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The Church: One Body, Many Parts

July 2, 2023

Teacher: Daniel Baker
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:12–31

The Church: One Body, Many Parts
1 Corinthians 12:12–31 – Being God’s People: 1 Corinthians – Daniel J. Baker – July 2, 2023


“Please stand...” Reading of 1 Corinthians 12:12–20. “...Thanks be to God.”

This morning I performed a feat requiring a vast number of specific and coordinated actions: I ate breakfast. Eyes...hands...feet...ear (not alone)...mouth. Result? Strength. Energy.

This morning we look at another body called to feats requiring a vast number of specific and coordinated actions: the Church: One body, many parts.

From 1 Corinthians:

  • Section on “spiritual gifts”: “Now concerning spiritual gifts...” (12:1)
  • 3rd “now concerning” in letter: chp 7 on marriage, 8–10 on food sacrificed to idols.
  • 12–14 on spiritual gifts. 12 gives a kind of overview. 13 why love is essential and supreme. 14 drills down into a couple gifts.

The letter of Paul and Sosthenes to the church in Corinth.

  • Just under 20 years after the crucifixion of Jesus, Paul’s conversion.
  • Paul wrote at least 4 letters to Corinth, this is 2nd in the series (1st is lost). See 1 Cor 5:9; 2 Cor 2:3–4; 7:8–12.

The series “being God’s people.”

  • Being God’s people and today, what it means that God’s people are “one body with many parts.”
  • The key idea today is that the church is a single body that needs and takes care of all its parts.

If you’re not a Christian you might a lot of ideas or impressions of “the church.”

  • Some kind of Political Action Committee
  • Or weekly gathering of hypocrites
  • Or maybe you see something different—a group of people that sincerely care about each other and you’re here because you’re curious.
  • I hope you leave here with a better understanding of what the church is—and hear also God’s invitation to be a part of it.

The sermon: (1) One Body (12:12–13); (2) Many Parts (12:14–26); (3) Many Gifts (12:27–31)

I. One Body (12:12–13)

Already in 1 Corinthians 12 we’ve seen an emphasis on the ONE and the MANY. The MANY gifts all have ONE source, God (1 Cor 12:4–6). And the MANY gifts all have ONE purpose, “the common good” (1 Cor 12:7).

In this part of the chapter he’ll develop this ONE and MANY idea in a slightly different direction.

He uses the idea of a BODY. The human body. The human body is one of the greatest examples of MANY parts combining into ONE thing that there is. There is an organic and essential connection between all these parts of what we are. No parts of our body are identical to another. They all work together to do astounding things—like eat breakfast.

In the ESV the word for “part” is “member,” which is fine, as long as you don’t read this as something like being a “member” of an organization.

The word is referring to “parts” of the body. Sometimes we use members like in the word “dismembered,” but more often we talk about parts of our body and body parts. Paul’s using the simple metaphor of a body and its parts.

Verse 12 starts with a simple idea—one body has many parts. The end of the verse is unexpected: “so it is with Christ.” He doesn’t really explain there what he means by “Christ.” It becomes clearer by the end of the passage.

Again he’s starting with the idea, one body has many parts.

Verse 13 then speaks to an important issue—if the church is a BODY, how do you become a part of this body? How do you become a MEMBER of THIS body?

Well, that’s easy, 5-week class, pay your membership dues... Um, no.

No. To become a member of this body requires a WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT—1 Corinthians 12:13.

When we became Christians, whatever we were—“Jews or Greeks, slaves or free”—we were brought “into one body.”

Paul refers to this as being “baptized by the Spirit.” When this work of the Spirit happened we were transformed. We became something we weren’t before, part of something we weren’t part of before. We became a part of this one body.

Because Paul uses the language of Spirit baptism it can sound as if he’s talking about the same kind of Spirit baptism we read about in the gospels and Acts. But it’s a different work of the Spirit.

The reason we know that is the RESULT. With the baptism here in 12:13 we’re brought INTO CHRIST, we become members of the ONE BODY. Once we were outside of Christ but with this work of the Spirit we’re brought INTO CHRIST. He’s talking about our conversion, when we were united to Christ.

Similar to Galatians 3:27:

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Gal 3:27)

Or Romans 6:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom 6:3–4)

With these baptisms we’re brought “INTO CHRIST.” It’s the work of the Spirit we celebrate with our WATER BAPTISM: Conversion!

But in the gospels and Acts, the Spirit baptisms aren’t talking about conversion or being united with Christ or being brought INTO CHRIST. They’re talking about something different. You can see this in Acts 1:

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now....You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:4–5, 8)

The result of the Spirit baptism Jesus is talking about here isn’t conversion or union with him or becoming a member of the body of Christ. The result is “power.”

And throughout Acts when people receive the Spirit they experience dramatic things—things visible and audible to others, even things like “joy.”

The kind of Spirit baptism Paul is talking about is one ALL Christians receive. If you haven’t received it, you’re not a Christian; if you’re a Christian, you’ve received it.

The kind of Spirit baptism in the gospels and Acts is one available to Christians and desirable for Christians, but not necessarily one we’ve all received.

It's referred to by Jesus when he says this:

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

Again, Jesus doesn’t mean conversion of being born again of the Spirit—something true of all Christians. He means something different.

When Paul is talking about this other work of the Spirit he uses the word "filled" like in Ephesians 5:18:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit. (Eph 5:18)

And maybe this is what Paul is hinting at with the phrase he uses in 1 Corinthians 12:13—“all were made to drink of one Spirit.”

The Spirit is how we experience God’s fullness, he is the “living water” of God (Eph 3:14–19; John 4:13-14; 7:37–39).


Don’t want to miss Paul’s main point here. Whatever our background or social status, we are ONE BODY in Christ.

He mentions “Jews or Greeks, slaves or free.” In the ancient world, these divisions would have been massive. But there’s a good chance in the Corinthian church in particular these divisions were felt and a problem.

Paul is saying the “one Spirit” has done something to you that means your UNITY is far greater than any superficial difference like race or sex or background or economic status or occupation or education or family size or family school choices.

This is why we say that it’s the GOSPEL that offers the only real chance this world has of achieving true UNITY between different people.

Transition: When we get to point 2 the issue is different. “Okay, I’m a part, but which part?”

II. Many Parts(12:14–26)

Read 1 Corinthians 12:14–26.

Temptation at times to say, “I’m not just a part but THE part. A really important part. I like to think of myself as the brains of the body of Christ.”

If that’s your temptation, good to remember this line from a 1928 Canadian newspaper:

The cemeteries are full of people who thought the world couldn’t get along without them.
Lethbridge Herald, Aug 13, 1928[1]

Others get confused in the opposite direction: “I’m totally unnecessary. I’m replaceable. I’m basically the appendix of the body of Christ.”

Now, some years ago I had my appendix removed and it didn’t change my life a bit. A few days of pain, but since then absolutely no symptoms.

Well, that tells me there are no appendices in the body of Christ. We each matter in the body of Christ.

Verses 15–20 – In these verses the focus is on those who are tempted to despise their own gifts. They are the foot talking to the hand, the ear talking to the eye.

We might say we’d rather have our “hand” than our “foot,” but we want them both! We want both in our body!

Don’t despise your place in the body of Christ.

God’s sovereignty distributes gifts in a fully intentional manner (v. 18).

And, if all were the bodypart we coveted, what kind of body would that be? Grotesque! (v. 19).

Verses 21–26 – In these verses the focus is on those tempted to pride and an inflated sense of self-importance. They are the eye talking to the hand and the head talking to the foot.

Again, we might choose our eye over our hand, but they NEED each other. For one to say, “I have no need of you,” is preposterous.

But then Paul cleverly speaks of bodies and makes a point to the proud. The proud need to learn a lesson from their bodies. In a body things like eyes and ears and our organs are WEAK. But they are “indispensable” (vv. 22).

The people we might regard as WEAK in the church are INDISPENSABLE.

Another lesson from our body. Our private parts are parts we cover up. So, the parts that are “less honorable” (v. 24), we treat with more attention, not less (v. 24). We make sure these parts are covered when we leave the house!

The same is true in the church. We don’t forget about those who might be regarded as “less honorable” in the society. We give extra care to them.

Again, the weak in the church are to us indispensable, those society might regard as “less honorable” we treat with honor by caring for them.

Andrew Wilson on these verses:

If you were all eye, or all hand, you would not be a body; you would be a freakshow. In the same way, if everyone was a teacher or a miracle-worker but nobody was prophesying or helping, you wouldn’t have a church; you would have a madhouse. Bodies, and churches, only thrive when the full range of their members is recognized, released and celebrated. Interdependence is built in. God has designed us that way.
Andrew Wilson, 1 Corinthians for You[2]

The result? A glorious life-giving unity.

  • Verse 25 – “No division in the body” + “Same care for one another”
  • Verse 26 – “One member suffer, all suffer together” + “One honored, all rejoice”


The church is a single body that needs and takes care of all its parts.

Don’t despise your place in the body of Christ: God has designed it.

Don’t ever think you don’t need the others in the body of Christ—any more than your eye doesn’t need your hand.

III. Many Gifts (12:27–31)

In point 3 Paul brings the discussion back to spiritual gifts. How does this one body, many parts idea connect to spiritual gifts? That’s what he’s talking about here.

Read 1 Corinthians 12:27–31.

Verses 27 is the first time in Paul’s writing that he states clearly that the church is the body of Christ, and that members of the church are “individually members” of his body. He’s been hinting at it all throughout Corinthians (10:17), but now he makes it crystal-clear: Christians are collectively the body of Christ.

Now he’s going to flesh out this MANY PARTS, ONE BODY idea by thinking about spiritual gifts and gifted people in the church. Here it’s ONE BODY MANY GIFTS. That’s what makes us a DIFFERENT PART, it’s the DIFFERENT GIFT we’ve received.

This is how “God has appointed” (1 Cor 12:27) us in the church:

  • “First apostles” – Those sent to start and build and care for churches.
  • “Second prophets” – Those who speak what God spontaneously brings to mind.
  • “Third teachers” – Those who help fulfill the Great Commission – Remember what we are called to do in the Great Commission:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:19–20)

You can start churches with apostles and prophets, but it’s going to take “teachers” to complete the task. And it’s task that continues until Christ returns. Because the call is to “teach...all that I have commanded you.”

And then another list like the one earlier in the chapter—seems to imply the normal members of the church in their various giftings.

A church might start with an apostle, but it’s going to be normal Christians with their spiritual gifts that enable the church to continue its ministry over the years.

The gifts he lists:

  • “miracles” (workings of power)
  • “gifts of healings” – note the plural again – Maybe it’s a one-time ability, maybe it’s someone with a more consistent ability
  • “helping” – one gifted to help those in need. Like the gift of mercy in Romans 12:8. Without this gift, the church really is Frankenstein’s monster!
  • “Administrating” – Translates a word used for the pilot of a ship (Ciampa/Rosner, 613). Thus, the word speaks to the gift of leading or stearing or directing. “Administration” can imply clerical work, but here it’s more like a manager in an organization—even senior management.
  • Last – intentionally so! – “various kinds of tongues” – After “helping” and “administrating.” A dig to this church who boasted of speaking in tongues.

Apostles of tongues last: It’s a subtle word to these Corinthians not to get too big for their breeches.

Also trying to help them see the gift of tongues in perspective. It’s a gift of the Spirit, so one to be grateful for. But don’t make any gift THE gift—teaching or leadership or prophecy or tongues. When you do that, that gift gets warped into something it’s not supposed to be.

Next he says there’s NO ONE GIFT GIVEN TO ALL PEOPLE – 1 Corinthians 12:29–30. No one gift that ALL practice.

He ends with a surprise – 12:31 – “Earnestly desire the higher gifts.” Unexpected after he’s worked so hard to bring out the diversity and importance of all the gifts.

Reminds of 3 things:

  • “Higher” is tied to 1 Corinthians 12:7 – Remember the PURPOSE of the gifts! “Higher” ones will be ones that lead to greater “common good.”
  • Reminds us that the gifts aren’t STATIC – like certain aspects of personality or how our mind works or physical abilities. Gifts can be given for a specific instance or season. God’s providence determines what’s needed when. And who will bring it.
  • And verse 31 reminds us the gifts are “DESIRABLE”!


The church is a single body that needs and takes care of all its parts.

If you’re on the outside looking in, God is inviting you to be part of his people. Part of what he’s doing in the world today.

  • He’s inviting you to himself—and when you come to him, you become a part of the body of Christ, the people he has set apart to be with him forever.
  • Not a perfect people. But it’s a people with a glorious destiny. A future of living with God in the new heaven and new earth forever.
  • Not a perfect people—but it is a forgiven people. Forgiven through the sacrifice of Jesus. His death on the cross was for sinners like us. Through faith in him you can be saved from your sin, from God’s future judgment.
  • Believe in Jesus and you will be saved.

For us who are Christians, I hope you see in this chapter a powerful vision of the church.

  • True Unity
  • True Vitality
  • True Appreciation of Each Other
  • True Concern for Each Other
  • 1 Corinthians 12:26!

Prayer and Closing Song (“For Your Gift of God the Spirit”).

[1] See for the history of this proverb.

[2] Andrew Wilson, 1 Corinthians for You, 138.

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