Lesson for May 17, 2015: One Body; Many Members (1 Corinthians 12:12-31)

This treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson is written by Sam E. Stone, former editor of CHRISTIAN STANDARD. It is published in the May 10 issue of The Lookout magazine, and is also available online at www.lookoutmag.com.


By Sam E. Stone 

Last week we considered the first half of 1 Corinthians 12, and this week we will study the last half of the chapter. J. W. McGarvey wrote, “In the early church the Spirit of God . . . endowed certain members with miraculous gifts . . . As gifts were bestowed on different individuals, some of them became a source of pride and envy . . . To correct all this, Paul wrote the three chapters that follow (1 Corinthians 12–14).”

Every Christian has an important job to do in the church, just as every part of the physical body has an important role. Paul taught this lesson by what some call “a kind of parable.” The church is a living organism, and God expects every member to do his or her part.

Unity Affirmed | 1 Corinthians 12:12-14

The illustration of the human body helps us understand that Christians form the body of Christ. (See also Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18.) Believers have varied gifts and functions, just as parts of the human body do. Together as a whole, however, the body should function as one. William Barclay observed that we do not say, “My finger has a pain,” but “I have a pain.” He continued, “There is an I, a personality, which gives unity to all the many and varying parts of the body.”

It takes many different members to make up one human body. “They differ inevitably,” Leon Morris observed, “but their differences do not affect the fact that there is a fundamental unity . . . . As with the human body so with Christ. There is unity in diversity.”

Tom Friskney added, “It is by Christian baptism that all the brethren, regardless of background, have been brought into the body of Christ, into a functioning relationship. By virtue of this baptism there is the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). All share in a common way in the one Spirit. This means from God is full and sufficient to complete the work begun in the Christian.”

Unity Illustrated | 1 Corinthians 12:15-26

In the church, unity is expected, but not uniformity. All of the different functions of various members must be submitted to Christ as the head—just as the hands are under the direction of the mind. Although there are great differences between the various body parts, they share a fundamental unity.

At the time of their baptism, believers become a part of Christ’s body, the church (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27). No distinctions should exist in the church—whether racial, cultural, or social. God’s Holy Spirit unites us to think and act as one (John 7:37-39; Galatians 5:22, 23). Whether we have received a miraculous gift from the Spirit or not, all of us have been gifted to serve the Lord and his church.

Even the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. The parts of the body that we cover with clothing are those we think are less honorable. Because it would be shameful to expose those parts, we show them a special kind of honor—the adornment of clothing. In the church some people may be seen as having more important roles. Every member, however, is to be respected and honored by all the others, so that the body functions as God designed it.

Unity Practiced | 1 Corinthians 12:27-31

You are the body of Christ, Paul explained. Barclay suggested, “Jesus Christ is no longer in this world in the body; and therefore if he wants a task done for him within the world he has to find a person to do it. If he wants a child taught, he has to find a teacher to teach him. If he wants a sick person cured, he has to find a physician or surgeon to do the job.”

Christians are Jesus’ hands, his feet, his mouth. As part of Christ’s body, we all need each other. This means we must also respect each other, sympathize with each other, and love each other.

In the closing verses of our text, Paul asked seven questions (vv. 29, 30). They make it obvious that we are not all gifted the same. We must remember our interdependence on each other. But whatever our gifts may be, all of us should desire the greater gifts. In this way he introduces the chapter we will study in two weeks, 1 Corinthians 13, as it highlights Christian love.


*Lesson based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2009, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.

May 11: Exodus 19:1-8
May 12: Exodus 24:1-7
May 13: 2 Corinthians 11:1-5
May 14: Romans 15:1-7
May 15: Philippians 1:21-30
May 16: Galatians 3:23-29
May 17: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31

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