One Spirit and One Body: The Letters to Corinth
The church at Corinth started with problems; with being thrown out of the synagogue and taking up residence at the synagogue ruler’s house next door. Then came more problems: teachers teaching for profit, squabbles about worship, rudeness at the Lord’s table and fellowship meals, jealousy over gifts given by God. What a mess!
Maybe only Paul would have had the courage to deal with all that … because maybe only he knew them so well and loved them so much.
The two letters we have (there was almost certainly a third one and possibly more) speak lovingly yet authoritatively about the One through whom God gives many of the gifts they were slighting. I’ve stopped thinking of some of them as miraculous and others not. Rather, I think some were miraculous in a temporal way, and some in an eternal way. Because I see teaching and prophecy as miracles by which God actually speaks through us to the hearts of others about His Son by the agency of His Spirit.
That’s the kind of miracle I earnestly desire to work for Him!
I Corinthians 2:10b-16 | The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment. “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
Who among us doesn’t want to know deep things of God? Answers to quesions that have long haunted us? Why He loves us while we are rebellious and unloveable? The Spirit searches these out for us … just as He searchest out our hearts for God (see the letter to the Romans). Jesus told His followers they didn’t have to worry about telling His Story before kings and governors; the Spirit would supply what they needed. And Paul adds that the Spirit even helps the listener understand. Who has known the mind of the Lord? We do – not enough to instruct Him! – but enough to know what He wants us to know through His Spirit. We have the mind of Christ, a man who was God. That’s all we need, isn’t it?
3:16 | Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? | 6:19-20 | Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
In this context of dishonoring our own bodies through physical sin, Paul reminds that these God-given bodies are temples – dwellings – for His Spirit. We need to keep them clean for our Guest. Which prompts the question: When God gives us His Spirit, does it stay with us from then on out? Or can we grieve Him so profoundly that He leaves us – the very thing King David feared most (Psalm 51)?
7:40 | In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is – and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.
Let’s see, Paul. You spoke of Jesus boldly in every situation you were in. You survived shipwrecks, snake bites, floggings and who knows what else. You spoke in tongues. The question is whether you have the Spirit of God. D’ya think?
12:3-11 | Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
Maybe the Spirit isn’t the mysterious, frightening spectre we’ve perceived Him to be. If we confess that Jesus is Lord, we’ve done it by the Holy Spirit. The gifts He gives us – arts and crafts like Bezalel; prophecy and song like David; faith, knowledge, messages of wisdom – are given for the common good; for each other. Not for ourselves. He determines who needs which. Do we dare question the judgment of the One who knows us better than we know ourselves?
What if I told you that you probably couldn’t give me the right answer if I asked you who baptized you? Would you think I was crazy? Guess what: not only is the Spirit mentioned in close proximity to baptism here – He is the one who baptized us. Into one body, no matter what our background – then we were given Him to drink. There’s that fluid metaphor again, as in “poured out,” yet this one conveys that sense of taking Him internally like “filled with.”
On to the second letter:
II Cor. 3:4-6 | Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
The letter of the law kills because it’s the law of sin and death, right? Left to our own devices, we’d just focus on getting every “i” dotted and every “t” crossed about keeping the law, wouldn’t we? … but God gives a competence in serving the new agreement that gives life – of course – through His Spirit. How could we know the spirit of the law without the Spirit of the One who gave it?
3:17-18 | Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with every-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
We may volunteer as slaves to Christ, but He gives us freedom through His Spirit. He tears off the veils which – like Moses’ – keep us from reflecting God’s glory. He says this twice: the Lord is Spirit. Does that conflict with His return in an eternal, incorruptible body? Can He be both Spirit and body? (Hint: Aren’t we? Won’t we always be?)
5:5 | Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
Whoa! Backup a few verses! I want to know what my purpose in life is! Oh. It’s living with God in an incorruptible, eternal body. That’s the purpose He made us for. That’s good news! I gotta spread that around! – Oh, and look: there’s a guarantee on that promise. He’s given us His Spirit as a down payment now on what is to come. That must include joy, peace, hope, love, righteousness, boldness in speaking for Him, interknowledge of God … This is getting to be ONE RICH PACKAGE DEAL!
6:4-10 | Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in ever way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses, in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and possessing everything.
Oh. Oh. There’s a downside. I forgot about the downside. We could suffer. We will suffer. We’ll have to fight with weapons in both hands. We’ll be honored as well as dishonored … I’m not sure I’m up to this list right now. I was really just wanting the good stuff … but there’s all the bad staff, side by side with it. Good thing the Spirit is side-by-side with me, or I’d never be able to handle both fame and disrepute … wealth and poverty … dying and living on.
13:14 | May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Thanks, Paul (you Southern preacher with your “you all”) … I could use a blessing right now. That list above is intimidating. And the fellowship of God’s very own Holy Spirit is just the blessing I needed.
I guess He knew that all along, didn’t He?