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1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

While I write this commentary, the globe is still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is an interesting time to consider what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12, where we are reminded that we are individual members that constitute a body. In the midst of this crisis, we are a body that cannot gather and even as I write, it remains to be seen if we will be able to gather on Pentecost, the Sunday where the epistle lesson set before us is 1 Corinthians 12:3b-12. What might Paul have to say to this dismembered body from these verses?

One of the interesting things about preaching from and following the lectionary can be noticing what texts and verses are left out. I certainly cannot speak to the motivation to leave out the beginning of verse 3, but it will behoove the preacher to consider what is left out: “So I want to make it clear to you that no one says, ‘Jesus is cursed!’ when speaking by God’s Spirit.”[1] It may be that this portion of the verse is left out because of the somewhat sticky notion of speaking by God’s Spirit and this may call for some consideration from the preacher about what this means and what it means for your congregation in these days.

When I have preached from 1 Corinthians, I have often said to the congregation that the message of 1 Corinthians can be summed up in two words: Stop it! Of all of the congregations the apostle Paul was connected to, the church in Corinth seems to be the problem child. Earlier in the letter, Paul has had to address sexual immorality and the lack of church discipline in response to it. In chapter 12 and the following chapters, Paul is dealing with what seems to be arguments or disagreement in the church in Corinth over spiritual gift. It seems that the Corinthian church had a problem of valuing certain spiritual gifts over others.

Before we judge the Corinthians too quickly, we should consider if we are doing the same thing today. I would argue that we are in a day and age where we tend to overvalue what I call “up front” gifts. We put eloquent speakers and singers with beautiful voices on a pedestal. What is often ignored are those whose spiritual gifts operate more behind the scenes than on the platforms of our churches. In my family, we have a lot of people gifted with up front gifts. My father was the part-time youth pastor, choir director, VBS director, song leader, and senior high Sunday School teacher at the church where I grew up. Mom was the church pianist, adult Sunday School teacher, Caravan director, and currently serves as the missions president and office secretary. Both of Mom’s brothers are pastors and my grandmother taught Sunday School and was on the district missions council for decades. Then there was grandpa. Pap, as all of us grandkids called him. Pap didn’t have up front gifts. I think if he’d been asked to speak at church, he would’ve just walked out. Instead, he served as an usher and as both a good woodworker and foreman of the powerhouse at the local steel mill, he was very often the first person the pastor would call when something needed fixed at the church or at the parsonage.

Now who served the kingdom more? My dad and uncles, since their ministry was vocational, at least in part? My grandmother, since she was the picture of consistency for decades? My mother, as she served in practically every role imaginable? Or perhaps, Pap, who used the gifted hands God had given him to maintain the church and its property, as both a board member and volunteer handyman? I don’t believe there is a calculus in the kingdom that could answer the question of who served the kingdom “more.” Though many of the gifts were different, the result was the same—serving the kingdom of God with the gifts that God had given. In the final analysis, we don’t have a metric for measuring the worth of their individual service.

This is as God intended, Paul seems to suggest in our text. Verses 4-6 tell us, “There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; and there are different ministries and the same Lord; and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.” Even though we often tend to value certain kinds of spiritual gifts over other kinds of gifts, Paul reminds us that each spiritual gift is given by the same Spirit to serve the same Lord for the glory of the same God. The point I want to stress here is made even more plain in verse 7: “A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good.” Our giftings may be different but they are all given to serve the common good. There must be differences among us or the body of Christ wouldn’t be able to function, as verse 12 states, “Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many.”

As Reuben Welch has so famously said, “We really do need each other.”[2] Instead of recognizing their mutuality, it seems the Corinthian Christians spent their time arguing over whose gifts were more important and then giving preferential treatment to those who had those particular gifts. Even today, we sometimes spend time longing and pining for the gifts of another. Sisters and brothers, this should not be the case. Whatever gifts you have, the Spirit has given them to you for a reason and for the benefit of the other parts of Christ’s body you find yourself as a part of. Even though we may still be in a time where we can physically gather together when you are reading this to prepare for Pentecost, we really do need each other!

[1] Common English Bible

[2] Welch, Reuben. We Really Do Need Each Other: A Call to Community in the Church. Nashville: Impact Books, 1973.