I have been learning the last few months that when reading the Bible things, like the saying goes, are not always what they seem. That what I had believed was true isn’t always the case, or at least, not the whole case.
A few days ago, I was reading I Corinthians 12 and 13. I have never before read these chapters as one. What I found when I did read them together surprised me. As I read them, I realized that the “one body” and “love” discussions we are all familiar with are actually enclosed in a discussion of the spiritual gifts. This context was a completely new for me. Paul’s one body discussion and love chapter could be applied the way we have always heard them applied in the C. of C., however, when I read them in context, they seem to be so much more.
Open your Bible with me and see what you think…
In the first part of chapter 12, Paul is answering the Corinthian’s questions regarding spiritual gifts. He tells them that, “…there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (12.6-7). Then he lists the spiritual gifts, many of which I was taught did not exist today, and again tells us “…All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (12.11).
Then Paul launches into his one body discussion (I Cor. 12.12-31). When reading this discussion in context, it seems that the Corinthians were valuing some gifts—members of the body—over each other, even to the point of saying, “’I have no need of you’” (12.21). Paul is telling them that this is not the case. Every part has its place in the body.
He then tells them that yes, God has appointed a hierarchy of gifts, or jobs, if you will, saying, “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” (12:28). Then, continuing with his previous ideas from the body discussion, he asks, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all posses gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” (12.29-30).
Here Paul is pointing out yes, some gifts, just like some parts of the body, have hierarchy over others. However, even though we don’t all posses the same gifts, all are valuable to the body, the church. Just like the body isn’t only an eye, we aren’t all prophets, teachers, or apostles. Just like we need to value all parts of the physical body, we need to value all parts of the spiritual body, even the spiritual gifts.
Hummm….do we value all gifts today? Many of the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and 13 we, at least in the C. of C., don’t even acknowledge exist. We say we value “the body,” and we do to a certain extent. We value the new Christians, we value the mature Christians, we value the elders, we take care of the sick…but do we truly value the body like Paul is talking about here? Can we be valuing and loving each other as we ought, if some with these gifts have to hide. If they are told, though they know in their hearts it isn’t true, that those type of manifestations of the Spirit don’t exist today? When we deny the Spirit in this way, aren’t we saying “I have no need of you,” and denying each other the ability to use these gifts “for the common good?” (12.7, 21)