The Body of Christ

The Bible’s two primary dissertations on the Body of Christ (the Church) are found in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12. The Apostle Paul, though writing to different audiences, penned both passages in the same year – 56 or 57 A.D. Thus they have some ideas in common, especially on the theme of the Body of Christ:

  • The body has many members (Romans 12:4, I Cor. 12:14)
  • Each member has its own function (Romans 12:4,6-8, I Cor. 12:4-7
  • Each member belongs to the other (Romans12:5, I Cor. 12:14-21

Each function of the members directly benefits the whole body and its individual members (Romans 12:6-8, I Cor. 12:7-11)
Both passages on the body are followed by a dissertation about love (Romans 12:9-21, I Cor. 12:31-13:1-13).

Paul’s use of the human body as an illustration of the nature of the church is not accidental. Elsewhere Paul says very clearly to his readers that Jesus Christ “is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). Paul, a Jew, was writing to Romans and Corinthian Greeks. Corinth, in fact, was made up of nearly half a million people from all over the empire, from diverse cultures. They were people with different histories and backgrounds, and moral values, though still of the same political empire. Though Paul was a foreigner to both peoples (Romans and Greeks), and from a despised race (Jews), he wrote to both with the same authority as an Apostle of Christ, his authority signifying that his words were the standard by which the churches from both cultures must operate. Paul established one of the churches himself (Corinth) in 51 A.D., but had not been to Rome. In spite of this he writes with the same binding authority to both – authority that binds us even today.

Paul’s emphasis on the members of the body belonging to one another is prefaced first with the necessity of personal humility. Paul writes in Romans 12:3, “For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think…” then he proceeds to teach about equal membership in the body of Christ. Equal membership in the body of Christ implies equal rights in that same body.

In I Corinthians 11:23-26 Paul prefaces his dissertation on the body by giving an example of humility during the Last Supper, as Christ prepared to die for mere men. Paul himself demonstrated his own humility by referring to his apostleship and the authority under which he wrote as “the grace given to me” (Romans 12:3). He again wrapped the topic in humility in Romans 12:16 when he says, “Do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.”

With such a preface Paul states to his foreign brothers in Christ that their membership in Christ’s body is not determined by them individually or collectively, rather, they are “all members of one another” (Romans 12:5), that we were all baptized by the same Holy Spirit into the same body, with Paul intentionally stating that equal membership was given to Jews and Greeks (I Corinthians 12:13). Paul’s meaning is plain; there is no such thing as a national church, or race church. It does not matter if the believer or group of believes is Mongolian, or American, or Korean, or even – gasp – Chinese! All are equal members of Christ, receiving the same salvation, the same grace, and the same Spirit, by the same means. Thus all deserve the same love and respect. Paul states as much by saying, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love, give preference to one another in honor” (Romans 12:10). Paul even goes so far as to reprimand his readers when he writes of the Christian who says of his brother, “I have no need of you” (I Corinthians 12:21). Look at his context:

”The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you;’ or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’”

Did you catch the most important word in that passage?

”The head.”

Paul teaches that even Christ – the head of the church – considers even the lowliest regarded member of the body – the feet – as if He needs them equally. In fact, Paul calls such members, “Indispensable” (I Corinthians 12:22). What a strong statement! The God who created the universe, who is self-existent and needs nothing to sustain himself, says that He, the head, “needs” us. What a remarkable picture of God’s grace. If he needs us, then how much more do we need one another? Desperately!

Sadly, there are always some in the body of Christ who regard other members as unnecessary or undesirable. It is a sad and all too often frequent thing. We usually do this over areas of disagreement, theology, personal or worship expression, and so on. And while it’s important not to associate ourselves with false religion, a false teacher, or false prophet (Deuteronomy 18:12-14, 20), Paul makes no distinction between members of the body of different ideas, motivations, or functions. Paul says we have “gifts that differ according to the grace given to us” (Romans 12:6). Intimating of the offenses and wrongs often done by members of the body to one another, Paul says, “Never pay back evil for evil…Never take your own revenge…Do not be overcome with evil” (Romans 12:17-21).

Imagine the sad state of affairs for a church if a member or members of the body of Christ, against Paul’s admonitions in I Corinthians 12:21, refused to have anything to do with a fellow and equal brother over such minor things as personal disagreements or personality conflicts. Certainly such things are “normal,” even in the Christian church! But God has not called the church and its members to be “normal.” He has called us to live supernatural lives of forgiveness, grace, and peace.

As a conservative non-charismatic I cannot say that I don’t need charismatics. The beauty of Paul’s words is that I need charismatics, and they need non-charismatics equally, and we both need the head, who is Christ, who himself declares that he needs us! The Mongolian believer or church cannot say he/they do not need the “foreigner” – especially when his faith was birthed from a foreign source! Paul did this for the Corinthian church. Nor could the Romans declare they did not need him though they had never met (Romans 1:11-13), as Paul’s writings set the tone for what the church in Rome would eventually become. Nor can the foreigner say he is separate from, or does not need the Mongolian church. The foreign believer needs the Mongolian believer in no less or greater way than the Mongolian needs him. In Christ he is not a foreigner. In Christ he is not a Mongolian. There is no Mongolian church! There is no American, British, Korean, or even – gasp! – Chinese church. As Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Paul’s emphasis on the equal membership and rights within the body of Christ concludes with his strong admonition to love in Romans 12:9-16 and I Corinthians 13. His meaning is clear for all. Those who shun their brothers without just cause are not following Christ’s command to love. It is no coincidence that immediately after detailing the various roles of the members of the body that Paul says in the same breath, “Let love be without hypocrisy” (Romans 12:9). Even the Apostle John noted something similar when he said, “We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (I John 3:14-15).

The roles we play as members of the body of Christ are more than mere functions. God has designed that our gifts be expressions of His love. For if the roles we have within the body of Christ are gifts from God, empowered in us by His Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 12:4), then how much more that which Paul calls “a more excellent way” (I Corinthians 12:31) – love! Even Paul notes that our roles as members of the body become meaningless unless exercised in love (I Corinthians 13:1-3, 8-9).

Sometimes we refer to person who acts out of sorts by saying that he doesn’t have his head on straight. In the church we always have our head (Christ) on straight – but we sometimes don’t accept the signals He sends to control our functions, we disobey – we have a spasm.

The world is filled with spastic Christians. Join me at looking into the mirror.

May you and I always be in regular and obedient communion with Christ, allowing Him to express Himself through our lives with His very own love. As Bill Bright used to say, we must allow Christ to walk with our feet, work with our hands, think with our minds, and love with our hearts. Without true, Christ-like, Spirit-begotten love, we will not function properly, or meaningfully, and could find ourselves with the grievous attitude that we are the head and determiner of what the body is, and what it does, instead of ascribing that role to the only true head of the single church body, Jesus Christ.

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