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"Members of the Body"
1 Corinthians 12:27-31
Wednesday AM Bible Study
December 5, 2007
Theme: Paul calls the Corinthians to keep a "whole-body" focus with respect to the spiritual gifts.
Paul has been dealing in this section of his letter with the matter of spiritual gifts. As is clear from the first three verses of chapter twelve, a proper use of all the gifts in the body was being harmed by a misuse of one of them. Paul deals with this problem by putting that gift in its proper theological perspective. He begins by giving a thorough 'theology' of the church's character as a body (vv. 4-26). And in our passage today, he brings the theological significance of this to bear in the practical operations of the church.
Paul teaches the Corinthian believers that they must keep a "whole-body" focus with respect to their use of the spiritual gifts. He stresses that this is put into practice, in a provisional way, through properly evaluating and valuing the "greater" gifts. But to simply evaluate and value the gifts in and of themselves is not enough; and so, Paul's instructions then lead to his words about "the better way" (see 12:31b) in chapter thirteen.
We are edified by the spiritual gifts in the proper way when we . . .
I. REMEMBER WHAT WE ARE WITH RESPECT TO THE GIFTS (v 27).
A. First, Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are "now" the body of Christ. This isn't something that they have to seek to become. Rather, they need to rest in the assurance that they are already made such (see vv. 12-26; also Ephesians 1:23; Romans 12:5).
B. In addition, they are to remember that, though they are a body, they must not lose sight of the fact that they are individually members of it. There are differences that God has ordained to exist between the individual members of the body for the good and edification of the whole (Romans 12:3-8).
II. REMEMBER THE PRIORITIES THAT GOD ESTABLISHES WITH RESPECT TO THE GIFTS (v. 28).
A. Paul sets forth before the Corinthians that the gifts are not equal in priority. He very specifically arranges them in order of importance. (It's possible that the order of gifts that is given may be understood to speak of the sequence in which they were granted; but verse 31 seems to suggest that he is speaking of order of importance to the body.)
B. The order sets apostles first, then prophets, and third teachers. These would speak of foundational gifts given to the church (Ephesians 2:20; 4:11). After these foundational gifts were given, the next in order of importance would be miracles (perhaps as a part of authenticating the foundations of the faith; see Acts 4:29-30); then gifts of healing, helps, administrations, and varieties of tongues. (Click here to see attached document; "Survey of Spiritual Gifts").
III. REMEMBER THAT GOD DOES NOT DISTRIBUTE EACH GIFT UNIVERSALLY (vv. 29-30).
A. Paul uses a formula which, in the original language, presents a rhetorical question that requires a negative answer. This shows that not all have the gifts mentioned; but rather that they are specifically distributed as God sees fit (vv. 7-11).
B. He seems to follow the same order in expressing this that he followed in describing the priorities of the gifts in verse 28. The point seems to be that not only are the various gifts to be evaluated in terms of their overall importance to the body (none being excluded; but none being emphasized beyond its proper value; see Romans 12:3); but they are also to be understood as given by God selectively for the benefit of all.
IV. REMEMBER TO SEEK THOSE GIFTS BEST SUITED TO EDIFY THE BODY OF CHRIST IN LOVE (v. 31).
A. Paul encourages the Corinthians to "earnestly desire" (or "have a strong affection for") the "best" (or "greatest") gifts. "Best" may be understood with respect to the order of priority he gave the gifts in verse 28. It can also be understood with respect to "the better way" of love that is about to be explained in the next chapter. To "earnestly desire" them cannot be understood refer to the idea of possessing them, since it's clear that not all of the believers have them (vv. 29-30). Rather, to "earnestly desire" them must mean to "value" them with respect to their importance to the building-up of the body of Christ as a whole.
B. He closes by proposing to show the Corinthians "a better way". This "better way" is that of love; which he expands on in chapter thirteen. So many of the problems the church experiences with respect to spiritual gifts would be solved if we properly emphasized the cause of love for one another.
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