GOD’S WORD FOR YOU
1 CORINTHIANS 12:13
13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body– whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free– and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
The verse seems simple as it begins, simple enough for any Christian child to comprehend, because Paul brings us to the familiar entry point into the church, like a big front door: baptism. This was the entrance most of us were first brought through, and which Jesus himself used so that we would all be connected to God and to one another through him.
Baptism was commanded by God, instituted by Jesus Christ, offering and giving the forgiveness of sins when the word of God (his words of institution) come together with the surprising part of the sacraments, which is the humble earthly element. Here in baptism that element is water. Now, water is so ordinary, and the washing of a baby is so ordinary, that many newcomers to the church, especially those who come from Reformed churches, attach no benefits to it because they have been taught that it is nothing but a sign, a symbol, or a memorial of some kind. They have taken the words of Christ and the Holy Spirit and they have told their people, Christ didn’t mean what he said. The Holy Spirit must not know what he is talking about. But let’s set that aside. For what the Spirit has said is: “baptism saves you” (1 Peter 3:21), and what the Lord Jesus Christ says is, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). And Jesus also commanded that we make disciples of all nations by baptizing (Matthew 28:19).
But “the devil is busy to delude us,” Luther says in the Large Catechism, “and lead us away from the work of God to our own works.” But we are brought from the outside in through baptism; we are made a part of the body of Christ. This is Paul’s point in this verse: whatever spiritual gifts we have, those gifts do not make us part of the body of Christ. Baptism does. The gifts are what we are assigned once we’ve entered in, like workmen who are given their tasks in the morning. When I was a painter, we would show up at the boss’s shop in the morning and he would assign us, often in pairs, to do this or that so that we would each know what tools to gather up and what to be ready for. He and my cousin Jeff would handle setting up a scaffold and would paint siding on a farmhouse. My brother Dan would do the detail work of the trim. I would crawl on the ground to clean up and paint the basement windows or some other necessary but unremarkable task. And so it is with the church. We are all part of the same crew with different assignments. We were brought in by the sovereign choice and decision of God. Paul shows that there is no distinction in God’s choice: Jew, Greek, slave, free. This is a frequent refrain of the Apostle (1 Corinthians 1:24; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 6:8; Colossians 3:11).
The idea and the statement that the church of Christ is “one body,” the body of Christ, is unparalleled in the religions of the world throughout time. There might seem to be a resemblance of the Christian church with the people of Islam, or the congregation of Buddha, or with the pagan cults of the gods in Greece or Rome, or with the Persian mystery religions. But even modern Judaism falls short of the concept of being the very body of God in the way that the New Testament and especially Paul proclaims that believers are in fact the body of Christ. The ancient church said: “Where Christ is, there is the church” (Ignatius ), and “Where the Holy Spirit is, there is the church” (Irenaeus). So any other religion will first ask: Where are the people who belong to the church? And there will be a location or a group that is seen; their church is always a visible church. But here we have to ask: “Where is Christ? Where is the Holy Spirit? Where is the Father?” And there is only one answer: Christ is truly present in the word of the gospel and in the sacrament, and the Holy Spirit is truly given through the means of grace, the gospel in word and sacrament, and it is the Father who sent the Son and who gives the Holy Spirit. So where the gospel is truly preached in all its truth and in all its purity, and where the sacraments are correctly administered, there truly is the holy Christian church, the communion of saints.
What does Paul mean by “the one Spirit to drink”? We don’t drink the water of baptism. We don’t drink the Holy Spirit’s blood in the Lord’s Supper, but Christ’s. But Jesus used this language in John 7 when he was teaching at the Feast of Tabernacles: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from with him,” (John 7:37-38), to which John adds: “By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive” (7:39). In languages where “made to drink the Spirit” is impossible to use as a metaphor, a simpler phrase is used, such as “God has put the same spirit into all our hearts” or “God has poured this one Spirit upon all of us.” Paul means that the one Holy Spirit is given to all of us, for he lives in us. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). The Spirit comes to us as a separate event from our coming to faith, and yet simultaneously as when we come to faith either through the preaching of the Gospel or the application of the Gospel in baptism. Perhaps in life we could draw the example of a child being hugged or kissed by both parents at the same time: His mother’s kiss is not his father’s kiss, and his father’s kiss is not his mother’s kiss, but both parents might kiss him at the same moment, and so he is kissed both by the one and by the other. And so faith can come and the Holy Spirit can come at the same time.
You are loved by God. He made you his own through baptism, and he sent his Holy Spirit to live and dwell within you to guide you and to sustain your faith. Keep using your gifts for God’s people. As my father-in-law, Pastor John Meyer, said: “Whenever any of you sit down with your children and talk about Jesus to them, or teach them to pray, or explain a Bible story to them, you are using the gift.”
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 12:13 Baptized and given the one Spirit