1 Corinthians 12:3-13

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on June 4, 2017.

Of all of the wonders of creation, the human body may be the most amazing.

For example, consider the human sense of smell. Although it is hotly debated in scientific circles, some have estimated that the nose is capable of discerning a trillion different scents. Consider the human eye. It contains 120 million sensitive structures called cones. They are very sensitive to light, but not to color. If we only had them imagine how different our perception of the world would be. There are 6 to 7 million structures called cones concentrated in the eye’s macula region that provide sensitivity to color. Because of them, humans can differentiate an estimated 7-10 million different hues. Consider the human brain. The brain is capable of processing information from the nose, ear, and eye at the same time while also maintaining our hormonal levels, monitoring our heart rate, setting our mood, keeping track of our memories, and keeping us from losing our balance. All of this, the brain can do seamlessly. The human body is a fantastically designed masterpiece of God.

While Paul may not have had our scientific sensitivity to the wonders of the human body, he certainly thought of it as an amazing work of God. In looking at the body, Paul found a metaphor for how the Church should function and for the use of spiritual gifts within the congregation. 1 Corinthians 12:3-13 is not the only time Paul uses the metaphor of the body for the Church; he does so in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 10, and Ephesians 2-4. His argument in this passage is that just as the body is a diversity of members working together, the church is a body of diverse members with diverse gifts working together.

The book of 1 Corinthians is addressed to a congregation with many difficulties. The congregation had difficulties in dealing with spiritual leaders and had divided itself into sparring camps over which leader should have prominence. The congregation was divided over ethical norms, issues related to the Lord’s Supper, and over the right functioning of spiritual gifts. It is the height of irony that the gifts that God had given to build the body had become used in such a way to create disunity. In this section, Paul undermines the disunity that arose from issues with spiritual gifts and reminds each believer how they are connected.

In this passage, Paul uses the Greek term charisma to describe the evidence of the Spirit that were at work in the life of every believer and had become divisive in the congregation. The term charisma is normative in the Pauline literature. In fact, there is only one New Testament usage of the word that does not come in the Pauline corpus, and that is in 1 Peter. In this passage, Paul gives a list of the spiritual gifts as he also does elsewhere in his correspondence. The gifts, however, vary from list to list. What Paul is indicating by his varying lists is that none of his gift lists are comprehensive and that there are many differing types of spiritual gifts. Making a comprehensive, normative list of spiritual gifts was not important to Paul. What was important to Paul was the Author of the gifts and the goal of the gifts.

The Corinthian congregation tended to place great emphasis on the gift of speaking in tongues, and the ones who had the gift of tongues were highly valued. They were thought to be more important than those who had “lesser” gifts. In that way, the importance of the giver of the gifts was minimized. The gift itself and the one who had it became super-important, so much so that they could revel in the gift and not the giver. Paul notes that the Holy Spirit gave the spiritual gifts. The gifts were not causes for bragging in the spirituality of the one who had it. The one who had the gift was a mere recipient of a grace-gift of God. There was never any reason for boasting in the recipient or for the recipient to develop a superiority complex.

Bolstering his claim that one should not boast about spiritual gifts, Paul makes use of the body metaphor. In it, he asserts that each of the gifts is not given for the good of the individual but for the good of the Church. Each member is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the good of all. If the exercise of a spiritual gift had become destructive to the congregation, then the gift was being exercised in a way that was contrary to its purpose. Paul intended to undercut any elitism resulting from having and using any particular spiritual gift.

Paul also undercuts the Corinthian congregation’s over-valuing of speaking in tongues by the order in which he places the gifts. Tongues were not mentioned first or even in the middle. They were listed at the very end. While Paul did not disparage speaking in tongues, he did not want to over-emphasize it either. He certainly did not want speaking in tongues to remain a divisive issue in the Corinthian congregation. He wanted the use of tongues to glorify God and not the speaker. He wanted the gift to be understood in the broad context of the other gifts of God, and he wanted the Corinthian congregation to value the gift appropriately.

Because each person who is in Christ is baptized into the body, each believer’s giftedness is to be used to support and uphold the community of God. God is gracious in the way the gifts are dispensed, and when believers use their gifts appropriately, the church is brought into further unity. The church, the body of believers, like the human body, is a fantastically designed masterpiece of God. Each believer has a part to play that is crucial. No one has the right to be an elitist, and no one should be discounted in the Church.


Dr. Layne Wallace
Senior Pastor Rosemary Baptist Church






Tags: body, spiritual gifts, roles, community,

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