Be A Unified Church
1 Corinthians 12
By Paul Robison
 
 

In a book entitled "Conceiving the Christian College", the author makes this observation: "“[Many schools make] their journey across a familiar continuum: from the specific, to the less specific, to the generic, to minimally Christian, to Christian in name only, to Christian in history only, and finally, to the secular . . .” (Litfin).  Those Christians schools begin with clear specific goals to teach Christian values, but in time, they lose their vision, and they stop doing the things that make Christian education distinctive.  Take chapel for example: it starts out daily and is required for all, then it goes to two days a week, then it goes to one day a week for those who want to, then it happens only on special occasions.  Little by little, more accommodations are made to the worldly culture around them, and that private Christian school becomes just as secular as any other public school.  Can the same process happen in congregations as well?  Sadly, you have probably seen it happen, maybe even in more than one.  This sermon's theme is: Be a unified church!  The apostle Paul wrote to a congregation located in the Las Vegas of the ancient world.  The Corinthian brethren are going in the wrong direction according to the process just mentioned and are becoming more secular or pagan.  So Paul writes the letter we call 1 Corinthians to help them to get back on track.  Since we have resumed this series of sermons, we saw that Paul encouraged them to be an obedient church in chapter 10 and a respectful church in chapter 11.  We are now in chapter 12 where Paul encourages them to be a unified church.  Look back for a moment at 1:11-13: "For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there contentions among you.  Now I say this, that each of you says: 'I am of Pau', or 'I am of Apollos,' or 'I am of Cephas,' or 'I am of Christ.'  Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?"  Now look at 11:18: "For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it."  Since Paul is well aware that there are divided parties in the Corinthian congregation who are each pushing their own agendas, he tries hard in chapter 12 to show the members at Corinth that they need to be a unified church.  Let's notice one more thing.  Look at 12:1: "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant."  Did you catch that phrase "Now concerning ..."  Yes, Paul is now addressing the new topic of spiritual gifts which the members have asked him about.  His discussion of this topic will cover the next three chapters.  Somone has noted: "We may outline this material in broad form as follows: confusion over spiritual gifts (ch. 12), a better way (ch. 13), and some guidelines for order (ch. 14)" (Shelly).  Or we might say, Paul argues for a unified church, a loving church, and an orderly church.  So, now let's see four admonitions that Paul gives for this congregation to be unified.  Be a unified church!
 
First of all, stress your common unity―Jesus' Lordship.  Look now at verses 2-3: "You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led.  Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit."  We have to remember the young Christians in Corinth hadn't been out of paganism for many years, and these parties probably had them confused.  What is the common unity that they were to stress?  It was the Lordship of Jesus.  What did the term "Lord" mean?  It meant that someone was the supreme ruler!  You see, once a year, the Roman officials in a city would ask its citizens to parade by a statue of the emperor.  They were to take a pinch of incense off of an altar, throw at the statue's base, and they say, "Ceasar is Lord!"  This is something that Christians would not say for they fervently believed and confessed: "Jesus is Lord!"  What did that confession mean?  It meant that Jesus is alive, that He has the exalted status of ruling over all the cosmos, that He had supremacy over Satan, all the demons, and all the forces of evil, and that Jesus, and only Jesus, should receive my supreme loyalty and devoted worship!  "Jesus is Lord" was the battle cry of the early church!  And that confession could only be made with the help of God's Holy Spirit!  Remember how Paul says in 1 Cor. 2:6 that as Christians we have a wisdom that is not of this age or of this world?  Then he states in verse 9-10: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.  But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit."  With the Spirit's help, every Christian in here has confessed and continues to confess each day: "Jesus is Lord".  Stress your common unity―Jesus' Lordship!  Isn't that our common unity?  We have lots of differences in this congregation: various educational levels, various income levels, various personalities, various political views, various positions as to how passages might be interpreted and applied, but aren't we all unified around our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?  Doesn't the confession of Jesus' lordship form a bond that unifies us all?  Someone had said: "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing!"  And isn't Jesus' Lordship the main thing?  Do our friends, neighbors, and co-workers hear us talking a lot about Jesus?  Do our children know that Jesus' Lordship is the main thing in our lives?  What would the percentage be if a poll was taken in our community and this statement was made: "Do you agree that the folks you know in the church of Christ are a people who are constantly talking about and reflecting Jesus in their lives?"  Someone has said: "My greatest gain is Jesus, my Savior.  My greatest work is to win souls for Him.  My greatest victory is His conquest over death.  My greatest bargain is the loss of all things to keep Him.  My greatest profit is godliness in imitating Him.  My greatest joy is serving His family.  My greatest crime would be to betray such a good and faithful Shepherd" (modified Dinger).  Someone else challenges us with this good thought: "We are representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ ... like a hand fitting into a glove.  We are the glove; He is the hand.  People see us.  They see our movement and our impact.  They feel the squeeze of our lives and the warmth of His Hand.  They can't know Him but through the glove.  And so, the glove appears regularly on the surface of their lives.  And people spot it when there is peace in our lives because there isn't peace in our world" (Thomas in Swindoll).  Stress your common unity―Jesus' Lordship.  Be a unified church!
 
Next, remember your common goal―All members' edification.  In verses 4-11, Paul describes about nine different spiritual gifts, but he emphasizes that all come from the same Holy Spirit.  Notice now what he states about these gifts in verse 7: "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all."  What had the Corinthians been doing with these spiritual gifts?  They had taken these great assets and had turned them into liabilities!  They were bragging about which gift they had and were boasting that their gift was the best one!  Rivalry, jealousy, and self-promotion had become the order of the day.  If you look in 6:12 and 10:23 you find a phrase that Paul repeats: "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful."  The world "helpful" is exactly the same in both those passages.  And that same word is used in verse 7, and this verse could literally be translated: "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the purpose of helping each other."  Whatever the Corinthian believers think about their gifts, Paul is very abrupt and says that their gifts are to be used for the benefit of all the other members, for the common good, for the profit of all!  Gifts are not be used to create a self-satisfying experience but a body-edifying experience.  One commentator said: "The gifts are given for the common good.  That is the point of it all" (Morris).  Remember your common goal―All members' edification!  Bro. Carl Mitchell has a sermon in which he shares his prayer requests.  One of them is this: "... I have a final issue about which I pray daily.  This one has to do with our worship.  All agree that worship should feature offering praise and adoration to our Lord (Jn. 4:23-24, Rev. 19:10).  However, Scripture clearly teaches that an important aspect of our assembling to worship consists of lifting up, exhorting, and encouraging each other in a spirit of love (1 Cor. 14:12, 26).  It is often overlooked that the issue Paul was trying to correct in pointing out errors the Corinthians were making in their observance of the Lord's Supper had to do with their failure to edify and build each other up in their worship (1 Cor. 11:20-32).  I am convinced that abrasive, and sometimes divisive efforts to bring about 'worship renewal' would not occur if we approached worship with the intention of building each other up, while doing nothing to tear each other down (1 Cor. 10:23-24; Rom. 14:13-23)" (Mitchell).  Mitchell also shared once that one of the best ways to keep members faithful in the church was to help them understand this fundamental truth: "I am not in this church to promote my agenda, but I am here to advance the spiritual growth of all members in the body and to promote the common good, for which our elders pray daily."  Remember your common goal―All members' edification.  Notice something else here in verse 7.  Paul says that each member was given a miraculous spiritual gift, and that gift was to be used to serve the whole body.  Now, the New Testament teaches that the age of miracles has ceased.  But isn't it true that God has blessed each member with certain talents, skills, and abilities that are uniquely their own?  Yes, EACH member should use their blessing to the profit of all!  One preacher puts it this way: "The church today, in overlooking the power of the individual and the 'glory of the ordinary,' neglects the greatest source of its strength.  Peter was a great man, but just an ordinary disciple named Andrew brought him to the feet of Christ, who gave him greatness.  This is a heartening fact.  Jesus has a wonderful work for just ordinary folks. ... When the fruits of the Spirit grace our ways, we become a well of water springing up unto eternal life (Jn. 4:14)" (Exum)!  Yes, each of us can be an ambassador for the King of kings, and each of us can contribute something of ourselves to make this congregation stronger for all of us!  Like the gifts, our talents and abilities are not for self-satisfying experiences but for body-edifying experiences!  Remember your goal―all members' edification!  Be a unified church!
 
Next, recall your common identity―The Spirit's blessing.  Now let's read verses 13-14: "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body―whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free―and all have all been made to drink into one Spirit.  For in fact the body is not one member but many."  Here is an identity that transcends all human distinctions (Morris).  This new identity, experienced at our baptisms, breaks down all racial and economic barriers and unites us together in the church!  Isn't it amazing how the Spirit puts us in Christ's body, and then all of us who are Christians have the Spirit come into our bodies (Phillips)?  This is not a special baptism nor a special religious experience (Oster).  It is the ordinary gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit which all Christians receive when they obey the Gospel and are baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Coffman).  Recall your common identity―the Spirit's blessing.  You see, the indwelling Holy Spirit in the life of Christians sets them apart from others in the world and makes us God's adopted children.  Romans 8:16 affirms: "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs―heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together!"  Do we realize that all Christians are Spirit-filled people and have this same mark of identity in our innermost being?  The apostle Paul reinforces our common identity in the Spirit with these words in Ephesians 1:13-14: "In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory!"  One brother makes this good observation: “The Spirit works in every Christian.  We who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit are indeed blessed.  We have the divine Helper” (Jividen).  Why talk badly about a brother who is filled with God's Spirit?  Why not think the best of a sister who is filled with God's Spirit?  Why not start looking at our elders and deacons as leaders who are filled with God's Spirit?  The Spirit's living within each of member, irregardless of any of our human barriers, is a great blessing from God!  Recall your common identity―The Spirit's blessing.  Be a unified church!
verses 24-26: “But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism [division, split, or rivalry] in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.  And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”  Let's note what some commentators say here: 1) "God's arrangement of the members of the body does away with clashing and blends all into one harmonious whole" (Morris); 2) Members are to be interdependent and sympathetic or 'feeling together' toward one another; God's placement of each within the body has not been done haphazardly (Holladay); 3) "Not only is God responsible for the diversity but, according to the apostle, He is also the reason that the community of faith at Corinth must give honor to the honorless in its midst" (Oster); 4) "Stop boasting about your gift!  Quit discounting your brother's!  All you Corinthian Christians are members of the same body" (Shelly)!  Experience your common closeness―this is God's design.  "There was an ingenious teenager who grew tired of reading bedtime stories to his little sister.  So, he decided to record several of her favorite stories on tape.  He told her, 'Now you can hear your stories anytime you want.  Isn't that great?'  She looked at the machine for a moment and then replied, 'No, it hasn't got a lap.'  We all need a lap, don't we?  We all need the closeness of relationship.  We all need to know we are loved (website).  "An American who was walking down the streets of a Chinese city was greatly interested in the children, many of whom were carrying smaller children upon their backs, and managing at the same time to play their game. 'It is too bad,' the American sympathetically said to one little fellow, 'that you have to carry such a heavy burden!'  'He's no burden,' came the quick reply, 'He's my brother.'  'Well, you are very loving to say so!' said the man, and he gave the boy some money.  When the American reached home, he said to his family: 'A little Chinese boy has just taught me the fullest meaning of the words, 'Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.'  He recounted his interview, and added: 'If a little Chinese boy can carry and care for his brother and refuse to consider him as a burden, surely we ought not to think it a burden to carry our little brothers and sisters, the weak and troubled members, who look to us for help.  Let us rejoice as we carry one, and say, by our actions, 'He's no burden; he's my brother'" (Rescue Journal on a website).  Experience your common closeness―this is God's design.  Be a unified church!


Do we want to keep our distinctive Christian character as a congregation and not become just another Sunday social club?  Then let's continue to follow Paul's good advice here in 1 Cor. 12.  Let's promote Jesus Lordship, our common unity!  Let's remember to edify all members, our common goal!  Let's recall the Spirit's blessing that each member has, our common identity!  Let's experience God's design for the body, our common closeness.  Let's be a unified church! 
 
Let's pray!  "Father, we thank you for what Paul has revealed to us.  Help us each to live for the common good of the whole body.  Help us to be a unified church!  In Jesus' name, Amen."
 
"But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.  And the eye cannot say to the hand: 'I have no need of you;' nor again the head to the feet: 'I have no need of you.'  No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary" ( 1 Cor. 12:20-22).  Every member in the church is necessary, needed, and indispensible!  We are interdependent, nor independent.  We all need each other to function well as Christ's body.  If you are not a part of Christ's body, you need to be.  How do you get into that body?  "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body."  Another preacher once said to one who was not a member: "And now, why are you waiting?  Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16)!  Through baptism in Jesus' name, you can have your sins forgiven, you will become a member of the Lord's body, and you will be filled with His Holy Spirit!  Don't you want those blessings?