Second Reading:  1 Corinthians 12:12-30


Called Together


This long reading presented Paul’s argument for unity in the Church, despite competing leaders with different spiritual gifts. The argument can be divided into thesis, argument, explanation of problems with the argument, and a corollary of the argument.


Literal Translation


Thesis: Members and the Body


12 For just as the body is one and it has many members, but all being many members of the body, (the) body is one, thus also Christ. 13 For, also in one Spirit, we were baptized into one body, whether Jews, whether Greeks, whether slaves, whether free (people), and all were given to drink one Spirit. 14 For the body is not a single member, but many.


12:13 This verse was built around an “A-B-A” structure. The “A” (the Spirit) highlighted the “B” (the baptized into the Body of Christ). The four different groups in the community defined the ethnic backgrounds (Jew vs. everyone else) and the legal status (slave vs. free) of the community. This divergent lot was formed by and shared in the Spirit.


Last week we briefly explored the spiritual gifts. Cliques among the Corinthian faithful used these gifts to support their claims of leadership within the community. Their struggles were tearing the community apart.


In response, Paul implied a hierarchy of gifts that began with wisdom and spiritual knowledge. Such charisms as miracles, healing, tongues, and interpretation were farther down the list. His list foreshadowed his discussion of order within the Church (presented here).


Before he listed the order of the Church, he had to argue for an order within the Church. His argument was simple. Underneath the diversity of people and activities in the Church, there was a real unity of believers in Christ. That unity was brought about by the Spirit. The Spirit brought different people together (Jew and Gentile) from different strata of society (slave and free) into a single, living reality.


Argument Supporting the Thesis: Rhetorical Questions and Statements


15 If the foot might say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not from the body,” by this (reasoning) is it not (really) from the body? 16 And if the ear might say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not from the body,” by this (reasoning) is it not (really) from the body? 17 If the entire body (were) eye, where would the hearing (be)? If the entire (body) hearing, where the smelling? 18 But now, God placed the members, each one of them in the body just as he desired. 19 But if all were one (kind of) member, where (is) the body? 20 But now, (there are) many members, but (there is only) one body. 21 The eye is not able to say to the hand, “I have no need for you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need for you.”


12:15, 16 ”is it not (really) from the body” This clause has a double negative (“not...not”) for emphasis. The use of “really” is a attempt to make this emphasis apparent in English.


To argue for charisms as an argument for leadership not only undercut unity within the community, it led to absurd conclusions. Using a biological analogy, Paul presented a list of rhetorical questions and statements to prove the absurdity of the power grab.


Explanation: Unity Even With Honor and Shame in the Body


22 But much more the seemingly weaker members of the body have necessity to exist, 23 and what we consider to be the more dishonorable (members) of the body, to these we place more abundant honor, and our shameful (members) have more abundant modesty, 24 but our proper (members) do not have (this) need. But, God has mixed the body together, having given more abundant honor to (those) lacking, 25 so that (there) might not be a schism in the body, but the members might be concerned for each other in the same (way). 26 If one member suffers, all the members suffer together. If [one] member is given glory, all the members rejoice together.


Paul’s analogy could break down with the question of “weaker” members arose. The term “weaker” could refer to the physically weak or the morally weak. How would the community care for the sick and discipline the sinner?


Paul stuck to his biological argument with language that reflected his culture: honor and shame. What could the community do with the shameful sinner? Honor him! In other words, the sinner who repented became the model for Christian living, not the righteous who never sinned. After all, Jesus called the shameful and dishonorable into his assembly. And, by the analogy, there was no reason to honor the righteous (12:24a). But, for those who did not repent, there were consequences (see 1 Corinthians 5).


Finally, like the body, the honorable and shameful were mixed together by God so they could care for each other. He would explain this spirit of charity in greater detail (see 1 Corinthians 13). But, for the meantime, the saint and sinner were in the same “boat” together. Their destinies were the same. They would celebrate their glories together. They would mourn their losses together.


Corollary: Structure of Church Leadership


27 You are the Body of Christ and (are) members from a part (of it). 28 Indeed, God placed in the Church, first the apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then (workers of spiritual) powers, the, (those with) the graced-filled gifts of healing, assistants, administrators, (those speaking) every kind of (spiritual) tongue. 29 Not all are apostles, (are they)? Not all are prophets, (are they)? Not all are teachers, (are they)? Not all are (workers of spiritual) powers, (are they)? 30 Not all have the graced-filled gift of healing (do they)? Not all speak in (spiritual) tongues, (do they)? Not all fully interpret (the tongues, do they)?


In this conclusion to the spiritual gifts and ministries, Paul put the onus back on those who fought for leadership. The community of the faithful at Corinth was the Body of Christ. Each one of its members had a place in it. But each one could not be a leader. In fact there was a hierarchy of leadership that paralleled the hierarchy of gifts. Again, Paul used rhetorical questions to point out that turf fights led to absurd conclusions. Not all are called to a particular role in the community. God called each by his own design. Each member was to make the Spirit known, in his or her own way. The way God wanted the member to.


God calls us the same way Paul described. Not everyone is called to leadership. Most of us are called to service. But, never fear. God does call each and every one of us. To show the world the power of the Spirit.


How have you been called by God to serve others? What leadership roles have you taken in the community? How have you served? How has the Spirit made itself known in your service?