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First Corinthians 12:14-26
Paul has been addressing the thinking of the believers in Corinth concerning the spiritual graces. The
Corinthian assembly had become fixated on the ability to speak in tongues, something to which they were
drawn in their former manner of life, as pagan Gentiles.
It appears that the ecstatic utterance of the pagans was carried over into the church in Corinth - perhaps
even through direct demonic inspiration, among those who merely professed to believe. The practice was
becoming widespread in the assembly (14:26), and at least some believers, failing to exercise discernment,
were beginning to attribute it to the genuine enablement of the Holy Spirit, to speak in tongues.
So Paul began by encouraging the Corinthians to exercise discernment (12:3), and then sought to change
their narrow perspective concerning how the Holy Spirit graces believers - and for what purpose.
Paul’s great emphasis is on diversity - that there are many spiritual abilities, to be used in various
ministries, under the direction of God - but they are all to work together to edify the Body of Christ (12:7).
Some of the building up takes the form of establishing believers more firmly in the truth. Some of the
building up takes the form of adding new believers, to the church. But all of it is for the glory of God who obtains sons, for His kingdom.
As Paul then recounted to the Corinthians just some of the many spiritual graces, he finally came to the one
that they were so enamored with - speaking in tongues.
But Paul made two things clear. Not all believers are graced with this ability, or with any other ability.
And, this grace is the enablement to speak an actual foreign language - unknown to the speaker, and to any
listener who doesn’t know that language - but a real language.
This stands in contrast to the ecstatic utterances spoken by the pagans, which no one can understand - for it
is a counterfeit language. Then the very last grace Paul mentions - the interpretation of tongues - is given
by the Spirit both to interpret a foreign language spoken, and to expose any counterfeits - such as an
ecstatic utterance.
In this way, Paul was expanding the perspective of the Corinthians to the many spiritual graces. But at the
same time, Paul was beginning to limit and define the speaking in tongues, so that the Corinthians could
advance toward having God’s perspective on it.
Last week, we began to see that Paul was using the human body as an illustration of the many different
ways that believers are graced, but how all of the graces then function together.
As members of a body are many, but they are also one, all who have believed into Christ have been
baptized in the Holy Spirit, and through the Spirit have been united as one - one with Christ, one with each
another - in what we know of as the Body of Christ.
As we continue, we’ll see that Paul now uses this imagery of the human body to reinforce what he has been
saying about the need of the Body of Christ for diversity - and for unity.
We’ll begin in verse 14.
[First Corinthians 12:14-26]

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So Paul uses the operation of the human body like a mirror to show how the Body of Christ should
function.
Now, at first glance, we might think that Paul is making just one point about the human body - that its
diverse members operate together as one. But on closer study of this passage, what we’ll see is that Paul is
making two distinct points - and that each targets the issue concerning the spiritual graces found in the
church in Corinth.
Remember, what were the Corinthians are asking Paul about? Speaking in tongues. And by Paul’s lengthy
response over three chapters, we can tell that they all want this ability, which they see practiced in their
assembly. This means that some of them have the ability - at least, it appears that they do - and some of
them don’t.
In Corinth, this ability was apparently equated with being more spiritual (13:1); the one who speaks in
tongues exists on a higher spiritual plane than the one without this ability. So how would the speaker in
tongues be perceived, in Corinth? As superior; a member of the spiritual elite; a real somebody. And
therefore, how would those who cannot speak in tongues be viewed? As inferior; not very spiritual at all; a
nobody.
So what Paul does is he uses the imagery of the human body to address each of these two groups. In verses
14-19, he is addressing those who view themselves as spiritually inferior. And as he goes on in verses 2026, Paul is targeting those who think of themselves as spiritually superior.
Remember that this is based on the spiritual abilities that they have or have not been given - specifically
tongues, for the Corinthians - but for all believers, this can be true concerning any spiritual ability.
What Paul will show is that no spiritual ability makes a believer greater or lesser than any other member of
Christ’s Body - just different. And he will further show that all of these differences are needed for the Body
of Christ to function as it should - according to the way that God designed it. Therefore every member,
with their Spirit-given ability, is needed - and not just by the Body as a whole - but by the other members of
the Body.
Paul actually began this point back in verse 13, which we looked at last week. Let’s read that again.
[First Corinthians 12:13] All who have believed into Jesus Christ have been baptized by one Spirit into one
body - the Body of Christ. When they believed, they were baptized in the Holy Spirit - immersed in Him and emerged a member of Christ’s Body. Now they were in the Spirit, which is the life of that collective
Body.
And Paul said further that they had all been given to drink into one Spirit - as the rivers of living water
flowed out of the heart of Jesus on Calvary, they partook of His eternal Life - and the Holy Spirit came to
dwell with them, in their bodies.
They were in the Spirit, and the Spirit was in them. So this means that they were no longer natural people Jew, Greek, slave, free - they were now spiritual people.
In this way, Paul was emphasizing not just the unity of the Spirit, but the equality of the Spirit. No member
of the Body of Christ is greater than another; there are no spiritual elite. They are all equally Christ Ones;
and equally spiritual, on the basis of the one Spirit.

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Now Paul continues, speaking to those members who perceive themselves as inferior - because they lack a
certain spiritual grace - what grace was that, for the Corinthians? Tongues.
v. 14-16 Verse 14 tells us that the main thrust of Paul’s argument here is diversity in the body - it’s not one
member, but many - many different members.
Paul then employs humor, to make his point. He takes some human body parts, and he personifies them he gives them voice - in this case, it’s the voice of the Corinthians who perceive themselves as inferior to
others.
There are two sets of body parts - the foot and hand; and the ear and eye. Notice that within each set, they
are similar parts; both the foot and the hand are the extremities of the limbs; both the ear and the eye are
sensory organs, in the head.
Yet despite the similarities within each set, one part manages to perceive itself as the inferior of the other.
Look at what the foot says: “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body”. It would seem that the foot
doesn’t even recognize that he is a foot! He only sees that he is not a hand; and he knows a hand is part of
the body, so he concludes, he is not a part of the body.
So Paul asks - is that true? Since this is what the foot believes, is it therefore true? And of course, we all
know it is not true - because we know that a foot is a part of the human body, just as a hand is. So we
think, how absurd! And of course, that’s just what the Corinthians thought.
But where did the foot go wrong? He failed to recognize what he was, because he was so occupied with
what he was not. Now, if a foot is to fail to recognize that he is a foot, how well do you think the foot will
do his job, in the body? Not very well; maybe not at all.
The same is true for Paul’s next set. The ear is so occupied with the fact that he is not an eye, that he fails
to recognize he is a vital, critical member of the body - a sensory organ. Completely absorbed with his
inability to see, the ear fails to recognize that he can hear - and that he can serve the body, in that way.
There were those believers in Corinth who were so enamored with the ability of others to speak in tongues whether genuine, or counterfeit - that they failed to recognize that they were a vital, essential member of the
Body of Christ, themselves.
And with such preoccupation, how available do you think they were to the Lord, to be used in the way that
the Spirit had chosen for them? Not very available - when they were so completely absorbed with
themselves, and what they desired. And there are many believers today that follow the same pattern - who
covet the grace given to another member of the Body, while squandering the grace that God has actually
given them.
Paul continues to drive home the loss this represents.
v. 17 Now Paul uses just sensory organs as his example - and again, the absurdity of the idea in a human
body makes it humorous - and makes his point. Imagine if the whole body was an eye. Someone comes up
to you, and you can see they start talking to you; but you can’t hear what they’re saying. How frustrating!
What a loss that would be!

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Or instead, the whole body is an ear. You can hear dinner being made. But you can’t smell it - no nose.
And when you’re called to dinner, you can’t get there - no feet. And you can’t eat it - because you’re whole
body is an ear. The human body needs its different parts; every single one of them is important - because
that’s how God designed it, as Paul goes on to show.
v. 18-19 “just as He pleased”. This is God’s will - His design - for the human body. He designed it to have
different parts, that work together, to fulfill its intended function. If the whole body was the same, through
and through, this could not be done.
And the same is true for the Body of Christ. Paul is showing the Corinthians that it is impossible for them
all to have the same spiritual ability, such as the speaking in tongues - because then the body would not be a
body - and then it could not accomplish the Lord’s purposes - for edification, to the glory of God.
As Paul continues, he now addresses those who view themselves as the super spiritual - in Corinth, those
who spoke in tongues - again, whether the genuine ability, or a counterfeit.
v. 20-21 So Paul’s main point to these self-styled elitists emphasizes not diversity, but unity - many
members, yet one body - all believers are needed, and each fulfills an essential role in the operation of the
collective Body of Christ.
Look at the parts of the human body that Paul has chosen to illustrate his point. Again, we find two sets:
the eye and the hand, and then the head and the feet. Various parts, right? Yet all would be considered
essential, to having a properly functioning body.
But notice this time that, within each set, the parts are quite different; and that one part is positioned in the
body above the other part: the eye is above the hand; the head is above the feet.
Here are the super spiritual ones, in Corinth, who think that their ability of speaking in tongues - whether
real or counterfeit - makes them superior to others, in the assembly. So superior, in fact, that they have no
need of those they perceive as lesser than their illustrious selves.
Paul chooses the eye and the head to represent them: they see; they know. And notice that the supposedly
inferior members are represented by parts responsible for the doing - the hands; the feet. They work, they
carry, they go, they deliver - perhaps reflecting spiritual graces which involve manual labor - so disdainful,
to the privileged classes, in Corinth.
So now the eye and the head are given voice, for the super-spiritual members of the assembly. And they
say, in their arrogance, “I have no need of you”.
And yet, how necessary is manual labor, to the human body? What can the eye do, without the hand? It
can’t reach anything, hold anything, make anything - all it can do is look. And what can the head do
without the feet? It can make all the plans it wants, but without the feet to carry it around, those plans
would just remain in the head, unrealized.
In this way, Paul shows that the different members of the Body of Christ also need each other; that they
depend upon one another. And lest the elitists in Corinth think that they only need some others, of their
choosing, Paul drives home his point - by considering the least members of the human body.
v. 22 Now, Paul is not saying that the hands and the feet are weaker members of the body. He is advancing
his argument here, as we see by his use of the phrase, “no, much rather” - much more.

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Paul is now going beyond the obvious parts of the human body - the external parts - to the internal organs such as the brain, the heart, the lungs. Organs are internal for a reason; because they are more fragile.
They would not stand up well to the external environment, and so they have been positioned by God deep
within the body, where they can effectively do their work.
Notice that Paul says that these members seem to be weaker, based on how they are positioned inside the
human body. They seem to be weaker, and therefore might be perceived as inferior to the seemingly
stronger, external parts of the body. But of course, the reality is that the internal organs are ever so
necessary.
The body could not live without its internal organs; it completely depends on them. Yet how much are they
thought about? Not much - unless something is wrong, with one of them. But strategically positioned as
they are, deep within the body, they support the rest of the body; the whole operation.
Now, Paul is not intending this to represent certain specific spiritual abilities, but in a more general way,
those abilities which the Holy Spirit gives that are supportive of other ministries.
Those that are graced in this way tend to be less obvious; they fulfill a quieter, more reserved part. But the
reality is that their ministry is no less than essential, to the Body of Christ, and many others depend on
them - when they do their part.
But Paul hasn’t exhausted his illustration, as we see next.
v. 23-25 Paul speaks of parts that are unpresentable. In the Greek, this word means uncomely; indecent.
What Paul is referring to are the sexual organs. These are certainly vital to the human body, aren’t they?
But in most cultures - Paul’s and ours included - they are not considered presentable to society at large.
Notice that Paul says that we think of them as less honorable; people think of them as shameful; less
honorable, than the other parts of the body.
And because they think this way, what do people do, with these parts of their body? They cover them with
clothing. Paul is saying that in this way, what people think of as the less honorable parts are given greater
honor - they are clothed - to render them appropriate, in society. Through the modesty of a covering, the
sexual organs are kept private - away from the public view.
Now, the presentable parts of the body - such as the face - they have no need, for a covering. In fact, this is
the part of the body that the public expects to see - and in that sense, you could say a part like the face
speaks for the rest; it represents the entire person, to the public. And this makes it seem as if some parts
have more honor - greater prestige - than other parts.
But who designed the whole human body? God did; and He did so, perfectly. Does God think that certain
parts of the body He created have less honor than other parts? No, He made every part of the body good perfect, for fulfilling its function.
And so, Paul says, God gave greater honor to the part which lacks it - lacks it, in the eyes of people. It is
the unpresentable parts - the sexual organs - that lack honor in people’s eyes. And to compensate for that,
God gave greater honor to that part.

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What honor did God give, to that part of the body? The amazing ability to reproduce and to nurture human
beings. And in this way, Paul shows, God countered man’s tendency to bestow less honor on this part of
the human body - with this greater honor, given by God Himself.
Again, Paul is intending this illustration in a general sense - of those spiritual abilities that have little to
recommend them to the public eye, but operate behind the scenes - privately - perhaps in conjunction with
the more public ministries.
Some would view such a ministry as less honorable - perhaps the work is more mundane, more routine and it is certainly less showy. But in some fashion, God bestows greater honor on the member graced with
such an ability, who is willing to be used this way - perhaps through the effectiveness of their ministry.
It may be that Paul intends the concept of reproduction and nurture to be carried through here to these
behind-the-scenes members of the Body of Christ, in terms of a fruitful ministry. But Paul’s main point is
that God esteems these members of Christ’s Body who are perceived as having less honor, by honoring
them Himself, in His own way.
What Paul is showing is that God composed the human body in such a way that it has balance. Every part
is important and needed in its own right, but also every part depends on the others, to function properly.
And this is true for the Body of Christ as well - so that the members should respect, and honor, and esteem
one another - as if their life depended on it - because it does, in the collective sense.
According to God’s design, there should be no schism in the body. Here Paul intends the word to simply
mean division. The parts were designed to work together. And when members of Christ’s Body esteem one
another, in person and work, they operate together as a harmonious whole - as God intended.
This is what was lacking in the assembly in Corinth. Each of them was out for himself, with no thought or
care for the others - resulting in yet further division, based on the spiritual graces, in this assembly. But
Paul is showing that their unity and harmony should be such that they even experience things as one.
v. 26 Paul is still using his example of the human body here: when one part of the body suffers, all the
other parts suffer with it.
It’s like when you have a toothache. Clearly the tooth hurts; and the gum. But how does the rest of your
body feel? If the toothache is bad enough, it can make your whole body hurt.
You may not feel like eating; your stomach may be upset; you may lack energy, from fighting the pain, and
may just want to sleep. It’s like your whole body is down - and it’s just one little tooth.
That’s how it should be, for the Body of Christ. When a member suffers a setback - either personally, or in
their ministry - we should recognize it as our setback, too. So this is not just a matter of caring; this not
merely interest, or sympathy - “oh, I feel badly for you” - we should hurt with their hurt.
Why would we do that? Because we are part of the same Body - we are connected - members of one
another. We are not to insulate ourselves from the suffering of another member of the Body; we are not to
be indifferent to it.

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We should feel their pain - and this should cause us to respond, to that hurting member - as you would
respond if you had the toothache. You would seek to ease the pain; you would seek to support the hurting
part, and to restore it to health. And as members of Christ’s Body, we would seek the Lord, in prayer, so
that He could direct us, as to how to help the hurting part.
And Paul shows the opposite, as well. When one part of the body is honored, all the other parts rejoice
with it. You’ve just won a race - the 400 meter hurdle. And how do you feel? Great!
Your ears take in the roar of the crowd; you turn round and round, taking in the whole scene, with your
eyes. You raise up your arms in victory. Your heart is leaping, within you. Every fiber of your being is
responding to the moment: rejoicing, rejoicing.
But what part of your body really won the race for you? Your legs, right? The honor really goes to your
legs, that could run so fast, and jump so high. But all of you rejoices, right? It’s your victory.
The same should be true for the members of Christ’s Body. When one member is honored - when their
personal growth in the Lord is commended by Him; or when the Lord uses a member in an evident way,
and their ministry is bearing fruit - well, that is an honor for all of us, because we are connected to that
member. It’s a victory for the whole Body of Christ, because we’re in this together.
And so we can rejoice, with that member - not as in, “Atta boy, I knew you could do it; good for you!”, but
experiencing that joy, in ourselves.
For who’s to say that we didn’t even have some small part, in that victory - like the arms of the runner, that
balanced his legs as he cleared the hurdles? It might not even be something we were aware of, or would
remember. But God knows, doesn’t He? And in that He has designed the members to work together, they
can together rejoice in the victory.
Which is why it is so strange, to see some who don’t rejoice, when the cause of Christ is apparently
advanced; who instead find cause to criticize - to pick apart a ministry, to belittle it, or suggest that God
can’t be in it.
Of course, some might say that’s spiritual discernment. But it might instead reflect a tendency toward
rigidity and narrow mindedness - that seeks to limit the way that God can use the different members of His
Body, with the manifold abilities with which He has graced them.
God has designed the human body to be flexible and supple. Likewise, the Body of Christ should be ready
to bend and move in the way that He directs, in order to reach out to the world of lost souls, and embrace
them with His love. And when one of those lost souls is caught up by the love of Christ, however it
happened, it should be a cause of rejoicing for the whole Body - for it is truly a victory for all of us.
Reading: 1 Cor 12:27-14, Phil 2:1-4, Eph 4:1-16