Epistle: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (Epiphany 3: Series  C)

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (Epiphany 3: Series C)

Simon Musaeus (1521-1576), one of the great but little-known Gnesio-Lutherans of the Post-Reformation era, wrote a popular book of postil sermons on the Epistles for each Sunday of the church year, just as Luther and many others had done. In his preface, he describes some of the challenges that preachers face with the Epistles in contrast to the Gospels. He describes the Gospel accounts as histories about Christ’s life, death and resurrection, His preaching and miracles, and everything that He did to win salvation for us. Whereas the Gospel accounts are intended to show us God’s character, will, and work, the epistles have a different purpose. He writes:

The epistles however are written by the apostles after the ascension of Christ while they distributed the fully finished salvation, that is, they wrote them in the midst of practice, experience, and suffering, because they had received the command of Christ to go through the whole world with the preaching office of the gospel, in order to plant Christ’s kingdom and church and to show clearly to all people the right way to the eternal Fatherland. They had to respond to all the swift attacks and traps of the devil, the world, and the flesh which constantly afflict and tempt Christians. They had to address all the afflictions that Christians experienced throughout the world and give answer to all sorts of cases and questions. For this reason, the epistles are more suited to the daily training of the Christian life in its various vocations and activities than the Gospels—although both belong together and go hand in hand, so that one can explain the other.[1]

Musaeus’ explanation of the Epistles is helpful for preachers to keep in mind as we journey for the next six weeks through 1 Corinthians (chapters 12-15). Each reading from 1 Corinthians is paired with readings through the Gospel of Luke (chapters 4-6) until we come to the Transfiguration (Hebrews 3 and Luke 9). The specific spiritual problems facing the church at Corinth may not be the same problems facing your congregation, so you will have to be sensitive to what your people need to hear. Although all Scripture can make us wise (2 Tim. 3:15), the preacher, like the master of a house, must bring out of his treasure what is new and what is old (Matt. 13:52). We need the right word for the right situation. And this series from 1 Corinthians may be exactly that right word of God for you and your congregation.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31 is part of Paul’s continuing catechesis on the church. The church as God the Holy Spirit’s own creation through the Gospel is not to be preached or taught as any kind of human organization. Obviously, preachers mustn’t nit-pick at particular irksome practices in the congregation that are not actually sin, but address the real sin that Paul addresses, namely, discontentment with one’s place in the body of Christ and a denial of the oneness of Christ’s body. Pastor Koch has recently talked about demonstrative preaching on this site. This is absolutely St. Paul’s rhetoric in 1 Corinthians 12 concerning the church. Preacher will want to say what the church is, who the saints of God are in this body, and paint the divinely inspired picture of the church before their hearers.   

When we preach on the church, however, it is just as easy for preachers to be confused as it is our hearers about what the church is. We confess the una sancta, but we live on this side of Paradise with the church fractured, where divisions persist. Christians are deeply confused about the nature of the church because of these divisions, as any attempts to catechize congregations about closed communion surely reveal. Paul is not talking about the church fractured or, as it is commonly called, the visible church. He is speaking about the universal church, the una sancta ecclesia as an article of faith. In the universal church, there are two ways to speak about the church (neither of which have to do with the church that consists of saints and hypocrites or the per mixtum of AC VIII).

On the one hand, there is no distinction in Christ’s body, whether Jew, Gentile, slave or free. This is what the Augsburg Confession means when it says, “Strictly speaking, the church is the congregation of saints and true believers” (AC VIII:1). The doctrine of the church as una sancta and the mystical body of Christ flows from our confession of baptism: we are baptized into Christ (Rom. 6) and in one Spirit are made one body in Christ, as Paul makes clear here (v. 13). The explicit language that the church is one with Christ as a wife is one with her husband, and so one flesh, should be proclaimed in all its mysterious wonder and joy (Eph. 5).

Yet Paul’s language of the church also shows the clear distinctions. Yes, all are one in Christ by virtue of their baptism, but the church consists of those who preach and those who hear. It is such a sad aberration of the biblical teaching when pastors and hearers are pitted against each other, as if pastors are greater than hearers, or when one emphasizes the oneness of the church as if the body of Christ were an egalitarian society. St. Paul makes oneness in the Spirit and in Christ predicated on the preaching and hearing or giving and receiving of the Gospel.

So as you preach this text, you will want to emphasize both the oneness of the body of Christ and the comforting means of the Holy Spirit to create that oneness through giving and receiving, preaching and hearing. The resonance with the Old Testament reading from Nehemiah 8 is loud and clear. The church lives and moves as one man, Christ, who has many members with a variety of gifts for the building up the body. When one is persecuted all are persecuted, and Christ with us. But when one rejoices, so do all, and Christ with us.

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[1] Simon Musaeus, Postilla Das ist Ausslegung aller Episteln / so durchs gantze Jar an Sontagen vnd namhaff-tigen Feyertagen / in der Kirchen vblich vnd gebreuchlich sind / in drey Theil gefasset vnd gestellet (1573), A2r. You can find a PDF of his postils here: https://reader.digitale-sammlungen.de/resolve/display/bsb10161929.html   

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps to assist you in preaching I Corinthians 12:12-31a from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO.

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Old Testament: Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10 (Epiphany 3: Series C)

Old Testament: Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10 (Epiphany 3: Series C)

Gospel: Luke 4:16-30 (Epiphany 3: Series C)

Gospel: Luke 4:16-30 (Epiphany 3: Series C)