First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians 12: 12-13 (NIV)
12 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. 13 For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
The Apostle Paul had much to say in this letter about spiritual “gifts” – or, more accurately, “enablings” – granted to people by grace by the Holy Spirit. Paul devoted chapters 12-14 to this subject, apparently in response to differentiations that existed between people in the church in Corinth. Perhaps there was evidence of pride: perhaps people boasted about their own gifts; perhaps they looked down on those whose gifting they considered less glamorous.
Astutely, Paul used the metaphor of the human body to represent the Church of God in the world. The human body, as he wrote, is made up of many parts, most of which differ from the other parts in appearance, function and use. All parts work together; without any one part, the body is no longer complete. Indeed each and every part of the body relies on all the other parts in order to perform the functions for which each is intended.
The metaphor of the human body also allowed Paul to use the metaphor of the head to describe Christ. The head directs, sets goals and calls the other parts of the body to action. There can be only one head. Obedience to the head ensures there is harmony as all parts work to achieve the same result. For the Church, that result is the glory of God.
People who are devoted to following Jesus Christ are bound through the one baptism into union with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That union should be evident to the world, so long as the Spirit of God working in each part of the body is permitted to exercise God’s will in that part. The Spirit should overrule each member’s own will; this is not accomplished by an authoritarian Spirit but by each part of the body willingly subordinating itself to the way of the Spirit.
Paul has emphasised that there is the one Spirit for all people. Although he has used the example of differences between Jews and Greeks, slaves and free people, the negation of what divides people is applicable regardless of the divisions we may perceive and regardless of the “tribal” instincts we might attempt to retain.
In this country, it makes no difference whether we are indigenous or immigrant, of a traditional Christian denomination or none, of major party or minor party or independent politically and regardless of the culture with which we identify most closely. Those of us who are in Christ have been regenerated by the one Spirit and have been given of the one-and-the-same Spirit to dwell within us.
In this week of prayer for Christian unity, it is appropriate to pray for one another and for the work of the Holy Spirit in eliminating the divisions that continue to exist between us:
O God Eternal, good beyond all that is good, fair beyond all that is fair,
in whom is calmness and peace:
reconcile the differences which divide us from one another
and bring us back into the unity of love
which may bear some likeness to your divine nature.
Grant that we may be spiritually one,
both within ourselves and with one another,
through the grace, mercy and tenderness of your son, Jesus Christ.
Prayer of St Dionysius*
*Selina Fitzherbert Fox and John Murray (comp.), A Chain of Prayer across the Ages, 6th ed., London, UK, 1941.