Today the blog continues its examination of St. Paul’s Corinthian correspondence. Previous material on this topic and on Genesis and Mark, can be accessed from my archive. Biblical references can be placed after emmock.com as can particular topics eg. emmock.com John 3:16; or emmock.com obedience. The daily headlines are reminders of the world we live in.
1 Corinthians 12
12 But, brothers, I do not want you to go on being ignorant about the things of the Spirit. 2 You know that when you were pagans, no matter how you felt you were being led, you were being led astray to idols, which can’t speak at all. 3 Therefore, I want to make it clear to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says, “Jesus is cursed!” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
4 Now there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit gives them. 5 Also there are different ways of serving, but it is the same Lord being served. 6 And there are different modes of working, but it is the same God working them all in everyone. 7 Moreover, to each person is given the particular manifestation of the Spirit that will be for the common good. 8 To one, through the Spirit, is given a word of wisdom; to another, a word of knowledge, in accordance with the same Spirit; 9 to another, faith, by the same Spirit; and to another, gifts of healing, by the one Spirit; 10 to another, the working of miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, the ability to judge between spirits; to another, the ability to speak in different kinds of tongues; and to yet another, the ability to interpret tongues. 11 One and the same Spirit is at work in all these things, distributing to each person as he chooses. 12 For just as the body is one but has many parts; and all the parts of the body, though many, constitute one body; so it is with the Messiah. 13 For it was by one Spirit that we were all immersed into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free; and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
14 For indeed the body is not one part but many. 15 If the foot says, “I’m not a hand, so I’m not part of the body,” that doesn’t make it stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “I’m not an eye, so I’m not part of the body,” that doesn’t make it stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, how could it hear? If it were all hearing, how could it smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged each of the parts in the body exactly as he wanted them. 19 Now if they were all just one part, where would the body be? 20 But as it is, there are indeed many parts, yet just one body. 21 So the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you”; or the head to the feet, “I don’t need you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be less important turn out to be all the more necessary; 23 and upon body parts which we consider less dignified we bestow greater dignity; and the parts that aren’t attractive are the ones we make as attractive as we can, 24 while our attractive parts have no need for such treatment. Indeed, God has put the body together in such a way that he gives greater dignity to the parts that lack it, 25 So that there will be no disagreements within the body, but rather all the parts will be equally concerned for all the others. 26 Thus if one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; and if one part is honored, all the parts share its happiness.
27 Now you together constitute the body of the Messiah, and individually you are parts of it. 28 And God has placed in the Messianic Community first, emissaries; second, prophets; third, teachers; then those who work miracles; then those with gifts of healing; those with ability to help; those skilled in administration; and those who speak in various tongues. 29 Not all are emissaries, are they? Not all are prophets, are they? or teachers? or miracle-workers? 30 Not all have gifts of healing, not all speak in tongues, not all interpret, do they? 31 Eagerly seek the better gifts.
This is a deservedly famous passage amongst Paul’s letters; concise and penetrating, it speaks of spiritual matters in a way that rejects what is normally thought of as religious.
Firstly the Spirit of God is not some unanchored inspiration but is firmly fastened to a historical person, Jesus Messiah, and the believers’ commitment to him. It comes from trust in Jesus and does not supersede it. Paul suspected that the “knowledge people” in Corinth were claiming that their spiritual gifts, perhaps especially the gift of ecstatic speaking, were more important than mere discipleship of Jesus. He therefore explicitly ties the gifts of the Spirit to discipleship of Jesus.
Secondly, Paul focuses on individual believers and the gifts they may be given. The list is interesting: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracle working, prophecy, capacities which might otherwise have been described as abilities of the individual are described as gifts of the one spirit for the benefit of the one body of believers. We are not to think that these were not innate or learned abilities, but rather to see them offered by the individual to the community through the Spirit. What is this spirit? It is the discovery that I do not end at my skin and can share my identity with other men and women and indeed with God and the Messiah. Through trust in Jesus I cease to be turned in upon myself and become capable of what the Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh calls interbeing. The Spirit is God’s shared identity offered to all. In this interbeing people’s abilities are no longer personal possessions but gifts to be shared with others.
Thirdly Paul turns from the gifts themselves to the Assembly of believers as the body in which they become effective. This is not any body but is precisely the body of Messiah Jesus. It is only real as it identifies with him. Greek rhetoricians had already used the image of a human body to depict the ideal unity of the city state, in which different social groups had different functions. This was usually a conservative argument for the maintenance of traditional social function, of aristocracy, senators, freemen and slaves. Paul uses it to assert an equality in the one spirit. Within the body of Messiah there is no difference of rank, simply a difference of function. The parts of the body have different functions but are equally important to its life. Arrogant believers should see that they can’t do without the people they regard as ordinary. They are mocked for thinking that the body could be all eye. Elsewhere Paul calls this the ‘communion of the Holy Spirit’. A better translation would be partnership as the Greek, koinonia, is a word from secular business. It is in essence the divine / human interbeing expressed in down-to-earth chores in the assembly of believers.
Those who have received the gift of the spirit must learn to live by it, weeping with those who weep, rejoicing with those who rejoice.
The body of Messiah is aligned towards the life of the age to come when Messiah Jesus will return. Already in this present age it lives tomorrow’s life today. This is the worldwide, multinational partnership which Paul pits in all its frailty against the might of world empires and their spiritual powers. It is at once good theology. and profound humanism.