Community Demands Interdependence
Passage: 1 Corinthians 12:12-26
This is week 3 in our series, “Christ-Centered Community.” Our purpose in this series is to explain our commitment to biblical fellowship and to challenge us to do it. My goal for the first 3 weeks is to address 3 foundational issues regarding how we view fellowship in the church. We began with the fact that fellowship is rooted in new life with Christ. Christ creates community. And last week I challenged us to love and honor the church because it is a beautiful creation of God’s grace. I said that community glorifies God.
This morning I want to address one more foundational issue before we get to some practical issues. My title is “Community Demands Interdependence.” Or maybe a more catchy way to say it would be, “You need the church, and the church needs you.” To make this point, I’d like to look at a familiar passage in 1 Corinthians 12:12–26.
To fully understand this passage, you have to understand the situation at Corinth. It’s pretty obvious in 1 Corinthians that this church was filled with division. And sadly it was all over petty, childish attitudes that stemmed from selfishness and pride. Chapters 12–14 describe one example of their petty strife. This time it was over spiritual gifts.
Until the Scriptures were complete, God gifted some Christians to speak in tongues to authenticate the gospel. But the Corinthians turned this gift of the Spirit into a symbol of superiority. Those that had the gift claimed to be more spiritual and more important than those who did not. Therefore, the Corinthians were not looking at spiritual gifts as means to serve but as a means of self advancement. And it was tearing the church apart.
Paul attacks the issue on several fronts, and in 12:12–26 one of the ways he does so is by comparing the church to a human body.
Paul teaches three truths in this passage that will be my main points this morning. Notice first in vv. 12–14 that…
The church is one body with many parts (vv. 12–14).
Notice that Paul begins and ends this paragraph by telling us that…
The church is diverse (vv. 12, 14).
Verse 12 states twice that the human body is not made of a single body part. And he repeats this again in v. 14. “The body is not one member but many.” This is fairly obvious isn’t it? Your body consists of many parts. I have hands, arms, feet, legs, eyes, ears, teeth, and on and on we could go.
And Paul concludes v. 12 by saying that it is the same with “Christ,” which in context is a reference to the church. The church is made up of many parts, and what is especially important in context is that each of these parts is different. In particular, we all have different spiritual gifts. Verse 4 says “there are diversities of gifts,” and Paul goes on to list a bunch of them. God didn’t design the church to just have a bunch of tongue-speakers. No, he put it together with a variety of gifts.
Verse 13 adds that the church also includes Jews and Gentiles, so there ethnic diversity in the church. There’s also socio-economic diversity, since it includes “slaves and free.”
The church also includes new believers and mature ones, young people and old people. It includes people with varying convictions and passions. It includes people who are gruff and tough and others who are warm and compassionate.
And this is a great gift because we all have strengths and weaknesses. For example, I am the kind of person that when life gets tough, I get tougher. I don’t want to sit around and cry about; I just want to fix it. And that helps me weather the ups and downs of life. But the problem is that I naturally expect everyone else to have the same response and so I can struggle to feel and express compassion.
Therefore, it’s a great thing that God has put other people in the church who are good sympathizers. And we could give many other examples. It’s a great gift that the church includes people who are organizers and others who are visionaries. It includes people who are good teachers and others who work well behind the scenes. It includes encouragers and others who are confronters. We should give thanks for the fact that none of us have to be good at everything; rather, we can depend on each other because God has made his church diverse.
And so the diversity of the church is a great gift, but we don’t always feel that way. Sometimes we feel threatened by people who are strong where we are weak or people who are different from us make us uncomfortable.
And because of our selfishness and pride we fail to see the unique ability of that other person to contribute to the body. We resist the diversity of the body. But God says that our diversity must not fragment us.
Rather, v. 13 drives home the fact that…
The church is one (v. 13).
This verse mentions Spirit baptism. But what does this mean? Matthew 3:11 looks forward to a work that Jesus will do after his resurrection. He will cause the Holy Spirit to dwell inside his people. This began at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came on the apostles, and our text indicates that from then on we receive this baptism at the moment of salvation. Notice that every Christian has received Spirit baptism. Paul states that “we were all baptized into one body.”
Therefore, when someone gets saved, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside him, makes him part of the universal church, and empowers him for ministry, which the NT assumes takes place in the local church. Again we see that the church is not just a community organization. God creates our fellowship through the gospel and through the Holy Spirit we receive at salvation. I can’t say that too much. It is the grace of God through Christ that binds us together.
And in this context, Paul is especially concerned to emphasize the unity this should bring. We are part of ONE body no matter if we are “Jews or Greeks,” “slaves or free.” This is because we “have all been made to drink from “one Spirit.”
Folks, the oneness of the church is very important. One of the last things Jesus prayed before his death in John 17:21 was “That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” In other words, one of the ways that we demonstrate to the world that we are Christ’s disciples is by modeling the unity of the Trinity. And the place where we can practically do this is in the local church.
And so let’s think back to the situation at Corinth. The tongues-speaking crowd was in it for their own glory and power. They had no vision for the oneness of the church. The same is true in chapter 11 where the rich people were having feasts while they left the poor people out in the dark. And Paul responds in v. 13 by saying that the church is one. There is no place in the church for petty strife or selfish ambition.
And so the challenge of vv. 12–14 is that the church must embrace diversity and pursue unity. We are not all the same, and sometimes that makes life difficult. But we must never forget that we are also one in Christ by the Spirit. And may God help us to show that in how we live together.
The second truth we need to see from this passage is that…
The church needs you (vv. 15–20).
To appreciate this section, we have to understand it in light of a principle that Paul already established.
God has prepared each Christian to fulfill a role in the church (vv. 4–7).
Paul is talking about spiritual gifts, so when v. 7 says that he gives a “manifestation of the Spirit” to every Christian, he means that every Christian has been given a spiritual gift. And he adds that God doesn’t give these gifts for my own benefit or glory. No he gives it for the “profit of all.” And so God has given every Christian an ability to serve the other people in the church and the overall health of the body.
However, vv. 15–20 indicate that some people in the church didn’t feel important. Remember that some people were claiming that the gift of tongues is superior to every other gift and that those who could speak in tongues were the engine that drives the health of the church.
Therefore, vv. 15–20 are directed to the people who couldn’t speak in tongues and were feeling inferior and ultimately unnecessary to the health of the church. Notice the argument in vv. 15–16.
Feet have it kind of difficult. They get sweaty and stinky, and most people keep them hidden. So what if your foot decides it’s tired up being a foot. It looks up at your hand and thinks that hands have it pretty good. Hands are out in the open where everyone can see them, and they get to do so many exciting things. Hands get to play the piano, shoot a basketball, and so many other things that get attention. And so your foot decides it wants to be a hand because it feels like feet are insignificant and unimportant. But Paul notes this is absurd because feet have a very important function.
He sets up a similar situation between an ear and an eye. Eyes attract a lot more attention than ears. I have heard many people talk about how someone has pretty eyes, but I’ve never heard anyone talk about how someone has attractive ears. The only time we really notice ears is if they are too big or too small, or they stick out. Again, Paul says that just because the ear might be jealous of the eye doesn’t mean it’s not important. Every part of the body serves an important purpose in the overall health of the body.
Paul drives this home in v. 17 by pointing out the absurdity of the logic. If every body part were an eyeball, you wouldn’t have a body; you would just have a pile of eyeballs. A pile of eyes is pretty ineffective. The same is true of a pile of ears.
Why is it that God puts diversity in the body? The answer is that the body has to fulfill many different functions that require different parts. And so we need to embrace the diversity of gifts and experiences within the church.
But even more importantly…
I must embrace my God-given role.
We probably all struggle at times with the same feelings some of the Corinthians were having. We are all too aware of our own weaknesses, and we feel useless. And then we look at other people, and we see that they are smart, charismatic, compassionate, and seem to have every talent under the sun. And we think that in comparison to that person, there’s nothing I could ever contribute to the body. I am not educated, I don’t have any outstanding gifts, and I really struggle with sin.
But notice v. 18. You are not an accident. God made you according to his pleasure, and he is sovereign over every experience of your life. God has prepared you to fulfill a purpose within the church, and he has placed you in the body according to his good pleasure.
And everything that God does is good. Rather than being discouraged about what you can’t do, give thanks for what you can do. God has prepared you and that his will is good. Embrace your God-given role and joyfully fulfill it.
Now, you might be thinking, “That’s great, but I don’t know what my role is.” If that’s the case, I want to talk with you. Ephesians 4 says that it’s my job to equip you for ministry. I would love to talk about how God has prepared you and about how God can use you at Life Point.
As well, I would encourage you to just get involved in people’s lives. I guarantee that there are people in this church to whom you can have a unique ministry because of shared life experiences. And so just have a vision for people and reach out to them. And you will have a profound ministry.
Folks, the church needs you because God made you to fulfill a specific function. You are necessary to the health of Life Point and so get busy doing what God made you to do.
But as well, I’ve heard people say things like, “I don’t really attend church because I don’t get anything out of it.” Or “I can do pretty well on my own. I don’t need the church.” We’re going to see in a moment that this is a pretty arrogant claim, but even if you get nothing out of church or you don’t actually need the church, you still should come. Because other people need you. They need the grace that you are uniquely equipped to give.
I believe this concept is also very significant for the church hopper. Some Christians bounce around from church to church with little thought for how they are affecting the body. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons to leave a church, so I’m not saying it’s necessarily a sin. But I don’t think that most people who leave a church ever think about the fact that when you leave a church, it’s like losing an arm or an eye. It hurts. Now certainly the good of your own soul and the souls of your family are very important, but the health of your church is also important. How God is using you in the assembly to advance his work ought to be a major factor in how you think about every aspect of life. Folks, the church needs you.
But notice finally that…
You need the church (vv. 20–26).
I’d like to challenge us to make 3 commitments based on what Paul says here.
I must acknowledge my need for the other members of the body (vv. 20–22).
Again the previous verses were addressed to those who felt inferior. Paul now confronts those who felt superior. Because they had the gift of tongues, they thought that they didn’t need anyone else. Therefore, v. 20 states again that that there is “one body.” God never intended for Christians to be an island to themselves.
As a result, v. 21 says that a body part would be delusional to think that it doesn’t need the other members of the body. It would be absurd for an eye to think that it doesn’t need the hands because we use our hands to do so many things. The same goes for the head saying it doesn’t need the feet. Now it’s true that you can live without feet, but you can’t live without your head. But your capacity for work would be really affected if you didn’t have feet.
Therefore, v. 22 concludes that just because a particular body part seems does not mean it’s not necessary. This verse is probably talking about the internal organs. Your heart, brain, and kidneys all seem weak in comparison to a leg or arm. They are much easier to damage, but Paul notes that despite this seeming weakness, they are still necessary. In fact, they are much more necessary to your life than a leg or an arm.
Therefore, looks can be deceiving. In the Corinthians’ case, just because a particular gift like tongues gets a lot of attention doesn’t actually mean it is the most important. You see that all of the time in churches. The people who really make them go because of their maturity, prayers, and quiet support sometimes don’t stand out, but in the language of this text, they are the heart of the church.
Therefore, the fact that some of these Christians thought they didn’t need part of the church was arrogant and delusional. It’s still true today. Therefore, we all need to check our own hearts and ask, “Do I sense my dependence on the church?” And I don’t just mean your dependence on a couple of your good friends. Do I sense my dependence on every body part that makes up Life Point?
And then I need to ask what my participation in the church would indicate? It’s one thing to say I get it, but if the church is a tertiary or insignificant aspect of my life, or if I avoid certain sections of the church, then I don’t actually believe that I need the whole body.
We have to recognize that the Christian life is just too hard to do it on your own. It’s arrogant to think otherwise. And furthermore, we aren’t just called to live our Christian lives; God has commanded you to advance the the Great Commission. You can’t fulfill the GC without a church. Sure, you can evangelize and disciple. But no one should be baptizing on his own. And there are aspects evangelism and discipleship that a person will never be able to do like an individual.
And so while I think most of us have heard this before and maybe even believe it, I think it would be good for us to just think about the people in this room and say to ourselves, “I need these people for the good of my soul and to fulfill my role in the advance of the GC.”
The second commitment we see in this section is that…
I must support the other members of the body in their need (vv. 23–25).
Verse 23 is probably a reference to what we can call our private parts. We are wired to keep them covered. In a fallen world God wants them to be covered, and so we honor them by covering them. In contrast, v. 24 notes that we don’t feel the need to cover other body parts such as the face or hands.
Paul’s point is that just because a body part is seemingly less honorable doesn’t mean that we discard it or consider it useless. No, we compensate for it. We make up for its weakness. And Paul goes on to say that this is what God wants to happen in the church. If a brother or sister in Christ is struggling, we don’t shame them by exposing them. No, we cover them and care for them.
Sadly the Corinthians weren’t doing that. The people who were rich or who had impressive spiritual gifts wanted to discard the poor and the weak. As v. 25 says, they were creating schism in the body. As disgusting as that sounds, sometimes we are guilty of the same sin. Someone is a little quirky and lacking in social skills, and we get annoyed with them and try to avoid them instead of loving them and covering for their weakness. Or someone is spiritually immature, and we get frustrated by them instead of discipling them to be better.
Folks, when we see immaturity in the body, our first response should not be to get bothered by it or to be critical of it. We certainly shouldn’t run from it. Folks, there are few things more frustrating as a pastor than when someone has a very keen sense of everything that is wrong with the church, but they won’t do anything to fix it or they just want to bail on it. You don’t do that when your leg is broken, and you shouldn’t do it in the church. We should compensate for weakness. We should disciple that person or just be patient with them because we love them and they are part of the body. It is our job to support the other members of the body in their need.
The 3rd commitment I’d like us to make is that…
I must contribute to a culture of interdependence (vv. 25–26).
Verse 25 concludes by saying that we are to have “the same care for one another.” In other words, the church is to be marked by mutual support. Verse 26 follows with a powerful application of what this looks like. “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.” Isn’t it interesting how a problem in one part of your body affects everything? A flu virus attacks a relatively small part of your body, but you feel it everywhere don’t you? This is because of the interdependence of your body.
There should be the same interdependence at Life Point. When someone in our church is hurting, all of us should hurt, and we should all be motivated to help bear the burden that person feels. We should all be praying. We should be writing notes of encouragement. We should be ready to cook a meal, watch kids, or do whatever else we can do to spread the load.
The same goes when someone is honored or blessed. We should be so interested in each other’s lives that when someone is blessed, we can’t help but be happy with them.
Of course this begins with just being aware. We need to be engaged in people’s lives so that we see their hurts and so they feel comfortable coming to us. It also means that if you are hurting, you need to be humble enough to lean on the body and let us know how we can serve. If you are battling, God doesn’t want you to fight by yourself. He gave you the church to lean on, so let us help.
Folks, God wants the church to be an interdependent body. And so let’s all be committed to the body, let’s serve the body, and then let the church serve you. You need the church, and the church needs you.