I Corinthians 12. The Body and Its Members.

Key Notes: Ecstatic speech. Jesus is Lord. The Spirit gifts individals variously. Communicators are preferred.

In chapter 12 Paul is responding to one of the questions the Corinthians had written to him. “Now concerning the….” introduces several topics in I Corinthians in response to questions. We would love to know the questions the Corinthians were asking but must be content to know the topics.

12:1 “Now concerning the spiritual gifts”. ” The word “gifts” is not in the Greek but has been added by translators based on the context. It may have been that the Corinthians were asking more specifically. For example, “Is every ecstatic utterance from God? Is every gifted person, who is inspired and enthusiastic, moved by the Holy Spirit? What about orators and musicians and actors? What about Cicero and Pericles and Demosthenes”?

In his response, which covers chapters 12–14, Paul talks about speech. He mentions that they had been “moved” by idols. Ecstatic speech is heard in other religions, in his day and ours. He speaks of  the “utterance of wisdom”, “utterance of knowledge”, tongues, interpretations, the tongues of men and of angels, and prophecy. Plainly, inspired speech is central to these chapters.

12: 2–3  They had been led astray before, moved by dumb idols. We do not know exactly what idolatry Paul is referring to, but they were no doubt exposed to the cult of Dionysus (or Bacchus) with its wild, even violent parties and drunken orgies.

            “His cup {of wine} was ‘Life-giving, healing every ill.’"
"Under his influence courage was quickened and fear banished, at any rate for the moment. He uplifted his worshipers. He made them feel that they could do what they thought they could not. All this happy freedom and confidence passed away, of course, as they grew sober or got drunk, but while it lasted it was like being possessed by a power greater than themselves. So people felt about Dionysus as about no other god.”

“It is not known when the great change took place, lifting the god who freed men for a moment through drunkenness to the god who freed them through inspiration, but one very remarkable result of it made Dionysus for all future ages the more important of the gods of Greece.”
(Mythology. E. Hamilton. Mentor Books,’40; p. 60)

Paul  assures them that under no inspiration except by the Holy Spirit  can  anyone call Jesus “Lord”.
“Jesus is Lord” is one of the earliest creedal statements.

They were  also likely  exposed to the Emperor Cult. Caesar Augustus was called "the Son of God." The Christians were under great pressure to say “Caesar is Lord” or forfeit their lives. Polycarp, one of the early bishops,  was urged to curse Christ and save his life. He refused,  preferring death. Paul said no one can say that Jesus is cursed by the Spirit of God.

When we say “Jesus is Lord”, we think at once of control. John Frame teaches us that
*“Lord” implies authority as well as control. The Lord has the authority to control us as our Creator and Savior.
*“Lord” also implies presence and “knowability”. We cannot surrender control to one who does not exist, or to a person of whom we know nothing.
*Finally “Lord” implies covenant,  a promise which He initiated.
When we call Him “Lord”, He responds to us with “my servant, my friend, my child, my joint-heir.”
(The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. J.M. Frame. Presbyt.,Reformed Publ. Co.’87; p11–19).

12:4–11 Paul then changes the subject to gifts given to the church by the Trinity.
There is one Spirit but various gifts (Gr."charismata").
There is one Lord (Christ) but various services (Gr."diakonia").
There is one God but various operations (Gr."enernemata"). This leads us to think that the economic order of the Trinity (here inverted) not only involves huge and primary processes such as
            Global decrees by God,
            World-wide salvation by Christ,
            Thought formation in saved and unsaved by the Spirit,
but also that each is directly and distinctly involved in the function of the Church. That is news. It is God's huge investment.

The intensity of God's investment is suggested by a number of phrases:
            The Spirit inspires a variety of working. 12:6
            God apportions to each person as He chooses. 12:11
            God arranges the organs of the Body as he chooses. 12:18
            God so composed the Body, giving greater honor to the inferior parts. 12:24
            God has appointed apostles in the church, etc. 12:28

The inspired gifts mentioned are nine:

*Utterance of wisdom. Wisdom enables us to judge good from evil. It is the work of elders.
*Utterance of knowledge, truth, facts. This is the task of teachers.
*Faith. We understand “mountain-moving” faith rather than saving faith.
*Gifts of healing. In our prayer groups, we more often ask for healing than anything else.
*Working miracles. Miracles are most often described in settings where there is great spiritual conflict, especially in the Third World.
*Prophecy has two components: forth-telling or preaching and admonishing and fore-telling.
Foretelling is predicting the future. This is the controversial aspect of prophecy. Moses says that a true prophet never points us to another god, or fails to correctly predict the future. Deut.18:20–22
*Distinguishing spirits. We are not to believe every spirit because there are many false prophets. IJn.4:1
*Various tongues. There are at least three types:
            an ecstatic prayer language used in private devotions;
            unintelligible speech that can be interpreted by another believer in public;
            the ability to work easily in other known languages (gifted Bible translators).
*Interpretation of tongues.

12:12–26 All are  manifestations of one Spirit, and are inspired by one Spirit for the common good. Our unity is the result of having been baptized into and drunk from the Holy Spirit. (Jn.7:37). He is in us and around all of us.

12:14–20 Consequently I may not complain because I did not get my preferred role, e.g. hand or eye. (That is the inferiority disorder.)
12:21–26 Neither may I reject anyone else in the Body because their function is not showy or as important as mine. We think that whatever we are doing is most important. (That is the superiority disorder.)

No, all of the Body parts are treated the same. Our bellies and pelvic organs are covered for modesty. They are weaker but indispensable. So God has arranged the body with parts that we display (eyes, nose, mouth, hands) and parts which may be even more important but stay covered.
The parts of the human body work together beautifully. Pain in a finger makes the whole body sick. A tasty dinner makes the whole body feel good.

That is true of the human body. What about our groups?
If one member suffers, do all suffer? Often. The cynic will say “Misery loves company”.
If one members is honored, do all rejoice? Sometimes there is no applause, only harrumphing. clearing of throat and shuffling of feet. We have to careful about where we share our joys.

We tend to value those people in the church based on what we can see. In the church, some are conspicuous—worship-leaders, preachers and other communicators,  musicians and missionaries. They are the mouth, the eyes, the hands and feet of the church. But there are many workers who are the body—the torso—of the institution. They are filing books, vacuuming rugs,  counseling the troubled,  teaching school-children, poring over legal documents, praying in secret, witnessing in the market-place. Their work is inconspicuous, covered up. They have equal merit in God’s eyes. They are also His chosen workers.

12:27–30 Paul expands his point. In the church there are different offices. But note that now he ranks them, even using numbers.
            First, apostles
            Second, prophets
            Third, teachers
            Then, workers of miracles
            Then healers
            Speakers in tongues

Practically the last word is "administrators". Greek word for administrator is “kuberneseis” meaning a helmsman or pilot. Our English word "cybernetics” comes from the Greek. We use the word for those who work with control systems, who understand networks and computers. Although administrators are little regarded in our society,  the task is most important. The church sorely needs people who can see the shallows ahead and keep the ship from running aground. We need leaders who can integrate the various parts of the ministry so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts--and money is not wasted. And such leaders are not usually pastors.

There are four NT lists of spiritual gifts.

speaking  oracles
workers of miracle
speakers in tongues

If we compare all these lists, it appears that there is in fact a ranking, with the communicators first, then the healers and helpers. Apostles (missionaries) and prophets (preachers) are at the top of three lists. Ephesians lists only communicators.

But it still comes as a surprise that Paul ends the chapter with “earnestly desire the higher gifts and I show you a more excellent way.” Commentators express discomfort with Paul saying we should strive for the higher gifts and they try to change the meaning of this sentence. For example, they interpret Paul to say that you can receive and display gifts either by striving or by love. But it does not make sense to strive for a gift already given. Paul will later repeat his instruction: “...earnestly desire the spiritual gifts especially that you may prophesy.” (ICor.14:1)

On one hand, he teaches that God has put us together in the Body of Christ with a variety of gifts poured out by the Holy Spirit. He emphasizes that we may not say our job is insignificant or that we are important and other people’s work is not. We need all the parts of the body—hand, foot, eye, ear, and abdominal organs. Then he turns a corner and says we should earnestly desire the higher gifts.

I think he reads my mind: “If I am given a gift, I guess I had nothing to do with it. I will just settle in and do my thing.”  He wants us to be effective communicators whatever else our calling might be. He has corrected our attitudes toward each other and our spiritual gifts, and then he introduces an additional goal for us to reach up to.

The church needs effective communicators more than anything else. It is the effective communicators who broadcast the Gospel and bring revival—Edwards, Wesley, Whitefield, Finney, Moody, Spurgeon, Graham and many others.

Earnestly desire the higher gifts.