The Church as a Body [Part 1]

The New Testament describes the church as a family, a structure being built by God, a holy temple where God dwells, and God’s field. All of these metaphors identify different aspects of the church’s makeup, but perhaps no metaphor is more pervasive in the NT than the church as a body. The texts that speak of the church as a body are extensive in their own right. In light of this, I’m going to handle them one by one, rather than posting a blog the size of the book of Jeremiah.

The first text is 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 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.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?

But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 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.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 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, which our more presentable parts do not require.

But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 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.

The Greek word translated “body” is the well-known word soma. In this context it is defined as “A unified group of people, of the Christian community or church.”[1] This metaphor has massive implications for those people who make up the church. Identifying the church as a body clues us into the reality that the very design of the church demands unity. It also clues us into the fact that those who make up the church will, by their very nature, create a context of diversity. So, the church will be a place of both diversity and unity simultaneously.

According to this text, as the Body of Christ:

  • We are unified or we are dead.
  • Unity is as important as life itself.
  • We, by nature, will be marked by unity and diversity.
  • We will have different passions, functions, identifications, roles, and responsibilities, but we can only accomplish them if we are unified.
  • Our unity must be maintained through corporate and individual humility.[2]
  • God composes us, so we must respect his design within us.
  • We share in honor, suffering, and joy together.

Before posting this I changed that last bullet point. Originally, I had it written in such a way that it communicated an ideal instead of a reality. I almost said “We must share in honor, suffering, and joy together.” But that is not what this text says. There is no “must” in this text. If Yoda were teaching this at a Wednesday night Bible study he would say, “There is no try, there is do and do not.”

Yoda

Look again at what it says in vv. 24-26:
But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 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.

God has composed the church as a body. He created it this way. He did this so that there may be no division in the body. He made us dependent on one another, as our arms and legs are dependent on our joints and ligaments, in order that there may be unity. So, if one suffers or is honored, we all suffer or rejoice.

This reality leads me to believe that there are a lot of things out there masquerading as “the church” that aren’t really the church. We know that in our local churches there are people, and there are mentalities, that certainly destroy unity. Perhaps that is why Paul bangs the drum so hard for unity and discipline throughout his letters.

Paul’s letter to Titus gives us very clear instruction on this subject. In talking about the role of an Elder in the local church he says:

He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.
Titus 1:9-11 

Later on, after specific instruction to each age demographic in Crete (where Titus served), Paul exhorts Titus:

Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
Titus 2:15 – 3:2 

And again:

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
Titus 3:9-11 

There is certainly a place for grace and gentle instruction, but when it comes to those who stir up division and disunity, I don’t hear Paul speaking in placid tones. There is authority here, and Paul is seeking to awaken the local church leadership in Crete to their responsibility to discipline those who stir the pot.

I think on a local church level we really hesitate to exercise biblical discipline because we’ve heard of the graceless abuses that have taken place at times. But the alternative that I think we see in many local churches is a total lack of regard for the biblical instruction to discipline disunity, and the result is a crippled church. We owe it to each other as the body of Christ to call one another on the carpet when we act like children. There is no place for passivity when it comes to discipline and discipleship. Far too many churches are held hostage by the exact type of people that Paul was telling Titus to put a lid on. May God give us the grace to follow him in this regard, that his body would function just as he designed it.

 

[1] BDAG.

[2] No one can look down on others (1 Cor. 12:15-16), and no one can spend time focusing their full attention on themselves (“Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body!”).

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About Pastor Andrew

Follower of Jesus, Husband to Carissa, Daddy to four daughters, Lead Pastor at LifePoint Church in Vancouver, WA.
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2 Responses to The Church as a Body [Part 1]

  1. Pingback: Church as a Body [Part 2] | 2theSource

  2. Pingback: The Church as a Body [Part 4] | 2theSource

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