1 Cor 12:1-13
The church at Corinth was fractured by divisions. Paul began this letter by saying, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” Paul had learned that at Corinth believers were aligning with particular individuals as they said things like “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Beyond this, we learn about divisions that were being created because of the what took place at the meal that accompanied the Sacrament of the Altar. And then the Corinthians were also divided by a desire for spiritual gifts that were perceived to give a Christian a higher status.
In First Corinthians, Paul addresses all of these. His point is that Christians have been united in Christ by the work of the Spirit. Yes, each Christian is saved because he or she has been called by the Spirit to faith in Christ. But because the same Spirit has done this for each believer, we are united together in Christ.
At the beginning of our text, Paul reminds the Corinthians about their pagan past. He writes, “You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led.” Yet, he then reminds them about the fact we discussed last Wednesday – that each person has been called to faith by the Holy Spirit. He states, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”
We saw last week how the explanation of the Third Article in the Small Catechism confesses this when it says, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”
However, the Holy Spirit has not only done this for you. He has also done it for every believer. And so the explanation goes on to state: “In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”
In our text Paul emphasizes the fact that the same Spirit is at work in each Christian. First he says, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.” Later he adds, “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”
The apostle says that all Christians have been joined together as the Body of Christ when he writes, “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.” We are the Body of Christ, and it is the Spirit who has united us through baptism. Paul goes on to say, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”
In the Third Article of the Creed we confess “the holy Christian church.” The church at Corinth was rather obviously not holy in herself. The same thing is true of the church here at Good Shepherd. The church is comprised of sinners who have been sanctified – who have been forgiven because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and so are holy in God’s eyes. The church as a group is no different. She is not holy because of what she does. She is holy because of what Christ has done for her. She is holy because the Spirit has called her to faith in Christ.
And so she is united together as the communion of saints – the communion of holy ones. She is the Body of Christ that has been united by the work of the Spirit – the communion that includes all Christians through all time. And we find that the communion of saints – the Body of Christ – concretely present and united each Sunday in the Divine Service. Paul says in chapter ten of this letter: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”
The Small Catechism’s explanation goes on to say, “In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.” We see this as each Sunday as in the Sacrament we receive the true body and blood of Christ, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins. But Christ does not only do this for you. He does this for each Christian who receives the Sacrament. And Paul tells us that the Sacrament then unites us together as the Body of Christ. Do you want to see the Body of Christ? Look at the communion rail during the distribution of the Sacrament. There you will see the true body and blood of Christ uniting believers together as the Body of Christ.
The Church is holy because of the forgiveness of sins, and in the Creed after “the communion of saints” we confess the “forgiveness of sins.” We receive this forgiveness through the Means of Grace: through the Word, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution and the Sacrament of the Altar. It is through these means that the Spirit gives us the forgiveness that Jesus won on the cross. They are the means by which the Spirit takes what Jesus won there and then in the event of Good Friday, and gives it to us here and now where we are.
While the phrase “forgiveness of sins” has come to be understood as a general reference, in the early church it was first meant as a reference to Holy Baptism. Paul says in our text, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” Baptism has a foundational role in the life of the Church. It is the action by God which gives us the continuing assurance that we are forgiven. Peter told those listening on Day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” We return in faith to the promise God has attached to the water and Word of baptism, and so know that our sins are forgiven before God.
Finally, in the Third Article we confess “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” The Small Catechism expounds on what this means when it says, “On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.”
Here we receive a reminder of something that is often easily overlooked. The Holy Spirit will be active in raising us from the dead. Paul told the Romans, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” The Holy Spirit was active in raising Jesus from the dead. The apostle says at the beginning of Romans that Jesus “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.”
What was true of Jesus Christ will also be true of us. The Spirit who has given us new life in Christ is the One who will be involved in bringing new life to our whole person – body and soul. God will give life to our mortal bodies in the resurrection through his Spirit who dwells in us. That is why Paul goes on to describe the presence of the Spirit as the firstfruits when he says in Romans chapter eight: “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
The Holy Spirit has called you to faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and has sanctified you. He has also done this for every other Christian. He has done this for the Church – the Body of Christ – the communion of those who have been made holy in Christ. In the Church the Spirit is at work to give us the forgiveness of sins through the Means of Grace. And the Spirit who first created new spiritual life in us will bring that work to its consummation as he acts to raise our bodies in the resurrection of the Last Day.