The Pulpit Commentary

1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (1 Corinthians 12:12-31)

The Church compared to a body and its members.

- The Pulpit Commentary

1 Corinthians 12:12 (1 Corinthians 12:12)

As the body is one, and hath many members. To this favourite image St. Paul reverts several times ( Romans 12:4 , Romans 12:5 ; Ephesians 4:11-16 ; Colossians 2:19 ). It is probable that he was familiar with the image from the fable of Menenius Agrippa, who had used it as a plea for civil unity (Liv., 2:32). So also is Christ. Christ and the Church form one body, of which Christ is the Head; one Vine, of which Christians are the branches ( John 15:1-27 .); one building, of which Christians are the living stones.

- The Pulpit Commentary

1 Corinthians 12:1-31 (1 Corinthians 12:1-31)

The Christly assembly.

"Now concerning spiritual gifts," etc. All throughout this chapter refers to the Christly assembly. I use this word in preference to the word "Church," for what are now called Churches are not always assemblages of genuine Christians. Overlooking the more minute parts of this remarkable chapter, and taking a broad glance at the whole, there are three important subjects very suggestive and capable of amplification, which are discoverable. These are that every member of this Christly community has passed through a radical change; that every member has received special endowments from God; and that every member should regard these endowments as parts of a vital whole.

I. Every member of this Christly community has PASSED THROUGH A RADICAL CHANGE . "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led." The change here spoken of, it is to be observed, is a change from the spirit of the Gentiles, or the world, to the Spirit of Christ. The most radical change that can take place in a man is a change in his predominant disposition, or moral spirit. Such a disposition is in truth man's moral heart. This change is here described:

1. Negatively. No man who has experienced it has anything irreverent or profane in his spirit towards Christ. "No man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed."

2. Positively. "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost." "Can say," not of course merely the words, for all could easily do that, but with the heart and life. This change is the production of the Divine Spirit—of "the Holy Ghost." Now, no man is a member of the true Church who has not experienced this transformation; who has not renounced the spirit of the world and come under the control of the Spirit of Christ. There are such who are found in connection with no conventional Church, and there may be conventional Churches where no such are found. All such, however, wherever found, belong to the Church of the "Firstborn written in heaven."

II. Every member of this Christly community has RECEIVED SPECIAL ENDOWMENTS FROM GOD . " NOW there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit," etc. ( 1 Corinthians 12:4 , 1 Corinthians 12:12 ). Without pausing to interpret the meaning of these endowments, I simply remark that they seem capable of being divided into three classes:

Now, all responsible men have intellect of some kind and amount. All men have faith of some sort. Man has an instinctive tendency to believe; hence his credulity is proverbial. And he is necessitated to believe; he could not carry on the business of life without faith. All men also have a language of some kind or other. What, then, do we mean when we say that the endowments here refer to intellect, faith, and language? Simply this, that the man who has come into possession of the Christly Spirit and purpose, and is thus a member of the genuine Church, will receive

1. The sovereignty of the Spirit. Why did he bestow any at all? Still more, why so different to different men? The only answer is because it pleased him so to do. "He worketh all things after the counsel of his own will."

2. The affluence of the Spirit. All these great and varied spiritual and mental endowments came from him. He is the inexhaustible Fountain, not only of all life, but of all spiritual endowments.

3. The benevolence of the Spirit. All these varied endowments bestowed for what purpose? To "profit withal." All for the highest usefulness; spiritual happiness is the end of the creation. Since all our endowments are the free gifts of God, there is no reason for those of the humblest to be dissatisfied, nor for those who have the most splendid to be exultant.

III. Every member should regard these endowments as PARTS OF A VITAL WHOLE . The whole is here called the "body of Christ." As the soul resides in the body, directs the body, reveals itself in the body, so Christ in the true Church. "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ," etc. Great is the variety in the various faculties, organs, and parts of the human body. Some are larger and more comely than others, but each, even the most insignificant and uncomely, are equally essential. "Those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary," etc. How preposterous would it be for one vital part of the body to contend with another for importance and supremacy! Yet not more absurd than for one member of a Church to contend with another. This is Paul's argument against the divisions that were rampant in the Corinthian Church.

"What if the foot, ordained the dust to tread,

Or hand, to toil, aspired to be the head?

What if the head, the eye, or ear repined

To serve mere engines to the ruling mind?

Just as absurd for any part to claim

To be another, in this general frame:

Just as absurd to mourn the task or pains,

The great directing Mind of all ordains.

All are but parts of one stupendous whole,

Whose body nature is, and God the soul."


- The Pulpit Commentary

1 Corinthians 12:1-31 (1 Corinthians 12:1-31)

Spiritual gifts.

A transition occurs here to a class of topics most important and interesting, since they involve the character and glory of the new dispensation. It was the special economy of the Holy Ghost which St. Paul was now to consider. All along we have had an insight into mistakes and disorders, into disputes and wranglings and, at times, into shameful vices. A quarter of a century had little more than passed since Christ ascended to the throne of the Father as the God Man of the universe, and the Spirit had descended as the promised Paraclete. Yet what strife and confusion! The marvellous gifts were strangely misunderstood. Once these Corinthians—so the apostle reminds them—had been Gentiles, "led away unto dumb idols, howsoever they might be led." But for them the age of "dumb idols" had ended and the great dispensation of speech had opened. No man sharing this speech from heaven—"speaking by the Spirit of God"—could call "Jesus accursed;" and only such as were enlightened and directed by the Holy Ghost could say from the heart of love and faith that "Jesus is the Lord." At the outset, this principle is laid down as fundamental to the economy of gifts; it is a Divine economy; it is the dispensation of the Holy Ghost. Something was gained whoa this was made clear. Inspiration was no wild, spasmodic, frantic thing. It was not individuality unloosed and driven into gross eccentricity. Whatever mysteries were connected with these manifestations, there was a grand system to which they appertained, and it was upheld, applied, administered, by the Holy Ghost. Such, then, is the position assumed, and it commands the whole question. This done, the places occupied by different parties, the diversity of gifts, their number and multiformity, the relativity of each to a controlling general idea, and the unity sought as a final end, could be ascertained. Naturally, then, diversities of gifts would be the first to attract attention. Difference between objects begins our perceptive education, difference in our moods of mind cultivates our consciousness, difference must be seen before the higher intellect can perform the processes of abstraction and generalization. Accordingly St. Paul starts with "diversities of gifts." It was not a new idea. The Prophet Joel had it substantially, along with the conception of universality, when he spoke of prophesyings, of dreams, of visions, and declared that servants and handmaids should rejoice in the possession of this power. Christ had closed his earthly revelation of the Father by unfolding the manifoldness of the Spirit's office. Pentecost had made good the promise, and had shown as the firstfruits of the harvest the recovery of the world's languages to the service of Christianity. St. Paul, however, handles the idea in a way altogether new. Genius passes old truths through its transforming brain, and they charm the world as fresh and wondrous disclosures. Inspiration honours individuality; nothing treats the personality of the man with such respect; and hence St. Paul's specialization of the fact of diversity. Mark how he treats it. Gifts themselves, as relative to men who are their recipients, are very unlike. Capacity in each case is a pre-existent fact of providence, and the Spirit consults providence. But in the next place, gifts are ministries, and the diversities (distributions)are for various spheres. Functional work is of many kinds, offices have each its speciality, and, as earthly industry must achieve its results by division of labour, so the economy of the Holy Ghost must differentiate one form of energy from another. Ministers are servants, and these ministries are serving forces. And again, the gifts are represented as operations by whose effects, as incorporated in society, the kingdom of God is built up. "These are not to be limited to miraculous effects, but understood commensurately with the gifts of whose working they are the results" (Alford). If, in other passages of Scripture, the person of the Father or of the Son is prominently displayed, the personality of the Holy Ghost, as proceeding from the Father and the Son, is here set forth with a distinctness and emphasis characteristic of his relations to the plan of salvation. Just before (verse 3), St. Paul had declared the presence of the Holy Ghost in the confession of Jesus as Lord, and the name, by which he was known among men (Jesus of Nazareth) and recognized in his trial, condemnation, and crucifixion, is borne up from earth and glorified in his exaltation. And here he is the "same Spirit" in the opening thought, "diversities of gifts." There are "differences of administrations," but the "same Lord;" "diversities of operations," but the "same God that worketh all in all;" nor will the apostle specify the fulness of the Spirit's gifts and the greatness of his presiding agency over the Church without connecting him with the Father and the Son. The mystery of the Trinity remains. But the doctrine becomes a very real and practical fact, and, as such, assimilable in Christian experience, when thus identified with grace in all its workings through the Church. And so true is this that the very mystery is essential to the effect the doctrine produces, by forming an infinite background, against which the fact stands in relief. Under these circumstances, mystery commends itself., not simply to reverence, but to experimental appreciation. Reason, if made conscious of its own instinct, finds a basis for itself and a vindication of its functions in the exercise of faith, and, by means of this illumination, reason is assured that the faculties of the human mind have their laws and are bound in obedience thereunto, because the law of mystery is the primal law whence they draw their lift and support. No marvel, then, that the apostle presents God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit with such prominence in the initial stage of his argument on spiritual gifts, Most closely is the doctrine identified with the experimental and. practical truths he was about to enforce. From no lower source than the mystery of all mysteries will he bring the awe, the sense of responsibility under trust, and the greatness of Church duties arising from the diversities of gifts. It is not this or that gift alone, nor this or that office bearer alone, nor this or that outwrought result alone, but their union in one economy and their combination in a totality, which he wished to emphasize. Most impressively is this done by presenting Father, Son, and Spirit as the one God of these diverse gifts, the Trinity itself being the very ground and source of the diversification. The broad scope of the diversities in the Church is indicated in the statement that the "manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal." The character of the Divine communication to "every man" is defined by the word "manifestation," which expresses the agency of the Spirit in these human instruments. First of all, the Spirit is manifested to the man and then through the man. As a condition precedent to his office, the man has an experience, and it consists in his own conscious knowledge that God has come to his soul and imbued it with the Spirit. Herein, herein only, lies his capacity for usefulness; herein his safeguard against failure. And the measure of the one manifestation is the measure of the other; for in the degree that a man feels his own soul alive to God will he impart vitality to his ministrations. Preacher, Sunday school teacher, Bible reader, tract distributer, Paul on Mars' Hill or in the prison at Rome, Bunyan writing in gaol, Hannah More at Barleywood, John Pounds with his ragged school; no matter what the manifestation, as to where made and bow modified by individuality, it is divinely human to its subject before it is made divinely human in him as an instrument. Finally, the broad scope ( every man. ) and the quality of the influence ( manifestation ) are carried forward to the object and end, viz. to profit withal. For the common advantage these gifts were bestowed; the greater the bestowment, the nearer its human connections; and the more of a recipient the man, the more of a man must he be in the outgoings of his intelligence, love, and zeal in behalf of others. "Who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive?" Such was the argument ( John 4:1-54 .) to check partisanship in the Corinthian Church; but in this passage, "to profit withal" is exhibited in its positive aspect as the inspiration of motive and purpose and end of all Christian working. Is it not, then, remarkable that Christianity approaches man at a point where he is most sensitive to self, and where he is quickest and boldest to assert his unyieldingness to the claims of others, and at this very point to demand of him "the common profit"? Make any analysis of human nature you please, pride of intellect is the most lordly of all its imperious qualities. Particularly in the case of fine gifts, men who are the possessors of them are instinctively disposed to assert a despotic sway over others, or, if not that, to indulge a feeling of self gratulation and its counterpart of self isolation because of their superiority. Yet it is just here Christianity requires humility and enforces the claims of a most vigorous sympathy. How this "common profit" is to be subserved, St. Paul proceeds to show in verses 8-11. There is no large accumulation in one man, no fostering of the spirit of self aggrandizement no such exaltation of one as to prove a humiliation to another. Talents are divided out, and each talent bears the seal of God, and comes authenticated, not to the intellect, but to the spiritual sense of a redeemed man hood. Go through this catalogue as drawn out by the apostle; dwell on the significance of each specification; avail yourself of the helps afforded by our most critical scholars in the explication of " wisdom " as intuition, of " knowledge " as acquired information, of "faith" as transcending its ordinary limits as the grace of salvation, of the " gifts of healing" as adapted to various diseases, of the " working of miracles" as time and occasion called for, all these charisms proceeding from the same Spirit; continue the enumeration that includes "prophecy" or the illumination cf the mind by the Spirit and the exalted activity of its faculties, after that the eye of watchful judgment, " discerning of spirits," so as to discriminate between genuine inspiration and its alloys and counterfeits, then the "divers kinds of tongues," and the power to interpret or translate the unknown language; and all these the works of "one and the selfsame Spirit" that distributes the charism to each one in harmony with the law of individuality, and, at the same time, exercises the Divine sovereignty so that the distribution is made "severally as he will" (Alford, Hodge, Lange); and when you have thus expanded your views to the dimensions of this spiritual provision for the Church and the exquisite symmetry of its organism tell us if any interest possible to man's present attitude, if any craving of true life in its mortal and immortal relationships, if any outreachings toward the infinite when body, soul, and spirit have interblended their instincts, and become one in the heirship of an eternal inheritance, have been left neglected or meagrely provided for? To bring this variety and unity more vividly before the Corinthians, St. Paul employs a most apt illustration taken from the human body as an organism. Already he had argued the diversity of gifts in adaptiveness to the capacities and wants of the Church. Left at that point, the argument would have been incomplete. It was needful to see what the Church itself was as an organization, and how its wholeness stood related to its individual parts. In the earlier portion of the Epistle he had combated the unhappy tendency towards an excessive individualism. Theoretic speculations had been kept out of sight, and practical questions, lying within immediate range and urgently demanding treatment, had been scrutinized. Was the work done when domestic morals had been pleaded for, when social companionships were set in a true light; when the betrayals of a lax and over accommodating sympathy in public intercourse were exposed; when the corruptions growing out of an abuse of love feasts and extending to the Holy Communion had been faithfully dealt with; when, in addition thereunto, he had expounded the Divine import and sacredness of the Lord's Supper? Was the work done when he had opened the treasures of grace and taught his brethren how the Divine munificence had enriched their souls? Was he content to stop after delineating the correspondence between the bestowments of the Spirit in his multiformity of gifts, and the complexity of the Church as the witness to the Trinity? By no means was the subject exhausted. Specific as he had been—direct, resolute, pungent—how much remained to be said (as we shall see hereafter), to reflect back on what had been said, and bring out half latent meanings of truths stated which the argument, in its direct connections, did not exact of his logic at the instant! At this point, then, he introduces a felicitous illustration. It is done in a business like style. Image it can scarcely be called, since it has no poetic element addressed merely to the aesthetic sense, and is quite as much the product of the reason as of the imagination. We have spoken of St. Paul as one who studied the human body and was profoundly interested in considering its present and prospective condition in the light of the Christian revelation. The illustration here used extends through a large portion of the chapter, and, as a figure, is for him elaborated with unusual fulness and painstaking. Evidently it is not a creation of the moment, for there is not a mark of sudden impulse. Tracing the analogy between the Church and the human body, and recognizing the Spirit of the earlier creation in this later and more glorious one, the inspired author evinces that delight in similarity of relations which is the infallible sign both of high endowment and broad culture, and he proceeds with a quiet and steady gait till the ground has been fully traversed.

1. The human body is an organism. It is "one, and hath many members." By an organism we understand "a whole consisting of parts which exist and work each for all and all for each; in other words, which are reciprocally related as means and end" (Dr. Kling). The principle of life is a principle of organization, weaving a form for itself, shaping that form to itself, and impressing thereupon its own distinctive image. The principle assumes various organizations—simple in some, complex in others—and, in every case, the life power is the animating and determinative force. "So also is Christ" (verse 12). In the Church, which is his body, Christ is the constituting Power. He is its Life, and without him it is nothing. Through the Spirit he maintains those operations which impart vitality to all the institutions and agencies of the Church. "By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body" (verse 13), whether "Jews or Gentiles;" such is the almighty energy of the Holy Ghost in begetting vitality and transforming national and race distinctions into its own likeness, that they are made one. This is also true of "bond or free." The characteristics of individuality as to races and social positions remain, but whatever is incapable of unity is removed and the organism subdues to itself every element and constituent it adopts. All are made "to drink into one Spirit." Viewed externally, we see Jews and Greeks, bond and free, with their peculiarities derived from the past and respected as the signs of Providence in the ages preparatory to Christ's advent. A rich and picturesque mosaic is thus presented by the Church. Along with this, the Church is also a type of the future man, from whom all selfish antagonisms have gone and over whom the sentiment of brotherhood is supreme.

2. The human body has various correlated parts. "For the body is not one member, but many" (verse 14). Each constitutent or "member" must be recognized as something in itself, as having an autonomy, as created for a distinct function and ordained to do its own special work. Not else could the body be worthy of its place as the head of the physical world and represent the mind of man. In this wondrous organism, which may be likened to a community, every cell is an independent activity, a citizen with rights of its own and entitled to protection against all hostile influence. The fable of Menenius is introduced, and the classic reader of our day is reminded of Coriolanus as the representative of the haughty patricians and yet more of the haughtier statesman, and of the fierce contempt felt for the people. St. Paul has given due prominence to this idea of each organ as performing its functions and as essential to the whole. If the unity is brought about from within, then it follows that every member must share the animating principle. Food must be provided for blood, blood must nourish the organs, the organs must be tributary in specific ways to the organism, or the organism must perish. So in the Church, different men are different organs. Such are the numerous offices of the Holy Ghost as the Executive of Father and Son; such are his relations as Remembrancer, Testifier, Convincer; that there must needs be much diversity of gift; and hence there are gifts of healing, helping, governing, extraordinary faith, and "divers kinds of tongues." Light is distributed in colours, and colours in tints and hues, and tints and hues multiply themselves in minute differences. Sound breaks up in notes. Form assumes multitudinous shapes and attitudes. The ocean rolls in restless lines and the earth curves to a curving sky. "Not one member, but many," and the manifoldness in the magnificence of the universe is repeated, as far as may be, in the complexity of the human organism, and, in turn, this exists for the Church. But:

3. Reciprocity of action must be fully maintained. The organs of the body are distinct but not separate, since they combine in one organism and are subordinate to a unitary result. They are supplied with blood by the same heart and they are all dependent on nerves running from nervous centres. Spinal cord, medulla, cerebellum, cerebrum, are local in position, but not local in function. Not an organ, though independent in structure and functional operation, can insulate itself and be independent of the whole. Our pleasures and pains alike testify to this dominant mutuality. A beautiful landscape is not limited to the retina; a musical sound enters the rhythm of heart and lungs, and the ear is only a fragment of the joy; so that localized sensibility, however intense, becomes generalized feeling. The special senses exist for a sensorium. St. Paul regards the body, therefore, as an assemblage or confederation of organs, and enlarges (verses 15-26) on the idea in its several aspects. The section has been fitly spoken of as a colloquy in a highly dramatic style." The body itself is thoroughly dramatic. It represents and interprets mind. It acts the soul. Downward it may go and imitate the beast, even descend below the beast. Upward it may go, and go so high that the faces of Moses and St. Stephen glow with a light never on shore or sea. Now, this colloquy presents one member of the body arrayed against another and vainly asserting its independence. If a discontented foot envy the hand, or the ear envy the eye, "is it therefore not of the body," participating in its fights, enjoying its privileges, ennobled by the organism? They are for the sake of each other, so that "the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you? Furthermore, in the case of feeble organs, does the body turn vindictively against them?—in the case of those less honourable, are they despised? in the case of the uncomely parts, are they treated with contempt? Nay, in the well ordered commonwealth of the body, where the instincts, endowed by the Almighty with a measure of his sovereignty, retain their sway, parts that are feeble, less honourable, less comely, appeal to pity and sympathy and taste to be cheered and comforted. The whole glandular system, though assigned to the functions of secretion and excretion, is yet a wonderful provision for emotion, not only for emotion as respects others, but as self regarding and self relieving. A whispered. need of assistance from the very humblest organ is heard in every recess of the corporeal structure. Temple it is even in ruins, and its ministers, inhabiting dim vaults and mysterious crypts, hear the prayer for compassion and aid, and hasten to give sympathy and assistance. Beyond all this, what vicarious work the organs do in their considerate kindness to one another? No doubt we are open to the charge of reading between the apostle's lines and of going beyond his intended meaning. Be it so; on the lines or between them, no matter, if the philosophy and spirit of the thought he observed. St. Paul's inspiration was for our day as well as his own, and perhaps it would not be very extravagant to say that the Christian scholarship of the nineteenth century sees depths in some of his conceptions that he never saw. For it is the nature of inspiration to be ever unfolding its manifoldness of meaning, holding tenaciously to its original ground, and yet pressing back its horizon to embrace fresh territory, and thus making itself a specially quickening power to successive ages. One thing, however, is very clear, namely, St. Paul saw the analogy between the Church and the human body. By virtue of the connection of its organs, he takes occasion to urge on the Church very weighty and solemn duties. Mutual forbearance, respect, honour, must be sacredly cherished. The organic life of the Church makes it Christ's body. "Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." The main thought is restated and re-enforced as to apostles, prophets, etc. (verses 28-30); and surely nothing has been left unsaid which could convince and persuade the Corinthians that their spiritual organization was not a thing to take care of itself, nor to be trusted to haphazard, nor to be surrendered to self-appointed leaders. It was a life, a sphere, a discipline and culture, a joy and blessedness, for all. Were the weakliest among them to be overlooked as useless? If there were poor widows with only two mites to cast into God's treasury, they had their place and vocation. If there were little children, their looks and ways told of the kingdom of heaven. Were there uncomely parts? Grace was strong enough to do them abundant honour. One of the invaluable blessings of Church life is to show respect and regard for such as society excludes from its esteem, and alas! too often treats with disdain, and thereby dooms them to a fate more wretched than poverty. In honouring them, the Church teaches these persons to honour themselves, and that, once secured, improvement outward and inward is made far easier. In brief, wherever anything was lacking, there "more abundant honour" should be bestowed. And why all this? That none be neglected, that all be partakers of one another's sufferings and pleasures, and that the community be indeed a communion of one heart and mind. "That there should be no schism." This was the dread that hung over St. Paul: "schism;" this was the terror that darkened his path far more than the enemies and persecutors that pursued his steps. "Members should have the same care one for another." Brotherhood should sanctify individuality, and consummate and crown all the gifts of the Divine Giver. What a wonder this, to set before a city like Corinth! What an ideal to lift up in its resplendent glory in a period such as the first century! And this by the "ugly little Jew," a wandering tent maker, who had nothing and would have nothing to commend him to the carnal philosophy and popular tastes of the age, and who could only speak from his own soul and the Spirit in that soul to the souls of men. Yet the doctrine of Christ's headship of humanity was his stay and strength, and the gifts of the Holy Ghost were his tokens and pledges of victory for his cause. He would have others share his assurance and participate with him in the infinite blessedness. Therefore, he argues, "covet earnestly the best gifts," and the best way to secure these best gifts he will proceed at once to show them.— L.

- The Pulpit Commentary

1 Corinthians 12:12 (1 Corinthians 12:12)

Spiritual unity.

If this be a true representation, what an honour, what a happiness it is to be a Christian! It is to be joined to the Lord of life and glory, and to be associated with the noblest, the purest, the best of mankind.

I. IN WHAT RESPECTS CHRIST AND HIS MEMBERS ARE ONE . The expression used by the apostle is remarkable: "So also is Christ." He says, "Christ;" yet he means Christ s people; from which it appears that, in the view or the apostle, as in the view of the Lord himself, all who are his are identified with and comprehended in his own Divine personality.

1. This is a fact which is exhibited in various manners and especially by various metaphors, Not only are Christ and his people the Head and the body; they are the Vine and the branches, the Foundation and the stones, the organism and the Soul.

2. The union as spiritual is formed and sustained by faith. There are sacramental symbols of the union, but the real and vital connection is of spirit with spirit, i.e. is of faith. As mutual, it is depicted by the Lord himself, when he says, "I in you, and you in me."

3. The character and the aim of the Head and the members are identical. "As he is, so are we in this world."


1. He is the Giver of the life which his people have in common with him.

2. He is the Source of authority, issuing the commands which govern their activity.

3. He is the Centre of harmony; they who are his revolve around him as planets round the sun; and their orbits resemble one another, because all are drawn by the same attractive force.

4. He confers upon them the glory which is their prerogative—the moral glory which is conferred here and now, and the glory to be revealed hereafter.


1. Their dependence upon the one Head is the same. The unity is not simply in the organization; it is in the life.

2. They are bound by Christian law and drawn by Christian impulse to mutual affection and confidence. Love is the law of Christian social life, as in the following chapter is so exquisitely shown.

3. They have each his several service to render to the one Master; the gifts are alike consecrated, the ministrations are alike devoted, to the Divine Lord.

4. They have mutual ability and obligation to help. As in the body each member, each sense, supplies the other's lack of service, so in the Church it is not simply the case that the gifted and the powerful render help to others less favourably endowed, but the feeblest and the most obscure may render some service for which his brethren may have reason to be for ever grateful.

5. In the blessings conferred by the Church upon the world around, each may be said to supply the other's deficiency; and the work of evangelization, in which each performs his proper part, is advanced by the cordial cooperation of all whom Providence has qualified and grace has inclined for the work.—T.

- The Pulpit Commentary

1 Corinthians 12:12-27 (1 Corinthians 12:12-27)

The body of Christ.

A striking figure. Christians are not separate, unrelated units; they are compacted together and form one whole, which is "the body of Christ." Of this body Christ is the Head ( Colossians 2:19 )—the central controlling and directing Power, and each believer is some member of the body. In this passage the apostle is speaking of the members of the body rather than of the Head—of Christians rather than directly of Christ. Note—

I. THE NUMBER AND VARIETY OF THE MEMBERS . This makes the body rich and beautiful. In scenery and in paintings we do not love monotony. A fair landscape possesses almost infinite variety of tint and form; that is not a painting which is composed of one colour, however brilliant. The Church is enriched by the diversities in condition, age, ability, of its members. Yet though one member differ strikingly from another, all are equally of the body ( 1 Corinthians 12:15 ). We must not despair because we are unlike some other Christians; if all the members of the body were as even the chief and most honoured members, the symmetry, usefulness, and beauty of the body would be greatly impaired ( 1 Corinthians 12:17 ). We must not seek to occupy a place for which we are not fitted. We are admitted to the body of Christ by God, and he places us ( 1 Corinthians 12:18 ). We must not move; if we are to be moved, he will move us. To choose a place for ourselves would be to put ourselves out of place.

II. THE VARIED DUTY . This explains the variety of place and power. The Church offers the utmost variety of work; there is something suitable for every capacity. As in the body all parts and members perform their special and appropriate duties, so in the Church each believer has his appointed task: "To every man his work." Some are troubled because they seem to be "inferior" members; but note, an inferior member can often do its work better than a superior member could do that work. Each member is specially adapted to perform its functions; each Christian in the Church is specially fitted for the performance of his duties. No man can fill your place as you can.

III. THE INTIMATE CONNECTION . In the human body what vital union there is between the several parts! There should be a corresponding connection between the members of the body of Christ. Christians are not to be like grains of sand, or isolated trees, or detached houses. We admit that our union with Christ should be real; equally real should be our union with fellow believerses The anomaly of Christians not speaking to each other, of the rich and poor being separated from common fellowship, is by this figure shown to be monstrous. The member of the body which will have no fellowship with other members is preparing to be lopped off. Our union with Christ cannot be very intimate if we have none with his followers. "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another" ( John 13:34 ).

IV. THE COMMON IMPORTANCE . Not the equal importance. All are important, but not equally so. But the least attractive and the least demonstrative may be the most important. The heart is more important than the tongue. Many of the Corinthians were madly elated with the gift of tongues; but there is something greater and better than talk. The lungs are more important even than the hand. The modest and unobtrusive are often of more value than those who ever will come to the front. And where true discernment obtains the former are likely to receive "more abundant honour" ( 1 Corinthians 12:23 ). Apparent feebleness is no criterion; some of the feeblest saints have been the strongest. And some of the weakest members of the body are much more necessary to its well being than the robust ( 1 Corinthians 12:22 ). And further, as it is an instinct of nature to adorn the less comely parts of the body ( 1 Corinthians 12:23 ), so in the Church, if a right spirit prevails, the humblest and least attractive will receive special care and attention. The sick child is the mother's favourite. All members are thus important. No member of the Church of Christ is non important except he makes himself so. And as with the physical body, the body of Christ cannot afford to dispense with the services of a single member, however obscure.

V. THE COMMUNITY OF FEELING . ( 1 Corinthians 12:26 .) Sympathy should abound amongst Christians. "Bear ye one another's burdens." Every Christian should be a good Samaritan. Imagine one hand rejoicing in or being indifferent to the laceration of the other. Our union with believers should be so intimate and real that when they suffer we suffer, that when they are blessed we are. Their health is our health, their strength is our strength. Christians should remember that Christ pronounced a second commandment as well as a first. When true fellowship is attained we "rejoice with those who do rejoice, and weep with those who weep."

VI. THE HARMONIOUS WORKING . How beautifully this is illustrated in the physical body! So amongst Christians there is no necessity for collision. Contests indicate faultiness and derangement. If all did their appointed work in the appointed way, there would be completest harmony. And the more harmony the better working. What waste of power has been caused by divisions and strife! Note: One perverse member may do much harm. In machinery, if one part fails to perform its function, fracture and extensive derangement may ensue. There should be no schism in Christ's body ( 1 Corinthians 12:25 ). The Church, the body of Christ, has a vast, complicated, infinitely important work to do: how essential that there should be the truest cooperation, the utmost faithfulness in discharge of duty, on the part of its members!

VII. THE MUTUAL DEPENDENCE . ( 1 Corinthians 12:21 .) Christians are not independent of each other: they should not seek to be so. We are not the body of Christ individually, but we are collectively. We are not set to stand alone, but with others. We can help others and be helped ourselves. Another's work may be needful for the success of ours, ours for the success of another's.

VIII. THE COMPLEMENTARY CHARACTER . One supplies just what the other lacks. So that if all supply what they can, the body becomes perfect in working. The eye needs the ear; both the hand; all the foot.

IX. THE UNITY AMIDST DIVERSITY . "Many members, but one body" ( 1 Corinthians 12:20 ). In the body there is the greatest variety, but the greatest unity; one life pervades the whole. So with the Church—the members are one in Christ, vitally united to the one Head, pervaded by the one Spirit, joined in one baptism, sitting at one Supper of the Lord, engaged in one work, and going forward to the same destiny. There is the great spiritual life principle which pervades all true believers and makes them one .

X. THE VITAL UNION WITH THE HEAD AND SUBORDINATION TO IT . We may survive severance from some members of the body; we cannot severance from the head. We perish unless we are vitally joined to Christ. And as with the physical body, the head must rule or all sorts of disorders will be occasioned. We must be united to Christ as servants to a Master. He is the Head of the body; we are the members. It is for him to direct, it is for us to obey. Some seem sorely tempted to exercise lordship over Christ; they are wise above what is written. Were it polite to give them the appellation, we might well call them disloyal fools. Disloyal, because insubordinate to their Lord; fools, because they not only disorganize the work of the body and injure the other members, but are in the surest way of bringing immeasurable evils upon themselves.—H.

- The Pulpit Commentary

1 Corinthians 12:12 (1 Corinthians 12:12)

The body of Christ.

The analogy the apostle here uses is broadly true of the whole fellowship of redeemed and regenerate souls—"the Catholic Church throughout all the world," which acknowledges Christ as its living Head. It also applies to the Corinthian Christians as a local society, a part of the grand whole. The principles on which the constitution of the whole depends are supposed to be illustrated in that of each particular part. The comparison of the Church with a living body is not one that we find in the teachings of Christ himself; but he employed an essentially similar image when he said to his disciples, "I am the Vine, ye are the branches" ( John 15:5 ). Whether we take the figure of the body or of the tree, substantially the same ideas are presented. There is in each case an organization animated by a mysterious principle of life. And the hidden life is the cause of the organization, determines it, shapes it "after its kind." The life is the formative principle. The growth of the body or of the tree is not by addition from without, but by development from within. The materials that nourish and build it up lie without, but it is the life that appropriates them, assimilates them, transforms them into its own substance, turns them to its own proper uses. So with the form of Christian society. We believe in no "visible Church" which is not the spontaneous result of the free play of the Divine Spirit in the minds and consciences and hearts of men. Its beliefs, its worship, its fellowship, its work, all have real worth in them just so far as they are the spontaneous expression of the Spirit that dwells within, and no further. Note respecting the Church—

I. ITS UNITY . As the body with its many members is one, "so also is Christ." Here is unity in variety; variety of parts with a principle of unity underlying them, flowing through them, binding them into one connected whole. And Christ is that uniting power. It is the "body of Christ." The body that was "prepared" for him when he became "God manifest in the flesh" ( Hebrews 10:5 )—the human body in which the "fulness of the Godhead" dwelt, which grew from infancy to manhood, which was crucified and then transformed in the imprisoning tomb,—this body has been withdrawn from the earth. Men see it no longer. It is glorified and immortalized. "within the veil." But he has taken to himself another body, in which the Divine energy dwells, through which the Divine beauty reveals itself, which he is leading on gradually to a perfect manhood—"the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." That body is his Church. And just as the unity of our physical frame lies in the indwelling soul which holds all its parts together, and without which they would soon lose their organic form and dissolve into their primary elements, so the rarity of the Church is the presence of Christ by his Spirit in the whole and in every part ( 1 Corinthians 12:13 ). The sentient life pervades every fibre of our frame. Enthroned in the centre, it throbs and glows in the remotest part. But the members have no separate and independent life in themselves. Let any one of them be severed from the rest, and it is senseless, powerless, dead. So is it with our souls in relation to him who is to the spiritual body both as the heart and the head, the inspiring energy, and the living bond of unity. "Apart from me ye can do nothing," etc. ( John 15:5 ). Thus it comes to pass that union with Christ and union with the Church, in the deepest and truest sense, are one and the same thing. The old dictum, "Out of the Church no salvation," has profound truth in it; but not as they imagine who by the "Church" mean any outward organization that is of human origin and under human control. The papal doctrine asserts, "Where the Church is, there is Christ." We rather say, "Where Christ is, there is the Church." To be in personal fellowship with him is to have a "part and lot" in it of which no power in the universe can ever rob us. This is the principle of unity—the living Christ dwelling by his Spirit in each and all.

II. THE RELATION ITS MEMBERS BEAR TO EACH OTHER . '"The body is not one member, but many." The context shows that the apostle has not mere number but variety also in view, variety as of the hand and the foot, the ear and the eye. The relation between Christian men is spiritual, not formal; one that lies in community of thought and affection and aim, not in any kind of external resemblance. (Note the difference between a body, a living organism, and any mere inert mass the particles of which are bound together simply by mechanical force or even by chemical affinity.) In every form of human society it is the sense of individuality combined with the sense of mutual sympathy that constitutes the real cementing principle. It is a fellowship of life that binds men together, and not the constraint of outward circumstance. The oneness of a family lies, not in the fact that its members dwell together under the same roof or bear the same name, but in the common sympathies and affections that grow out of their natural kinship. The oneness of an army lies in the enthusiasm of its devotion to the common cause, far more than in the force of military discipline. The oneness of a nation is not the mere accident of its coming within one geographical boundary, but the spirit of loyalty and patriotism that pervades its citizens. So in the Christian commonwealth, we cannot be too careful to distinguish between its formal aspects and associations, and those relations that are internal and spiritual and in which the living and enduring reality of it lies. The fact of men forming themselves into a visible society, calling themselves by the same name, meeting in the same place, consenting to the same creed, using the same language, joining in the same modes of worship, doing the same work, does not make them one in Christ. These are but the outward signs and symbols of unity. They may be the mocking semblances of it. They have no value unless they represent what is real and spiritual and divinely true. In this unity of spiritually related parts, each member has its own proper place and function, and the beauty and harmony of the whole structure lie in its faithfully fulfilling it Ephesians 4:16 ). We best serve the interests of others when we are most simply and honestly "ourselves;" when we think our own thought, speak our own word, do our own deed; when the whole outward form and habit of our Christian life is just the natural outcome of what is deepest and truest within us. Anything that tends to weaken the sense of individuality; anything that prompts us to play a part that is not "our own," anything that tends to obliterate natural differences and reduce all to one common level of artificial sameness,—is altogether evil ( Ephesians 4:17-19 ). Some parts of the body are small, hidden, apparently insignificant. But those who are best acquainted with its structure know well that they are not for that reason the less important and even essential. Let them fall out of their place or cease to discharge their function, and it may be the whole frame would suffer dislocation or sink into decay. The true Christian spirit will teach us never to make light of our position, or the sphere we fill, or the influence it is given us to wield. It will make us "content to fill a little space," so that our Lord may but be glorified. And if true to the light that shines within us, and to the noblest impulses of which we are conscious, we only faithfully do our work in lowly allegiance to him and loving helpfulness towards our fellows, we may find in the end how true it is that "God hath given more abundant honour to that part that lacked" ( Ephesians 4:24 ).

III. THE ENDS FOR WHICH IT EXISTS . The body is created to be the vehicle and organ of the indwelling soul, the channel through which its hidden virtues shall reveal them selves, the instrument by means of which it may work out its nobler purposes. The Gospel records in no way satisfy our curiosity in reference to the physical form and feature of Jesus. But we may be very sure of this, that the body in which he appeared was a fitting vehicle for the Divine soul that inhabited it. It was as a transparent medium, through which the radiance of the spiritual beauty within must often have streamed forth in a way that commanded the honour and admiration of men. Let the Church be true to its high calling, so shall the glory of the indwelling Christ shine through it upon the dark world, drawing all men to him. Upon every section of the Church, and every individual member of the body, according to its measure, this responsibility rests.—W.

- The Pulpit Commentary

1 Corinthians 12:12-26 (1 Corinthians 12:12-26)

The law of order in the human body.

For other cases in which this simile is employed, see Romans 12:4 , Romans 12:5 ; Ephesians 4:16 ; Ephesians 5:30 ; Colossians 2:19 . The human body presents a very striking illustration of

I. IT IS A WHOLE . Evidently for it there was a plan, an ideal. It is a complete thing. It has its appointed parts; nothing whatever can be added to it, and nothing can be taken from it. Though it may be unrealized as yet, God sees his Church to be, as perfect, a whole.

II. IT IS A VARIETY . The sides of the body seem to match, but even the left and the right have their special functions. Every limb and member and joint has its individual mission. And so in the Church of Christ. No two of its members are really alike, and each has his fitted place and appointed work.

III. IT IS A SET OF RELATIONS . No member having any powers or abilities by itself; doing its own particular work only with the aid of all the other members. The whole being set in mutual dependence and helpfulness.

IV. IT IS A HARMONY . So long as each part and portion does its own particular work efficiently and well. Schism in the body is disease, common helplessness, and the beginnings of death.

V. EACH MEMBER CAN ONLY DO ITS PART BY VIRTUE OF THE COMMON LIFE . Use our Lord's illustration from the vine and the branches. The member must abide in the body, and the branch in the vine. Apply in each case to the Christian Church, and impress that, in the body and in the Church, there can be

- The Pulpit Commentary

1 Corinthians 12:1-31 (1 Corinthians 12:1-31)

- The Pulpit Commentary