On Being the Body of Christ

To the casual onlooker, a church may appear to be some kind of social institution or a club made up of like-minded individuals. To an outsider looking in, a church may be a fancy, ornate building where funerals and weddings take place. To a person with a secular mindset, a church may simply be an association with a particular set of beliefs in common. However, Christians know better. With even the tiniest bit of Biblical insight, the Church is seen as a number of things:

  • the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:23);
  • the temple of the Lord (Ephesians 2:21, 22);
  • the household of God (Ephesians 2:18, 19);
  • the army of the Lord (Ephesians 6:10—13);
  • the assembly of the saints (Ephesians 2:19);
  • the workmanship of God (Ephesians 2:10);
  • the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22, 23).

The Church is truly a remarkable thing, founded, built, and maintained by Jesus Christ Himself for the benefit of His people. Of all the metaphors used to describe it, the most fitting one must be “body of Christ.” Understanding what this foundational truth really means is vital in understanding our mission as believers.

1. Redefined relationships

a. Family values, reordered: Matthew 12:46—50

This brief, interesting incident is found in all three Synoptics (Mark 3:31—35; Luke 8:19—21). The point of this story is to demonstrate a spiritual truth: one’s relationship with Christ takes priority over any earthly relationship. A relationship with Jesus Christ changes everything. Or at least it should.

Jesus was teaching a large crowd, probably inside a packed house, and for some reason not revealed to us, His family wanted to speak to him. In fact, it seems they were “butting in,” or interrupting His work. Clearly His family’s spiritual values weren’t yet in alignment with His. In his account of the same incident, Mark gives us this added piece of information:

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:20, 21)

When somebody tapped our Lord on His shoulder while He was teaching all those people, Jesus’ took advantage of the interruption to make a point about priorities:

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” (Matthew 12:48)

This statement can be difficult for modern American readers to grasp with their emphasis on familial relationships. What was Jesus getting at? In no way was He diminishing His family, but rather He was giving the priority to His Heavenly Father and to fulfilling the Father’s will. Jesus’ remarkable answer indicates that spiritual ties are far more important than the ties of blood. No earthly relationship should be allowed to take precedence over obedience to the will of God. At the same time, Jesus taught something very profound about the nature of His Church: it is the family of God.

b. Renunciation, Luke 14:26

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be disciple.”

This is a troublesome verse because of the word “hate,” which is so strong. But Jesus is not advocating the hatred of any anybody. In the context of this verse, this “hate” is not absolute but relative. The Jews viewed social customs as being very important, and if one broke from the accepted social customs of the day pertaining to things like family loyalty, such an action would have been interpreted by onlookers as “hatred.” Jesus could no more contravene the commandment to honor one’s father and mother any more than He could teach people to hate themselves, especially in light of His teaching to “love others as you love yourself!”

Jesus’ point here is a simple one. A believer’s choices in life—all of his choices—must be related to his commitment to Christ. No earthly relationship or tie should interfere with one’s service to the Lord.

c. Radical commitment, Luke 14:27—33

In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. (verse 33)

More strong words from Jesus. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is known for saying many strong words himself, among them:

When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.

Is serving the Lord really a death sentence? Are you supposed to really give up “everything” to be be a Christian? What Jesus is saying is simply this: Look before you leap! Just like the man who wanted to build a tower needed to either count the cost or become a laughing stock, so the person who thinks they want to become a Christian needs to realize that following Christ is no “bed of roses” and that following Him requires commitment and dedication.

2. Christians are interdependent, 1 Corinthians 12:12—27

The Church is a single unit; it is the Body, not bodies, of Christ and the same Spirit works in the entire Body. However, the Church, just like a physical body, is a unity which also contains differences.

a. Unity of the Body, vs. 12—13, 27

The human body is a living organism that has many members or parts (arms, legs, eyes, ears, lungs, etc.); each member is different, yet each member contributes something vital to the whole body. Paul concludes that the Body of Christ is like a physical body. The unity of its members, like the unity of a physical body, is vital.

Church members come from a variety places: different walks of life, social classes, ethnic groups, each with different talents and interests, and yet the same spiritual life is present in them all. This spiritual life has the same source, provides the same energy, prompting them to fulfill the will of God both in their individual lives and in the corporate life of the Church.

b. Diversity in the Body, vs. 14—17

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. (vs. 14)

Pastor, teacher, caretaker, pianist, evangelist, deacon, member—each has a role to fill in the Church, just like each part of a physical body has a role to fulfill. If a role is neglected, the whole body will suffer. The caretaker should not be upset that they are not a Sunday School teacher. The secretary shouldn’t fret because they are not an elder. The evangelist is not suited to function as the pastor. No, every member has a role to fulfill in the Church and the Church is better off for that!

c. Placement within the Body, vs. 18—26

But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.

This is the highest possible appeal for unity: all parts of the body are the result of God’s sovereign activity. God created the human body completely and perfectly. God created the spiritual body as it is and bestowed upon each member a particular function as it pleased Him.

Without all the members—or the parts—of the human body, it would be a shapeless lump of flesh. Yes, the lump would have a sort of unity, but no variety of functions. It is the existence and the interaction of all the parts of the body that give it meaning and purpose. Thus Paul makes his point:

As it is, there are many parts, but one body. (vs. 20)

3. Assume responsibility for one another, Galatians 6:1—10

In the closing verses of the previous chapter, Paul contrasted with works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. Paul’s conclusion: Christians are supposed to be living Spirit-led lives.

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16, 25)

In chapter 6, Paul is going to help us understand what it means to “keep in step with the Spirit.” It begins with care and concern with other members of the Body of Christ.

a. Restore the fallen, vs. 1

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.

Here is a good way to keep in step with the Spirit because it reveals the true character and spiritual maturity of a believer. This is the clearest evidence that one is living by the Spirit: the presence of agape love manifesting itself with concern for one who has lost his way.

Paul’s hypothetical situation is a simple one. The one “caught in a sin” does not mean that a person’s sin was discovered by somebody else, rather Paul has the idea that a believer is “caught unaware” by sin in himself. Technically speaking, this should never happen if a Christian is living by the Spirit as described in chapter 5, but human beings are weak and if a spiritual failure takes place in a believer, a more mature believer—one who is living by the Spirit—has a responsibility to help the damaged believer repair that damage. This restoration probably won’t be quick; it will more than likely be a process, which will further demonstrate the maturity of the one walking in step with the Spirit.

b. Interdependence and independence, vs. 2—5

…each one should carry his own load. (vs. 5)

While it is true that as members of the Body of Christ we function in relation to one another, always ready to offer a helping hand—spiritual or otherwise—to a brother or sister in need, the fact is according to verse 5 the duty of every Christian is to carry his own load. That is, we are to strive to not be a burden to the Church. There is no contradiction between verses 2 and 5:

Carry each other’s burdens… (vs 2)

Verse 2 is referring to burdens much too heavy for one to bear by himself. The Greek word bare means “heavy burdens.” The word in verse 5 translated “load” is phortion, a word that is best rendered “pack.” In other words, each Christian has his pack to carry—he has his own work to do, so let him take pride in how he does it.

c. Sowing and reaping, vs. 6—10

Here is the famous group of verses which teach what many refer to as the “law of reciprocity,” that is, you reap what you sow. But the context reveals much more.

Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor. (vs. 6)

Christian love is to be manifested in caring for those who have fallen into sin, but it is also to be manifested in a more extensive way through fellowship. So the mature believer, having been taught the Gospel from other his teachers, had an obligation to share with them “all good things.” This is generally taken to mean material and financial support.

For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. (Romans 15:27)

With verse 7, it appears as though Paul is changing his topic. We have this impression because of the way verses 7 to 10 are generally taught: as a unity unto themselves. However, if they are read in connection to what Paul had just wrote, the real meaning becomes obvious:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (vs. 7, 8)

Some believers may fail to support their teachers adequately, and perhaps they thought such negligence was not all that important and went unnoticed by God. Paul in very strong language informs them that this most certainly not the case! “Don’t think you can outwit God by being cheap with your teachers,” Paul in essence said. If you think short-changing those who have taught you the Gospel was no big deal, you are deceiving yourself.

God has written an unalterable Law of the Universe that has been proved to be true a million different ways from the beginning of time. The nature of the harvest is determined by the planting. This is a tremendous spiritual principle Paul has given us. It applies to every area of life, although what occasioned it was the idea of making sure you paid those who taught you God’s Word!

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (vs. 9, 10)

Paul ends this section of the chapter on a very upbeat note. No believer should neglect doing good because doing good is really sowing the kinds of seeds that result in great blessings. However, it may take a while between the sowing and the reaping. It may require great patience before the blessing is realized. But the word of encouragement is positive: if you sow good seed, you will be blessed. There is, however, a proviso: if we do not give up. Believers cannot simply give up doing good. We must be consistent in our acts of kindness, compassion, and in manifesting God’s love to others, even if the promised blessings are slow in coming. The harvest will come, but not necessarily in our time. Solomon’s words are worth remembering:

…a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot… (Ecclesiastes 3:2)

Our primary concern is as it should be: with other believers.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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