GOD’S WORD FOR YOU
1 CORINTHIANS 12:27
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27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually a part of it.
Paul is going to end the chapter with a listing of different kinds of spiritual gifts, and he begins with this sentence to summarize the whole list, as if he’s opening the bag to show us all of the goodies inside. First, you (he’s speaking to the Corinthians and to us)– you are Christ’s body. Second, you (he’s speaking to you personally as an individual)– you are a part of that body.
By “body,” what does Paul mean? Simply put, this body is the possession of Christ, but we are more than the ones who belong to him; we were made his own because he dwells within us. We are his because we have faith, which is his gift to us (Romans 12:3).
A delightful truth brought out by the Greek text is that together we have the very quality of the body of Christ. That is to say, not because we are his flesh (although we act as his flesh in the created world), nor because we are sinless, for we are sinful through and through (though standing in God’s judgment of being not guilty of our sins). Nor are we his eyes and ears, as if he cannot see what is happening in the world or hear it on account of his great distance away, sitting as he does at the right hand of the Father and welcoming the souls of Christians who have newly died into their eternal rest and reward. No, we have the quality of a body: a unified whole and singular item, but with all its various parts that properly and completely make up what it is.
Here, the quality of being Christ’s body and having the quality of a body with all of its necessary parts comes from the lack of an article (a “the”). Maybe not every reader or listener will follow that, but the languages of the Bible are the sheath in which the sword of the spirit is housed, and we learn a great deal from what God the Holy Spirit so precisely and vigorously says by using one word over another. Luther says: “This is… grammar. Those (pastors) who don’t know it should learn it.”
By “individually a part of it,” what does Paul mean? He can only mean what the plain words say, that each of us, those who have faith in Christ, are each individually a part of his body, which is the church. It is not as if he is an untidy housekeeper with bits and pieces of his possession strewn around the neighborhood, out on the street, and falling into the neighbor’s yard. We are all within his house, each in our place, doing our work for his good, each with his own task to do to his glory and to the best of our ability. My task today is to explain this verse in such a way that (a) it can be understood, (b) that it cannot be misunderstood, for (a) and (b) are not the same thing, and (c) that I do not burden the reader too much by doing it. My other tasks today include preparing my sermon for worship tomorrow and the rest of the weekend, to conduct a small funeral this afternoon, and to take care of my family this evening making a meal, doing the dishes, taking care of the pets, doing laundry, some cleaning, and grocery shopping. But all of these things are my work in God’s service, not just the first two or three. This is how the whole kingdom of God works and moves together. We each have a task, we all are the body, and Christ is over us all as the head.
This verse preaches the law to me when the devil poisons my heart with depression and grim sadness, when his cruel lies make me think I have no value, or that I am worthless, or that the great men and women of the church laugh at me behind their hands because of the petty, puny efforts I try to make on behalf of my dear Master and King. When these wretched feelings press down on my heart, this verse comes and wags a finger at me, saying “You fool! Do you think you’re not a part of God’s body, a part of the great machine of the church that carries out God’s will in the universe!” And I am struck by a much more serious blow than the devil’s gloom, for I see then that I have sinned and forgotten my happy role in the kingdom of God.
Then the same verse preaches the gospel to me, saying, “Cheer up! Your sins are forgiven! You are individually a part of God’s kingdom and of the body of Christ! If you bear a cross, bear it with a song on your lips to praise Jesus.”
What a joy to serve! What else is there that has any real value? His glory covers the mountains, and his praise fills the earth (Habakkuk 3:3). He crowns the humble with salvation– this is the glory of all his saints (Psalm 149:4,9).
Pastor Timothy Smith
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Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota
God’s Word for You – 1 Corinthians 12:27 All and individually