1 Corinthians 12:12-20 – Church Membership (For, If, Now)

Translation and Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS, 19 July 2009


What would you think about a basketball player who said to his/her coach, “You know, I’m not really into this whole ‘team thing’... To be honest, I really don’t care if the team wins a single game. I just want to be a great player. I want to perfect my game and be the best who’s ever played my position.”… What would you think about a follower of Christ who said, “You know, I’m not really into this whole body of Christ thing. To be honest, I really don’t really care whether the local church sinks or swims. I just want to be the best Christian I can possibly be. I want to walk as close to God as I possibly can. I want to experience Your power and do amazing things for the kingdom.” (Steve Ratliffe)


Maybe you’ve wondered, “How can an insignificant person like me break in to the inner circle of the church? How can I get better fellowship here?” (Jack Arnold) Well, I Cor 12 has good news for you! It comes in the form of 3 “for’s,” 5 “if’s,” and 2 “now’s.


11. But one and the same Spirit is energizing all these,

            variously apportioning to each individual just as He purposes.

12. For exactly as the body is a unit and has many members,

            yet all the members of the body, being many, are one body,

            thus also the Christ,

13. for in one Spirit also

            we ourselves were all baptized into one body –

                        whether Jews, whether Greeks,

                        whether slaves, whether free –

            and we were all drunk in by one Spirit.

14. For also the body is not one member but rather many.

15. If the foot should happen to say,

            “Because I am not a hand, I am not of this body,”

            it is not by this [statement] not of this body!

16. And if the ear should happen to say,

            “Because I am not an eye, I am not of this body,”

            it is not by this [statement] not of this body!

17. If the whole body was an eye, what about the hearing?

If the whole was hearing, what about the smelling?

            18. But actually, God placed the members – each one of them – in the body

                        just as He willed.

19. Now, if all were existing as one member, where would the body be?

            20. But actually there are many members, yet one body.


A) 3 For’s

  1. “For” #1 in v.12 – Answers WHO: (Who is in the body of the church?)

·         v. 11 ended “one and the same Spirit apportions to each individual just as He purposes.”

·         v.12 says this is because Christ is just like a single body with many parts. There is a single bodily unit and a singular Holy Spirit, but there are varieties of gifts just as there are varieties of members of the body of Christ.

·         In Act 9:4b, Jesus equated Himself with the church that Saul was persecuting when He said, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” and in Eph 1:23 the church is called the “fullness” of Christ.

·         We also see something amazing in v. 13 – Who is in the body? Both Jews & Greeks, slave & free.

o       In John 10:16, Jesus told His disciples that He was about to join the Gentiles with the Jews in His church, “I also have other sheep, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice: and they shall become one flock, one shepherd.”

o       Division across ethnic lines or class lines impoverishes the church and works against Jesus’ plan to bless all nations!

o       Example: They say the Sunday morning worship hour is the most segregated hour in America. It may be somewhat of an overstatement, and there are understandable cultural reasons, but still, it should make us stop and think.

o       Why is our church mostly white and Manhattan Christian Fellowship black? Some of us are planning to join them this evening for the dedication service of their new church building. That’s a good step.

o       My college church in Chattanooga was about 1/3 black and 2/3 white. Worship was great fun because we had leaders who thought hard about combining the best of our different cultures to worship God together. That church had bums off the street, middle-class rednecks, and rich college kids all worshipping together. It took work to maintain unity, but it was a wonderful church community.

o       Applications: We may not be prime candidates for a multi-ethnic church, but we can at least do two things in response to our conviction that the church is one body:

1.      First, we can welcome people who are different from us into the church. Start by talking with new people in the church as soon as the service is over rather than starting into conversations right away with already-made friends. Seek to understand what will make other people comfortable in our fellowship. And if you are new or feeling different, don’t make everybody else do all the work, do your part to try to get to know people. And talk with me if there is a song you know or worship tradition that you love that you’d like to see us incorporate into our worship!

2.      We must talk and act like the various Christians of various denominations around town are all part of the same religious movement. Last year our podiatrist said, “You are Christian? How come there are so many different churches? Christians can’t get along with each other?” I think we could get along better even if we don’t intend to all join in one ecumenical body. That means no bashing other churches or Christians, but thinking and speaking the best of them. It also means welcoming the differences in our Christian worship traditions and seeking to understand how they can be Biblical and God-honoring. (If they’re not, that’s another matter, but give the benefit of the doubt for a long as you can.)

  1. “For” #2 in v.13 – Answers HOW: (How do you get into the body of the church?)

·         Some people believe that you get into the church by being born into a churched family. This is certainly a common condition upon which children are recognized as being in the church, but it is not HOW they get into the church.

·         Some people believe that you get into the church by paying money or signing a roll. No dice!

·         Some people believe that you get into the church by being baptized with water. However, no physical action on our part can unite us to Christ.

·         The Bible says here in v.13 that you get in because God the Holy Spirit does two things to you: baptizes, and drinks. In other words, you get in by an act of God, not by your actions.

1.      “We were all baptized by one Spirit:”

o       “I baptized with water, but He will baptize with the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 3:11), said John

o       This baptism is a one-time event, as the Aorist (Past) tense of this verb indicates.

o       To be baptized into someone is to become identified with that person, just as Paul said earlier in 10:2 that the people of Israel “were baptized into Moses.”

o       The Bible never commands us to be baptized by the Spirit, but we are commanded to “be filled with the Spirit” in Eph 5:18-20 “be not drunk with wine, wherein is riot, but be filled with the Spirit; 19 speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.”

3.      Note, by the way, that there is no mention of speaking in tongues in the description of being filled with the Spirit. Baptism of the Spirit did not involve speaking in tongues for Jesus (Luke 4:1), Elizabeth (Luke 1:41), Zacheriah (1:67), Stephen (Acts 6:5), or Barnabus (Acts 11:24) either.

o       “Baptism of the Spirit” is speaking of God choosing to set His blessing upon you, settling His Holy Spirit on your heart to convict it of sin and turn it to trust Jesus as your savior. This is also called “regeneration” or being “born again”

4.      Tit 3:5 “not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit

o       This work of God in the spiritual realm is responded to in a new believer in the physical realm with water baptism, which is a “sign” of what has happened spiritually and a “seal” that brings closure in the physical realm to the spiritual action of God.

o       The community of God also responds to this new relationship by recording the membership of the new person in a physical record (See paper: “A Biblical Basis for Formal Church Membership”)

2.      “We were all made to drink into [of] one Spirit/given the one Spirit to drink.”

o       This is the only place in the Bible where this word “drink” is in the passive voice, so, even though it sounds strange, I think it is worth considering the translation “we were all drunk in by one Spirit.”

o       Whether it’s the Spirit drinking us in, or us drinking the Spirit in, the picture is of us becoming totally integrated with God’s Spirit, just as in the physical realm we drink in water and it becomes an integral part of our flesh and blood.

o       Rom 8:9-11 “But y’all are not in the flesh but in the Spirit (if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you). But if any man does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His. 10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall give life also to your mortal bodies through His Spirit that dwells in you.” (Cf. 1 Cor 2:12, 2:16, 6:19)

o       We respond to this work of God of spiritually filling/enveloping us with His Spirit by taking the Lord’s Supper – eating the physical “signs” of the spiritual presence of God, and thus “sealing” the action of God, bringing closure to His spiritual action by our action in the physical realm.

  1. “For” #3 in v.14 – Answers WHY: (Why do we have to be unified?)

·         Because the body is not one part but many parts – many members

·         Because of the diversity, we have to work at unity.

·         If we do not maintain unity, we misrepresent God to the world.

§         We are saying, “God is not one because we are not one.”

§         We are saying, “God does not bring peace because we are not at peace.”

§         We are saying, “God is not for your type because we are only for our type.”

·         We have home-schoolers, Christian Schoolers, and Public schoolers – all three – in this congregation. Can homeschoolers, Christian schoolers, and public schoolers walk together in Christ? They’d better, but it takes work:

§         We have to be considerate of the different family schedules that result from our different schooling methods and figure out how to spend time together anyway.

§         We also need to avoid careless and untrue generalizations that people like to say to defend their schooling method. (At the store a lady asked one of my children what they would recommend for her grandson who was about their age. Without thinking, our kid said, “I like these kinds of books, but your grandson might not be up to that reading level if he’s in public school. I’m homeschooled.” You see I have my own problems!)

·         Can Rednecks and Professionals, Mid-westerners and Southerners, Blacks and Whites walk together in Christ? Yes, but it means sharing cultures and bending our cultural energies to worship Christ.

B) 5 if’s

·         What happens when we fail to recognize that we are part of something larger than ourselves?

  1. v.15 – If the foot happens to say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body/I am not a part of/I do not belong to the body”
  2. v. 16 – If the ear happens to say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of this body!”

o       Here we have a part of the body wishing to have nothing to do with the rest of the body because of some unrealistic expectation.

o       What happens when your ear gets chopped off? Unless you name is Malchus (John 18:10), that ear shrivels up and dies because it is no longer connected to the head which gives it lifeblood.

o       When we fail to recognize that we are part of a larger body, lack of fellowship and feelings of alienation and insignificance result, and we shrivel up and die.

o       Actually, your statements and your opinions about not wanting to be associated any more with the church can not dissolve your membership in the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit is the one who decides whether you are a member or not, and your membership is recognized and recorded by the church and is not dissolved except by the church. If you step away from the church, relational and covenantal bonds are still there to hold you accountable.

§         If you never take the step of membership in this church, you can quit attending one Sunday, and I’ll probably call you, but there never was a real covenantal relationship, and so there never will be real accountability.

§         If you are a member of this church and you disappear from fellowship, you will be held accountable. The elders and other members will do everything they can to bring healing to you and restore the relationship. If you don’t respond to positive efforts to restore you, church discipline will be instituted in which you might ultimately be excommunicated, declared that you are not a member of the body of Christ. A member of our church can’t disconnect himself from the church by simply saying “I am not of this body,” the church body with which you took membership vows is also a party in the covenant and you are not released from that covenantal relationship without their agreement.

o       Do you ever feel like you aren’t quite part of the inner circle in this church? Do you ever feel alienated and belittled in church? This is because you are not believing that you are an important and necessary part of the body of Christ.

o       (Now, there may be foolish Christians who have made you feel unwelcome, and that’s another matter that I expect to get into with the next passage.)

o       Comparing yourself to others will only bring harm.

§         Mark Linville might be sitting there looking at Carl play his cello and thinking, “Boy, here I am setting out chairs on Sundays before church; I wish I could get up there and play skillfully like Carl. I bet no one would notice if I just didn’t show up and set up the place for everybody.”

§         Carl might be sitting there thinking, “Man, I am so undervalued here. They ought to give me the pulpit every once in a while! Maybe I’ll just quit playing for a few Sundays and let them miss me a bit.”

§         Meanwhile, I could be standing here thinking, “I wish I could be like Mark and just set up chairs on Sunday and give advice once in a while instead of having to lead all the time. I deserve a break, maybe I’ll just drop a ball here and there.”

§         Coveting someone else’s status in the church and distancing yourself from the body of Christ is a sin.

o       Disparaging your spiritual gift or the smallness of the measure of your spiritual gift is a slap in the face of God who gave that precious treasure to you as a gift. Simply come as you are in Christ, treasuring the gifts He has given you and offering yourself to increase the diversity and uphold the unity of the church.

·         What happens when we wish we were something else?

  1. v. 17a – “If the whole body were an eye, what of the sense of hearing?”
  2. v. 17b – “If the whole were hearing what of the sense of smell?”
  3. v.19 – “If all were one member, where would the body be?”

·         There would be no body, just a pile of eyeballs or ear flaps.

·         Autonomy/independence are spiritually destructive.

·         Whenever the going gets tough in our church community and you get tired of working to maintain community among different people in our church, stop and thank God that we’re not all the same!

C) 2 “now’s” (as it is/in fact/actually) – stating present reality as opposed to misunderstandings (the reason there are questions that have to be answered by the 3 “Hows”), and hypothetical cases (the 5 “if’s”)

  1. v.18 – God’s sovereignty “Now God has placed the members…as He willed”
  2. v.20 – Diversity (“many members…one body”)



  1. The church is one body made up of different members with Christ as our head.
  2. We get into the church by the baptism and infilling of the Holy Spirit.
  3. Therefore we must work to preserve the unity of the body, bending our different personalities, gifts, and cultural energies toward the common worship of Jesus Christ.
  4. We must recognize that we as believers in Jesus are part of a larger body than ourselves, and we must engage the body of the church by becoming members in a local church and sharing the gifts God has given us with that body.
  5. We must not compare ourselves to others and despise the gifts God has sovereignly placed in us. He knows what is best, and, when we embrace the diversity of gifts and personalities and cultures in the church, we are blessed, and we truly function as the body of Christ, because we are showing the world what God is like.

Order of Worship (Scripture quotations from NASB)




Exo 3:5-10 …remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground… I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob… I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey..."


Psalter 119X (ensemble accompaniment)






2Sa 24:10-25 Now David's heart troubled him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the LORD, "I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O LORD, please take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have acted very foolishly." … (25)  David built there an altar to the LORD and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. Thus the LORD was moved by prayer for the land, and the plague was held back from Israel.




Jesus Lover of my Soul (#509/Martyn tune-Beth keyboard)

OT Text

Psalm 133


Mike H.

NT Text

Romans 12


How Beautiful Is The Body of Christ (guitar/ensemble accompaniment)


1 Cor. 12:12-20 "Membership in the Body"




Our Great God (Nate on guitar, band?)


Luke 22:15-20 And He said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, "Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes." And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.


When I Survey (a cappella)


Col 3:12-17 as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;  bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.


Psalm 72d