Much has been written about spiritual gifts and especially about how to discover your spiritual gift. I Corinthians does not seem interested in much of this literature. At least not the inventories and how to utilize your spiritual gift for church growth. I Corinthians suggests a more active way to discover one’s gift. The letter seems to ask, “what are you doing now? Does your activity strengthen the church?” If so, then this is your spiritual gift. “Does your activity divide?” Then it is not.
I Corinthians has little interest in whether you sing well or read well or if you are crafty. I Corinthians is interested in who receives the glory and whether your activity strengthens the church. Another thing that I Corinthians highlights is that people are gifts as well. Look around the congregation on any given Sunday – you are surrounded by gifts.
In the midst of a serious discussion, I Corinthians offers a bit of humor. While talking about the members of the body, the body parts begin to talk. The foot starts it off by saying, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body.” And then the ear, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body.” And then the eye to the hand, “I have no need of you.” And then the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” While the content of the discussion is important, it should also be pointed out that not only are the body parts talking, they are talking to one another. Perhaps this is noteworthy in a letter addressed to a church where members are struggling to get along.
The Corinthian Church is addressed early in the letter as “holy ones.” Because of this I expect to find a different group of people than those I read about. Instead, the further I read, the more I begin to think that designation was a mistake.
These people are jealous, full of strife, they boast in their own wisdom. There is immorality among them and they are arrogant. They are covetous, idolaters, drunks, swindlers, fornicators, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, revilers. Just saying, these do not sound like saints to me. Yet I Corinthians never revokes the statement that these are “holy ones.”
I Corinthians does go on to say “such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in Christ Jesus.” I Corinthians is a reminder that holiness is not an individual project. To be called “those who have been sanctified” is to acknowledge that holiness is the work of God and that we become holy together.
Part of the congregational dilemma for the Corinthian Church includes the desire to belong to the Body of Christ vs. the lure to continue habits that bring status to local citizens. The results were a divided church where some members boast and take advantage of one another. I Corinthians is an attempt to address that dilemma.
Therefore, to preach I Corinthians is an attempt to strengthen unity in the Body. Awareness of this dilemma will shed light on subjects that are addressed in the letter. For example, the discussion about the Lord’s Supper is an instance where I Corinthians calls for unity. The discussion about many gifts and one body is another call to avoid division and promote unity. The love chapter is a call to behave in a way that encourages unity. The discussion of how to use one’s gifts in the body is intended to build the body. This is a repeated theme.
At the same time there are behaviors that are discouraged because they encourage division. Arguing about favorite preachers, seeking personal gain, boasting about knowledge, participating in the sinful behaviors found throughout the empire – these create factions and divide the body. Even the correction offered about the resurrection could be seen as an appeal to unity.
To preach I Corinthians then is to remind us we are not alone. I Corinthians tells us we are strongest when we behave in ways that strengthen the body. We are strongest when we realize we are not the body as individuals. We are strongest when we utilize our gifts in ways that promote unity. We are strongest when we grant significance to those who are considered insignificant. We are strongest when we admit we need believers who gather down the street and around the world.