What is your charisma?, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31

Preached January 23, 2022, by Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min. 

To better understand today’s text, we first must slide our fingers back a bit in this letter to the church in Corinth to chapter 11:17 where Paul writes, “But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear there are divisions among you.” From this point extending for three more chapters, Paul is outlining what it means to be the church, how the church is to worship, and how members of the church are to relate with each other and the world.

There was significant segregation in the Corinthian church on several levels. There was segregation between rich members and poor members, between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, between slave-owners and the slaves, between men and women. Right there in the first-century church, there were discriminatory practices based on sex, race and ethnicity, politics, economic and social status. I am glad that doesn’t happen in the church anymore! Oh, if that were only the case!

So, our reading today begins with 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. As you listen, see if you can pick up two primary themes Paul is unpacking. Listen to the Word of the Lord!

1 Corinthians 12:12-31

12 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. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would 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. 16 And if the ear would 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. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 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.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.[1]

Did you pick out the two primary themes? The first is the radical inclusivity the church is to demonstrate. The second one is that the Church is a community of charisma!

The first theme Paul tugs out can be said either positively or negatively. The positive way is to describe the radical inclusivity of the Church. The negative way to describe the first theme is prejudicial exclusivity in the Church. Corinth was a melting pot of cultures and people back then. It was a hub for commerce as it linked the east with the west. It was both a major crossroads for shipping and for highways. Think, a melting pot. People from all over the known world were thrown together and as the common habit, like seeks like. It’s no different today really. The rich folk hangs together while the poor members huddle to see what resources they can collectively muster. Jews hung out with other Jews while the non-Jewish members of the church felt as though they were missing something because of their non-Jewish heritage. Men and women were often separated culturally but Jesus’ teaching was all about pulling people together. Slave-owners wanted to make sure their personal slaves remembered who the boss really was. Paul looked at all this from a distance and said, “Enough!”

First, Paul reminds them (reminds us) that all people who follow the Way of Jesus are baptized into one Spirit. Baptism is a form of adoption and when people follow Jesus, they are baptized into one family. The long-held divisions of Jew and Gentile are torn down. Men and women are now brothers and sisters and can worship together. Slave owners and slaves are all seen as equals. Resources are pooled together and the community cares for her own, both rich and poor alike.

Paul uses a metaphor that was often used in antiquity and that is of the body. Paul is unique however because he sets his description of the Body apart by calling it the Body of Christ where each member or part of the body is connected to something larger than itself.[2] Paul goes so far as to talk about those “inferior” parts of the body as being the most important parts of the body. Those inferior parts of the body are just as important as the more prevalent and non-descript parts of the body. You may be a genius and can speak with utter beauty and passion, but if your bladder is full, you are going to attend to one thing first, aren’t you? Just try telling a full bladder it’s not as important as the speech or presentation you are making and see how that well that works for you. Paul says it beautifully in verses 25 and 26 where he writes, “But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”

So, beloved, the Body of Christ has many parts; what part are you?

The second theme Paul pulls out is every member of the Body has a gift to be used for the others in the Body and for the ministry of Jesus. The word for ‘gift’ Paul uses is the same word we get our word ‘charism’ or ‘charisma.’  It’s also translated as ‘grace.’ He is telling the Corinthians that everyone in the church, male or female, slave or free, rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, all have charisma! Every single person in the Church has a special gift and grace that is to be shared with others in the community and the Body of Christ.

A gift is used, or it’s left unwrapped and unopened. An unopened gift, an unused gift, demonstrates ingratitude to the gift giver and selfishness to other members of the Body and church family.  So, what’s your charisma? What is your gift? The challenge in many churches today is that people are not using their gifts. When this person doesn’t use her gift, it forces another person who really doesn’t have that gift to try to use it anyway. When you as members of the Body of Christ don’t use your gift, it means you and I have to use gifts and charisma we don’t have because you are failing to use yours. Folks, if you have charisma, it’s for the sake of God and others and not for you. Each of us has been gifted, blessed to be a gift, and a blessing to others. What is your gift, wrapped up and given by God through the Spirit to you? Are you using it or are you like a spoiled child in a play space and when asked to share, you reply, “No! It’s mine!”?

Friends, think about our lesson from Paul today. Can you see the implications of what he is saying? Do you see the ramifications and impact on others if we lived into what he asked? It would be this:

This Church, this Body of Christ, would be a change agent of grace in the world. The Church is called to be a radically inclusive community where there are no divisions based on race, ethnicity, politics, or economics. The Body of Christ is uniquely being set apart in the world to show the world that when everyone uses the charisma God gave them for the greater good, a community arises that sees no lines of division between business class and working class, between my understanding of Jesus and your understanding of Jesus, between black or white or yellow and brown, between straight people and gay people.  In essence, if the Church can figure it out – i.e., how to use everyone’s gifts, working to wrong injustice, caring, and respecting the most destitute person in her midst, then and only then can we expect Christ through the church to change the world. The Church becomes the living textbook for the world to see how people are to work together, care for one another, and honor one another. 

So, what part of the Body of Christ are you? What gift, what’s your charisma to be shared with others? Are you using it? Amen.

© 2022 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301.  Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and may not be altered, re-purposed, published, or preached without permission. All rights reserved.

[1] New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] “The comparison of a human community to the physical body was certainly not original with Paul. The trope already enjoyed a long history in classical literature. However, Paul gave it a revolutionary new twist. Previously, the comparison had reinforced hierarchy, suggesting that the lowly workers, the drones, should obey and support their military, mercantile, and political leaders. Those at the bottom of the social ladder should stay put and be grateful for the guidance and protection of their natural superiors.”  David L. Bartlett; Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration. Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

About patrick h wrisley

A Mainline Presbyterian Orthodox Evangelical Socially Minded Prophetic Contemplative Preacher sharing the Winsome Story of Christ as I try to muddle through as a father, friend, head of staff, colleague, and disciple.
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