Teaching series from 1 Corinthians

Principles of Body-life

1 Corinthians 12:12-27

Teaching t05413


We are the middle of Paul's explanation of the church, which is very different from modern conceptions (BUILDING; INSTITUTION; SOCIAL GROUP like COUNTRY CLUB). The church is the result of two profound spiritual unions which have profound implications. Paul explains these in vs 12,13:

Union with Christ (vs 13): this secures our standing with God & personal relationship with Christ

GOSPEL: This becomes true of you when you choose to personally receive Christ . . . 


Union with other Christians (vs 12): the same Spirit who forges this union with Christ also makes us members of one another (Rom. 12:5). The church is not a building or an institution; it is the people who are thus spiritually united. We don't "go to church"—we are the church. This spiritual union with other Christians also has profound implications for how we relate to God and to each other. Today we want to consider some of these biblical principles of Body-life . . . 

Fellowship is non-optional for your spiritual health & growth

Just as interdependent involvement with other organs is non-optional for the health and growth of your physical body's members, so interdependent involvement with other Christians ("fellowship") is non-optional for your spiritual health and growth.

Most western Christians look at spiritual growth primarily as an individual enterprise (PRIVATE DISCIPLINES OF PRAYER, BIBLE STUDY), with relatively sporadic and superficial contact with other Christians (FORMAL CHURCH MEMBERSHIP; LARGE WEEKLY SERVICE; RITUAL OF FELLOWSHIP/FELLOWSHIP HALL; CRISIS COUNSEL; ONE CHRISTIAN FRIEND).

But while spiritual growth definitely has an important individual dimension, the New Testament places its discussion of spiritual growth in the context of community. The life of Jesus comes to us directly as we "hold fast to the head," but also through other Christians (Col. 2:19). It is as we share the truth and love of Christ with one another that we grow into spiritual maturity (Eph. 4:15-16). This is what "fellowship" is—not a HALL for informal chatting or filling out a CARD—but personally sharing in this way.

This corporate aspect of our relationships with Christ is a reality which cuts rights across our desire for independence and autonomy and self-centeredness. On an ideological level, we need to affirm with God that we are members of his body who need community with the other members (NEE QUOTE [1] >> INDIVIDUALISTIC BUTTERFLY vs. WORKER BEE).

If we affirm this on an ideological level, we will begin to make practical changes in the ways we relate to other Christians. One of the most basic changes is to get involved in a home group. This was normative for the early Christians (Acts 2:46; Rom. 16; 1 Cor. 14:34). This is the most basic practical way we affirm our identity as members of one another: we regularly place ourselves in the context where we can begin to practice fellowship.

That's why this meeting is not enough. You can't really practice this unless you already know people. A home group provides a setting to do this in a meeting, and a framework for developing Christ-centered fellowship relationships.

If this meeting is your main involvement with other Christians, you aren't involved enough! We don't have a formal membership because all Christians are members of the church. But practical membership begins here. Some of you are at this point and you're holding out.

But becoming part of a home group is not the sole answer, as many of us know by personal experience. While it is necessary, it is not sufficient. We need to be involved with a certain mentality, which Paul sketches out for us in vs 14-27 . . . 

Take responsibility to be a contributor (vs 14-19)

Read vs 14-19. On one level, Paul is talking about our physical bodies. His anatomical observations are obvious to us. Regardless of how a foot or an ear may feel about their importance to the rest of the body, they are indeed important and they need to play their roles (vs 15-16). For them to give into such thinking is madness! Furthermore, it would be a tragedy of the first order if they got their wish. How grotesque to think of a huge eyeball or ear (vs 17)! Every organ has a unique contribution to make, and the overall health and function of the body is dependent on this (vs 18-19).

But what is self-evident in human anatomy, many Christians deny when it comes to their own personal involvement in the body of Christ! How easy it is to believe that, because we are not what we think we should be or would like to be, we are superfluous. But regardless of what we believe or how we feel, we still are important members with important roles to play. Therefore, we must take responsibility to be contributors. Our excuses must bow before the truth.

"I am not gifted as a leader, teacher, etc." God has gifted you in the way that is best for you and others (vs 18, 11). It is prideful to say vs 18 applies to every other Christian, but not to you. You must function as you are, not as you would like to be.

"I am too young spiritually to have anything to offer." Nothing is further from the truth! You will be able to contribute more as you learn and mature, but you can build up other Christians right now! Any older Christian knows how exciting it is to hear new and young Christians pray, or share what they are learning, etc. >> BAPTISM.

"I have too many personal problems to help others spiritually." I know this feeling personally, but you can still contribute. There is always something you can do to help others. And this willingness is a key to overcoming your personal problems.

"I am too busy to play a significant role in the church." This is a statement of your priorities. If you believe you are a member of the body, you realize this is too important not to make time.

Take initiative! We cannot say we are fulfilling our role in the church if we are passively waiting for people to come to us for help, or to tell us what to do. These things may happen, but we are responsible to actively and prayerfully look for ways to contribute!

AT MEETINGS: Come ready to serve! Ask God to show you someone you can encourage, etc. Think beforehand about who/how you might do this. Pray for the teacher, meeting, new people, etc. Be willing to speak up in sharing and prayer if God lays it on your heart. Engage people before and after: Go forward, introduce yourself to new people, inquire how others are doing, etc. We usually begin appreciating meetings because of the blessings we receive, but we develop an ongoing appreciation because of the opportunity to be used by God to give.

OUTSIDE MEETINGS: Initiate contact with people by phone. Share a regular meal for fellowship and prayer. Go through NETWORK and volunteer for needed ministry that is suited to you. Ask others if they know ways you can serve. Take personal responsibility to help a younger Christian.

As you step out in faith to be a contributor, you will begin to think and feel more like the significant member you are. God will give you the joy of experiencing his life coursing though you to help others. You will gain more insight into your gifting and unique role. But if you wait to experience these things until you act, you'll never get there . . . 

Appreciate the contribution of others (vs 20-27)

Read vs 20-26. Again, Paul's points about human anatomy are self-evident. We know that more "high-visibility" members like the eyes and the head depend upon the lower-visibility members like the hands and the feet (v. 21). We know that organs like the liver or heart perform vital functions even though they appear to be weak (v. 22). Therefore, we practice good hygiene—we take care of all parts of our body (vs 23-25). Why? Because we realize that physical health involves overall health (v. 26). Who would ever say, "My kidneys are diseased, but since my face is in good shape I'm healthy," or "My heart has been surgically repaired, but that hasn't affected the rest of my body?"

But what we affirm as self-evident in human anatomy, we often deny when it comes to our own personal involvement in the church! How easy it is to think that we are each self-contained little islands. Yet Paul says there is no difference (v. 27)! We are the body of Christ, and therefore we need to appreciate the contribution of other Christians. Consider the following questions which get at what it looks like to do this.

Do you let others minister to you? Many Christians demand that others meet all their needs, instead of trusting God to do this and becoming other-centered servants. But some of us have the opposite problem. We don't want to admit our need for help to other Christians, so we don't seek it and even reject it when it is offered (PRAYER; ENCOURAGEMENT; COUNSEL). We may think this is mature ("I'm trusting God"), but it is really just macho pride or fear of vulnerability. When we do this, we are saying "I have no need of you!" God will withhold guidance, insight, encouragement, etc. until you humble yourself to receive it from other Christians.

Do you make room for others to do their ministry? Some of us feel like we have to meet every need, answer every call. No one else can do it quite as well as we can. We come in and take over what people are already doing because we think we can do it better. Some pastors are this way, because they feel insecure about being needed. This is a BALL-HOG mentality which robs others of the opportunity to contribute. It is also a MESSIAH complex which will burn you out unless you learn to say "the body is not one member, but many."

Do you value Christians who are different from you? Nothing could be more common in the world than to divide up into interest groups and reject those who are different from you (RACE; AGE; SOCIO-ECONOMIC BACKGROUND; INTELLECT; EDUCATION; LOOKS). It's the same way in the church all too often (ABOVE + GIFTS). But if we understand that we are members of the same body, we will resist all division based on such carnal distinctions (v. 25). We should have many people in our lives who we would never have been close to except for our common love for Christ. This is one of the ways we demonstrate Christ's reconciling power.

Do you esteem others' ministries? Some of us are only concerned with what we do in ministry. We don't enjoy listening to others talk about their contribution (especially if it is in a different area), so we change the subject or turn the conversation to our ministry. Worse, some of us are envious of others' ministries and even compete against them and are secretly glad when they fail! This manifests a lack of appreciation of v. 26. Those who see this truth will take an active interest in others' ministries, find ways to underscore their significance, and be glad when they succeed.

As you step out in faith to receive and appreciate others' contributions, you will begin to think and feel more like a member who needs the rest of the body. You will feel gratitude for other Christians, and for God allowing you to be part of the body of Christ.

When a group of Christians relates to one another this way, a spiritual synergy results which matures us spiritually and makes us effective in reaching people for Christ . . . 

NEXT: the key ingredient . . . Christian love


[1] "Let me stress that this is not just a comfortable thought. It is a vital factor in the life of God's people. We cannot get along without one another. That is why fellowship is so important. Prayer together brings in the help of the Body . . . Trusting the Lord by myself may not be enough. I must trust him with others . . . Alone I cannot serve the Lord effectively, and he will spare no pains to teach me this. He will bring things to an end, allowing doors to close and leaving me ineffectively knocking my head against a . . . wall until I realize that I need the help of the Body as well as the help of the Lord . . . This is the very opposite of (our) condition by nature . . . There is no union, no fellowship in sin, but only self-interest and distrust of others. As I go on with the Lord I soon discover, not only that the problem of sin . . . has to be dealt with, but that there is also a further problem created by my `individual' life, the life that is sufficient in itself and does not recognize its need for and union in the Body. I may have got over the problem of sin . . . and yet still be a confirmed individualist. I want (spiritual growth) and . . . fruitfulness for myself personally and apart, albeit from the purest motives. But such an attitude ignores the Body, and so cannot provide God with satisfaction. He must deal with me therefore in this matter, or I shall remain in conflict with his ends. God does not blame me for being an individual, but for my individualism. His greatest problem is not the outward divisions and denominations that divide his Church but our own individualistic hearts . . . (I must come to see that) I have become not just an individual believer in Christ but a member of his Body. There is a vast difference between the two. When I see this, I shall at once have done with independence and shall seek fellowship. The life of Christ in me will gravitate to the life of Christ in others. I can no longer take an individual line. Jealousy will go. Competition will go. Private work will go. My interests, my ambitions, my preferences, all will go. It will no longer matter which of us does the work. All that will matter will be that the Body grows . . . " Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1984), pp. 217-219.