1 Corinthians 12:21-26

Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

1 Corinthians 12:21-26

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.


Paul continues the explanation regarding the distribution of spiritual gifts by comparing that distribution to the human anatomy. He wants to encourage unity within the Church, as well as to teach that no gift is better than another and that no person is better due to having a gift that some one else does not possess. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 12:21

I have no need of thee. A rebuke to the pride of those who thought their own gifts to be exclusively valuable.

1 Corinthians 12:22

Are necessary. This is the point of the fable of the belly and the members.

It is not hard to imagine how divisions along these lines might arise. If someone had a spiritual gift for miracles, that might create in that person – or others on that person’s behalf – a sense of value or importance that some of the other gifts do not inspire in the same volume.

“He must be *super* close to God, did you see what he did…”

That is not how it works, though, as the gift is a manifestation of the Spirit, not the person in whom the Spirit resides. You don’t pick your own spiritual gifts, God does. As Paul says, these things work in the same way that the parts of the body function. They need each other. Ellicott’s Bible Commentary has the following to say, regarding verse 22:

(22) Which seem to be more feeble.—The general argument of this and the following verse (without attempting to identify the particular parts of the body referred to) is that the weakest parts of the body are as necessary to the body as the strongest; and those parts which are considered less seemly are more abundantly cared for by being carefully covered with clothes, as distinguished from the face and hands which are uncovered.

Your smallest toe might seem feeble or unimportant until you stub it against the coffee table in the dark. Suddenly its value becomes manifest and your appreciation for its injury is significant. Not everyone wants to be the pinky toe, but if you feel that you are, keep in mind that you are important, too, and the Church body feels your loss when you’re not working properly. Continuing on with the Pulpit Commentaries again:

1 Corinthians 12:23

Which we think to be less honourable. The shelter and ornament of clothing are used to cover those parts of the body which are conventionally regarded as the least seemly. The whole of this illustration is meant to show that rich and poor, great and small, high and low, gifted and ungifted, have all their own separate and indispensable functions, and no class of Christians can wisely disparage or forego the aid derived from other and different classes. The unity of the members in one body corresponds to “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” which should prevail in the Church.

The comment is a much more eloquent way to put the “pinky toe” analogy I made previously. Every member of the Church body is important. What is good for one, is good for all, and vice versa. Continuing on, with the analogy, in verse 24 from Ellicott:

(24) For our comely parts have no need.—These words (better, and our comely parts have no need) conclude the former verse. The words, “But God hath tempered,” commence a new sentence, in which the natural practice of covering parts of the body is stated to be in harmony with God’s evident intention.

(25) That there should be no schism.—The existence of differences of gifts in the Church had been used by the Corinthians to cause schisms, exalting some gifts and depreciating others, when this very variety in the Church ought, as was the intention of variety in the human body, to create a mutual dependence, which would promote unity.

We have seen in 1 Corinthians so far that they formed factions over which teacher they followed, they divided up improperly for the Lord’s Supper, and we see here that they also were forming factions according to who has which spiritual gift. Paul always encourages unity (with the exception of not being unified with evil and open rebellion to God’s laws.)

The Corinthians are a reminder that the Church was imperfect, even from the beginning – perhaps especially at the beginning. You will sometimes hear or feel a sentiment for getting the modern Church back to the way that it was in its earliest days – but as we can see in this Epistle, that search for the “golden age” of the Church might be somewhat fruitless. God blesses and uses the Church to do His will even though the Church is often working through significant internal problems. We’ll wrap up this section of verses with the note in The Pulpit Commentaries for verse 26:

1 Corinthians 12:26

Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it, etc. St. Chrysostom illustrates this verse by saying that if a thorn runs into the heel, the whole body feels it and is troubled; and that, on the ether hand, if the head is garlanded, the whole man is glorified.

This comment is a good summation of what Paul is teaching. He concludes the chapter by taking his teaching from analogy back to reality. We’ll cover that in the next set of verses.