As we look out at the world, we see people divided based on ethnicity, politics, preferences, economic status, family background, and other factors. But this shouldn’t be the case when it comes to the church. Those who are in Christ are united by his Spirit as part of one body. God has gifted us in a variety of different ways, and as David Platt points out in this sermon on 1 Corinthians 12:12–31, this variety of gifts serves a much greater purpose—to exalt Jesus Christ above everything. This glorious purpose is larger than any one of our individual lives.
If you were to ask me, “What makes the church different, unique, more beautiful than any other community in the world?” here’s the first thing I would say: the church exalts Jesus Christ above everything. This is so critical, because there is no one and nothing else in this world worth exalting above everything. There’s one group of people that says, “Him above everything.” Let me show you this.
Jump back up to 1 Corinthians 12:12 where this passage starts. God’s Word says, “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.” You see “body” mentioned three times here, right? Then you see “members” mentioned twice. If you read from this verse all the way down to the end of the chapter, you will see “body” or “member” or “part” mentioned 36 different times. This whole passage is about the church being the body of Christ, made up of individual followers of Christ being members of the body. We’ll talk about that imagery more in a minute.
1 Corinthians 12:12–31 Reminds Us that the Church is Unique
What’s amazing about this language in this verse is that it’s making a comparison. Do you see it? “Just as this…so is that.” The comparison is: just as you have a body made up of many members, so you have Christ. So Christ is like a body made up of many members. Are you following what God is saying to us right now in 1 Corinthians 12:12? God is telling us that Jesus so identifies with His followers that He calls them members of His body. Think about that language. Do you identify with members of your body? Yes. These are my arms, legs, ears, eyes, nose. Jesus says, “That’s how I view you, Christian. You’re a part—a member—of Me. I’m united to you.”
This makes the church utterly unique and totally different than anything else in this world. The church is united together as the body of Jesus Christ.
Then the next verse takes it a step deeper. Verse 13 says, “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.” So the Spirit of Jesus makes us one body, no matter who we are—Jew, Greek, slave, free—it doesn’t matter. All were made into one Spirit. Are you getting the imagery here? Jesus is saying to us right now, “You have My Spirit in you as a body.” This is powerful imagery.
Do you remember the illustration I’ve used before about who we are in Christ, our identity and security in Christ, using these plastic containers? I want you to follow with me in case you have not seen it; and if you have seen this before, we’re going to take it a step deeper.
Let’s start with this one right here. This is going to be you with a stick figure on the side. This is your life. When you become a follower of Jesus, the Bible says Christ comes to live in you, so I’m going to write Christ on this other container. Colossians 1:27 says, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” And He’s “sealed” forever, according to Ephesians 1. For all of eternity, Christ in you. Ten billion years from now—Christ in you, hope of glory. That’s who we are.
First Corinthians 1:30 says you, as a Christian, are “in Christ.” So let’s take another container here and write “Christ” on this one. Then we’ll put Christ in you. Now we have a little clearer picture of who you are, using these containers.
This is not the purpose of the sermon today, but let this be a fresh word for many of you today who are walking through all kinds of challenges in your life right now. You’re probably thinking, “I don’t even know how to think about challenges in the church.” I don’t know all you’ve walked through this last week, the sleepless nights you’ve had. I don’t know all you’ve walked through this last year, or what’s going on with your health, your family, your marriage, your kids, your work—whatever it might be. I don’t know all the ways the adversary is trying to come at you, trying to discourage you, trying to break you down. I just want to encourage you in a fresh way that when the adversary comes after you, He’s got to get through Christ to get to you, and he does not have a good track record there. He thought he had one until three days later when Jesus rose from the dead, crushing the serpent, Satan himself. Then if for some reason he were to be able to get through Christ, he would still come to you and have to face the supernatural Holy Spirit of God inside of you. So I would say, no matter what arrows or attacks the adversary brings against you, you have nothing to fear when you are in Christ and Christ is in you. So be encouraged today, even though this is not ultimately the point, but I want you to see what 1 Corinthians is teaching us.
First Corinthians 6 talks about how our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, Christ dwelling in us. But 1 Corinthians 3:16 says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” Does that just mean He dwells in my body like 1 Corinthians 6 is talking about? No. It’s
interesting that in 1 Corinthians 3, “you” in both places is plural. That means he’s not just talking about God’s Spirit in individual followers of Jesus. He’s talking about God’s Spirit in the church. If you back up to 1 Corinthians 3, you’ll find that the whole chapter is addressing divisions in the church, and how different people were tempted to get into different camps and different groups. God says, “What are you doing? My Spirit dwells in all of you together as a body.”
Verse 21, “So let no one boast in men…” This is talking about different leaders. He goes on, “For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” So the picture here is not just Christ is in you as an individual. Yes, that’s true, but in an even deeper way, 1 Corinthians is teaching that Christ is in you as a church. Christ is in us.
Revelation 1 says He’s in the middle of His church. Right now, in this gathering of the church, He’s in our midst. He is in us, then all of us together are in Him. When we live with this kind of perspective, it changes the way we relate to each other. We don’t work toward division in the body. We are the body of Christ. We care for one another. Why? Because we’re with Christ. He’s in us. We’re in Him.
Do you see the picture of what God is saying to us right now and how this makes the church utterly unique, exalting Jesus Christ above everything? There’s no other group like this in the world. Every other group in the world unites under a particular platform, ideology or philosophy, or a particular way of looking at the world. Washington, DC is filled with groups like that. Not us. Not the church.
1 Corinthians 12:12–31 Reminds Us Christ Called the Church
There’s only one group in whom the Spirit of Christ dwells—the body of Christ called the church. It’s completely unique and infinitely beautiful. Why? Because it’s His body. Do not ever confuse the church of Jesus Christ with any other group, party or assembly in this world. The church is utterly alone, because it exists to exalt one Name, the Name that is above every name, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last, the Bread of Life.
Jesus Christ is our Creator, our Deliverer, our Everlasting Father. He’s the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, the Great High Priest, the Holy One. He’s the image of the invisible God, the Judge of the living and the dead. He is King of kings, Lord of lords. He’s majestic, mighty. No one compares to Him, the only begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. He’s the power of God. He’s the resurrection and the life. He’s the all-sufficient Savior, supreme sacrifice. He is the way, the truth and the life. We exist to exalt His name above all. Over everything. He’s the One Who makes us beautiful.
So let’s guard this beauty with everything we’ve got from every attempt of the adversary to focus our attention elsewhere. Jesus is in us. We’re in Him. We have nothing to fear when we exalt Jesus Christ above everything. That’s the first thing that makes the body of Christ, the church, utterly different and eternally beautiful.
The Church Thrives Because of Our Differences
Second, what makes the body of Christ different, unique and beautiful? The church thrives, not in spite of our differences, because of our differences. This is what makes the church beautiful. Let me clarify what this sentence is saying, then I want to show you that it comes straight from God’s Word.
There are many groups of people in the world that would say, “We have a lot of differences, but in spite of those differences, we still get together to do this or that”—as if their differences are negative and unfortunate. It would be nice if they weren’t there, but they deal with them, press on and work together anyway. But that is not how the church views differences. We don’t actually wish we were all the same. We’re actually thankful we are different. Obviously we’re the same when it comes to the gospel, submission to God’s Word and exaltation of His name. But we’re different in so many other ways that are so good.
Let me show you this, straight from God’s Word, starting in 1 Corinthians 12:14. About the body of Christ, God says:
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 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. 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. 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? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
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.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 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, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.
See these verses in context, celebrating different members as part of one body, in this imaginary dialogue between different parts of a human body. Just think about what we know—or more importantly, what God knows—about the human body. That’s the imagery He’s giving us. So let’s think about this.
The human body has over 200 bones that are stronger than steel. Did you know that a block of bone the size of a matchbox can support 18,000 pounds of weight? These bones are linked together by about 900 ligaments and 4,000 tendons to help them move. A lot of these bones are in your feet where you also have about 8,000 nerves. They’re obviously attached to your legs, which help you stand, walk or dance. Michael Flatley from Riverdance had his legs insured in 1999 for $40 million. You’ve never thought to insure your legs, have you?
Your legs are attached to other parts of your body via your torso, which protects your internal organs, including your heart, lungs and kidneys. Your heart pumps 60-100,000 miles of blood vessels throughout your body every moment. If your blood vessels were stretched out, they would reach around the world three times.
Coming out of your torso are your arms and hands, including your fingers. Did you know that none of us has perfectly straight fingers? All of our palms have tens of thousands of touch receptors, nerve endings. We all operate according to the direction of our brains, where about 100 billion neurons travel at speeds up to 250 miles per hour, which is about how fast the Venom GT went when it first set a world record. Don’t you feel sometimes like this is all racing around everywhere inside your head? Your head, by divine design, includes two eyes, two ears, a nose, one mouth, all working together to create sight, taste, touch, hearing and smell, making the human body arguably the most fascinating living form on earth. The mouth can even eat the toe. Do you get the point? The beauty of the human body is not formed in spite of its different parts, but precisely because of its different parts.
God is saying, “I’m the One Who made the body that way. I’m the One Who thought of a hundred billion neurons in your brain and 8,000 nerves in your foot. I’m the One Who did that and I created My church the same way.” Do you see the language? Verse 18, “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” God designed it this way. Verse 24, “God has so composed the body, giving great honor to the part that lacked it.”
Now, remember the context for this that we studied last week. First Corinthians 12:1 starts by talking about how God gives spiritual gifts to every single member of the church, to every follower of Jesus, and not all those gifts are the same. Not all those gifts are perceived in the same way. I should add that the Greek word for gifts here is charismata. Charis means grace; ma means gifts. Grace gifts. This is beautiful. God in His creativity has given unique expressions of His grace to different people, all of them necessary in order for the beauty of the body of Christ to shine. Different people, from different backgrounds and perspectives—remember verses 12 and 13: Jew, Greek, slave, free—with different expressions of God’s grace in their lives, all coming together in one body, where their beauty shines, not because they’re all alike, but because they’re all different, yet they’re part of one body with one Spirit.
As I was thinking about this, my mind immediately went to this beautiful body God has composed at MBC. Think about Gene Hunt. Do you know this brother is a retired rocket scientist who is fluent in seven different languages? I remember running into Gene one day and he had all these notecards with him. He was memorizing passages of Scripture in seven different languages. Brother, I would say one is sufficient. He’s leading our church in prayer and missions.
Think about Cheryl Stokes who shares the gospel with everybody she meets and also works with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, helping broken boys and girls become beautiful. Think of Tim Gorman, a retired two-star Marine fighter pilot who used to be over the entire region of Africa. That’s who you want to go on mission with you to Ethiopia. He loves teaching God’s Word and serving in every way he can. On a mission trip to Ethiopia together and taking pictures for us was none other than pastor Todd, a retired Navy SEAL. We’ll just say he has a special set of skills. What about Ewat, from Ethiopia, sharing the gospel as a nurse here in DC, also known to serve elsewhere? Or how about Michael? This brother sings and plays guitar in our worship team here at Tysons. What people don’t know while he’s singing and playing guitar is that this brother is—and I don’t use this term casually—a genius ceramics specialist. Only a thousand or so people have his job in the world, specializing in ceramics for everything from toilets to rocket engines. He is helping all of our lives. Or did you know the mysterious Jay from Jay’s Wintry Mix, is a member of MBC Loudoun? Nearly 70,000 people across the DMV are getting their weather in the winter from the mysterious Jay. I won’t mention his last name so he can keep his secret.
Or how about Kate from Arlington who grew in faith here in this church and served on staff? We sent her out not long ago to the Middle East, where she’s gone through all kinds of health challenges, but has persevered in sharing the gospel in a really hard place.
Or Patrick, one of our elders, whose full-time job is a dentist, who leads an Esau ministry while also working to get the gospel into some of the darkest places in the world.
Or how about Marissa, known for her “amens” during sermons in this room? She’s always coming up to me in her wheelchair out in that lobby, saying, “How can I help you or somebody else?” I could go on and on and on, but I trust you get it. Do you see the beauty of the body of Christ that He has made us members of? What a joy to be a pinky in this body, with unique grace from God! I haven’t actually talked about spiritual gifts here yet, but don’t miss the point. The church is a body where every single person possesses unique spiritual grace, for what reason? We saw last week that it’s for the building up of this body. We love that we’re not all like each other. Our different grace gifts make the body of Christ beautiful.
The Church Exists for a Mission Larger than Any One of Our Individual Lives
The third and final picture that makes the church as the body of Christ different, unique and beautiful, according to 1 Corinthians 12, is that the church exists for a mission larger than any one of our individual lives. This is what makes the body of Christ beautiful. It reminds us every week when we come together that we’re part of something bigger than ourselves. I want to show you this in two ways in God’s Word here.
One, the church is on a mission to care for each other in a world of inevitable hurt. That’s where we started today in verses 24-26:
24 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.
Is that not beautiful? This is a picture of a people so bound together that they experience the highs and lows in life as if they were in each other’s shoes. So when you rejoice, it’s like I’m rejoicing. When you’re hurting, it’s like I’m hurting.
Then let’s look beyond ourselves. So many people around us are in need of the gospel, while so many people with the gospel go back and forth at each other. Surely that is not God’s design for the body of Christ. God has given, as we saw last week, supernatural gifts with supernatural power. When you look at the end of 1 Corinthians 12, you see this list. We don’t have time to dive into all this means today, but just get the overall feel. God has given apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles and gifts of healing, helping, administering and tongues—a wide variety of grace gifts. Again, they’re not all the same, but all of them join together for the purpose of demonstrating Christ and His love—the good news of Who He is and what He has done, the gospel—to a world that desperately needs it.
For those of you who are exploring Christianity, more than anything else, I pray that you will know that the God of the universe loves you so much. Even though you have sinned against Him, as we all have—we’ve all turned away from God and His ways to ourselves and our own ways (Isaiah 53:6).— Even though we all deserve eternal judgment before Him, God loves you so much that He sent Jesus Christ to pay the price for the sins of anyone who will trust in Him to forgive them of their sins and give them eternal life with Him.
God invites you to trust in Jesus Christ today and be a part of the body of Christ. You in Him, Him in you; together a part of a people unlike any other group in this world, a uniquely diverse people from every nation, tribe and language, with all kinds of unique grace gifts, who come together to exalt the name of Jesus above everything and to spread the love of Jesus everywhere. This is the church, the body of Christ, and there is nothing else like it.
Will you bow your heads with me before God? During this moment before God, let me ask if you have placed your faith in Jesus to forgive you of your sins, to reconcile you to relationship with God and have eternal life with God? Do you know for sure that if you were to die today on your way home that you would spend eternity with God in heaven? If the answer to that question is not a resounding yes in your heart, I invite you to let this be the moment you say to God. Simply pray “Yes, God, I’ve sinned against You. But I believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sin and rose from the grave so that I can have eternal life. Today I place my faith in Jesus. I trust You with my life. I want to be a part of Your body.” O God, would You bring about faith like that into hearts right now, in individual lives that You have planned to be here today? And for all of us in whose hearts You have worked that miracle of faith, we say together, “Thank You for the undeserved privilege and indescribable honor of being a member of the body of Christ.” We are overwhelmed right now. We should be in hell right now. But here we are, celebrating Your life in us and the opportunity to be part of a body that’s joined together under You, the One Who will never, ever fail us.
We love You, Jesus. We worship You, Jesus. We exalt You, Jesus. You’re the head of the church. We ask for Your help especially during these days. Jesus, please help and guard us. You’ve spoken so clearly to us today. Thank You for Your Word. We love Your Word. We love how it speaks to where we are. We thank You for ordaining that we would be in this text on this day.
So help us so there would be no division in the body, but that we might care for one another. Make us the church You’ve composed, arranged, designed us to be for our good, for the spread of the gospel in the world and ultimately for Your glory. We pray all these things together in the name of Jesus. And all of the body of Christ said together, “Amen.”