One in the Spirit, one Spirit in us

I became a Christian in college, and still remember the days in which students gathered for Bible study.  The evening usually began with singing to the strains of a lone guitar.  Oh, how I wanted to play well enough to do that!  One of the songs we sang again and again began like this:

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.
And we pray that all unity will one day be restored.

As we’ve seen in earlier posts, Paul very much wants the Corinthians to understand their unity in the Holy Spirit.  They’ve asked him a question about spiritual gifts; over and over, he emphasizes that this, that, or the other gift has its origin in the one Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:4-11).

As he introduces the metaphor of the church as Christ’s body, he says it again: “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink” (vs. 13, CEB).

Note that Paul doesn’t say here, “We are all one body, regardless of what gift you have.”  That certainly is one of his concerns, and it may be theirs as well.  But the issue he seems to raise here, as he did in chapter 11 when chastising them for their corruption of the Lord’s Supper, is that the taken-for-granted social distinctions of ethnicity and social class are still divisive in a way that requires Paul to remind them of their unity.

That said, Paul’s way of reminding them is a curious and interesting one.  He uses two expressions, and in both cases, the emphasis is on the Spirit.  Some have read the verse as referring to two discrete events, suggesting that there may be a special kind of Spirit baptism.  But surely that would run counter to his repeated insistence that “we all” have the same status with respect to the Spirit, despite our cultural inclinations to divide people into categories.

Most likely, Paul means the two phrases about being “baptized by one Spirit” and being given “one Spirit to drink” to be taken as parallel expressions of the same truth.  It may be that Paul, having used the language of baptism, creatively follows the image of water to express a second and complementary idea.

What is that idea?  There’s no way to be certain.  But here’s what I think about when I read it.

When we are baptized, we are immersed in water; when we drink, we take water into ourselves.  If what was said in the previous post is at all valid, this may be yet another way to express our union with Christ.  The body into which are baptized is the body of Christ: by the Holy Spirit, we are in Christ, and simultaneously, Christ is in us.  The unity of the church is not an abstract organizational principle, but the reality of who God has made us to be.

We may be a dysfunctional body, but we are a body nonetheless.

And speaking of dysfunction…

Having hammered on the idea of our essential unity, Paul is ready to offer another correction:  “Certainly the body isn’t one part, but many” (vs. 14, CEB).  We may be one in the Spirit, but that doesn’t mean everyone has to be the same.  More on that in the next post.