July 4-5, 2020
Pastor Joe Wittwer
#2—Unity in Diversity
1 Corinthians 12
ILL: A couple years ago, I was in a meeting with a diverse group of Christian leaders. One of them, a mature White man, mentioned that he was colorblind—he didn’t see race. I glanced at my friends of color in the room and saw them wince. So I said to my colorblind friend, “Why don’t you ask our friends of color how that makes them feel?” He was surprised at my question—and to his credit, he turned to a Black friend and asked him. The Black man said, “When you say that, I feel like you don’t see me. I am Black man—it’s who I am. My color is part of my story. To not see my color is to not see me.” For the next half hour, we had a lively and very helpful discussion about race.
Everyone in the room understood what this White man was trying to say when he said he was colorblind. And we’re all friends and willing to give each other lots of grace. But what this man, and many others, failed to realize is that we won’t achieve unity by ignoring our differences, but by celebrating them. We won’t achieve unity by making or pretending to make everyone the same; we achieve unity by celebrating our God-given differences.
So let’s be Colorblind No More! I see you—as you are, in your glorious uniqueness. Let’s see and celebrate our God-given differences. Let’s shoot for unity in diversity, not unity in sameness. We’re better together…because we’re different.
Today, we’re going to look at 1 Corinthians 12, where Paul discusses spiritual gifts.
- He teaches that there is great diversity in spiritual gifts, and yet there is one Spirit who gives and orchestrates them all. Different gifts, but the same Spirit.
- He compares us, the church of Jesus, to a human body made up of many different parts. Many parts, yet one body.
- He expands the discussion beyond spiritual gifts to include race and class (and gender).
The church is to show the world what unity in diversity looks like. But often we’ve failed miserably. We can’t get along with each other. We’re sinfully divided over secondary issues. And some say that 11 am on Sunday is the most racially divided hour of the week! We need to come together united around Jesus and celebrate our God-given diversity.
The Big Idea: The Holy Spirit is the source of our unity—and our diversity. We can’t have one without the other. Galatians 3:26-28
Let’s dive in to 1 Corinthians 12.
1 Corinthians 12:1–11
1 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3 Therefore I want you to know 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.
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 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. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
Let’s unpack it.
1. Different but the same. 1-11
Paul is writing about spiritual gifts—the abilities the Holy Spirit gives us to serve others. There were Christians in Corinth who were minimizing some gifts and maximizing others. There were people who insisted that everyone should have the same gift. Paul corrects this by emphasizing that there are different gifts all given by the same Spirit. Look again at v. 4-6 and you’ll see he repeats this “different but same” refrain three times.
- Different gifts, but same Spirit distributes them.
- Different kinds of service, but the same Lord (Jesus).
- Different kinds of working or effects, but the same God at work.
Our spiritual gifts are different, the way we use them to serve are different, and the results we accomplish are different. Different, different, different. But the same Triune God—Father, Son and Spirit—are behind it all. Same, same, same. Different but the same.
The Big Idea in these verses is that we’re different—and the Source of that difference is God Himself. Diversity is God’s idea. God is infinitely creative! He loves the differences! God is the One behind our diversity.
- God loves our different gifts—He made each of us for a unique purpose and gifted us accordingly.
- God loves our different personalities—whatever number you are on the Enneagram and whatever your wing or wingnut! Endless variety!
- God loves our different genders—He made us male and female. That was His idea—and in my opinion, a great idea!
- God loves our different races and ethnicities. He created all of us in His image—God’s image is wrapped in all kinds of different colors and shades!
Human beings are incredibly diverse, and that was God’s idea. He is the Source of our diversity. Different gifts, personalities, races, genders—but the same God behind it all.
ILL: Parents, if you have more than one child, you get this “different but same” idea right away. Different kids, same parents. How can these kids that came from the same gene pool and were raised in the same home be so different? Moms and dads, you know that you have to celebrate those differences, not ignore them. The worst thing you can do is squeeze all your kids into the same mold, try to make them all or treat them all the same. We always said that we loved our kids the same. What does that mean? We loved each one uniquely, celebrating and enjoying their differences.
For the church to be as God intended, we must celebrate our differences in the same way. Don’t try to squeeze everyone into your mold!
ILL: When Laina and I were getting married, someone told me, “When you marry, the two will become one. The question is, ‘Which one?’” Later, I understood that we marry someone because they are different from us. We often say, “Opposites attract.” But after awhile, the differences that attracted us begin to irritate us and we start the long marital project of turning the other person into me. “See it my way. Do it my way. Like what I like. Think like I think. Feel what I feel.”
A friend told me recently told me that he’s been married almost 50 years, and he has been his wife’s project. He asked her if he was done yet, and she said, “No, but I’ll tell you when you are.” (He was kidding—they have a great marriage.)
The goal of marriage isn’t to turn the other person into you. After all, if two people are identical, one of them isn’t necessary. The goal of marriage is help each other become the unique person God made us to be. The two become one. The two different people become one not by becoming like each other, but by celebrating and enjoying their differences.
What does this mean for you and me as Christians, as church members?
It means we stop trying to squeeze everyone into our mold (whether the mold is spiritual or political or racial…whatever), and celebrate who they are. “But what if they’re wrong?” Maybe they are. Maybe you are. Maybe you both are. But here’s one thing I do know: it’s wrong to only accept those like you, and it’s wrong to reject or dismiss those different from you.
Oneness isn’t sameness. It’s just the opposite. It’s celebrating our differences, and loving people different from us. Different but the same—and what’s the same is the God behind all our differences.
2. Many yet one. 12-24
Paul will switch from “different but the same” to “many yet one.”
1 Corinthians 12:12–14
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
Did you notice the “many but one” refrain repeated 3 times? We are one body made up of many parts. He’s going to do a deep dive on this idea in just a moment.
Did you also notice that though we are many different parts of the body, we all have something in common: We we all baptized in one Spirit; we were all given one Spirit to drink. Different, but the same. Different gifts, but the same Spirit unites us in our differences. The Spirit is the author of our unity—we are one in the Spirit. And that same Spirit is the author of our diversity—the one Spirit who gives different gifts. The Spirit is the source of our unity and diversity—and you can’t have one without the other.
Did you also notice that Paul expands the conversation about our differences beyond spiritual gifts to include race (Jew or Gentile) and socio-economic class (slave or free). In Galatians, he expands it even more:
Galatians 3:26–28 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
You are all one in Christ. There is our unity. All children of God through faith in Jesus. All baptized into Jesus. All one in Christ.
So there is neither Jew nor Gentile (race), slave nor free (socio-economic class), male nor female (gender). Paul is not saying that these differences cease to exist. I am still a man and Laina is still a woman—thank God! I am White and my friend Rodney is Black. That won’t change. He is not saying that these differences cease to exist, but that our differences no longer divide us. We are able to see and celebrate each other’s uniqueness in Christ. That becomes more clear as we deep dive into this idea that we’re all different parts of one body.
1 Corinthians 12:15-20
15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
When Paul says we are one body, one in Christ, he is not eliminating our differences; he is celebrating them! He does it with humor.
Can you imagine your foot saying, “Well, since I’m not a hand, I don’t belong to the body”? Or you ear saying, “Since I’m not an eye, I don’t belong to the body”? Ridiculous!
Can you imagine a “body” that was nothing but a big eye? Or a big ear? Ridiculous! And yet that’s what we’re trying to do when we want everyone in church to be like us—to think like us, act like us, believe like us. We’re trying to turn the Body of Christ into a giant ear! It wouldn’t be the Body of Christ anymore.
Look at v. 18: “But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” Who placed them there? God did. God puts rich and poor, male and female, Black and White (and every other color and shade)—and all the different personalities and gifts—God puts them together in one body! How silly we are to try to turn them all into a big eyeball, into an ugly version of me.
He goes on:
1 Corinthians 12:21-24
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment.
Many parts, one body. We’re different, but we’re one in Christ. And we need each other precisely because we’re different.
- Does the eye need the hand? Have you ever gotten something in your eye? I rest my case. Have you ever seen something you want? I rest my case again. I eye needs the hand precisely because it’s different—it can do things the eye can’t do.
- Does the head need the feet? If you want go somewhere, it does!
We need each other. You need that person who is different from you: different spiritual gifts, different race, different gender, different class, different political views. Yes, I’m going there. If Jesus isn’t bigger than your politics, then you’ve got a mighty small Jesus. The eye needs the hand, the head needs the foot, and the Republican needs the Democrat—and vice versa. If you disagree, look again at verses 22 on.
The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. That person whose gifts seem weak and whose politics seem weaker still—that person is indispensable. You need them.
The parts we think are less honorable we treat with special honor and the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty. That person whose race or personality or politics seems less honorable or unpresentable—that person is not to be rejected but protected and treated with special care!
ILL: David Anderson, in his book Gracism: the Art of Inclusion, writes this paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 12:15-27 (with a few modifications by me)
Now the body is not made up of one culture but of many. If the Blacks should say to the Whites, “Because I am not white, I don’t belong to the body,” it would not make it true. The Blacks would still be a part of the body whether they vote for the same candidates or not. And if the Whites should say, “Because I am not Black, I do not belong to the body,” it would not make it true. The Whites would still be a part of the body whether they clapped their hands and shouted loudly in church or not. It doesn’t mean that they are not filled with the Spirit. If the whole body was tightly structured, where would the sense of spontaneity be? If the whole body was spontaneous, where would the sense of order be? As it is, there are many parts and many cultures, but one body.
The Cuban church cannot say to the Haitian church, “I don’t need you!” …The Pakistanis cannot say to the Persians, “I don’t need you.” The Japanese cannot say to the Koreans, “I don’t need you.” The suburban church cannot say to the urban church, “I don’t need you.” (The Democrats can’t say to the Republicans, “I don’t need you.” And vice versa. The mask-wearers cannot say to the unmasked, “I don’t need you.”). Jews cannot say to Arabs, “I don’t need you.” Palestinians cannot say to Jews, “I don’t need you.” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are not to be dismissed or discarded as if they don’t matter. They are God’s special instruments of honor to reveal an aspect of God that would otherwise not be seen or experienced. There really is no part of the Christian body that is to be dismissed as unimportant. They all matter. If Palestinian Christians suffer, we all suffer. (If Black or Native Americans suffer, we all suffer.) If South African Christians are freed from apartheid, we all rejoice with them. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
We are the body of Christ. Many yet one. We are many members, but one body. The Spirit that made us many different parts also made us one body in Christ. Unity in diversity.
3. The goal: no division, equal concern. 24-27
1 Corinthians 12:24–27
24 … But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
Paul wrote all this to a deeply divided church. The Corinthian church had divided along racial lines (Jew and Gentile), socio-economic lines (slave and free, rich and poor), party lines (I follow Paul, I follow Apollos), spiritual gifts groups (the haves and have nots). Paul calls them to bring all their differences together and be one body in Christ. United in Jesus.
His goal for them: no division, no schism; and equal care or concern. That’s very practical. It means you care as much about the person who annoys you, offends you, the person whose posts you hate, the person who votes differently than you—you care about that person as as much as anyone else. Kinda sounds like Jesus, doesn’t it? Love your neighbor…love your enemy. If we can’t do it here, among people who love Jesus, who have the same Spirit, where will it happen in our broken world?
Let’s be the people of God. Let’s be the Body of Christ. Let’s celebrate our differences and be united in Jesus.
Thanks for being with us. I hope you’ll take a few moments now to use the discussion questions to think through what God is saying to you and what you’ll do about it. Those questions are available on our app and our website.