The Holy Spirit Baptizes Us Into The Body of Christ
1 Corinthians 13:12-31
In one of her Dear Abby newspaper columns, Abigail Van Buren shared this true story, which also appeared in Time magazine. It’s the story of a man who went to a psychiatrist complaining that he was constantly hearing radio broadcasts, even when he wasn’t near a radio, or there was no radio near him. The psychiatrist decided to humor him and asked what he was hearing right that minute. The man’s reply was that he was hearing Rudy Vallee broadcasting from the Steel Pier in Atlantic City.
At this point, the man went through a full assessment, ruling out various mental disorders, like schizophrenia, that can cause someone to hear voices. It took a while, but the psychiatrist and the patient finally got to the bottom of the issue. The patient who was hearing radio broadcasts worked in a glass bottle factory, and he had gotten some silica crystals in some of his dental cavities. He’d also had some bridgework done in his mouth, and the combination of the silica, his saliva, and the bridgework had literally turned him into a walking crystal radio receiver.
Turns out he didn’t need a psychiatrist, he needed a dentist. After his teeth were thoroughly cleaned, his cavities filled, and the bridgework redone, the man “went off the air,” so to speak. The radio broadcasts went away and he was able to concentrate again, and apparently lived happily ever after.
Do you realize that you, as a follower of Christ, have a similar kind of thing going on inside you? Only you aren’t tuned to a pier in Atlantic City. You’re tuned to the throne room of heaven. When you place your trust in Christ, you receive an incredible gift. Your sins are forgiven and your relationship with God is restored. You become a child of God. But that isn’t the only gift you receive. You also receive the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit takes up residence in you, permeates you, and tunes your heart and mind to the heart and mind of God and gives you spiritual strength to follow Christ. The problem for us as followers of Jesus is that outside of the Pentecostal and Charismatic branches of Christianity, most of us don’t know all that much about the Holy Spirit.
One of the most common images we use for the Holy Spirit is the image of a dove. Just as the cross often represents Christ, the dove often represents the Holy Spirit. Well, one Japanese convert to Christianity was struggling to grasp Christian theology, and he told the person who led him to Christ, “Honorable Father, very good. Honorable Son, very good. But Honorable bird, I do not understand at all.”[i] I think most of us are in the boat. We understand the Father and the Son, and we talk about the Holy Spirit, but we don’t really understand who the Holy Spirit is or what the Holy Spirit does.
So as we move into 2022, we’re starting a series of sermons called The Holy Spirit: God’s Other Christmas Gift. It was either that or The Holy Spirit: The Gift That Keeps On Giving. Either one would have worked. We’re going to explore passages from the Bible that really help us understand who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does. The first thing the Holy Spirit does for us, and in us, is to baptize us into the body of Christ. Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.
Most of the time, when we read this passage, or other passages in Romans and Ephesians that are like it, we focus on the gifts of the Spirit that are mentioned. But the truth is, Paul mentions something else that the Holy Spirit does first. Look at V. 13. “In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” And that body is the body of Christ. That’s one of the metaphors Paul uses to describe the church, the people of God in the world. And it is IN the Holy Spirit that we are baptized into that one body. The Holy Spirit creates and empowers the body of Christ, and draws each one of us into our unique place in that body, and kind of plugs us into that spot that God has for us among his people.
And that work starts before you and I ever place our faith in Christ. In John 6:44, Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” If you’re throwing a big party, people won’t come unless they know about it, right? People come when they’re invited. In the same way, God invites us to join him in his Kingdom, living as his children. The problem is, dead in our sin, we aren’t very likely to respond to the invitation, so God actually takes things a step further. He woos us. He seeks to draw us, entice us, to himself, not in a creepy way, like some heavenly stalker. But God knows the goodness available to us in his kingdom, and the death and despair that are ours outside of it. And so he sends us the invitation to join him, and he also entices us to respond to the invitation.
Think of it kind of like Burger King. Burger King, the fast food restaurant chain, his figured out that if they pipe the smell of meat cooking on their grills out through their vents and into the air around the restaurant, people will be enticed to come in and buy a burger. Haven’t you noticed that you can always smell the burgers cooking near Burger King, but not so much near a McDonalds? Burger King is very intentional about that. The smell of meat cooking ignites our digestive system and makes us hungry, and in we go. In the same way, God draws us to himself.
But how does God do that? Through the Holy Spirit. Flip back a few pages in your Bible to 1 Corinthians 2:10-16. Because of sin, this world is backwards and upside down from the way God intended it to be. So naturally, the way of God and the way TO God seem foolish to us, until the Holy Spirit comes into our lives, drawing us into the presence of God, inviting us to respond to God’s offer of salvation and forgiveness through Christ, giving us a vision of what life can be like in the Kingdom of God. God doesn’t force us into his Kingdom, or cajole us, or commandeer us, but God does invite us and entice us, drawing us in through the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit’s work in our lives, we would never come to faith in Christ to begin with.
And then, when we respond to God’s offer of forgiveness by placing our trust in Christ, the Holy Spirit draws us in to the body of Christ and puts us in the place God has for us there. Paul uses the phrase “baptizes us into one body.” And because we are all baptized in, plugged in, placed in the body of Christ by the same Holy Spirit, it really is ONE body, even though there are many diverse expressions of that one body, both here in our own community, and around the world.
But one thing is sure – when you place your trust in Christ, you are baptized into the body of Christ. You become a part of a community, a people. If there’s one part of our culture that makes it the most difficult for us to live as healthy citizens of the Kingdom of God, it is our insistence on an individual approach to everything. Rugged individualism. My life is my own and I can do with it what I want. My life is my own, and it will become what I make of it. The insistence on “I.” It’s been a part of our culture, a seed from the enemy, since the beginning. In the church, we see it in our emphasis on a “personal” relationship with Christ. My walk with Christ is mine and it’s none of your business. Now, Paul does speak to the individual. Look down at V. 27. We are INDIVIDUALS who are united by the Holy Spirit, into ONE body. Though many and diverse, we are one. When YOU, as an individual, place YOUR trust in Christ, you become a part of something bigger than just YOU. You are a part of a body.
Now, in the Bible, Satan is referred to as being like a roaring lion. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” So if Satan is LIKE a roaring lion, and that‘s an analogy, not something that is literal, who is he seeking to devour? Us, right? So Satan is pictured as a predator, and we are his potential prey. How do prey animals avoid predators? Well, by being alert for sure, and also by STICKING TOGETHER. And what does the predator seeking a snack try to do? Separate one from the herd, right? Farmers raise a lot of prey animals. Cattle, horses, sheep, pigs, chickens … even my llamas are prey animals. And one thing farmers learn to work with is their herd instinct. They WANT to be together. Thousands of years of genetic history has hammered that into them. Being apart from the herd is dangerous. Being a part of the herd … that’s where safety is. Because they look out for and protect one another.
We have a couple of sheep, and while I shear llamas and alpacas for people, I don’t shear sheep. So we have someone come in who does it for us. Unless sheep are broken to lead with a halter, and that’s usually just show sheep, they usually don’t like to be forcibly moved around. And when they’re shorn, we have to bring them from the pasture or their shed to the big barn. And usually, once Reece has tackled one and put it’s halter on it, and someone starts to lead it, it’ll just lay down and refuse to move. Takes a lot of muscle and effort to get one alone to move. And we only have one halter. Remember too, I’ve told you several times that sheep are quite dumb. Normally, a horse or a llama can sense when you’ve turned it back toward the barn and it’s pasture, and it will actually pick up its pace, even if you’re miles away. Not so with sheep. They fight us all the way to the barn, and when their shorn, they fight us all the way back. Unless … we only have the one sheep halter, but if we put it on one, and let the other one walk beside it with nothing, they’ll both go right to the gate an in. It’s pretty easy. They want to stick together, because they know that together, they’re safe.
The same thing is true of us. It is when Satan can separate one of us from the others that we are most vulnerable. And it takes the Holy Spirit to keep us together like that, because our natural bent, apart from God, is to each go our own way, do our own thing. Sin doesn’t just separate us from God. It separates us from one another too. We aren’t naturally drawn together. Marriages tend to fall apart. Families tend toward some kind of splintering. Communities divide. Churches split. Our natural tendency is to move away from others over the smallest things.
And yet, because we are baptized into ONE body by ONE Spirit, we can hold together when the forces of sin and this fallen world and our own sinful natures would seek to draw us apart. And Paul makes it clear that it is in spite of our differences, not because of our similarities, that we are drawn together as one body by the one Spirit. “Jews or Greeks, slaves or free.” The Holy Spirit draws us together in Christ.
And it is the Holy Spirit’s drawing together of very diverse people that entices others. Because in the body of Christ, very different people come together and receive communion together. In this room, doctors and lawyers come side by side with laborers and people with disabilities. Ninety three year olds come side by side with teenagers. Black people and native Americans and Hispanics and white people come side by side and hand in hand. Here, in the body of Christ, the Holy Spirit is creating a unity that the world does not and cannot understand. And that is why, even though we have ministries that emphasize specific ages, like the youth group, or genders, like the men’s group, or phases of life, like a senior citizen’s group, the body of Christ MUST stop separating along those lines and come together.
But that doesn’t mean people lose their distinctiveness. Unity does not require uniformity. In fact, true unity assumes real diversity. The Holy Spirit isn’t making us all look and act the same, or forming us to each be passionate about the same things. The beauty of a garden or flower bed is in the diversity of colors that compliment and play off of one another, not in sameness. The beauty of a field of wild flowers is in the diversity. The Bible is clear – EVERY believer is gifted by the Holy Spirit. That means EVERY follower of Christ has a unique place and role within the body of Christ and is needed. Fast Eddie needs me. And I need fast Eddie. We work together. The Bible is also clear that while every follower of Christ is gifted, NO one has every gift, and there is NO ONE GIFT that every believer has. We can seek to cultivate our spiritual gifts, and even ask God to bless us with another one, praying even for a specific gift, but the giving of those gifts is still at the Holy Spirit’s discretion, and the Holy Spirit is free to say “Yes” or “No” to each request.
And this is true not just within an individual church. It is true between churches too. Here at Christ Church, we have been blessed with a very unique location that is easily accessible for people seeking a meal or some food for their pantry at home. And so we have a food pantry and serve a community meal. Most larger churches cannot be physically positioned the way we are. Most larger churches are located outside of town, in what used to be a cornfield somewhere with larger parking lots and things like that. It isn’t necessarily practical for them to have a food pantry or serve a community meal. But they have a large enough group of people to collect tons of food. And so they collect it and bring it to us, and we distribute it. Each needs the other, and neither is more important than the other. Without us, the larger church has lots of food and no practical way to distribute it. Without them, we are easily accessible (and by necessity somewhat smaller to fit in this smaller space in a crowded city where there are lots of people), but we have nothing to distribute. But working together, we form a beautiful and effective team, and the body of Christ continues to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Individual believers aren’t to compare their own gifts with others, wishing we could speak as well as someone else or sing as beautifully as someone else or pray as powerfully as someone else. We are to appreciate the gifts the Holy Spirit has given others, AND appreciate and use the gifts the Holy Spirit has seen fit to give us. In the same way, churches don’t compare themselves with other churches, wishing they had the same buildings, or technology, or talent that other churches have. The Holy Spirit has given us who and what we need to be his people in this space today, and the Holy Spirit will give us who and what we need to be his people in this space and community tomorrow too. IF. If we each seek to DISCOVER and USE the gifts God has given each one of us. You see, there’s one place gifts don’t make that much of a difference, and that’s sitting on the sidelines. It may be possible to place your trust in Christ and sit on the sidelines, saved by uninvolved and disconnected, but it isn’t healthy.
Boys in the Boat is the true story of the 1936 University of Washington crew team, which went from backwater obscurity to a gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Few sports carry the aristocratic pedigree of crews from Yale, Harvard, and Princeton. No one imagined that a crew from Washington, of all places, could be competitive. And yet the University of Washington built a team from kids raised on farms, in logging towns, and near shipyards. They blew away their California rivals and bested the cream of New England to become the American Olympic Team and won the gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
How did they manage to win the Gold Medal? Author Daniel James Brown explains it one word – teamwork. Brown explains how a crew team works best:
The greatest paradox of the sport has to do with the psychological makeup of the people who pull the oars. Great oarsmen and oarswomen are necessarily made of conflicting stuff – of oil and water, fire and earth. On the one hand, they must possess enormous self-confidence, strong egos, and titanic willpower … Nobody who does not believe deeply in himself or herself – in his or her ability to endure hardship and to prevail over adversity – is likely even to attempt something as audacious as competitive rowing at the highest levels. The sport offers so many opportunities for suffering and so few opportunities for glory that only the most tenaciously self-reliant and self-motivated are likely to succeed at it. And yet, at the same time – and this is key – no other sport demands and rewards the complete abandonment of the self the way that rowing does. Great crews may have men or women of exceptional talent or strength; they may have outstanding coxswains or stroke oars or bowmen; but they have no stars. The team effort – the perfectly synchronized flow of muscle, oars, boat, and water; the single, whole, unified, and beautiful symphony that a crew in motion becomes—is all that matters. Not the individual, not the self.[ii]
“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 … If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Let us pray.
[i] Philip Yancy, forward of Robertson McQuilkin’s Life in the Spirit.
[ii] Daniel James Brown, Boys on the Boat (Penguin Books, 2014), pp. 178-179