Summary: Diversity in unity. The Oneness of the body of Christ.


1 Corinthians 12:4-14.

‘No-one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit,’ argued the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 12:3b). The Holy Spirit bears witness of Jesus (cf. John 15:26). The Holy Spirit only ever glorifies Jesus (cf. John 16:14). For us to say ‘Jesus is Lord’ is to acknowledge that Jesus is God!

1. Diversity in unity (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).

The word “diversities” appears three times in these three verses. The overall structure is Trinitarian, mentioning (in successive verses) “Spirit” (i.e. Holy Spirit), “Lord” (i.e. Jesus), and “God” (i.e. Father). These three are one God.

The Greek word used for “gifts” in 1 Corinthians 12:4 is “charismata”. This contains the word ‘Charis’ which translates as ‘grace’. So, the gifts of the Spirit are gifts given by the grace of God.

“Administrations” - or literally ‘diaconates’ or ‘services’ (1 Corinthians 12:5) - speaks of there being various ways in which we can be of service to one another. This is in keeping with Jesus’ Himself, who ‘came to serve’ (cf. Mark 10:45) and taught us to do likewise (cf. John 13:14). The Lordship of Jesus which we confess (1 Corinthians 12:3b) is, after all, a Lordship of service (cf. Philippians 2:5-8).

“Operations” could be rendered ‘in-workings’ (1 Corinthians 12:6). We are reminded that ‘it is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure’ (cf. Philippians 2:13). ‘Greater is He that is in you’, Christian, ‘than he that is in the world’ (cf. 1 John 4:4).

2. Gifts for the common good, given to individuals (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).

The gifts, though given to individuals (1 Corinthians 12:11; cf. 2 Timothy 1:6), are given for the “profit” of the community of believers (1 Corinthians 12:7; cf. 1 Peter 4:10). The expression “by the Spirit” or “by the same Spirit” is repeated several times in these five verses, reminding us of the Sovereignty of the Holy Spirit in the distribution of gifts.

3. The oneness of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-14).

The bookends to these three verses emphasise the fact that there is one body and many members (1 Corinthians 12:12a), and that the body does not consist of one member but of many (1 Corinthians 12:14). Sandwiched between these two complementary propositions is the startling statement, “and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: SO ALSO IS CHRIST” (1 Corinthians 12:12b). As Paul explains later in the chapter, ‘Now you (all) are the body of Christ, and members in particular’ (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:27).

In 1 Corinthians 12:13 we are provided with two metaphors: “By one Spirit we all into one body were baptised… and all into one Spirit were made to drink.” The ‘who?’ of this experience is shown in the centre of the verse: “whether Jews or Greeks, whether bondmen or free” - i.e. the Church, which is the body of Christ, ‘all one in Christ Jesus’ (cf. Galatians 3:28).

Baptism is passive, something done to us. But drinking is active, indicating our need to go on infusing the Holy Spirit (so to speak) on a daily basis. This is accomplished through reading and meditating upon the Scriptures, through prayer, and in the exercising of our gifts in a worship context.

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