Believers’ Proper Relationships
And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body, which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our unseemly members come to have more abundant seemliness, whereas our seemly members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. (12:21–27)
Whereas the first kind of individualist says, “They don’t need me,” the second says, “I don’t need them.” That attitude is wrong enough in the world, because God has made all of His creation interrelated, especially mankind, whom He has made in His own image. The attitude is much worse in the church, whose members have a common Savior and Lord and a common spiritual body. No eye in the church has a right to say to a hand, “I have no need of you,” or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” That attitude was common in the Corinthian assembly. A few prominent and gifted members acted as if they were self-sufficient, as if they could carry on their ministries and daily Christian living completely by themselves or with only a few select friends. They overestimated their own importance and underestimated that of other believers. Disobeying the principles of Matthew 18:10 and Romans 14:1–15:7, these people were disdaining those they saw as weak and less significant.
On the contrary, Paul continues, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. As important as some of the prominent members of the human body are it is possible to live without them. They are important but not absolutely necessary. You can lose an eye or ear, a hand or leg, and still live. But you cannot lose your heart or liver or brain and live. Those organs are more hidden than the others but also are more vital. You can notice the breathing of your lungs and the pulse of your heartbeat, but their work is not nearly as obvious as what we do with our hands or feet. Those less noticed parts (internal organs) seem to be weaker than much of the rest of the body (external limbs), but they also are more necessary. Consequently they are more guarded by the skeleton and the rest of the body. They are more vital and more vulnerable, and are therefore given more protection. You can live without legs, but not without lungs.
The most vital ministries in a church always include some that are not obvious. The faithful prayers and services of a few dedicated saints who hold no office frequently are the most reliable and productive channels of spiritual power in a congregation. The Corinthian church had failed to be considerate and appreciative of those who did not have the “out front” gifts such as prophecy, languages, or healing. Those with less noticeable ministries are sometimes vulnerable to misunderstanding, and often to neglect and lack of appreciation. They should be protected by fellow believers just as the body protects its vital organs.
Continuing the analogy, Paul reminds us that those members of the body, which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our unseemly members come to have more abundant seemliness.
Less honorable probably refers to the parts of our body that are not particularly attractive. It seems best to see this as referring to the torso in general—the part on which we hang clothes. It might include flabby thighs or a paunch, but is usually covered and considered less attractive. The use of the verb peritithēmi (bestow, literally “to put around”) suggests the idea of clothing the body in general. We spend more time and money clothing those parts of our body than the ones that are more presentable (such as face and hands), and by doing so, on these we bestow more abundant honor.
Unseemly (aschēmōn) means shameful, indecent, or unpresentable, and here refers to those parts of the body that are considered private and to be covered. In virtually all societies of history, with the exceptions of a few primitive tribes, those parts of the body have been treated with modesty. The fact that many people today are discarding this natural modesty and are exploiting the display of traditionally private parts indicates the extent of modern depravity.
When people treat these unseemly members with care and modesty they come to have more abundant seemliness. It is not those parts of the body themselves, but the display of them, that is unseemly and shameful. When they are properly treated they become more decent, just as the less honorable parts, when properly treated, become more attractive.
It is from a warped sense of values that a Christian, well known because of a prominent gift, looks down on other Christians who possess no obvious gift and seeks great honor for his own. That attitude is a direct contradiction of the principle of concern that characterizes a body. It is far more consistent with self-preservation that members of the body that have greater outward beauty and more functional abilities devote themselves to the well-being of those parts that are not so well equipped but are essential to life. Every sensible person is more concerned with his heart than his hair.
Those in positions of leadership and prominence not only should not look down on those whose gifts are less noticeable but should take special care to show them appreciation and to protect them when necessary. Specially gifted Christians are specially obligated to “encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, [and] be patient with all men” (1 Thess. 5:14).
Those who have the more noticeable and attractive gifts are the more seemly members [who] have no need of encouragement and protection. Honor comes to them almost as a matter of course, and that honor they should share with members whose gifts and temperaments are less attractive and more likely to be ignored. They should give more abundant honor to that member which lacked.
I believe that the most surprising experience Christians will have is that of seeing the Lord present His rewards at the bēma, the judgment seat of Christ, where every believer will “be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). If there is such a thing as shock in heaven, I believe that is what most of us will feel when the secrets are revealed (cf. 1 Cor. 4:3–5). Jesus said that those who seek to be first in this life will be last in the next (Matt. 19:30), and that spiritual greatness is determined by the spirit of servanthood not by high position or impressive achievements (Matt. 20:27). Jesus’ response to the request of the mother of James and John reveals that suffering is more related to reward than is success (Matt. 20:20–23).
It is clear from what Paul says in the present text that heavenly reward will be based not only on what we do with our own gifts and ministries but on our attitudes toward and support of the gifts and ministries of other believers.
Mutual support and encouragement is necessary to avoid both underconfidence and overconfidence. It is also necessary to avoid division in the body. In our eyes, as in God’s eyes, every believer should be of the highest importance and every ministry of the highest importance (cf. Phil. 2:1–4). In a mature and spiritual congregation, church members will have the same care for one another. We should care as much for the nursery teacher as for the pastor, as much for the janitor as for the Sunday school superintendent.
In the obedient and loving church that God has planned for His children, if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Only that sort of mutual love and concern can prevent or heal division and preserve unity. The one who is hurt is consoled and the one who is blessed is rejoiced with. There is no disdain for one another, no rivalry or competition, no envy or malice, no inferiority or superiority, but only love—love that is patient, kind, and not jealous, boastful, or arrogant; love that does not act unbecomingly or seek its own and is not easily provoked; love that never rejoices in unrighteousness but always rejoices in the truth (1 Cor. 13:4–6).
The only people that can love in that way and be unified in that way are Christians, who are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. And only Christ’s love can produce such love.
Paul reminded the Corinthian believers that, individually and collectively, they were Christ’s very body, the church for whom He died. They were one in Him and so should be one in each other. They were “not lacking in any gift” (1:7) and were perfectly equipped to represent and serve the Lord. As a local congregation they were Christ’s body in miniature, a representation of Jesus Christ to all of Corinth. Every local church is fully equipped to serve the Lord, just as every believer is fully equipped to serve Him. Any lacking, any deficiency, is always in our recognition and use of what He has provided.
27. But ye are the body of Christ. Hence what has been said respecting the nature and condition of the human body must be applied to us; for we are not a mere civil society, but, being ingrafted into Christ’s body, are truly members one of another. Whatever, therefore, any one of us has, let him know that it has been given him for the edification of his brethren in common; and let him, accordingly, bring it forward, and not keep it back—buried, as it were, within himself, or make use of it as his own. Let not the man, who is endowed with superior gifts, be puffed up with pride, and despise others; but let him consider that there is nothing so diminutive as to be of no use—as, in truth, even the least among the pious brings forth fruit, according to his slender capacity, so that there is no useless member in the Church. Let not those who are not endowed with so much honour, envy those above them, or refuse to do their duty to them, but let them maintain the station in which they have been placed. Let there be mutual affection, mutual fellow-feeling, (συμπάθεια,) mutual concern. Let us have a regard to the common advantage, in order that we may not destroy the Church by malignity, or envy, or pride, or any disagreement; but may, on the contrary, every one of us, strive to the utmost of his power to preserve it. Here is a large subject, and a magnificent one; but I content myself with having pointed out the way in which the above similitude must be applied to the Church.
Members severally. Chrysostom is of opinion, that this clause is added, because the Corinthians were not the universal Church; but this appears to me rather forced. I have sometimes thought that it was expressive of impropriety, as the Latins say—Quodammodo, (in a manner.) When, however, I view the whole matter more narrowly, I am rather disposed to refer it to that division of members of which he had made mention. They are then members severally, according as each one has had his portion and definite work assigned him. The context itself leads us to this meaning. In this way severally, and as a whole, will be opposite terms.
27 It is understandable, then, how Paul concludes vv. 12–27: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” This is how Paul began the discussion about the body in v. 12, and now he ends it in a similar manner. These two verses frame the entire discussion of the church as the body of Christ.
12:27 / Verses 27–31a apply and explain the metaphor of the church as the body of Christ in relation to the Corinthians’ situation. Verse 27 begins with the bold declaration, you are the body of Christ. This statement means there is diversity among the Corinthian Christians in terms of their gifts, although they are united by God’s design and work among them. Despite the differences, each one … is a part of the body, and each and all are necessary for the good of the whole.
Our individuality (27)
As the body of Christ operates in this way, so the individual members will find their real needs met. The need for security is met in the assurance that ‘I belong to the body’. The need for identity is met in recognizing and working at the fact that ‘I have a distinctive contribution to bring to the body’. The need for a proper sense of responsibility is met by assuming concern for others in the body: ‘I need you; I feel with you; I rejoice with you.’ So each individual grows as a person and as a Christian in direct relation to his finding his place as a member of the body. The Scriptures speak of individuality, not of individualism. The latter phenomenon is a perversion of our calling in Christ. It plagues the church of God, spoiling its witness and shrivelling individuals.
This discovery of our individuality within the life of the Christian community remains as revolutionary a message in today’s world as it was in that of Paul and his Corinthian readers. It is a radical alternative both to the tyranny of totalitarianism and to the empty dreams of personal fulfilment through individualism.
There is a further perspective in this chapter, one which prevents such a community turning in on itself and becoming a pious ghetto of religious fanatics. The body of Christ is placed in the world to serve. Ministry is its daily vocation. As the community is mobilized under the Holy Spirit within the real world, its throbbing vitality will be sustained. Gifts are to be used in practical, costly and often very ordinary service (cf. 12:5). The ministry of Jesus through his physical body on earth is continued in the ministry of his body, the church. It is the same ministry: he came, ‘not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.’ That is the purpose of the body of Christ now: ‘as the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’65
12:27. Paul next applied the analogy of the human body to the church as the body of Christ. He began with the declaration, Now you are the body of Christ. Paul used this metaphor for the church many times in this letter and in other epistles (Rom. 12:5; Eph. 3:6). Here he focused on the diversity and honor of the various members of Christ’s body, starting with this general assertion and then pointing to each person in the church at Corinth. Each one is a part of the body. Without exception every person who has trusted Christ receives a place in the body of Christ.
27. You are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
- “You are the body of Christ.” Paul addresses the members of the Corinthian church with the personal pronoun you. They are the people who have been made holy in Christ Jesus and are called to be holy (1:2). Yet these people quarreled, caused divisions, failed to expel an immoral brother, brought lawsuits against fellow brothers, criticized the apostles, and did not properly observe the Lord’s Supper. In spite of all these shortcomings, Paul tells the Corinthians that they are the body of Christ.
In the Greek text, Paul uses the noun body in the absolute sense of the word. That is, the word appears without the definite article which, for the sake of acceptable English, we have supplied. Paul does not say “a body” or “the body,” but merely “body” to indicate that this is the one and only, for there is no other body of Christ. He is not referring to Christ’s physical body but rather speaks figuratively about the church as Christ’s body (e.g., Eph. 1:23; Col. 1:24). To say it differently, Paul states that the church to which the Corinthians belong is one entity without division.
The church as Christ’s figurative body exists in him and belongs to him. It is genuinely united with Christ, for every individual member is by faith included in him. Each local congregation is a microcosm of the entire church, so that everyone who observes the congregation’s various functions knows that this body is the church in action. Here Paul states the principle of unity in multiplicity. In the next clause he notes multiplicity in unity.
- “And individually members of it.” We have no information about the size of the Corinthian church, but Paul avers that every individual member is part of Christ’s body. By saying this, Paul underscores the individuality of the members, for each has received a different gift from the Lord. With these gifts and functions at their disposal, all the members together contribute to the well-being of the Christian community.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 319–322). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Vol. 1, pp. 412–413). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Verbrugge, V. D. (2008). 1 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 369). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Soards, M. L. (2011). 1 Corinthians (p. 266). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Prior, D. (1985). The message of 1 Corinthians: life in the local church (p. 216). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Pratt, R. L., Jr. (2000). I & II Corinthians (Vol. 7, p. 220). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 18, p. 440). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.