1 Corinthians 12:14–20
For the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body," it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body," it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body.
What we focused on last week in this chapter was verse 7, "But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." I stressed that every person in the body of Christ is designed in a unique way to manifest something of the Spirit of God that no one else can. When the special grace of salvation mixes with the common grace of personhood there is a unique manifestation in human life of the Spirit of God.
This is what the church is for in the world. This is our calling. We are to pursue the manifesting of God. And when we do, what happens is the common good. "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." We stressed that these two goals are not at odds: the common good of the body through the manifesting of God; and the manifesting of God for the common good. The good of people and the glory of God happen together through faith in Christ.
Ailments in the Body
Now there are some ailments in the body that keep this from happening the way it should. Paul deals with one of these in verses 14–20 and another in verses 21–27. The one is feelings of uselessness (today) and the other is feelings of self-sufficiency (next Sunday). When members of the body feel useless or when they feel self-sufficient—when they say, "You don't need me," or, "I don't need you"—then the body will not manifest the Spirit and produce the common good the way it should.
So let's look at the first ailment today and see what Paul's diagnosis and remedy are.
The First Diagnosis: Feelings of Uselessness
First, let's read how Paul diagnoses the ailment. The diagnosis is in verses 15–16,
If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body," it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body," it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.
Now what's the ailment here? It's the feeling or the opinion that if you're not like somebody else, you are useless. Paul quotes two samples of this ailment.
In one case (v. 15) the person with foot-gifts and foot-graces looks at the person with hand-gifts and hand-graces and says, "I am not like that, and so I am not any good to the body. I may as well not even be a part of the body." His comparison makes him feel useless—like he doesn't belong, like he has no worthwhile role to play.
In the other case (v. 16) the person with ear-gifts and ear-graces looks at the person with eye-gifts and eye-graces and says, "I am not like that, and so I am not any good to the body. I may as well not even be a part of the body."
Now that's the diagnosis of one ailment that threatens the body: feelings of uselessness. I am not needed. This body can get along without me. My gifts are not important.
The Remedy: Three Truths
Now what is Paul's remedy? What does he prescribe? He prescribes reality. He puts over against this defeatist conviction of uselessness three truths.
1. The Invalidity of the Conviction of Uselessness
The first truth is that the conviction of uselessness is not the truth.
This is what he says in verses 15 and 16. "If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,' it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body." Paul boldly and forthrightly denies the conclusion. You may make the comparison between yourself and another and conclude that you are useless, but your conclusion is wrong.
The same in verse 16: "If the ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,' it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body." You may think it and you may feel it, but it is not true. Arguing yourself into a sense of uselessness in the body of Christ is invalid arguing. The conclusion does not stand. If you are a part of the body of Christ, you are not useless, but rather are meant to give a unique manifestation of the Spirit of God.
2. The Necessity of Diversity
The second part of Paul's remedy for feelings of uselessness is to show that the very existence of the body of Christ depends on the diversity we are resisting when we compare ourselves with others and conclude that our differentness is useless.
In other words, the ailment of feeling useless in the body is opposed to the very concept of the body, because it wants to be like another rather than different.
But Paul shows in verses 14 and 19–20 that the body would not even exist if this attitude prevailed. Verse 14 is basically repeated in verses 19 and 20. Verse 14 says, "For the body is not one member, but many." That's what it means to be a body.
The first part of that is repeated in verse 19: "And if they were all one member, where would the body be?" That repeats, "The body is not one member." In other words, the body would not exist if there were no diversity. If all were one, there would be no body.
Then verse 20 says: "But now there are many members, but one body." That's a repetition of the last word of verse 14, "The body is not one member, but many."
So the point of verses 14 and 19–20 is that the very existence of the body depends on having diversity of members—"member" means "a constituent part having a function of it own" (C. Hodge, First Corinthians, p. 256). So a person who says, "I'm useless because my function is not like the function of another," is saying, "The church should not be a body with 'many' diverse members. It should only have a few members and I should be like a lot of others." But the truth is (v. 20): "There are many members, but one body." That's what it means to be a body.
3. God's Good and Wise Design
The third part of Paul's remedy is the most important. It's found in verses 17–18. Someone might say, "I heard what you said, but it's not compelling. My feeling of uselessness does not call the body into question, because the body is still the body even though it has two similar hands and two similar eyes and eight similar fingers and two thumbs. And so it would not hurt anything—the body would still be the body—if I could be more like someone else." To that Paul responds with verses 17–18:
If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
[So far that sounds like the remedy we already read in verse 19; and the person who feels useless could say, "I didn't say I wanted the whole body to be an eye, and I didn't say I wanted the whole body to be an ear; I just don't like being what I am, that's all. I'd like to be something different." But now Paul gives the most important remedy. Verse 18:]
But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as he desired.
The third part of the remedy is trusting that God is sovereign in his designing all the parts of the body and that he does it for our best interest and for manifestation of the Spirit.
If we say we are useless, we not only say no to the idea of the body, but worse, we say no to God. We don't trust him. That was the bottom line last week in verse 11 and it is the bottom line this week in verse 18. There Paul said, "One and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as he wills." Just as he wills. The same in verse 18: "God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as he desired." Just as he desired.
So Paul's remedy for feelings of uselessness in the body is first to say that they are feelings or opinions that do not accord with truth. They are out of sync with reality (vv. 15–16). Second, to think that you should be like others in the body rather than having a unique function of your own is to go against the very idea of a body made up of many diverse members (vv. 14, 19–20). Third, and most important, resenting your gifts and your unique manifestation of the Spirit is a way of not trusting God. Since verse 18 says he put all the parts where they are with their unique functions, to say that you are useless is to say that God is weak or mistaken or evil: he is not sovereign, not wise, or not good. Like all issues it comes down to a radically God-focused issue—do you trust God?
Then Why Ask for Gifts We Don't Have?
Now let me close with a question that I will pick up tonight in our study of Romans 12. If God is the one who puts us in the body the way he wills and gives gifts according to his good pleasure, is it then dishonoring to him to ask for gifts we do not now have? If he designs the body as he wills, then why should we earnestly desire spiritual gifts that we don't have (as 1 Corinthians 14:1 says we should)?
In a word I would answer, it is possible to long for spiritual gifts that we don't have without saying the ones we do have are useless. It is possible to seek a gift for tomorrow without calling into question the wisdom of God in giving us those we have today.
There is such a thing as dissatisfied contentment. And learning to mingle contentment in the sovereign goodness of God with the dissatisfaction of holy yearnings and prayers is the key to a growing Christian life. More on that tonight.