The Interdependence of Believers
1 Corinthians 12:12-31
October 18, 2020
Prayer for Illumination:
Lord, you are the source and authority of the Church. You have brought us into union and communion with the Father through your atoning work on the cross applied to us in time by your Holy Spirit. You have spoken by your prophets for our instruction, edification, and correction. May this passage instruct us in holy living. May this passage build us up in Christ. May this passage correct our sinful thoughts and behavior. This we ask in Christ’s name, amen.
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
One of the values of American culture is independence. We take great pride in our autonomy. As a culture, we view dependence as weakness. How many of us have either gotten into trouble or struggled longer than necessary because we refused to ask for help? I know I have. Why did we refuse to get help? We didn’t want to ask for help because it would show we are not completely autonomous; it would show we are dependent on others. And that would be weakness.
The Bible speaks about the interdependence of believers. We like the idea of joining with others if we can remain independent. But the Bible says we are interdependent to one another. So often we fail to see that.
Now this failure to see the interdependent nature of believers is not new. The Corinthians failed to see that they were interdependent to one another. They valued certain gifts over others. We got a glimpse of that last week when we looked at the previous section. They valued the gifts of speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues more than every other gift. And in doing so, they treated those gifts as independent from the church. They failed to realize believers are knit together in Christ as one boy with various members performing different roles.
Like the Corinthians before us, we often fail to see the interdependence of believers. As we examine this passage we’ll see that believers form one body in Christ, that this body has many members, and that the members of interdependent to one another.
One Body in Christ
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
Paul has already told us that Christ is the head of the Church (11:3). That means two things. First, he is the source of the Church. The cross was God’s plan from the very beginning. In Genesis 3:15 God tells Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Here we have the first good news; that even though Adam and Eve had broken the covenant with God, God was going to redeem his creation through a seed of the woman. Jesus is the source of that redemption. It is through his life, death, and resurrection that he has redeemed believers. He is the source of our good standing before God.
Second, it means he is the authority over all creation, including the Church. David says in Psalm 110, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” David calls Jesus Lord. He is sovereign over David, the King of Israel. He has authority over David. In Revelation, we’re told that Jesus has authority over all creation. He is the authority over all creation, especially the Church. Because he is the authority over us, we submit to him in all things. Do you submit to Christ in all areas of your life? Do you recognize that he is head over the Church and all creation?
Now he continues with that analogy by saying that the Church, all true believers, is the body of Christ. The Church is the visible representation of Christ here on the earth. We are to resemble him as we live our lives. Jesus calls us to pick up our crosses and follow him. He calls us to die to ourselves and to live for him. As we do that, we begin to resemble him. And when people see us, they see Christ living in us. One of the greatest witnesses to the truth of the gospel is the sanctification of believers. As we grow in holiness and comfort to the image and likeness of Christ, people will see that. That will confirm the truth of the gospel.
All true believers make up the one body of Christ. Sadly, the visible body of Christ, the Church, is divided. Sometimes we have had to separate formally from others who have denied essential aspects of the gospel. But other times, we have separated over non-essential points of doctrine, socio-economic lines, or racial lines. And maybe soon we’ll separate along political lines. And in doing so, we fracture the body of Christ.
We need to remember that all who confess the catholic faith as expressed in the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds are members of true Churches. While we might have serious disagreement over doctrine, if they profess Christ as lord and savior and hold to the historic expressions of the faith then we can consider them brothers in the faith.
We need to remember that those who vote for different candidate, while still holding the same faith as us, are still part of the body of Christ. Sadly, we live in increasingly partisan times. Many think, “Unless people vote like me, they’re not Christian”. We can agree on the Christian faith and disagree on politics. We can disagree on taxes, immigration reform, and who should be in office while being Christians. Let us not disparage people over earthly politics.
We need to remember that those who come from a different culture or those with a different skin tone but profess Christ as the way, the truth, and the life are brothers and sisters in Christ. It doesn’t matter if they might speak a different language, eat different food, or wear different clothes. If they have been baptized in Christ, they have been baptized into the same body as us. Let us not make comments against them for their skin color. Let us not look down on them or consider them less than us. If you currently use racial slurs or language, stop it. Do not disparage a fellow believer. Everyone who professes the historic Christian faith belongs to Christ. And together we all make up his one body here on the earth.
A Body with Many Members
While we are one body, there are many differing members. Paul writes:
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
Paul uses the illustration of a physical body. Each of us has a physical body. We have one body but that body is made up of one head with two eyes, a nose, two ears, and mouth. We have two arms with two hands and two legs with two feet. Even though we’re one body, we are made up of these different members.
Those various members don’t perform the same function. Our eyes see. Our ears hear. Our hands grab and release. One of the things that make soccer so unique and so difficult is that it’s a sport played with feet. A foot cannot do what a hand does. It cannot grab, hold, and release like our hands can. That is what makes control and dribbling a soccer ball so difficult. Feet are different from hands.
The same is true of the Church. We are one body in Christ. But this body is made up of many different members; the body of Christ is made up of many different people with many different gifts.
As we’ve already seen, the body of Christ is made up of people from various racial and ethnic backgrounds. The Church in Corinth was made up of Greeks, Romans, and Jews. We don’t see a difference between Greeks and Romans but they were different cultures and ethnicities. Just like today there are differences between Scotts and English, Canadian and American, even if we have similar cultures. The Church is catholic, it’s worldwide. So it is composed of many different nationalities, ethnicities, and cultures. We are one but many.
The body of Christ is made up of many believers from many different nationalities and ethnicities, but it is also made up of many different gifts. God has given some prophetic gifts; gifts like preaching, teaching, and evangelism. God has given some priestly gifts; gifts like caring, counseling, healing, encouraging, and serving. God has given some kingly gifts; gifts like faith, seeing the goal and being able to lead in difficult times.
God has given all of these gifts to his Church. Sadly, we don’t always treat all gifts as valuable. We addressed that last week. But when we don’t treat all of the gifts as valuable, we often don’t treat those who have been given those gifts as equals. If we value the gift of preaching and look down on the gift of service, we tend to treat those with the gift of service as less than equal members of the body. If we value of the gift of service and look down on the gift of counseling, we look down on those with that gift.
Why do we do that? We do that because we are afraid of being considered disposable. Pastor Stephen Um says, “One of our worst fears is to be considered dispensable, disposable, or replaceable. Ironically, the way people attempt to guard against this is to inflate their view of self (i.e., ‘I am indispensable’) and deflate their view of others (i.e., ‘you are dispensable’). In other words, they inflate themselves, and they deflate others. We think some are indispensable, and others can be replaced. There is an application of business, transactional principles in the way others are evaluated, rather than an application of covenantal principles of mutual self-service.”
Don’t we do that? Don’t treat certain gifts and certain people as disposable and replaceable because they are different? Don’t we do that because we want to make sure that we are considered irreplaceable?
If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
Just as God has given us hands and feet, eyes and ears so that our bodies can function properly, he has given us a variety of believers with a variety of gifts. The presence of a hand does not diminish or replace a foot. One is not disposable and replaceable because they’re different from the other. The same is true for the gifts God has given believers and those whom he has given them to. Someone will have different gifts than the ones you have. That does not mean they are disposable or replaceable nor does it mean you are disposable and replaceable.
If we are currently doing that, we need to repent. If we have made fellow Christians feel disposable and replaceable because their gifts are different than ours, we need to go to that person and apologize. There is one body of Christ with many members and many gifts.
The Interdependence of Members
While there are many members with differing gifts, they are interdependent of one another. If your back hurts, your whole body responds. Your back hurts, so you sit and lean forward, putting your weight on your arms. Then when you go to get up, you are careful to make sure that you use your legs to stand. Your entire body responds. Even though there are many different members, they are interdependent one to another. Even though feet perform a different role than what hands do, they are interdependent working together.
The same is true in the Church. Believes are interdependent one to another. Now as Americans, we get hung up here. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone say, “I don’t need the Church. Just give me Jesus and a Bible and I’m good”. Yes we each need a Bible and should know it intimately. Yes we need Jesus in our lives. But we also need the Church.
God has given each of us gifts. But he has not given us individually all of the gifts. Paul writes, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?”
He first lists various gifts but then he gives a series of rhetorical questions. Are all apostles? He wants us to answer no. Do all possess gifts of healing? No. God has given all of these gifts and more to the Church. But he hasn’t given any individual believer all of those gifts.
I confess God has not gifted me in the area of mathematics. When I was 8, my dad would ask me the same question every Sunday after worship. He would say, “There are five rows for parking at McAuliffe’s. Each row has four spaces. How many spaces are in the parking lot at McAuliffe’s?” He’d ask me that every week. And every week I’d answer nine. While I eventually figured it out that the answer is 20, I never got passed basic algebra. God didn’t gift me in the area of mathematics but he did gift me with the ability to proclaim his word and disciple people. I am interdependent on others in regards to mathematics.
Many of us played athletics in high school. Every football team has eleven players on the field. But those eleven players have different roles. One is a quarterback, running the offense. One is a center snapping the ball, putting it into play. There players on the line protecting the quarterback and the running back. There are wide receivers who make runs down the field. All have different roles. But they are interdependent one to another. If the line doesn’t block and keep the defense back, the quarterback doesn’t have time to get the play off; the running back will be tackled in the backfield. They are interdependent upon each other.
The same is true in the Church. We are interdependent one to another. None of us have been given all of the gifts necessary for the mission that God has given his Church. We have been given the mission to make disciples of nations, teaching them all that God has taught us, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We cannot do that individually. We are not equipped to do this mission alone. To fulfill this mission, we need to work together.
The entire body of Christ needs to work together for this mission. We need people gifted with the ability to share the gospel with people. We need believers gifted with the ability learn languages so that we can translate God’s word into languages that currently do not have it. We need believers gifted with healings, both emotional and physical. We need counselors and doctors caring for the well-being of Christians and non-Christians. We need believers serving one another, caring for their needs in times of distress. God has given us all of these gifts for the purpose of sharing his gospel with people and building up one another in the faith.
Maybe you still think that you aren’t interdependent with other believers. Let’s think about it like this. The Church is the body that God has given so that we might grow as Christians. The Church is not just Sunday worship. Sunday worship is important for our growth. We, believers, are the Church. And as we gather together for worship, fellowship, and study we grow. We grow in understanding of God’s word. But we also grow in sanctification. Other believers get to know us and love us. They speak into our lives, calling us to repent of sin.
God has given us fellow believers to encourage us in difficult moments with the gospel and rejoice with us in good times reminding us of God’s provision. In the book of Ruth, we see Naomi at her lowest. Her husband and her children have died. She has just moved back home to Bethlehem after years in Moab. When she returns she tells her friends to call her Marah because she is no longer pleasant, she is instead bitter. Her friends surround her. Ultimately God provides an heir through Boaz and Ruth. As Naomi holds that baby on her knee, her friends surround her and rejoice with her.
We mourn with those who mourn. We sit with one another and remind ourselves that nothing can separate us from the love of God found in Christ Jesus, not difficult times, not even death. We comfort each other with the good news that believers belong body and soul, in life and death to Christ. God has given us fellow believers to mourn with each other.
But he’s given us one to another for the good times as well. When we gather to celebrate, we want to celebrate with others. And in those moments they can remind us of how God has blessed us and provided for us. Jules and I are getting married in a few months. And I’m excited not least of to have you there celebrating with us, reminding me of how God has provided a good woman.
Maybe you’re objecting thinking that technology has progressed to the point to where you can get the best teaching online so you don’t need the local church to get good teaching. True, there are some great preachers and teachers out there. And listening to them can help supplement the teaching you get here.
But if you only participate in Church virtually, you will miss something. You will miss fellowship with other believers. You will miss the various gifts that God has given to other believers. I’ve met believers from China who don’t know any other Christians. Their biggest longing is for another Christian. They know that belonging to a local church has important benefits, such as fellowship. They know that other believers have gifts they don’t; gifts that help in the proclamation of the gospel. They know that even though there are many believers with differing gifts, they belong to the same body.
 Stephen Um 1 Corinthians (Illinois; Crossway, 2015), 224-225.
 Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 1.