Friday, April 22, 2011

The God Who Moves Through His Body In A Myriad Of Ways (1 Corinthians 12:12-31)

The body of Christ is a metaphor for the church that we have become very familiar with, we are comfortable with it. We use it so often we may be in danger of not being able to hear what Paul has to say to us in passages like 1 Corinthians 12.

We can mistake the body of Christ for what we call the body of the church. The body of the church being the place where people come and sit on Sundays and people get ministered to. The focus can be that ministry is what happens up the front. At its best we are lead together in corporate worship and people use their talents and abilities to do that. At its worse it is like a cinematic moment we walk into a cinema or a theatre and while we have some connection with the people round us and we share a common experience we are simply consumers of what is happening up there. But says Paul we are the body of Christ. It’s an active thing. We all have a part to play. It’s about what happens between us.

We use the idea of the body of Christ to talk about a place where everyone belongs. All who are in Christ belong to the body of Christ. Our recent focus has been on words like inclusive, welcoming of diversity and tolerance. That reflects the fact that just like in the first century the church reflects a great cultural diversity and we have a diversity of understanding about the Christian faith and the focus has had to be on fitting all that together. And the metaphor the body of Christ is used in scripture to express that idea of a diversity of people from different backgrounds and worldviews being bought together in Christ. But when we come to passages that deal with the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Pauls writing that is not the way in which that metaphor is used. It’s not about simply belonging to the body. We are the body of Christ and we all have a part to play.

Paul starts this chapter by saying that he did not what his readers to be uninformed about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and we are working our way through a series of messages looking at the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that we to will not be misinformed about them. The gifts of the spirit are manifestations that the spirit gives to the church and its people so that we can grow in our unity in Christ and be empowered and enabled to witness to Jesus Christ in the way we live together as one and in doing the things Jesus did: Using Paul’s metaphor to be the body of Christ and embody Jesus Christ in the world. The gifts are given to the body so that each part can function properly and the body can work together to achieve what Jesus our head wants us to do.

These days we are able to see the human body more clearly than ever before. For example with computers and advances in medical imaging technology scientists and medical educators working for the national medical library in America have embarked on what is known as the visible human project. That is that they have taken a male and female body that were donated to science and have done xrays, cat scans MRI scans and what that they call cryogenic sectioning to build up a comprehensive visual data base for the study of anatomy . They have created photo real and 3D computer images that show where the various body parts are and how they connect with each other.

You can literally fly through the human body and every part becomes visible. It’s a great tool for the study and understanding of the human body and for medical research and training. It makes for some far out amazing images and computer graphics as well.

However there have been quite a lot of criticisms of the project. It started first with the man’s body and it was open to the criticism that it was not right that a man’s body should be seen as the normal human body. So they added a women to the project. Both bodies had come from convicted killers who had been executed, the bodies were then healthy but there was some question as to whether they could be seen as normative. There were other issues as well. While they were as close to a living human being as we have been able to get they were still without life. They couldn’t show how each body part functioned and how it worked together. It was a dead body and none of the parts worked.

Paul says that we are not the inanimate dead body but a living organism. He says that we are an alive body because the spirit of God dwells within us all. Just like God breathed physical life into the body formed out of clay in the genesis creation narrative God has breathed his spiritual life into the body of Christ. We have all been baptised in the same spirit and we all have been given the same spirit to drink. It’s what makes us alive, it’s what says Paul makes us the body of Christ. There has been some though with the coming of the Pentecostal movement and its mainline cousin the charismatic movement that the baptism in the Holy Spirit was like a second experience apart from Salvation, but Paul does not imply this here he says we are all baptised in the same spirit and we all drink the same spirit. However as Gordon fee maintains there have been times in church history when we have forgotten and ignored the role of the spirit or not had any expectation for the spirit to manifest itself in people’s lives. It not that the church is dead it’s, its forgotten the life spirit that flows through it and this has had to be wakened again and the spirits presence and gift giving to all recognised and awakened again.

The focus of Paul’s body metaphor is that the spirit manifests itself in and through people in different ways, the body is active with all people playing a different part. At Corinth the key issue being addressed in the church was divisions and factions who saw the manifestations of the spirit in their group and particularly speaking in tongues as a badge that they were superior to others. If you didn’t do that then well you were sub-Christian. So Paul again says just like the human body has different parts that play a different role in the whole body functioning so it is with the body of Christ. Not one Gift was exclusively the Gift the manifestation, but we all have been given the spirit and gifts by the spirit to actively use together for the common good.

Paul uses the analogy of the body to show that we don’t despise parts of our body in fact the weaker parts are given special consideration it’s not about elitism between body parts. It’s about cooperation and them all doing their part to function properly. The eyes need the ears and the hand needs the feet. There is unity in one body but diversity in the gifts that are given. The manifestations are not given to show off or as badges of superiority but to be used for the common good. If they are not or if all are focusing on one gift the body does not function well or at all.

Then like you are able to fly through the body like you can with the visible human project, he takes us on another highlight tour of the body of Christ to illustrate his point and bring it home.

Apostles, prophets and teachers

He says that there are people who have roles in the church Apostles, prophets and teachers who are a gift to the whole body and that the body needs to function properly. Some people have wanted to see a hierarchy of gifts built into this list that the word first, second and third implies importance. But apart from the fact that the gifts appear in different orders in different lists it is probably better to see that these first three have a particular role within the church that seems to follow on from each other. The planter of the church, the one who takes the word and make it timely and the one who then fleshes out our understanding and helps us to apply and live out the word in our lives. They are ways that God chooses to speak through and to his people, initially and authoritatively , timely and systematically.

Miracles and gifts of healing

Then we have miracles and gifts of healing. Not only does God want to speak through and to his people he wants to move and minister through us as well. We often read through the gospel narratives and the book of acts with some sort of twenty first century scepticism to the miracle and healing stories, but the body of Christ is just that the hands and fett of Jesus to do the things Jesus did. While we were in Dunedin An evangelist from the fledgling church in Mongolia came and spoke to us and it was amazing to hear the story of whole villages coming to know Jesus, he told some stories of miracles and healing but not many. Ray Coster who was travelling with him said he tried to get his guest to tell more stories of the miraculous things God was doing and the healings but his friend was reluctant his reply was well New Zealand is such a Christian country that he expected such things to be common place here and that we would think such stories passé. Maybe as a church in the west we have become reliant on our own means and our own wealth and we have stopped needing the spirit to move in such ways in our midst. Almost like we have allowed that part of our body to stop functioning.

Helps and guidance

Then we have the gift of helps and guidance, we don’t have a great understanding of what is meant by these gifts. In some translation guidance is interpreted administration, but seems to have in mind more the ability to give good guidance and wise counsel to the body of Christ for it to function properly. For the church as the body to run smoothly the spirit gives these gifts as well. Up front and behind the scenes it God working by his Spirit in and through his people.

Speaking in tongues

Speaking in tongues again comes last in this list Paul has tipped the emphasis of the Corinthians on its head to emphasis his point that there is a diversity in the uses of the gifts, he is not writing this one off or putting in down simply placing it alongside the other gifts not in prominence. Its a way of correcting their thinking.

He then reinforces the idea of diversity in unity and our interdependence on each other by asking the questions are all prophets or teachers do all speak in tongues do all interpret? The expected answer of course is no, no it’s not about uniformity of manifestations but about diversity and interdependence.

Then Paul does two things. He says that his readers should earnestly seek the greater gifts and tells them that he can show them an even better way. This is where the challenge comes for us. We need to seek the gifts that Good gives to speak and move in and through his people. They are not according to the scriptures optional extras like leather upholstery and mag wheels on a car they are the things that make it function when they work together. WE all have the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us and we should ask god to give us the gifts he has for us so we can serve each other and be the body of Christ. Paul’s letter focuses on the internal workings of the church at Corinth and we’ve often taken that to be the focus of the whole scriptures and the metaphor of the body of Christ, its inward looking but Paul is writing to a sick and dysfunctional body and he has to do some internal medicine and we have forgotten that the key of being the body of Christ is so we can embody Christ in the world. The spirit was originally given in Acts 2 so that the people of God would be empowered to witness to Jesus Christ. WE need to seek those gifts so we can do what the body is designed to do. People often see unity of the body as the end goal the great aim but it reality unity is an expression of the love of Christ for us all and it is to show the world about Jesus.

There is a better way says Paul. The focus for the Corinthians had been on the manifestations of the Spirit but Paul now will show them that the context for these gifts is love. It’s not about status but about love, it’s not about the gifts themselves it’s about using them in loving service. They are not manifestations of spirituality they are manifested by the spirit to enable us to love. Love one another and love people in the world who do not know Christ.

We are the body of Christ, the spirit dwells within us. The spirit calls us to love one another and in that love to use the gifts of the Spirit to serve one another and the witness to Jesus Christ.

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