Sermon January 27, 2019: 1 Corinthians 12

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

We have a fantasy image of the early church as perfect and ideal church. Sometimes we overestimate the harmony between early Christians. Christians read Acts 4:32 and wish to be like the first Christians who “were one in heart and mind.” We are eager to live up to the early church. The early Christians were not 100% perfect. They argued among themselves and were divided. The apostle Paul writes to Christians in Corinth in south-central Greece, who competed with one another as to whose spiritual gift was more important than the other. Some Christians thought that certain spiritual gifts were the reason for claims of prestige and superiority.

To end the competition, the apostle Paul introduces the messianic politics of the body.[1] According to Greco-Roman culture, superior knowledge and classism defined a person. Orators in antiquity treated eloquent speech as the expression of wisdom. Paul recognizes the debilitating influence of this thinking on the Church. In his letter, Paul challenges their wisdom by teaching that the true wisdom comes through the weakness and vulnerability of a crucified Messiah. We are all equal before God through our baptism that does not distinguish between Jew or Greek, slave or free. Our baptism makes us members of the crucified body of Christ.

Paul uses the political language of the body to explain the unity and diversity of the body of Christ. Paul teaches that “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. All the members of the body are equally important to form one body (v. 12).”

In contrast with Paul’s teaching, “Greco-Roman authors and orators appealed to the political significance of the body in order to emphasis the predominance of the head so as to re-inscribe the hierarchical order of imperial society.”[2] In 1 Corinthians 12:14, Paul states that “the body does not consist of one member but of many.” Paul’s statement criticizes Caesar who is considered the head of the Roman empire and controls all his subjects. Paul is protesting the hegemonic body politics of Rome that coerces the weaker of society to serve the stronger. He teaches that the body of the crucified Christ tore down classism and superiority and started an egalitarian body.

 

The apostle Paul emphasizes that “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it (v. 27).” God gives each member of the body a special gift for the well-being of the whole body. What is interesting is the alternative translation of the term “comunity” in Latin. “The munus of the Latin word communus means ‘duty’ or ‘obligation’ as well as ‘gift’,”[3] which signifies “that members of a community are bound by a “gift” that is to be given or shared rather than received.”[4]

Paul teaches that the spiritual gifts are intended to be used for the benefit of all the members of the body of Christ, not only one person. Any individual with any gift whether spiritual or non-spiritual is called to renounce one’s self-interest for the sake of the body of Christ. Paul invites Corinthians instead of boasting over their spiritual gifts, they need to share them. In other words, Paul urges the Corinthians to reject self-preservation and seek self-elevation.[5] Paul is calling the Corinthians and us to put our gifts in the service of all members of the church. To be part of the body of Christ means to sacrifice on the altar your individual self- preservation.[6]

The division and hierarchy in the church of Corinth are found in many churches today. Many church leaders are striving for a leadership role for their interest. The only interest in having a leadership role is to serve Jesus Christ, not oneself. To be a leader means to serve with a spirit of humility. Any church or organization will fail if Its leaders use their position and gifts for their interest or do not take their gifts and leadership role seriously. Many parishioners left the church because the leaders of the church concentrate on their prestige and ego. It is dangerous for the mission of a church if its leaders are self- preserved and unwilling to delegate tasks. As you are serving the Lord Jesus Christ in his church, I invite you to focus on serving Jesus Christ without self-preservation or self-interest. You are serving Christ through sharing your gift with your neighbor. Serve Christ from a heart of love for your neighbors. Your gifts are special blessings you receive from God for the good of your neighbor. Sharing not holding on your gifts helps in advancing the kingdom of God.

What kind of gifts did you receive from God that you can share to build the body of Christ? Reflect on your gifts and ask God and your spiritual leader/pastor on how to use them.

 

[1] Ray Pickett, “The Politics of the Messianic Body—1 Corinthians 12: 12-31a,” Political Theology Network (January 19, 2016), https://politicaltheology.com/the-politics-of-the-messianic-body-1-corinthians-1212-31a/.

[2] Ray Pickett, “The Politics of the Messianic Body—1 Corinthians 12: 12-31a,” Political Theology Network (January 19, 2016), https://politicaltheology.com/the-politics-of-the-messianic-body-1-corinthians-1212-31a/..

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ray Pickett, “The Politics of the Messianic Body—1 Corinthians 12: 12-31a.”

[6] Roberto Esposito, Terms of the Political: Community, Immunity, Biopolitics (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013), 16.