A Diversity of Gifts

The Church as the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-13)

In 1 Cor 12, Paul uses the metaphor of a body to describe the church - the church is the ‘body of Christ’. We are the body of Christ because we are his hands and feet - and the rest of his body - in this world. Christ has been raised bodily into heaven, but he is still active in this world today, though his body – that is, through us. Christ is the head of his body, and we are his members. Christ acts through his body, the church, to bring about his own plans and purposes.


All Christians have been made members – as in “body parts” - in the body of Christ, and just as – verse 12 - “the body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts” so it is with Christ’s body. There is an incredible diversity to this body. We are all unique, because of the different functions that we have been given. v.18 tells us that God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.


God delights in diversity. Human beings are not clones who have rolled off a celestial production line; each of us is uniquely the person that God wants us to be, with our individual gifts and talents. Human beings make ice cubes using machines that make every ice cube exactly the same. God makes snowflakes, where the shape and design of every snowflake is different. The church – the body of Christ – is made up of an amazing diversity of people, and amazing diversity of gifts.

One Body, Many Parts (1 Cor 12:14-26)

In verses 14-26, Paul draws out the implications that flow from us being one body in many parts.  The first implication is our interdependence and complementarity. We all need each other, in order for the body to function. As Paul says in verse 15: 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.


All of us belong to the body because we all have unique roles to play. Just as the function of a human body would be impaired if the feet decided not to do their job, the body of Christ is impaired when Christians decide not to exercise their gifts. The metaphor of a body reminds us how interdependent we are. No Christian that has every spiritual gift, because God does not intend anyone to go it alone – God is forcing us to work together, and to use our gifts to complement each others. And that means being prepared to accept and even rejoice in diversity, rather than expect people to do things my way.


The body metaphor teaches us that we all have a vital role to play; that all our gifts are important. We need this teaching so that we value our gifts correctly. Sometimes, people over-value their gifts. Paul gives us an example of this in verse 21– the eye that says to the hand “I don’t need you”. We realise that is ridiculous, and yet this is the impression that church leaders give – that other people don’t have anything significant to contribute.


Often, the problem is the reverse – people undervalue their gifts – like the foot that says “I’m not a hand, so I’m not part of the body”. That’s like people who say, "because I’m not good at up-front stuff, then I don’t have a role to play". Or even, I’m too old to have a role to play. Instead on relying our own valuation of our gifts, we should be relying on God’s valuation As Paul reminds us in vv. 22-23, we tend to think that some parts of our physical bodies are weaker and less honourable and less presentable, but we have got the wrong perspective on this: verse 22: On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. And see what it says in verse 24: 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. The gifts that we think – in our human wisdom – are the impressive gifts and the important gifts – God values differently. None of us should think – because I don’t have X gift, I am less important in the kingdom. God has arranged things so that we all have a vital role to play, and each of those vital roles will be different.


What unites us is not that we are all exercising the same gift in the same way, but that we are engaged in a common task, so that our struggles are shared struggles and our success are shared successes. Christ our head has given his body a mission to proclaim him to every creature under heaven. As one part of that body has success in that mission, we are all supposed to rejoice, in as much as we have all played our part in enabling the body to do its work. When a child becomes a Christian through the Footsteps outreach, the older couple who came to help serve morning tea rejoice, because their act of quiet service was part of the work of the body of Christ that brought that child to saving faith in Jesus. As we all play our part in the body of Christ, the church functions as it should.


Applied to the Church at Corinth (1 Cor 12:27-31a)

In 1 Cor 12:27-31, Paul applies this teaching to the church at Corinth. He tells them in verse 27: Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. The church at Corinth is the body of Christ – not “a part of” the body of Christ, by they are - in themselves - the body of Christ. Each local church is, in itself, a body of Christ. That is, it is not that St James Turramurra is the toenail in a single global body of Christ, but rather that we are a manifestation of the body of Christ, to the people around us. The church at Corinth was the body of Christ, we are the body of Christ, the Uniting Church down the road is the body of Christ. Each church is a manifestation of the body of Christ. And if each church is the body of Christ, then each church will have a sufficient distribution of gifts for it to function as the body of that Christ. In our congregation, we should expect to the see the range of gifts that Paul describes here and elsewhere.


But the critical thing to realise is that the gifts will be distributed. As Paul says in verses 29 & 30
29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Of course, the answer to all these questions is “no”. Not everyone is a prophet or a teacher, not everyone speaks in tongues… Different gifts are distributed to different people. In God’s system, there is no gift that every Christian has and there is no Christian that has every gift. God has done this deliberately, to make us depend on others and work with others.