The Body of Christ

When I played basketball in middle school, I much preferred defense to offense. I always loved getting under the goal when it came time for rebounds because I didn’t mind scrapping to get the ball and either get it to the other end of the court or in the basket. As it would often happen, there were rebounds I made that came at a price. The ball would sometimes bounce so hard and fast off the backboard that when I’d reach up to catch it, my right ring finger would jam because of the force with which the ball came off the backboard. That particular finger has been stuck so much that I wondered for a time whether or not if it would adequately reset. Thankfully, it did.

While playing with a jammed finger on your shooting hand, I often missed shots because I couldn’t grip the ball or follow entirely through with my release because of the pain. I had never realized just how much work that one finger contributed to the overall game. My feet and arms worked in tandem to get me from one point to the other. My hands could block or receive a pass. My legs could thrust me up for a rebound, but the fingers, wrist, arm, legs, eyes, and all were vital to sinking a shot. I could make a minor adjustment to make the shot despite the pain, but I never took that finger for granted anymore after it jammed.

When Paul wrote about Christ’s assembly, he used the depiction of a body in 1 Corinthians 12. He opens with a precursory discussion about spiritual things—“gifts” not existing in the original but implied by context—through which Christ is called Lord and never accursed since the Holy Trinity is one (cf. 1 Cor. 12:1–3). Those hearing this letter read had been gentiles led astray by idols, such who were often at odds with one another. Reading Iliad and Aeneid shows just how the gods often warred against each other on behalf of people(s). Carrying this mindset into Christianity would have been antithetical to the faith, because Father, Son, and Spirit work in unity and are not divided, as the Corinthians were.

In the same manner, the same Spirit by whom one confesses Christ as Lord is one who gives the diversity of gifts (charismaton), ministries, and activities (1 Cor. 12:4–7). The Spirit is one God but gives to each person something that may be different from another. They are diverse but united (1 Cor. 12:8–11). As was then is now: just because one person has giftedness does not mean that those with differing gifts or none at all are any less Christian than the one so endowed. This is the central point that Paul makes, and he makes it in verses 12–13 of 1 Corinthians 12.

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.

Jesus Christ is a single body. Those belonging to Him come to be in Him and members of the body through baptism. They then become members of that individual body, and our unity in Christ demonstrates that we are so through His worldview.[1] Our baptism signifies and defines us at the people of Christ: Christian. We who submit to baptism, therefore, are to learn the way of life Jesus intends for us as His covenant people. It matters not whether we are of one nationality or another, one socio-economic standing or another. What matters is that we are born into the body of which Christ is our head (cf. Col. 1:18; 2:19) in the same manner in which all humanity has as its head Adam, and all Israel had as their head the forefather who bore their same name.[2]

With this in mind, we ought not to see a fellow Christian’s giftedness as a sign of greater piety or devotion to God. Nor should we look upon those with a title as more significant than others who lack an ecclesiastical title (cf. 1 Cor. 12:28–31). Each member of the body has its purpose(s) and ought not to be regarded as of lesser value than any other (cf. 1 Cor. 12:15–24) because no one body is ever in discord, but harmony (1 Cor. 12:25–26). This, now, leads to a few implications of the church as the body of Christ.

  • The church is where Christ is, and He is its creating and sustaining force. He promised to build such an assembly (Matt. 16:18), and He has also promised to never forsake His people (Heb. 13:5–6). You can find Christ at church (assembly), and when we who are members of that body conduct ourselves honestly with Him as our head, people see the significance of the church and would want to be a part of the body. There’s more to assembling than what we wear, or how reverent we act. If we do not embody His headship as our lives, we present ourselves as hypocrites and shouldn’t wonder why it is hard to get people to come, let alone join.
  • The church is as important to Jesus as your body is to your head. If you sever yourself from the head as a member of the body, you will die. We fit together like an intricate whole, so willfully neglecting assembly and living a life separated from the body makes as much sense as beheading someone and expecting the body to still work without the head. Because Christ is our head, “He is Savior of the body” (Eph. 5:23). We shouldn’t seek to be separated from our leader.
  • The presence of Jesus in the world should be represented by us, His people. We ought to continue the very ministry of Christ, and though we each have different parts to play, we all ought to contribute to the growth of the whole (Eph. 4:16).

Sir Michael Costa was a great orchestral Conductor of the 19th Century. It is said that one day he was conducting a rehearsal in which the orchestra was joined by a great choir. Midway through the session, the piccolo player stopped playing. It seemed innocent enough – after all who would miss the tiny piccolo amidst the great mass of instruments blazing away? All of a sudden Sir Michael stopped the entire orchestra and choir. “Stop! Stop! Where’s the piccolo? What’s happened to the piccolo?” We may sometimes feel like that piccolo player – that we don’t have much to offer, that if we stopped our ministry no one would notice anyway. Yet the Great Conductor sees, and needs us to complete his musical masterpiece!

[1] N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2013), 396.

[2] Eduard Schweizer, The Church as the Body of Christ (Richmond: John Knox, 1964), 53.

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