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Ye are the body of Christ (2) - 1 Corinthians 12

M Hayward, Faversham

Verses 12-13: The unity of the members both of the human body and the church which is Christ’s body

It is important to notice the structure of the remainder of chapter 12. In vv.12-13 the apostle speaks of the church which is Christ’s body, but as he proceeds he develops this truth in vv.14-26 in connection with the local assembly. This is why in v.27 he declares, "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular", or, in other words, what is true of a human body in terms of its diversity yet unity is true in principle of the local assembly in Corinth. He clearly does not mean that the whole church which is Christ’s body was at Corinth at that time. As far as representing Christ in Corinth was concerned they were the body. This is the only realistic way in which the church which is Christ’s body can be expressed.

This pattern is repeated in vv.28-31, where the church which is Christ’s body is spoken of, for apostles are not set in the local assembly but in the church as a whole. Then, after the parenthesis of ch.13, the way gift is to be exercised in the local assembly is detailed.

It is important to realise that there are distinctions to be made between the church which is Christ’s body, and the local assembly. For instance, the former is fixed in the number of its members, being a complete entity in the mind of God from all eternity (Eph 3.11). The latter, however, may fluctuate in membership for various reasons. The former is one (Eph 4.4), whereas, sadly, a local assembly may have divisions. Membership of the former (leaving aside the truth of Ephesians 3.11 mentioned above) begins the moment a person believes the gospel and the Spirit of God unites that person to Christ in an eternal union, whereas membership of a local assembly must be sought. Sadly, that membership has to be terminated if doctrinal or moral sin requires it. In such a case membership in the local assembly ceases. If that believer repents of whatever caused the excommunication, then he or she may be received back again. Moreover, there may be true believers in a locality that have never seen the truth as to the local assembly as set out in the New Testament. Content with the systems of men they never seek fellowship, and as such cannot be said to be in the local assembly. As Christians, they are equally part of the church which is Christ’s body, but are not part of the local company. In the days of the apostles, a person was either an unbelieving Jew attending the synagogue, an unbelieving Gentile attending the heathen temple, or a believer in Christ meeting with fellow-saints in the local assembly, unless excommunicated for some reason. Thus all was simple and straightforward, whereas today the denominations of men cloud the issue. The Scriptures are sufficient for this situation, however, for those who are prepared to bow to their authority. We should remember that at conversion we are "called in one body" (Col 3.15), and that truth should govern us.

There are those who speak of "the church on earth" by which they mean, apparently, the sum total of believers on earth at any one time. This is a notion that is foreign to the Scriptures. The Lord Jesus, when detailing the procedure for dealing with disputes amongst the saints, clearly indicated that the final court of appeal in such matters was "the church". By this He meant a company of people that could have things told to it, and whose counsel could be heard (see Mt 18.17). There is no provision made for any other company or persons to whom one could take the matter further. The local assembly is the final court of appeal in a locality, and spiritual decisions made there are valid in heaven. It is not possible to access all the believers on earth at any one time, and the Lord does not require us to do impossible things.

The sad divisions amongst those who hold to the theory of the church on earth should caution us not to countenance it. The suggestion that the church is in ruins is an insult to the Head of the church. That fact that Christian testimony is in a lamentable state generally is beside the point. May the Lord deliver us from the dictatorial-style oppression that is endured in certain circles. The last thing believers need is an arrangement set up to find failings that can be withdrawn from in the name of unity. The fact is, separation from evil is not God’s principle of unity. God’s principle of unity is the Headship of Christ and every believer’s link with Him by the Spirit.

With these distinctions between the church which is Christ’s body and the local assembly in mind, we return to vv.12-13. In v.12 the apostle begins to use the illustration of the human body to enable us to grasp the ideas he has been setting out, and also to prepare for teaching regarding our relationships with one another in the assembly. First, he speaks of the whole company of believers saved during the period from the Day of Pentecost to the return of the Lord into the air to take His people to heaven. Just as a man has a body that is one organic whole, even though it has many members, so also is it the case with Christ. His figurative body likewise is one whole thing, and has many members. By reason of the functioning of these many parts, the one body exists, not just in theory but in practice. It is not that the church is one body despite being composed of many members, but rather that it is the very plurality of the members which goes to make the body one.

How is the unity of the church which is Christ’s body achieved? The answer in v.13 is that "by one Spirit" we are all baptised into one body. We should notice that the preposition in the phrase "by one Spirit" is one that emphasises the character of the thing being done. It is not that the Spirit does the baptising, but rather that the baptising is given character and meaning by the involvement of the Spirit of God. This leads of course to the question as to who the baptiser is. We know from the preaching of John the Baptist that the One he announced to be coming would baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Mt 3.11). Only those in Israel who pass the searching test of the fanning process (and remember that the words for wind and spirit can be the same), and who are thereby shown not to be chaff, can be gathered into the kingdom garner, whilst the chaff is burnt up in a baptism of fire. So Matthew’s emphasis is on the Spirit in relation to Israel.

Mark, however, is concerned about the principles of service, whether Christ’s or ours, and so briefly mentions Christ as the One who will baptise with the Holy Spirit, for only in the power of the Spirit can God be served (Mk 1.8).

Luke uses identical words to Matthew, but we could say that whereas in Matthew the garner or granary is the Kingdom, in Luke it is the church (Lk 3.15-18). And whereas in Matthew the chaff represents false professors, in Luke it represents unbelievers in general.

John’s approach is typical, for he records that John the Baptist had been convinced that Jesus was the Son of God by the fact that he had seen the Spirit like a dove descend on Him at His baptism, and so he, having seen, bore record that this was the Son of God (Jn 1.32-34). It is significant that John describes the One who will baptise with the Spirit as the Son of God, for when the Lord Jesus in the upper room spoke of the coming of the Spirit, He said it was to be as a result of the Son praying to the Father (Jn 14.16; see Acts 1.4,7). Significantly, when Peter explains the meaning of the happenings at Pentecost, he says it is because the promise of the Father has been granted to Christ (Acts 2.33), and this is the only place that the name of God as Father is found being used in the book of the Acts by any other than the Lord Jesus (1.4,7). The baptism which took place on the Day of Pentecost, therefore, is linked, not only to the fact that Jesus is the Son of the Father, but also to His promise to His own in the upper room, representative as they were of the believers of this present age.

To be continued.

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