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First Corinthians 12:27-31
Paul has used the example of a human body like a mirror to show the Corinthians how each believer is a
valued member of the Body of Christ - and how every one of those members are essential in order for the
church to function according to how God designed it - in all of its diversity, but in unity.
Now Paul turns the mirror back on the assembly in Corinth, for their consideration. We continue in verse
27.
[First Corinthians 12:27-31]
So Paul is now beginning to apply what he has said about the workings of the human body to the believers
in Corinth. In verse 27, he declares, “You ARE the Body of Christ, and members, individually”.
Paul is now considering their local church, which should reflect the design of the universal Body of Christ,
with the graces which the Holy Spirit has distributed to each individual believer.
And as Paul continues, he shows that their church does indeed reflect this - in perfect accordance with the
way God designed the Body of Christ to function.
In verse 28, Paul speaks of those whom God appointed. This is the same word we encountered back in
verse 18, concerning the human body: God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He
pleased. And so God did, with the Body of Christ - and so God did, with the local church in Corinth.
Once again, we find Paul composing a list of spiritual graces - just a partial list, as always; just enough to
make his point. We saw some of these graces in the earlier list, but some are new, here. And they’re not all
listed as spiritual abilities; the first three are persons in their ministries, who are graced with particular
spiritual abilities. In addition, these first three are ranked: first, second, third.
We know that it’s unlikely Paul is making just an arbitrary list here, but what can his point be? Is he
suggesting that there is a ranking, a hierarchy in the church - the apostles above all; then the prophets under
them; then teachers, under them?
How can Paul possibly mean that? He had just given an illustration with the human body which
emphasized the equal value of the members of the body; that even those parts which people consider
dishonorable, God honored all the more greatly.
This was to show that the members of the Body of Christ should therefore have the same care for one
another - equal regard. If there was a hierarchy, some would certainly be esteemed more highly than others
- exactly the problem that Paul is seeking to correct, in Corinth!
There can be no hierarchy in the Body of Christ, because each member is to be individually responsible to
the Head, Christ - just as the parts of the human body are to respond to the brain. This is in accordance to
God’s design - and it’s how Christ intends for His body of believers to operate.
This becomes apparent to us in the book of Revelation. Jesus had John write an admonishment to the
church of Ephesus, but also commended them for hating what He hated - the deeds of the Nicolaitans.

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Apparently, the Nicolaitans had been introducing into churches the doctrine of hierarchy - ruling over the
people, the clergy over the laity (Rev 2:4-6, 15) - a perverse doctrine found in worldly religions. This,
Jesus hates; it has no place, in His body of believers, who each have the Holy Spirit to guide them in the
truth, according to the direct commands of the Head, Christ. Jesus has made all believers a kingdom of
priests to His God and Father (Rev 1:5-6).
So since we can be sure that Paul does not intend his ranking to be some sort of hierarchy, what else can it
represent? We find the answer to that in Ephesians - and in a different list of graces, that Paul records there.
Turn to Ephesians chapter 4. This is Paul’s general letter to the Asian assemblies.
Paul had prayed that these believers would be enlightened to all of the spiritual blessings that they had, in
Christ (Eph 1:18), and that they would become firmly established in the faith - so that they might be filled
with all the fullness of God - and so that God would be glorified, in the church.
As Paul continued in his letter, he began to show just how God would be glorified, in the church - through
the conduct of the believers. He begins by exhorting them concerning their relations with one another.
[Ephesians 4:1-16]
v. 1-3 When Paul wrote this letter, he was under house arrest in Rome, due to some false accusations of the
Jews. But we see how Paul regarded his imprisonment - he was a prisoner of who? Of the Lord. Paul
recognized that this was no less than the will of God, for him - the place where the Lord had chosen for him
to minister, at this time.
Paul implores the believers in Asia - most of whom he has never met - to walk worthy of their calling.
What is their calling? It’s the high calling of God, in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:14) - to become a son of God.
They had accepted God’s invitation, to become His born-again children. Paul is urging them to conduct
themselves accordingly - in such a way, as would honor their Father.
And Paul describes how such a walk should look - the walk of a Christ One toward his brother. He’s lowly
- humble - the Christ One doesn’t think he’s better than his brother. And he’s gentle, which means meek he doesn’t contend for himself or his own interests; he puts his brother first. And Paul says he’s
longsuffering - he bears with his brother, in his shortcomings, patiently.
And how does the Christ One do all that? What are the two little words, at the end of verse 2? In love.
Love is what empowers the righteous conduct of the Christ One toward his brother.
This is the love of God, which is available in constant supply to us. And we need that constant supply, to
reign over our own inclination for self-love, and to love others instead - that’s a constant endeavor. But as
we yield to the Holy Spirit’s leading within us, the flow of love continues to go outward, uniting us
peaceably with our brethren in Christ’s Body.
Paul then continues on that note of unity.
v. 4-6 What Paul is showing these believers here is that the unity which he is beseeching them to maintain
has its basis in nothing less than the unity of the Godhead. Notice that we find a person of the Godhead in
each of the verses: the Spirit, in verse 4; the Lord Jesus, in verse 5; the Father in verse 6. One Spirit, one
Lord, one Father - one God.

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As Spirit, Son and Father are one, the believers are to be one. That was the prayer of Jesus to the Father,
before He went to the cross: “that they also may be one in Us - that the world may believe that You sent
Me” (Jn 17:21).
Jesus was praying for the oneness of the Body of Christ - unity with God, unity with one another - for that
would be a testimony to the world that the Father sent Jesus; that He is the Savior of the world.
Why would their unity give this testimony? Because their peaceable unity with one another takes love, and
that love is a visible manifestation of the love of heaven; the same love that sent the Son, in order to save
the world. Christ Ones reflect that love, when they love one another.
Notice how tightly Paul weaves together the Godhead with those who have believed into Christ. Each of
his “ones” is like a binding stitch, in their unity.
The collective of believers are one body - what body? The Body of Christ. It is unique, having come out
of the death of Christ, its individual members enlifed with His life - eternal life.
And as a collective, the Body of Christ has a shared life - one Spirit - who is that? The Holy Spirit - who
enlightens the Body to the thoughts and instructions of the Head - and who is sanctifying each member of
the Body (2 Th 2:13, 1 Pet 1:2), to prepare them for their heavenly home.
So here is this one, living collective - that are called in one hope, of their calling. Now, thinking not
individually, but collectively - what is the hope of the collective Body of Christ? To become the Bride of
Christ - that is their certain, future hope - certain, because the Spirit is preparing the Bride, through her
sanctification (Eph 5:26, Heb 2:11).
And that Bride has one Lord - the Bridegroom - our Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 5 shows the Bride’s origin her past - how she came into being, as the Body of Christ. All of the members of that body were united to
Christ by faith - one faith - and through Him, were joined to one another. And they were baptized in the
Holy Spirit - one baptism, into the Body of Christ, coming alive unto God, a new creation in Christ.
So now, in the present, while the Body of Christ is still on earth, God is working out His plan to reconcile
men to Himself - the one God.
Notice Paul says in verse 6 that God is the Father of all. Who would be the Father’s children? Those who
have been born from above - born of the Spirit - by believing into Christ. So “all” throughout this verse
refers specifically to the Father’s children - the collective of believers.
God is the Father of them all, uniting them together as His children. And He is above them all - they are all
together under His authority. The Father is also through them all; He is manifest in the life and the light
and the love, seen in the Body. And finally, the Father is in them all - the Body of Christ is the dwelling
place of God, in the Spirit (Eph 2:22).
Having shown the Body of Christ’s unity, Paul now goes on to show that their oneness as a body does not
mean that the members are all the same; unity is not uniformity. So here we find the diversity that Paul has
been emphasizing in our letter to the Corinthians, based upon how God has graced each member of the
Body. Paul will begin by describing the source of this diversity.

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v. 7-10 So to each member of the Body of Christ, grace was given - in accordance to the measure of
Christ’s gift. What was Christ’s gift - singular - to His Body, collectively? The Holy Spirit - who was
poured out on Christ’s Body on earth, on Pentecost (Acts 2:33, 38; 10:45).
What did each member of the Body receive, at that time? The spiritual graces - the charismata - This is
what Paul is calling here the grace given to each one, according to the measure - the particular allotment of Christ’s gift; that is, distributed to each one individually, as the Spirit wills (1 Cor 12:11).
Paul then quotes a psalm of David. This psalm was written in commemoration of David’s victory over the
Jebusites, including the conquest of their capital, which would become the city of David; Jerusalem.
Following the victory, David brought the ark of God up to Jerusalem. This psalm gives David’s vision of
that event; he sees in it the triumphant ascent of the LORD, up Mount Zion, as the victorious Conqueror.
Paul was inspired to see in this the victory of Jesus, through the cross. In verse 9, Jesus first descended into
the lower parts of the earth - that is to say, He died and was buried. But having done that, Jesus then rose
from the dead, ascending far above the physical heavens, right back into the presence of the Father.
In David’s day, after an enemy army was routed, the victorious leader might take the people of the land as
his captives. These captives would form the train of his procession as the conqueror returned from his
triumph in the battle. And the spoils from the battle were at times shared with the people of the conqueror.
This is how Paul saw the victory of Jesus. Following His victory over sin and death at the cross, Jesus led
captivity captive - He delivered, from the bondage of corruption, those that He captivated with His love,
delivering them into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Rm 8:21).
And then Jesus gave gifts to men - like the conqueror sharing the spoils of the victory with His people,
Jesus poured out on His Body the spiritual graces through the Holy Spirit - gifts to be used for others.
Paul then goes on to list some of these graces. Notice how this compares to the beginning of the list, in
First Corinthians.
v. 11 “To be” is in italics, and is not in the original. The idea is that the Lord gave some apostles, some
prophets, some evangelists, some pastors, and some teachers - He graced these, upon the Body of Christ.
Notice that these are in the same order as the first three in Paul’s list in First Corinthians, but that
evangelists and pastors are added, and sandwiched in between prophets and teachers. And with this
extended list, we can begin to see a pattern to the order.
First the Lord gave some apostles. These were sent out from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, to the ends
of the earth (Acts 1:8). As eyewitnesses, the apostles gave their testimony of Jesus Christ – to the Jews
first, and then to the Gentiles.
The Lord next sent out prophets, such as Barnabas and Silas and also evangelists, such as Philip. They
traveled from place to place, preaching the gospel. The prophets were additionally involved in
foundational work with the new assemblies that were formed of those who believed.
The Lord then gave the church pastors and teachers, who stayed with the assemblies, instructing new
converts in the doctrine of the apostles, which was the doctrine of Jesus - the OT Scriptures, and the words
and works of Jesus. Pastors additionally were graced with the ability to guide the people - as
undershepherds to the Lord (1 Pet 5:1-4).

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So Paul’s order, both here and in First Corinthians, reflects neither hierarchy nor prestige, but in a sense,
time. It’s simply the typical order of ministries by which assemblies were founded, established,
strengthened and built up.
Now, these five ministries that Paul lists have a common element. What is it that they all minister? They
all minister the Word of God, in some capacity. And as Paul continues, he shows the purpose for the Lord
having given these ministers of the Word.
v. 12 The Lord sends ministers of the Word to equip the saints for their work of ministry. First the good
seed of the Word of God is sown in the heart, through the preaching of the gospel of Christ. More and more
water of the Word allows that seed to penetrate, and germinate; and a Christ One is born - a saint - a son of
God.
And as this Christ One continues to take in the Word, he becomes rooted and grounded in Christ (Eph 3:17)
- established in the faith (Col 2:7) - so much so that he can now share the Word of God himself, with others
- in whatever ministry the Lord gives to him.
This is how the church is edified - built up, living stone by living stone - as each one is added and then
firmly established on the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets - and then the teachers, and so forth on Jesus Christ Himself, the chief Cornerstone (Eph 2:19-22).
Paul now shows what results from this.
v. 13 As individual believers become more and more enlightened to the truth - the same truth - they
become more like-minded with one another, which promotes unity. Through unity, the Body is able to
function properly and optimally.
And the more they are enlightened, the more they actually come to know the Son - this is speaking of
knowing not about Him, but knowing Him, in the personal sense.
This makes the Body more sensitive and receptive to the Head. As we consider this collectively, the idea
presents itself of the Bride understanding her Husband’s wishes and desiring to please Him, because she
knows and loves Him.
Paul is speaking of these as attainments, for the members of the Body of Christ. And then he considers the
ultimate attainment for the Body, as a collective - to become a perfect man.
The sense here is a complete man - the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. The idea is that the
Body is fully formed; every member is in place; there’s nothing to add. That’s when the church will be
complete, and the Lord will return for her.
Remember that these attainments all depend on the Word of God - on the giving of it out, and the taking of
it in. This is essential to the Body of Christ, as Paul goes on to show.
v. 14-16 The word for “children” in verse 14 refers to a babe; an unenlightened one. It is used by Paul to
describe those who have never taken in the light of truth; that is, unbelievers (Rm 2:19-20, Gal 4:1, 3).
Paul is thinking here of those in the assemblies who merely profess to believe, or haven’t made a decision.
These unbelievers are easily misled by false teachers, such as those who would come into the assemblies,
attempting to change the doctrine of Christ.

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Without the Holy Spirit, unbelievers have no means in themselves of discerning such lies from the truth.
But believers in the assembly, who are established in the truth, can help these undecided individuals to
discern truth from lie, by speaking the truth to them.
How does Paul say believers should do this, in verse 15? In love - with all lowliness and meekness,
bearing with this unenlightened one, patiently sharing with him - allowing him the time and consideration
he needs, to come to the Lord, for himself.
And in that way, the Body of Christ will grow - the word “up” is not in the original. The Body will grow as
members are added to it, with each one growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord, through the Word
of God.
The Body grows into Him who is the Head - Christ - seen here as the source of the Body’s life. Each part
draws what it needs from Him, then works together toward its ultimate goal - the edifying of itself growing to its completion - through the operation of love.
[Return to First Corinthians 12]
We have seen from Ephesians that Paul’s list there was the typical order of ministries, over time, by which
the Word of God was carried into any new place. Paul’s ranking of the first three ministries here - apostles,
prophets, teachers - reflects this same idea, but Paul is thinking particularly about how the Word of God
came to Corinth.
First Paul himself came to Corinth, preaching the gospel; he was later joined by the prophet Silas and then
Timothy; and afterwards, Apollos reinforced the teaching: Remember, “I planted, Apollos watered, but
God gave the increase” (1 Cor 3:6). Paul is showing this was how the foundation, Jesus Christ, was laid in
Corinth (1 Cor 3:11).
And after that, came the rest. These included signs and wonders, including healings, which authenticated
the Word preached. And as the local church took form and became established, God appointed helps and
administrations.
Helps refers to those who serve or minister to the needs of others in the church. Administrations comes
from a word meaning to pilot - as in to steer a ship - and refers to those who guide the church - most likely
referring to pastors or elders, who shepherd the church of God (Acts 20:28).
And then we come to the end of Paul’s list, and what do we find there? Varieties of tongues - the same
words in the Greek as in verse 10 - implying genuine foreign languages.
Now, Paul has been proceeding in a very orderly manner, showing how the church in Corinth came into
being, and grew, by God’s appointment, over time. And then there’s tongues, at the end of the list - after
the church in Corinth was well-established. What could be Paul’s point, in listing it last?
Could it be that the speaking in tongues - even the genuine grace - was not manifest in the church in
Corinth, while Paul was still there? This is possible. Corinth was a Roman colony; it would have been
virtually all Greek-speaking. It is unlikely that there would have been a need for Paul to speak in tongues,
when he came there.

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Paul may be showing that, if this was indeed the genuine grace of the Spirit, its use would necessarily be to
carry the gospel to places where such a manifestation of the Spirit was in fact needed. In other words, if
real, this was to be an equipping of the saints for the work of ministry - specifically in missionary work,
coming out of the church in Corinth. Again, this is just a possible reason, why Paul has it last; and why it’s
seemingly so out of place.
At any rate, Paul has used the church in Corinth as his example of how God appoints diverse ministries, to
edify the Body of Christ. Now Paul brings this to bear on the inordinate desire of the Corinthians for
speaking in tongues.
v. 29-30 I don’t think there’s great significance to the fact that Paul doesn’t have the same things listed.
The significance is in the word “all”.
Can all have the same spiritual grace? The obvious answer is “no”; if they were all one member, where
would the body be (v. 19)? And where would the church in Corinth be?
Paul concludes with restating the problem in Corinth, while introducing them to what will prove to be their
solution.
v. 31 Now, let’s think about that first sentence, for a minute. First of all, it starts with a word of contrast “But”. Paul has just finished telling them that they are wrong to all be desiring to speak in tongues; a body
needs diversity.
So how can it be that Paul would now be, in contrast, telling them to do exactly that - to earnestly desire the
best graces? And didn’t he also go through great pains to show that all of the graces are needed? So then,
what would be the best ones?
You can see that this sentence contradicts almost everything that Paul has just established. But the
contradiction disappears upon considering the original Greek.
Based on the Greek, the sentence can be taken in the imperative, as we see here: “But earnestly desire the
best gifts”; or it can just as easily be translated in the indicative: “But you are earnestly desiring the best
gifts”.
The latter is clearly in line with the rest of what Paul is saying. The Corinthians are earnestly desiring they are coveting - the best graces, meaning the most prominent ones; the showy ones.
There are several showy graces; miracles come to mind. But miracles are not easily counterfeited like
tongues, another showy grace.
Now, the Lord actually intended these graces to be showy - to draw attention. But they were not intended
to draw attention to oneself - but to God - as the giver of the grace.
The Corinthian’s interest in tongues was completely self-serving. And as we’ll see next time, Paul is about
to introduce them to a more excellent way - than serving themselves.
Reading: 1 Cor 13-14