Uniform 05.17.2015: The Spirit Creates One Body

Uniform_MA15_Coracle

1 Corinthians 12:14-31

J. R. Ewing was shot in his office at Ewing Oil on March 21, 1980 by an unseen and thus unknown assailant. Millions of Americans would spend the next eight months pondering and debating the question “Who shot J. R.?” Finally, on November 21, 1980 the identity of the shooter was revealed, thus resolving what is perhaps the most famous cliffhanger in the history of American television.

Paul ends this week’s scripture passage with a cliffhanger of his own; after spending much time and many words advocating for the unity of the church, he concludes this section by saying “And I will show you a still more excellent way” (v. 31b). It’s a cliffhanger that will be resolved when we study 1 Corinthians 13 two weeks from now.

There’s really not much suspense, though, since that next chapter is the famous “love chapter.” So the “still more excellent way” to which Paul points the Corinthian church and all churches is the way of love. While Paul does not mention love in today’s passage, the resolution of the cliffhanger in the following chapter makes it clear that love is the basis for the kinds of perspectives, attitudes, and actions that he advocates here, all of which require a humbly loving stance on the part of the members of the church.

In this week’s passage, Paul stresses the fact that the church is what it is and is like it is because of God’s actions. “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose” (v. 18). “God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another” (vv. 24b-25). God’s goals in arranging the members of the church body like God does are that there will be unity in the body and care among the members of the body. God has made us one body by having us participate in one Spirit, namely, the Spirit of God.

And all of that happens because of the love that is the greatest gift of the Spirit.

Discussion

1. What do we see in ourselves that gets in the way of the unity that Paul says should be ours in the church?
2. Paul asks, “If all were a single member, where would the body be?” (v. 19). If your entire church body was like you, what kind of church would it be?
3. Are we appropriately grateful for the behind the scenes and inconspicuous members of our church without whom the church’s ministry would suffer tremendously but who often go unnoticed and unacknowledged? How can we show appreciation for them without inordinately elevating them above others?
4. When we think about our role in the church do we ever find our thoughts beginning with a phrase like “Because I am not”? (vv. 15-16). When we think about the roles of others in the church do we ever find our thoughts beginning with a phrase like “Because they are not”? If so, how do we need to change our way of thinking?
5. What are the implications of Paul’s words “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (v. 13) for your local church? For ecumenical relations and activities?

Reference Shelf

Following the pattern of the body metaphor’s use by political writers, Paul envisions different parts of the body disclaiming membership in the body. Claiming to be separate from the rest of the body, however, does not make it so. Forgoing amputation, each member remains a part of the body, which is fortunate. If the body consisted of only certain members, it would be dysfunctional, which is not God’s design (vv. 17-19). God arranged (etheto) the parts, each one in the body as God willed. Because each part of the body is essential, furthermore, no part can claim to be independent of the others. By contrast, each and every part needs each and every other part. Furthermore, those parts of the body that may on the surface appear to be unimportant are, in fact, the most indispensable. In veiled language Paul refers to the genitalia (our unpresentable parts). Except for athletes and statues of deified persons, the general practice in Greece and Rome, as in most civilized cultures, was to cover up the unpresentable parts rather than expose them. Paul asserts that this constitutes honoring those parts. As a sign of respect and dignity, those parts are given a special treatment that other parts do not require. Rather than argue that those parts are covered out of shame, Paul affirms their essential value. This represents concord in the body, whereby all parts express mutual care for the others. The inescapable interdependence of the body’s parts means that all share equally in suffering and rejoicing.

Scott Nash, 1 Corinthians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2009), 363-364.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. You can visit and communicate with him at MichaelRuffin.com. He is the Uniform Series Curriculum Editor.

*****

For further resources, subscribe to the Uniform Teaching Guide and Commentary.

Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson. To purchase the volume quoted in today’s Reference Shelf, please click Here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments

  1. Delores Tyson says:

    Excellent commentary! I enjoyed your thought provoking questions. Thank you!