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?