form one body.” Even though there are many parts, you have to realize that in a person, they are all together to form one body, one person. When you see another person, you don’t think, “There goes a heart, brain, two eyes, two lungs” and the like. You see a whole person who is made up of all those parts. The purpose of all the parts is the common good of the whole body. Paul’s point is that in order to function, people must realize that they are not acting and living alone in isolation from each other; they form a body working together.
Then Paul writes, “So it is with Christ.” What is true for the human body is also true for the church as the body of Christ. The problem within the church in Corinth was that the people wanted to separate these gifts and the people who had them from each other. The thought they didn’t need the other people’s gifts and that they didn’t need each other. The point Paul is making is that this individualistic approach is complete nonsense! The church of Christ needs all the different gifts and the people in whom those gifts are found. The church is made up of a beautiful and rich diversity. But that diversity must be blended into one so that we can live as a genuine unity in Christ.
This unity in diversity is something that we need to strive for more and more. There is much to thank God for in this area for so many reasons. We thank God for the diversity of races and ethnic groups that we have within our body. We are not all the same nor do we all think the same. However, we must realize that our diverse body here can be a powerful witness to our world.
II. Paul says that we were baptized by one Spirit.
Baptism points to the fact that a person who believes has died with and is also raised with Christ. In other words, the death and resurrection of Christ, of which we read in the gospels, is not just that of Christ, but ours as well. When Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins, it was as if we had died. When Christ rose victoriously over death, it was as if we had been raised victoriously. When a person comes to this faith in Christ, the Spirit fills him or her. This filling not only empowers the person individually but also does something that affects all who believe. The Spirit joins all who believe into one body, the body of Christ.
The result is that individual differences are no longer important. Both Jews and Greeks, slave and free are now all united into one body. Jews and Greeks were very far apart in their thinking, in their culture, as well as race. Now, as a result of being baptized into one body, those differences don’t matter any longer. There is now a unity even between slave and free. Racial, social and economic classes are no longer important. What now identifies a believer is that they are Christian. Being Dutch or Scottish, black or white, rich or poor are not the things that identifies us. That is not to say by any means that all such distinctions are now removed. We don’t lose our heritage or our cultural or racial identity. We are a united body, but we still are unique persons and individuals. We should be a shining witness to our world that even though we are different, we can be united firmly as a body in Christ.
“I compared what I saw in the Bible to the reality we blacks lived under in small-town Mississippi. And at a very early age I concluded that it was impossible to be a white Southerner and a Christian. Not because I understood all the different theologies and interpretations of Scripture, and not because we had some special kind of black theology, but because of what I read in the Bible. Since I saw in the Scriptures that if you loved God, you would love your neighbor, and since I knew the white folks didn't love us, it was easy to conclude that there were very few Christians south of the Mason-Dixon Line, especially in Mississippi.” Separating loving God from loving your neighbor had cost white Christians a valuable witness to the power of God, at least to the black community.
Perkins continued: “A while back, I was talking to an old man who lived in a Christian community in New York. This group of Christians takes the gospel as seriously as any group of believers I know. He asked me how they could get black folks to join their community.” Perkins asked, “Why is that so important to you?” The man responded, “lf we had whites and blacks living and worshiping together as brothers and sisters, we would make a much stronger witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ”
How does this happen? By being given the same Spirit to drink. The phrase “to drink” implies first of all an abundant pouring out. It describes watering something so that it is overflowing. The Spirit is given in overwhelming abundance. Moreover, the phrase also infers that the Spirit is not only poured over but poured into as well. Thus, Paul is saying that we are now saturated with the Spirit. We are like a sponge under water in that we have water all around us and filling us as well. When the Spirit came, he was poured out in such abundance that it surrounds and fills each one who believes in Christ.
That is the source of power; that is how we can do the things that we otherwise couldn’t do. It is the Holy Spirit’s power that transforms us from a collection of individual followers to a body of believers.
III. One Spirit-filled body
Filled with such power, we can be the kind of diverse, yet unified church God would have us be. A church of mixed race can be a powerful tool in the hand of God to bring the message of reconciliation to this world. If people can see black and white, rich and poor, young and old, all the different kinds of people unified in love and purpose, it is a beautiful testimony to the grace of God. If God can do that with people who are so different, God can do amazing things in them as well.
How can we do this? Be filled with the Spirit! Let’s pray continually that the Spirit may work to help us understand and accept one another. Let’s understand our differences, learn from each other and thank God for our differences. And let’s focus on the things that unite us, rather than the things that divide us. But this can be done only if we are relying on the Holy Spirit’s power, not our own.
The pilot came on the intercom and said, “I have some bad news and some really bad news. The bad news is there’s a storm front in the West, Denver is socked in and shut down. We’ve looked at the alternatives and there are none. So we’ll be staying here for a few hours. That’s the bad news. The really bad news is that we have no food and it’s lunch time.” Everybody groaned. Some passengers started to complain, some became angry. But then, Palmer said, one of the flight attendants did something amazing.
She stood up and took the intercom mike and said, “We’re really sorry, folks. We didn’t plan it this way and we really can’t do much about it. And I know for some of you this is a big deal. Some of you are really hungry and were looking forward to a nice lunch. Some of you may have a medical condition and really need lunch. Some of you may not care one way or the other and some of you need to skip lunch. So I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. I have a couple of breadbaskets up here and we’re going to pass them around and I’m asking everybody to put something in the basket. Some of you brought a little snack along — something to tide you over — just in case something like this happened, some peanut butter crackers, candy bars. And some of you have a few LifeSavers or chewing gum or Rolaids. And if you don’t have anything edible, you have a picture of your children or spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend or a bookmark or a business card. Everybody put something in and then we’ll reverse the process. We’ll pass the baskets around again and everybody can take out what he/she needs.”
Just think of what we can do with the Spirit’s power! We can meet needs that otherwise would be a struggle to meet. As needs arise, the Spirit can equip people with certain gifts to meet that need. And the church can grow both in knowledge and in numbers into a true body of Christ. With the Spirit’s power we can become more and more the body of Christ, the community of followers that God intends for us to be. We can be the kind of gifted church that God can powerfully use to reach others with the good news of Jesus Christ.