1 Corinthians 12:1-31 – One Body, Many Members
SummaryThe Corinthians have divided themselves not only around loyalty to certain leaders, around understandings of ethical behavior, and around social status, but also around spiritual gifts such as gifts for prophecy, speaking in tongues, performing miracles, and so on. Paul uses the metaphor of one body with many members to argue that everyone, regardless of specific giftedness, is indispensible to the whole.
AnalysisRank and status apparently matter to the Corinthians in every arena of their common life. They compare and boast in their affiliation to leaders, in their knowledge, and in their spiritual gifts. Paul acknowledges the variety of gifts and proclaims that one Spirit inspires all of them. Furthermore, spiritual gifts are "for the common good" (1 Corinthians 12:7). The theme of the common good will continue through chapter 14 where Paul gives instructions for orderly worship so that all may be edified by any display of church members' gifts.
The guiding metaphor of the chapter is one body with many members. The unity of the church is as real as a body's unity, even though the body, like the church, is made up of different members. Both in 1 Corinthians 12 and in Romans 12, Paul uses this body-and-members imagery for the church.
The ranking of offices given in 1 Corinthians 12:27 may be merely chronological. First came the apostles, those who had followed Jesus during his earthly ministry along with one (the apostle Paul) who was called by the risen Christ. Then, as the apostles preached, the Spirit inspired Christian prophets, then teachers, and so on. Alternatively, the list could be hierarchical, inscribing more importance to the role of apostle than to any other roles. Either way, Paul concludes the section by pointing to "a still more excellent way" (1 Corinthians 12:31) which, as 1 Corinthians 13 will show, does not have comparisons with others at its center, but instead is characterized by love for others.