“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14).
In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul uses a double analogy that is worth meditating upon. First, the apostle reminds us that by the means of the one Spirit that is given to us, we are made part of the one body of Jesus Christ (vs. 13a).
But Paul then extends the analogy of being baptized in the Spirit just as we are baptized in water to say that we are “all given the one Spirit to drink” (vs. 13b), just as we drink water. Paul frequently talks about baptism in his letters and uses other analogies such as that of the Israelites being completely baptized in the Red Sea by means of the water around them and the cloud (water vapor) above them (1 Corinthians 10:2). In 1 Corinthians 12, however, Paul extends the analogy in a unique manner by saying that after baptism, we are all given the Spirit to “drink.”
Paul’s words here are reminiscent of those of Jesus, of course, when he said “…Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink” (John 7:37). Notice also Paul’s statement earlier in 1 Corinthians regarding the Israelites in the wilderness, that they “… drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4).
So the overall analogy that Paul makes is that we are first baptized in the Spirit and then we drink the Spirit. To be baptized means that we enter into the water, and to drink means that we let the water enter us. We are surrounded by water on the outside in baptism, then filled on the inside as we “drink” the Spirit.
In saying this, Paul first stresses that we must never be content to stay at the point where we were baptized and received the initial deposit of the Spirit of God – we are then called to drink more and more of that Spirit till we are filled with it (Ephesians 5:18).
We drink the Spirit in a number of ways. Jesus said: “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63), and we drink as we study those words and make them part of us. We drink as we pray for the Spirit: “… If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13). We drink to the degree that we set our minds on the things of God as opposed to the things of this world: “Those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:5).
But there is a final aspect to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 that we should not overlook – it is what Paul says regarding the one body and many. Paul makes it clear that if we repent and are baptized, we receive a portion or deposit of the Spirit of God and in so doing we become part of the one body of Christ (vs. 13a) – we are the same as all other believers in this. But he then stresses that although we are all given the one Spirit to drink, “Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many” (vs. 14). We are one with and like all other believers in baptism, but to the different degrees we drink the Spirit, we are separate and unique.
Paul’s message is a powerful one – through baptism we receive the Spirit and are granted inclusion in the one body of Christ. Our identity is lost in his. But it is to the degree that we then continue to seek and drink the Spirit that we become different – different parts within the same body, with different gifts and responsibilities. Paul’s simple analogy teaches us that while we can rejoice in becoming part of the one body through baptism, we must never rest there. We must then continue to drink the Spirit. To the degree we do, we are a unique part of the body, having in that sense a unique relationship with God – and God may uniquely use us.