My faith came alive when I was a teenager. At my school there was a mini revival going on. Many others came to faith at the same time. I was one of the younger ones in the crowd. I was impressionable. One thing that impressed me greatly was how a lot of those I saw as the most spiritual in the group were speaking in tongues.
I wanted to go all out for Christ. I thought that meant I had to be able to speak in tongues. But I couldn't. I prayed endlessly that I'd be able to. Nothing happened.
On one occasion a bunch of us travelled half way across the country to visit a church where it was all happening. After the service, I remember our group met with one of the church leaders - all sitting in a circle. There was talk about speaking in tongues, and who could and who couldn't.
The conversation got round to me. The church leader looked at me and said, 'Would you like to speak in tongues?' I felt a burning blush radiating from my face. I was desparate to speak in tongues. I was also terrified about whatever he was about to do. Torn between those two emotions, the best I could do was to blurt out, 'I think so.' Everyone burst out laughing. I had clearly failed the test - and the conversation moved on, leaving me stewing in my red-faced juice.
My confusion took some years to sort out. If I'd understood then what the apostle Paul says here, I'd have saved myself a lot of unnecessary grief.
Please turn up 1 Corinthians 12.12-31 on p 1153 in the Bibles in the pews. Chapters 12-14 are all of piece. They consitute Paul's teaching that's intended to correct the ignorance of the Corinthian Christians on the subject of spiritual gifts. So this whole section is introduced in 12.1 with these words:
Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.
The way they're behaving in Corinth shows that they are ignorant. How? Because there is division, arrogance, jealousy and quarreling in the church. Among other things, their thinking about spiritual gifts is badly and dangerously distorted.
What are spiritual gifts? A spiritual gift is an ability that a believer is given by God for the service of the church and the cause of the gospel. What was their wrong thinking? In this case it centred around speaking in tongues, which is a language of prayer unintelligible even to the person using it.
Some members of this church in Corinth not only spoke in tongues but also thought that everyone else should do the same. And some of those who didn't speak in tongues had been intimidated by this attitude. They began to think that they should be speaking in tongues if they were to be considered real Christians. And because they couldn't, they were doubting their service in the church had any value - indeed they were even doubting whether they were genuine believers at all.
That's essentially the situation that Paul is addressing here. And in verses 12-31 he puts them right in a wonderfully vivid way. What he teaches is a key to a healthy church. I believe that this church is at the beginning of a new phase of sustained spiritual and numerical growth. But that's only going to happen if this is a healthy church. So these principles need to be in our bloodstream.
Here then are three simple points: first, the church is like a body; secondly, the body is made up of many different parts; thirdly, every part of the body is needed.
First, THE CHURCH IS LIKE A BODY
Look over at verse 27 Paul says:
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
That image of the church as the body of Christ is what Paul develops in this passage - first of all in v 12-13:
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body - whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free - and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
Any body worth its salt is one united whole. In fact if your body is in bits, you know that there's something pretty seriously wrong. And its not going to function well. The body is a unit.
And how is the Body of Christ created? By the Spirit of God. When we believe we are drenched with the Holy Spirit and incorporated into Christ. We become united with him. We become a part of his body, along with all our fellow believers.
We were all baptised by one Spirit into one body - whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free...
It is one of the astonishingly glorious things about belonging to the body of Christ - the church - that so many differences between us that normally divide us one from another are transcended and instead add to the diversity that God so loves. Nationality, religious background, culture, language, race, economic and social standing - none of these things divide us when we're united by the gospel. The grace of God alone, given through Christ alone, learned from the Scriptures alone, received by faith alone - this gospel alone in all the world is what can unite such different people as you and I in one body.
Now the body of Christ is worldwide. All believers everywhere are part of it. And that's not just theoretical. That's a practical reality. So during my sabbatical last year when I visited a church in the USA I was welcomed into the home of a couple who I had never met before and who knew nothing about me and because of our bond in Christ we were closer than family.
And today, of course, we're celebrating the partnership we have with St. Philip's in Mburi. And like Joan and Jonathan I too have experienced first hand in Mburi the way Jesus tears down the walls that divided us. He unites us as members of one body - across culture, race, and nationality.
So the body of Christ is worldwide. But it is also local. Paul's focus here in these verses is on the local gathering of believers. We, here at JPC, are the body of Christ. We are a unit. We are one - because of Jesus. His Spirit has formed us from the dust of the earth into one body.
Don't destroy this unity - experience it, enhance it, enjoy it! The church is like a body.
Secondly, THE BODY IS MADE OF MANY DIFFERENT PARTS
Having emphasised the unity of the body of Christ, Paul now stresses the diversity within it. Verse 14:
Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.
And verse 20:
As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
And the point about these many parts of the body, as Paul describes them here - hand, foot, eye, ear and so on - is that they're all different. Some of them are obvious. Some are not. Some are large. Some are small. Some of them are internal, some are external. Some we'd rather keep hidden, others we don't mind anyone seeing. They're all different. They do different things. They have different uses. They serve different purposes. But they all belong as part of the body. And if just one of them is missing, the body is damaged.
The other day I sudden realised that a lump had fallen off one of my teeth. Sorry to trouble you with these personal details. But hardly an hour has gone by when I haven't been aware of my missing lump of tooth. I am not complete. Admittedly large parts of my teeth are made of amalgam nowadays - but we mustn't press these analogies too far. There's a bit of me missing! My body is damaged.
The church is made up of many, very different parts. Just look around you. We're very different. And we have very different spiritual gifts. Paul's already given a list of different gifts by way of example in verses 8-10. He does the same again in verses 28-29.
These are examples - there are plenty more spiritual gifts. If you're willing to take time for a careful analysis of the range of spiritual gifts and you'ld some help in seeing how God wants to use you in his service, then here are two things you can do. For a start, get stuck in somewhere - find something you can help with. Second, look out for CLASS 3. For those who've been through CLASS 1and 2 that's on next Sunday. And it'll be coming round again in the autumn.
Something I find increasingly wonderful to see is the way we all fit together so perfectly for God's purposes. And, of course, that's no accident. Verse 18:
But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
God is the one who has put us together. If you're a believer, and a member of this church, then why do think that is? It's because God decided he wanted you here! And why do you have your particular mix of spiritual gifts? Because God knows where you fit in the body of Christ and what you need to be like to do what he wants you to do.
And that inevitably leads to the third point. It's so blindingly obvious when we think about the church as the body of Christ - and yet we miss it over and over again. It's this.
Thirdly, EVERY PART OF THE BODY IS NEEDED
Paul's particular application here is in relation to the problems arising in the church at Corinth because of those bad attitudes about speaking in tongues. That was the gift that was being exalted above all the others as a badge of high-level spirituality. But he draws out a number of lessons from his body analogy which are relevant to every church. They're relevant to St. Philip's there on the slopes of Mount Kenya. They're relevant to us here. Seven things.
First of all, there is no place for feeling inferior. Verses 15-16:
If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,' it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.
Do not listen to the voice in your head that says, 'I'm useless. I have nothing to contribute. I'm not needed here.' It's a lie. Don't identify one spiritual gift that you haven't got and make that the mark of your own worth. To take one example, don't think 'I'm no good at leading Bible studies, so I'm no good.' Not true.
Secondly, the fact that we're so different and have such different spiritual gifts is vital for the proper functioning - even the very existence - of the body. The notion of a body made up of only one organ is simply absurd. So, verse 17:
If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would be sense of smell be?
We must never value one spiritual gift above all others and think that everybody should be like that. Nonsense.
Thirdly, there is no place for feeling superior. Verse 21:
The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don't need you!'
Don't look down on those who can't do what you can do because God's gifted you to do it. There are things you can't do that render you useless without the support of others. Don't forget it.
Fourthly, gifts that may seem less important can be crucial to the life of the church. Verse 22:
On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.
The most obvious gifts are not necessarily, in God's eyes, the ones that are what Paul later describes as 'the greater gifts'.
Fifthly, when we devalue certain gifts, God makes up the deficit. End of verse 24 and beginning of 25:
But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body…
If your service goes unnoticed - if you get no thanks for it - then don't worry. God sees. And God will honour you for it.
Sixthly, every member of the body, whatever their role and function within the body, should be cared for equally. God has combined the members of the body so that (verse 25)...
… there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.
If you hit your thumb with a hammer, the whole of you hurts. If your tooth stops aching, the whole of you feels better. The well-being of every member of this fellowship matters to all of us.
Seventhly, there is no gift that everybody has. That makes sure that everyone of us, however gifted, is dependent on others. To take an example from Paul's list in verse 29: Are all teachers? 'No!' is the answer. Or from verse 30: Do all speak in tongues? 'No!', again is the answer. If somebody tells you that you must have a certain gift if you're really going to count as a Christian, then tell them they're wrong, and they should go and study 1 Corinthians.
And then Paul ends this section by saying - verse 31:
But eagerly desire the greater gifts.
You see, Paul is not saying it's wrong to want spiritual gifts. He's saying we must want them for the right reason. And what is that? It's to build up the church. Just glance back to verse 7:
Now to each the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
Spiritual gifts are not given for us. They're given through us for the church. So the best gift for the church at any time is the gift that's going to do the most good in helping it to be healthy and therefore to grow spiritually and numerically.
That's why in chapter 14 Paul says that, when the church meets, prophecy - which is speaking the word of God intelligibly - is better than speaking in tongues. The word of God, understood, believed and obeyed, is what builds the church. But more of that another time.
We should be asking God to give us - as a church and individually - just the gifts we need to help this church to grow to the glory of God.
But there is something more important than any spiritual gift - something without which all spiritual gifts are utterly worthless. And that is love. So Paul ends this chapter:
And now I will show you the most excellent way.
By which he means, the way of love. Come back next week for that.