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1 Corinthians 12:12-31 Study Guide: One Body, Many Members

Community Group Study Guide — One Body Many Members
1 Corinthians 12:12-31

Main idea:
The church is one body made up of many different individuals who have placed their faith in Jesus. We are called to commit to a particular local church where we can use our spiritual gifts to love and serve each other and build up the church in love. To emphasize the idea that we, as the church, are one but also many Paul brings up social diversity, the illustration of a body and the use of spiritual gifts.  

Study Information:
If you’ve played a team sport before, like basketball, softball or soccer, you know the concept that when “if we win, I win.” Learning your place on the team and how to use your skills to enable the greatest success for the team is essential. Team chemistry gets disrupted when the team leans too heavily on just on person’s abilities or when others feel like they have nothing to contribute because they are not the top performer on the team. It is ironic to me when a league MVP (most valuable player) in a professional sport comes from a last place team. Certainly they should be rewarded for being the best player in the league, but were they really the “most valuable player?” In fact many teams that have one superstar end up doing poorly. That superstar will have great stats and accomplishments but unless the team has good team dynamics and other good players on the team they will not go anywhere. To have a health relationship with a local church you have to know and believe that each person who follows Jesus, including you, is essential to that church. The Corinthians had many factions in their church and some really talented speakers and wise leaders and yet they were not really living up to the true potential they had as a local church. Instead of being built up in love and growing in sanctification they had pride issues, division and chaotic worship services where people were exalted over God. Paul desires for us to see in our text that we are one body made up of many members and each person brings something essential to the life, ministry and culture of the church. To do this Paul addresses social diversity in the church, the church as a body and finally the use of spiritual gifts.

The Social Dimension of the Church:
1 Corinthians 12:13-14
Going back to the beginning of our series in 1 Corinthians we learned that Corinth was a really wealthy and socially diverse city. It was much like any big city in United States today with lots of social diversity and opportunity. Many would travel there for the olympic style Isthmian games and the opportunity to work and trade. There would be Jews and Greeks in the city as well as people who were slaves or indentured servants and those with an incredible amount of wealth. It looks like the church in Corinth matched their city’s diversity. We already know that there were people who had power and wealth and those who were “of no regard,” there were Jews and Greeks, and slave and free. This is important to Paul because the natural tendency of human behavior seems to be to congregate with people who are like you and to not associate with people who are different. Paul helps us to see that the church is different; we are one body with many members and so it is with Christ (verse 12). In the process of placing our faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and new life in Christ we were baptized in one spirit and into one body regardless of our social background. This means that the Corinthians were meant to live out their life in the church in a way that was upside down from the culture around them. They were to study the Bible and eat and drink and pray with people who were slaves or free, Jews or Greeks, rich and poor, old and young.

This was a struggle for them as we’ve seen throughout the letter. But, their friendships were meant to be different than the world around them. Someone walking into the Corinthian church during a worship service should be confused because of who was gathered together and how much they’re blessing and serving each other. To make this point Paul next uses the illustration of the human body.

One Body, Many Members:
1 Corinthians 12:14-26
The human body is an intricate and interconnected wonder. Scientists and biologists are still discovering new wonders about how and why things work the way they do. There are whole systems in place like the nervous system and respiratory system where different parts of the body and organs interact to accomplish specific tasks often without your knowledge. Paul draws on this idea to show the church that each individual member is needed and part of the interconnected and intricate wonder that is the body of Christ, the church. Each part of the body, when working properly will build up the body in love (Ephesians 4:16). The problem is that the body of Corinth was not working properly. It appears that there were quite a few people in the church who competed with each other over gifts, and others who were either undervaluing or overvaluing the contribution they made to the church.

Paul addresses the tendency to undervalue your place in the body of Christ in verses 15-20. Just because you’re a foot and not a hand does not mean you’re not essential to the body. God has arranged the parts of the body to serve a particular function for human life to flourish and so he does the church (1 Corinthians 12:18). Can you imagine being at a church where everyone has the same gifts, strengths and weaknesses you have? It sounds boring and limited. Likewise what about being at a church where everyone has the gift of teaching but no one has the gift of hospitality? Or how about a church with the gift of administration but no one has the gift of leadership? These gifts are all essential and really flourish when they’re complimented by other gifts that the Lord apportions. This means that even if our world’s culture devalues the types of gifts you have that the Lord sees them as so essential that he gave them to you by the Spirit to be used in the church.

What about those who take pride in their gifts and overvalue their contribution to the church? Paul addresses this problem in versus 21 and following where he says of one part of the body saying to another “I have no need of you.” The Corinthians would rank certain gifts as being better than others and therefore more indispensable in their mind and Paul is saying to them, “if you really knew which gifts were indispensable you would not be boasting.” There are parts of the human body that you cannot live without and they’re typically weaker or hidden parts and not the ones you bestow a lot of honor for. You may compliment someone about having a great arm in football or nice hair, etc but you never say that someone has great white blood cells. Some parts of the body get praised more than others but all are essential and if you were missing some of the weaker or less honorable parts you’d notice it and be unable to continue to do what you do on a day by day basis. So it is with the church and when we recognize this truth unity is built up (1 Corinthians 12:25).

Paul’s goal here is not to give us a theology of the human body, rather he desires earnestly for love to exist at a greater level in the church and the example he gives is that we’d care for one another and rejoice with those who rejoice and suffer with those who are suffering (1 Corinthians 12:26). Knowing your place in the body and doing so with humility leads to unity and love in the family of faith.

Using Your Spiritual Gifts:
1 Corinthians 12:27-31
Your spiritual gifts and where you fit in the body of Christ is appointed by God (1 Corinthians 12:28). We get another incomplete or partial list of gifts here where Paul is drawing from gifts that were expressed in the Corinthian church to show that they all sourced from the one and same Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). Apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues; each gift has been given to the body of Christ and no one person has them all. Instead of saying, “I am not ______” we should rejoice in the gifts God has given us to use. Being spiritually gifted to help or administrate is not inferior to being gifted to teach.
 
We can respond to this passage by believing the gospel and repenting of overvaluing or undervaluing ourselves. If Jesus truly died for the forgiveness of sin for any who’d place their faith in him then that means you’re brother and sister to people who are very different than you but are part of the same family. You have a place in this family of faith and you are not unessential or so essential that everyone else around you is less important. What you bring to the church is a gift you receive from God, not something you earned and God can take it away in a moment.

We can also respond by joining a church as a member. Instead of casually attending a church, get connected and committed. Go through their membership process and come to the church gathering, small groups and other parts of the life of the church in such a way that you desire to contribute and build up others in faith.

Finally, pray for and find places where you can love and serve others with the gifting God has given you.

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?

Discussion Questions:

Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-31

In 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 Paul gives us a theological vision for the idea of being one body and many members. In one spirit we were baptized into one body and this was regardless of our backgrounds. Why would Paul address this at the beginning of this passage? What kinds of distinctions or divisions existed in the ancient world and how are they similar to what exists today?

Looking at the image of a human body, how are different parts of the body essential and interconnected? What would it be like to have a church where everyone was “the same” with the same outlook, experience and gifting?

What does this passage say to those who undervalue their contribution? How about those who overvalue their contribution?

1 Corinthians 12:25-26 shows us how interconnected the church ought to be. There should be no division and when one rejoices we all rejoice and when one suffers we all suffer. How have you experienced this in the past? How can we grow in experiencing this in the future?


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