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We have been studying the subject of spiritual gifts.  Do you know how God has uniquely gifted you for the goal of building up the body of Christ?  Are you fulfilling your role so that the local body of believers is benefiting from your ministry?  Do you have an appreciation for the contribution that others are making in your life and in your church?  Are you envious of the gifts that others have?  Are you content with your God-appointed role?  Too many people approach church from the standpoint of what they can receive rather than what they can give.  Too many people sit on the sidelines and squander the opportunity to invest their spiritual gift to impact the lives of others.

Paul Gardner: Paul now advances an extended metaphor (vv. 12–26) for the church that he describes as a human body. The intention of the metaphor is to demonstrate that every member of the church is vital and that the church will not function properly when one or more members are ignored or regarded as less useful or less valuable. The unity of the physical body, in which each part serves a different but important function, becomes a picture of how the body of the church ought to function and view its members. Once again, it provides Paul with another way of tackling the whole question of the elitism among some that has been based upon certain grace-gifts. The emphasis of v. 11 that the Spirit allocates these gifts “as he wills” (καθὼς βούλεται) is taken up again in v. 18 where it is “God” who has arranged the members of the body “as he chose” (καθὼς ἠθέλησεν). “For” (γάρ) indicates that he is offering a further explanation of the last section (vv. 4–11). God determines what the body looks like, how it functions, and the place of each person within it. Because of this, no one can view another as greater or lesser.

David Garland: His main concern is how their distorted view of spiritual gifts contributes to their lack of social cohesion. The elitist regard for some of the manifestations of the Spirit has exacerbated their disunity. To rebut this notion, he insists that all have been immersed in the one Spirit into the body of Christ, which he likens to a complex, living organism. The first three verses (12:12–14) give the theological basis for the body imagery that is developed in the rest of the section. This body is not an agglomeration of autonomous body parts but a symbiotic whole. Snyder (1992: 169–70) summarizes the point: “Each part of the body takes its meaning from being a functional body member. A collection of arms, legs, and torsos does not create a body.” In 12:15–19, Paul develops the analogy that the body is made up of many different parts, not one. In 12:20–26, he emphasizes that although the body has many parts, it is nonetheless one body. Diversity is necessary for a body to function, but the body is unified as each member is interrelated and interdependent. In 12:27–30, he concludes with a list of functions in the church and a series of rhetorical questions expecting the answer no: “Not all are apostles, are they?” and so on. He confirms the need for diversity (as opposed to hierarchy) for the body to function properly. . .

The body metaphor was readily understandable as a common motif in political oratory and useful to underscore the folly of the Corinthians’ fragmentation as a community. The argument emphasizes the interrelationships of bodily members to ridicule these rifts. Paul seeks to impress upon them the need for solidarity and to persuade them to show loving concern for the less honored members. He also emphasizes that diversity in the body is something divinely implanted and therefore necessary. If any think that they are so gifted that they can do without others, he calls them back to a renewed sense of community. One person alone, no matter how gifted, cannot play a Beethoven symphony, act a Shakespearian tragedy, or compete against another team. The same is true in the church. It can never be a solo performance.


A.  (:12) Presentation of the Thesis: The Parallel Between the Human Body and the Body of Christ – Unity Despite Diversity

  1. Human Body

For even as the body is one and yet has many members,

and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body

  1. Body of  Christ

so also is Christ.”

B.  (:13-18) Argument Based on God’s Formation of the Body of Christ

  1. (:13)  Role of the Spirit in Formation of the Body of Christ

For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,

whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free,

and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Richard Hays: The result of that immersion in the Spirit is that all have been made one. They have come from very different ethnic and social backgrounds—Jews and Greeks, slaves and free—but they have been bonded together by the Spirit into one body. Consequently, the old markers of identity should no longer divide the community.

Gordon Fee: In Paul’s view what makes the Corinthians one is not just their common article of faith, but especially their common experience of the Spirit, the very Spirit responsible for and manifested in the great diversity just set before them (vv. 4–11). For Paul the reception of the Spirit is the sine qua non of Christian life. The Spirit is what essentially distinguishes the believer from the nonbeliever (2:10–14); the Spirit is what especially marks the beginning of Christian life (Gal. 3:2–3); the Spirit above all is what makes a person a child of God (Rom. 8:14–17). Thus it is natural for Paul to refer to their unity in the body in terms of the Spirit. Indeed, despite the considerable literature on this text suggesting otherwise, Paul’s present concern is not to delineate how an individual becomes a believer, but to explain how the Corinthian believers, though many, are one body.  The answer: The Spirit, whom all alike have received, and in whom all alike have been baptized.

  1. (:14-17)  Diversity of the Body with Unique Roles

For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?

Mark Taylor: In 12:15–20 Paul makes three self-evident observations about the individual members of the body.  First, each member of the body is equally a part of the body. The rhetorical device of personification (“If the foot should say …,” “If the ear should say …”) allows Paul to portray more vividly the envy that one Corinthian believer might have for another or the sense of being an “outsider” instead of an integral part of the church. Just because the foot is not a hand or an ear is not an eye does not mean that either is any less a member of the body (12:15–16). There is no insignificant, unimportant, or inconsequential member of the body. Garland explains, “The failure of one little valve can shut down the whole bodily system. The implication is that there is no unimportant gift or person in the body of Christ.”

Second, each part of the body has its own unique function. The logic of 12:17 is intuitive and simple. “If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?” The corollary point is that there is no such thing as a body that is only one part, expressed in the question of 12:19, “If they were all one part, where would the body be?” In other words, if the whole body were only one part, then not only are other vital functions missing, there is no body at all, only a body part. Garland suggests that the “application may or not have been obvious to the Corinthians. A church full of only glossolalists would be no less freakish.”

Third, the one body of many parts is by God’s sovereign design (12:18). “The hypothesis and the analogy is over and done with: now for realities as God has arranged them.”  Paul is careful to stress that God placed “each one” of the members in the body “just as he wanted them to be.”  Each member of the body has its own function according to God’s design. The emphasis on “each one” and the placement of the members in the body according to God’s pleasure builds up the main point of 12:4–11 that describes the manifestation of the Spirit “to each one” (12:7), the distribution of gifts “to one” and “to another” (12:8–10), and the allotment of gifts of the Spirit “just as he determines” (12:11). This third point is perhaps Paul’s chief point, since he not only restates the essence of 12:4–11 but will do so again in 12:24 and 12:28.  Paul concludes the first part of his elaboration on the body with a reprise of the essential point of 12:12–14, “If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body” (12:19–20).

  1. (:18)  Divinely Ordained Individual Roles of Each Member

But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.

Richard Hays: The body is internally differentiated in accordance with the design of God (v. 18); without such differentiation, the body would be grotesque and helpless (v. 17), all eye or all ear. For that reason, no member of the body (church) should ever think that he or she is worthless or unimportant (vv. 15–16); each constituent part has its own distinctive purpose in the functioning of the whole. This also suggests—though Paul does not develop this point—that members should neither envy nor mimic one another, “desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope” (T. S. Eliot, “Ash-Wednesday,” Complete Poems and Plays, p. 60). Rather, each person should accept gracefully and gratefully whatever gifts God has given and use them for the benefit of the community.

C.  (:19-26) Argument Based on Each Role Being Significant and Essential

  1. (:19-20)  Many Members in One Body

And if they were all one member, where would the body be?

20 But now there are many members, but one body.

  1. (:21-25)  Diversity of the Body with Mutual Care for Each Member

And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ 22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those members of the body, which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our unseemly members come to have more abundant seemliness, 24 whereas our seemly members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25 that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.

Richard Hays: In the body metaphor, however, Paul goes farther than before to validate the legitimacy and importance of these weaker and less honorable members within the community: not only are they indispensable to the healthy functioning of the whole body, but God has arranged the body in such a way that greater honor is to be given to those who in the natural order of things might be despised (v. 24).

Anthony Thiselton: The application to Corinth and to church life today is clear. Those who may appear to flaunt supposedly more spectacular gifts (or perhaps those whose social status appears to confer prestige on the church) may turn out to be less indispensable than the faithful, humble, hard-praying, or hard-working “members” whose value may be overlooked by the power seekers. Jürgen Moltmann argues that Christian believers who bring with them disabilities, privations, or experiences of suffering may be the most precious and “charismatic” part of the body, because every church stands in genuine need of such to live out and to teach the character of the gospel (The Spirit of Life, pp. 192-93).

Paul Gardner: Two purpose clauses round out Paul’s definitive point that this is the way God designed things to be. The first expresses the negative, and the second a positive comparison. God did it this way “so that there may be no division” (ἵνα μὴ ᾖ σχίσμα) and that the members “may have the same care for one another” (τὸ αὐτὸ ὑπὲρ ἀλλήλων μεριμνῶσιν).

Mark Taylor: In 12:21–27 the personification of body parts continues in order to make a different point. Here the main consideration is the need that members of the body have for one another with an emphasis on the weaker, less honorable, and unpresentable members of the body. The shameful treatment of the poor at the Lord’s Supper by the more distinguished and honorable members of the church (11:17–34; esp. 11:22) is undoubtedly in the background and aptly illustrates the necessity of this particular application of the body image.

In 12:21–27 Paul makes four key assertions. First, the members of the body need one another (12:21), “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!’” Paul changes the image from the previous paragraph a bit by having one of the sensory organs (eye) speak to one of the external limbs (hand) and replaces the ear with the head that speaks to the feet. Most commentators suggest that the new pairings reflect the hierarchical attitudes of some Corinthians. The head and the eye are obvious metaphors for the supposed higher status members of the church who viewed themselves to be of greater value than others.

Second, the weaker members are indispensable (12:22).  The verse opens with a strong adversative statement, “On the contrary.”  In other words, in stark contrast to the attitude that one body part has no need of the other, what only appears to be weaker is actually all the more essential.  Furthermore, the body parts we deem less honorable we treat with greater honor and the unpresentable parts we treat with modesty (12:23).  The language of weakness, honor, and shame brings to mind some of the major emphases of the letter. In explaining Christ crucified as God’s wisdom, Paul reminded the Corinthians that God’s weakness is stronger than men (1:25) and God’s choice of the weak things of the world shames the strong (1:27). Paul’s ironic rebuke of the Corinthians’ arrogance by comparing their self-exaltation to the suffering of the apostles in 4:10 employs the weak/strong and honor/dishonor motif, “We are weak, but you are strong!” Paul warned those with knowledge to watch their so-called freedom lest their liberty causes their weaker brother to stumble (8:9–10). Paul explicitly identified with the weak: “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak” (9:22). In chap. 11 the notion of shame and honor is a major motif in Paul’s discussion of the head covering (11:2–16) and the Lord’s Supper (11:17–22). All of this suggests that in 12:22–23 Paul’s analogies and word-choices concerning the body parts are carefully chosen.

Third, and relatedly, God gives greater honor to the members that lack it according to his design (12:24b). God has combined, or “mixed together,” the members of the body for this very purpose.  This is essentially a restatement of 12:18, that God put the members in the body as he pleased. Here, however, Paul adds a clarifying purpose statement concerning the divine blending of the body: “so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other” (12:25).  Collins notes that the compound purpose clause emphasizes what it means for there to be no division in the body. “In place of division there should exist mutual concern of the members for one another.”  The unity of the church is one of the primary themes of the letter.

Fourth, what affects one member of the body affects all members of the body. Thus, not only is the one body many members, one member of the body affects the whole: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (12:26). Everyone can relate to the pain that reverberates throughout the body when one small member is compromised. On the positive side, “If one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”  The implication is that a profound solidarity exists between the members of the body.  Like the previous paragraph (12:15–20) Paul concludes 12:21–27 with a summarizing statement, which states in no uncertain terms that they are the body he is talking about, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

  1. (:26)  Unity of the Body in Experiencing Suffering or Joy

And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it;

if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.



Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.”

Anthony Thiselton: The last five verses of the chapter press home the argument by way of summary. If these “gifts” are “different apportionings” in accordance with the will and the generosity of God (vv. 4-6), and if they are given “for common advantage” on the part of the whole church (v. 4) to “one … [or] to another …,” at least two consequences follow. First, they cannot be a source of competitive comparisons in the stakes for status. Second, the full range of gifts (even granted that no “list” of gifts is comprehensive) transcends the capacity of any individual Christian alone to possess them. Only in the church as a community of diverse individuals who bring diverse gifts for the mutual building up of all can anyone witness and experience the rich fullness of the many gifts of the Holy Spirit.


A.  (:28) Sovereign Disposition of Spiritual Gifts – All Are Not Equal in Order or Importance

And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third

teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various

kinds of tongues.”

Andrew Noselli: Paul numbers the first three gifts.  To rank the gifts in order of importance would contradict what he has been arguing, so the numbering is probably chronological: God first appointed apostles (i.e., the Twelve), the prophets at Pentecost, then teachers (i.e., people who clearly explain and apply Scripture).

B.  (:29-30) Sensible Diversity of Spiritual Gifts — One Size Does Not Fit All

All are not apostles, are they?  All are not prophets, are they?  All are not

teachers, are they?  All are not workers of miracles, are they?  All do not have

gifts of healings, do they?  All do not speak with tongues, do they?  All do not

interpret, do they?

Ray Stedman: These gifts, when they are being exercised, grow into offices. Notice how that which is listed as a gift in the beginning of the chapter has now become an office in the church at the end of it. Instead of having “gifts of healing,” we speak of “healers,” and instead of “gifts of administrations,” we speak of “administrators.” One grows into the other.

Robert Gundry: Prophets are conveyers of divine revelations, and teachers are explainers of those revelations. . .  “Administrations” refers to people gifted for guiding a church in its policies and programs. The term was used for the helmsman of a ship and therefore suited especially well the church in Corinth, a maritime community through which sea traffic passed.

C.  (:31) Strategic Design of Spiritual Gifts

  1. Edification of the Church Must Be the Differentiator in Promoting Spiritual Gifts

But earnestly desire the greater gifts.”

Anthony Thiselton: Verse 31 is a transitional verse that belongs equally to 12:1-30 and to 13:1-13. Continue to be zealously concerned reflects a continuous imperative with the force of go on doing it. But what the readers are to go on doing can be understood in either of two ways. Paul might be rebuking their competitive envy of other people’s gifts (Greek zēloute can mean envy). He would then be redirecting this to the one gift that everyone can possess, namely, the gift of love, which is noncompetitive by its very nature. Alternatively, and more probably, Paul urges with irony, tongue-in-cheek, that their zealous concern (verging on obsessive concern) to receive “spiritual gifts” needs actually to be extended to the “greatest” of these, namely, love.

  1. Love Must Be the Common Thread in Exercising Spiritual Gifts

And I show you a still more excellent way.”

Ray Stedman: Now, there is a big difference between the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit is what God is after. That is the character of Christ coming through. The gifts are given to enable us to achieve in increasing degree, by mutual exercise, the fruit of the Spirit. But the fruit is what God is after, and every congregation should be infinitely more concerned with the fruit of the Spirit than they are with the gifts of the Spirit.

Gordon Fee: The preceding argument has concluded with the preceding rhetorical questions (vv. 29–30). With these words Paul is about to launch on his next argument (14:1–25), with its passion regarding the need for intelligibility in the community; and in the community all the intelligible gifts are “greater” than tongues because they can edify, while tongues without interpretation cannot.  But before he gets to that point, Paul interrupts himself to give the proper framework in which the “greater gifts” are to function — love. In this view the imperative to come (14:1) is resumptive. “Pursue love,” he commands, “and in that context eagerly desire the things of the Spirit, especially those gifts that are intelligible and will thus edify the community.”