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Ye are the body of Christ (3) - 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 (cont.)

So it was when the Day of Pentecost had fully come, and the disciples were all of one accord in one place, that the Spirit not only filled them, but also filled the place where they were sitting. By this means they were completely immersed in the element of the Spirit of God. They were baptised in the Spirit just as effectively as they had been baptised in the waters of Jordan by John a few years before. A similar experience had been known by the nation of Israel. Just before they passed through the Red Sea on dry land, the pillar of cloud and fire which had led the way for them removed to their rear. Thus it was that the Apostle Paul can describe them as having been baptised unto Moses in the cloud (1 Cor 10.2), for it had engulfed them as it moved from the head of the column to the rear.

All those baptised on the Day of Pentecost, however, were Jews, and yet v.13 declares, "whether…Jews or Gentiles". How is this true? When Peter was preaching to Cornelius and his fellow Gentiles, the Spirit of God fell on them too. It is interesting to notice that when Peter was called to account for the events of that day he says, amongst other things, that he remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said, "John indeed baptised with water; but ye shall be baptised with the Holy Ghost" (Acts 11.16). He does not quote the finish of the sentence which runs, "…not many days hence", for this was not a relevant phrase in the case of Cornelius. It is significant, however, that when Peter realised that Cornelius had received the gift of the Holy Spirit (as was proved in his case by the fact that he was enabled to speak in tongues), Peter recalled, not the Lord’s words in the upper room giving the promise of the Spirit, but His words in Acts 1.5 already quoted. This would strongly suggest that a person is baptised in the Spirit when they are saved. There are those who disagree with this, however, and believe everything took place at Pentecost, with the individual entering into the good of that when saved, just as the good of Calvary is entered into at salvation. The strength of this argument lies in the fact that the apostle definitely teaches a similar idea when he says that when Christ died, His people died with Him, and they come into the good of that when they are eventually saved (see Rom 6.1-6). Along the same line is the fact that when a covenant was made between God and the people of Israel in Moab, it was made with "him that standeth here this day before the Lord our God, and also with him that is not here with us this day" (Deut 29.15). Those actually present when the covenant was given represented all who would come under its terms.

Whichever of these two views we adopt, the effect is the same, namely, that it can be said of all believers, whether Jews or Gentiles before conversion, that they are, as a matter of historical fact, baptised into one body. The view we should definitely not adopt is that one which says that the baptism in the Spirit is an experience that comes to a believer at some time after conversion. This has no support in Scripture, for Paul is able to state categorically that "we", that is all believers, are baptised into one body; there are no believers of this present age who are not baptised into one body.

Whatever the divinely made distinction before, when the Jew was separated from the Gentile in the purpose of God, these distinctions are irrelevant as far as the body of Christ is concerned. Whatever the man-made distinctions before, such as bond and free, these are gone also. The way is clear for the manifestation of true unity. This unity has been formed by the three persons of the Godhead, for the Father has responded to the request of the Son (Jn 14.16) and the Spirit has come. It is this divinely-formed unity in which all in the local assembly have part.

Verses 14-27: The plurality of the members of the human body

We now come to the ways in which the apostle uses the figure of a human body to illustrate the functioning of the local assembly. That he does refer to the local assembly in vv.14-27 is seen by the fact that he classes the head as one of the members (v.27), whereas Christ Himself is the head of the body, the church (Col 1.18). The headship of Christ has to do with the church which is His body, whereas the Lordship of Christ is to the fore in connection with the local assembly.

It is important to notice that in vv.14-26 no spiritual application is made. It is the human body alone that is in view. When we come to v.27, however, we have the key to the section, for the assembly at Corinth was body-like in character, and belonged to Christ. Having noted that truth, we may then retrace our steps through the passage, and begin to apply the lessons locally. So when the apostle describes the local assembly as body-like, he is referring to likeness to the human body, not likeness to the church which is Christ’s body.

Notice in vv.14-17 the presence of diversity in the body. The human body does not consist of just one organ or limb, but many. This fact has practical implications. A believer may have an inferiority complex, feeling that he or she has nothing to contribute to the assembly, even to the extent of opting out as not being worthy of a place there. Others seem to have such abilities, such skill, just like the eye in the human body. The apostle argues, however, that if everyone except the eye-member thought like this, there would be no body, for in no sense can an eye be called a human body.

It is good to have humility, and to take the lowly place, for we are called to this as we follow Christ’s example. That is not true humility, however, which seeks to escape the responsibility of exercising the gift God has given. True humility will lead us to use our gift for the glory of Christ, whereas mock humility will only attract attention to ourselves. Notice that the apostle not only uses sensitive parts of the body such as the eye and ear as his illustration, but also active parts, like the hand and the foot. There is a need for both sorts, and it is possible to divide the list of gifts given in vv.8-10 into those that are sensitive (word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, discerning of spirits, prophecy), and those that involve more activity (gifts of healing, working of miracles, kinds of tongues, interpretation of tongues).

The apostle does not directly mention the nose, but does mention smelling, suggesting that the emphasis should always be on the effect of the gift, and not on the one possessing the gift itself.

To be continued.


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