In our passage for study Paul makes the point that the central feature of a Christian congregation is its unity in Christ, although it is a unity which expresses itself in a diversity of personal abilities and ministries.
v12. Paul has argued for the oneness, or unity, of the church. We all eat the one loaf, that is, we have a common basis of faith, a common belief in Christ. Now he argues for a unity in diversity, rather than a unity in uniformity.
v13. The basis of this unity in diversity is the gift of the one, or better, the same Spirit.
v14-20. Paul now develops his argument with an illustration that references the human body. As a human body is made up of a diversity of parts, which parts are essential for the proper functioning of the body, v17-19, so also is the church. As the human body is not just one functioning part, so also the church. When the church assembles, it must not become one functioning gift. Paul is probably referring to the miraculous gifts, particularly tongue-speaking, which are overly represented in the Corinthian congregation. The true nature of a fellowship of believers is one body with many parts with each part necessary for the whole to operate properly.
v21-26. Paul now extends the "body" illustration. Having established the necessity of diversity, he goes on to make the point that the prominent and beautiful parts of the body are not necessarily the ones that are essential to life. As with the human body, so with the church, "those parts of the body ..... which seem to us to be less deserving of notice we have to allow the highest honor of function", J.B. Phillips. "Word" ministries may not seem as significant as tongues, miracles, or the healing ministry, but they should be given the highest honor. Each member should have "equal concern for each other." "Those who exercise spiritual gifts do so for the benefit of a body which God has designed with meticulous care. For this reason there should be neither elitism nor jealousy", Peter Naylor.
v27-30. Paul finally directs his attention specifically to the church at Corinth - "you". Here Paul argues for diversity, not uniformity, in the gifts of ministry. His point is simple enough, and he makes it in the form of rhetorical questions. Do all members of a congregation have the same gifts to enable them to exercise the same ministry? Of course not. The list of ministries is obviously not complete and Paul is not trying to list all the ministries in order of their importance. Yet, he is giving prominence to "word" ministries in relation to tongue-speaking when he says "first of all apostles, second prophets..." and ends up with "tongues". He is certainly countering the view that tongues are all important.
v31. The Corinthian believers are keen for great and powerful spiritual gifts, so Paul goes on to tell them about the greatest of spiritual gifts, the gift of love.
When the Charismatic movement spread into the mainline denominations in the early 1970's, it did so against the backdrop of a church dominated by the clergy and lacking spiritual depth. It is most likely that the dryness of the church came out of a failure to implement of what is commonly called, "everyman ministry", or "the priesthood of all believers". The idea behind an everyperson ministry is that each individual believer has a part to play in the ministry of the church.
Charismatic theology is based on the idea that the Christian life comes in two stages (although the two can be bound together). A person is converted through repentance and faith and then later baptized with the Spirit and empowered for service. Doctrinaire Charismatics believe that the "second blessing" is accompanied by the gift of tongues, an ecstatic form of utterance claimed to be the language of angels. Second blessing theology has a very long history, being initially popularized by Charles Wesley.
A believer who has not been touched by the Charismatic movement can easily feel like a second rate Christian, a Christian who has missed out on the baptism of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands and the sign of tongues. Mind you, a believer need not feel any distress on this issue, since second blessing theology does not sit well with scripture. The Bible teaches us that when a person believes in Christ they fully receive the Spirit of Christ. It only remains for the believer to allow themselves to be a channel of the Spirits grace for renewal. The more we open ourselves to his wonderworking power, the more we are shaped into the image of Christ, the more we are used by Christ.
There is much we can learn from Charismatic believers and their strong sense of purpose in Christian ministry. No longer do they feel inadequate for the task of building up the body of Christ and reaching out to the lost; they know that the Spirit empowers them for the task. A Charismatic believes that they have been empowered for service; their belief fires their Christian life. No longer is there the minister and lay people; now all are ministers. A Charismatic believer searches themselves for their spiritual abilities and puts them to work for Jesus. Their belief fires their life.
It is this aspect of the Charismatic revival which mainline churches have received as a blessing. We have slowly come to recognize that we all have a part to play in the ministry of our local church. So, each member must search their heart to find what they can do as different members of Christ's body. The church is not the clergyman; it is made up of many parts. Each member has a part to play, a ministry to exercise.
1. Paul's theme seems to be "unity in diversity". Discuss.
2. "Baptized by one Spirit", v13. Discuss this phrase in relation to the notion of a second "Baptism" of the Spirit.
3. Paul uses two "body" illustrations in v14-26. What are they and what point is he trying to draw out?
4. What is the function of a prophet?
5. Consider the place in the church today of a ministry of "miracles" and "healing".
6. Clearly Paul is trying to give balance to the gift of "tongues". How have you found this gift to be a problem in the Christian church today?