The Body of Christ


1 Corinthians 12:12-31

The human body is the perfect metaphor for the Church of Jesus Christ. If we were to quickly scan this twelfth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we’d see that in the first half he wrote about the Holy Spirit and the various spiritual gifts He distributes among believers. In this second half, he writes, not about individual members of the Church but of the Church as a whole – a single unit. He doesn’t use the body metaphor to push some kind socialist agenda or the notion that our individuality vanishes when we become Christians. Rather, the human body is a living organism made up of many “parts” or “members.” Similarly, the Church is like a body, specifically the Body of Christ, because it also is a living organism, made up of many and diverse “members.” Not only that, man is the hands-down crowing creative achievement of God – the most wonderful and glorious of God’s creations. So is the Church. This fact is lost on most Christians, by the way. A recent survey gives some startling and sad information about church attendance in America.

Numbers from actual counts of people in Orthodox Christian churches (Catholic, mainline and evangelical) show that in 2004, 17.7% of the population attended a Christian church on any given weekend.


That’s just pathetic. Less than 20% of Americans actually attend services regularly. We have a real problem here.  This, despite the fact that a majority of Americans “claim” to be Christians!   Of course, attending church services in no way makes you a Christian. However, getting up on a Sunday morning, leaving your home, and going to a church service is a powerful witness to your neighbors.

There are tons of good reasons for regular church attendance, in addition to the fact that the New Testament urges Christians to. But that’s a subject for another post. For now, let’s consider the Church as the Body of Christ.

The Church is one Body

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12 NIV84)

Recall that up till now Paul had been discussing individuals within the church and the gifts the Spirit had given them. Now it’s as though he pulls back the camera lens to focus on the forest rather than on the trees. He refers to the “forest” of believers as a “body.”

The main point of this verse is that there is just one body – one unit – made up of many parts. Think about what that means. A body with two heads would be a monster. There can only be one Head of the Church, and that’s Christ. There may be many churches, but there is one Christ.

…so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:5 NIV84)

Individual members may have different gifts, but they are all brought into unity under Christ. Dods comments:

The same spiritual life exists in all Christians, derived from the same source, supplying the with similar energy, and prompting them to the same habits and aims.

Each member is united by one Spirit

For we were all baptized by none Spirit into one body… (1 Corinthians 12:13a NIV84)

Now, how does a person become part of the Body of Christ? This verse tells us. It’s not referring to being baptized in water, as some sacerdotal churches teach. Paul is referring to the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that makes us part of the Body of Christ. You can see that the Holy Spirit is an indispensable member of the Trinity! He’s often neglected, but thank God for what He does in us and for us. He lives through believers (gifts of the Spirit), enables believers to live God-glorifying lives (fruit of the Spirit), and He makes believers part of the Body of Christ.  You may become part of a local church by confession of faith, but you become part of the Church by an act of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. (John 6:63 NIV84)

The Body of Christ includes every member

…whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (1 Corinthians 12:13b NIV84)

In other words, all Christians share in the fellowship of Christ. Regardless of color, social status, location, sex, or gifts, all believers are “given the one Spirit to drink.” That’s Paul’s fancy, artistic way of saying all believers are able to have close communion with Christ through His Holy Spirit.

This is an amazing declaration, when we consider it. There are those members of the Church we think are closer to God because of their position within the Church. The pastor, for example. He must be closest of all to Christ. Sunday school teachers and elders must surely be closer to Christ than the average member. Not so, according to Paul. Regardless of the gift a member may possess – from the splashy, obvious gifts church leaders may exercise, to the almost unseen and always under appreciated gifts of the prayer warrior, all are able to be as close to Christ as the Holy Spirit makes possible.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13 NIV84)

There is no distinction between the worship leader and the sound man and the treasurer. All believers were once “far away” and we’ve all been “brought near by the blood of Christ,” not by our talents and gifts.

Each member has his own function

But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. (1 Corinthians 12:18 NIV84)

A foot can’t do the work of a eye. An ear can’t do the work of a hand. The liver does something the heart can’t do. There are many different Spiritual gifts and God has blessed His church with a diversity of gifts as He sees fit. God is the One who sovereignly distributes the gifts of the Spirit as it pleases Him.

And here’s why attending your local church is so very important. All believers – all members of Christ’s body – have been given spiritual gifts to be used in the church. You don’t use spiritual gifts in your office or your classroom. The gifts are specifically given to bless and minister to other members of the local church. If you are part of the majority of church “members” who do not attend church regularly then you are robbing the congregation of something God wants it to have.

You may not have a splashly spiritual gift, but don’t be discouraged! Be a part of the congregation and do what God has enabled you to do for the good of that congregation. And if you don’t know what your gift is, pray that God will show you. All believers have a spiritual gift – at least one! Find out what yours is, jump in and let the Spirit use you in your church. If you are a member of Christ’s Body, there is something you should be doing for Him. Find out what it is. A useless member is a betrayal of Christ’s character.

All members are interdependent

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” (1 Corinthians 12:21 NIV84)

Here’s an admission that you will seldom hear from any of the majority of church members who lay out of services week after week: each member of the body needs the help of the others. Yes, as hard as it may be for you to admit, you Lone Ranger, self-made Christian you, you need the rest of us. In fact, you can’t survive without us.

When members of the church lose their sense of unity, they’re heading into rough waters. Those who may feel inferior may just wander out of the church never to be seen again. Those who feel superior to the rest of us may lose their sense of spiritual values and perspective and become hypocrites who talk all-day long about God while they have virtually nothing to do with Him or His church.

On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable… (1 Corinthians 12:22 NIV84)

The English “weaker” comes from the Greek “asthenes,” which means “sick,” “weak,” and “feeble.” We’re not sure which members Paul is referring to, but we can guess. Who is a weak church member? Is it one who occasionally has lapses in his faith? One who may not be as Biblically literate as you are? Or how about the ones who seem to be spiritually immature? Well, hold on to your hymnals! Paul says members like that are indispensable!

...and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. (1 Corinthians 12:23a NIV84)

The “less honorable” member is not the same one as the “weaker” member. Look at another translation:

And we carefully protect from the eyes of others those parts that should not be seen, while of course the parts that may be seen do not require this special care. (1 Corinthians 23b, 24a TLB)

What does Paul mean by this? Well, remember, he’s referencing the human body. Some parts of it we always keep covered for obvious reasons. And as we get older, we cover up even more! What Paul is getting at is this: The human body is built according to God’s design and so is the Church.

So God has put the body together in such a way that extra honor and care are given to those parts that might otherwise seem less important. (1 Corinthians 12:24b TLB)

Do you get it? Referring to the human body, everybody can see your face, but you keep your private parts covered up all the time. But that doesn’t mean your face is more important that your private parts. Or how about your heart?  Nobody sees it (if we can see your heart, you’re beyond help!), but you can’t live without it!  God has skillfully blended together all your bodily organs and parts so that there is complete harmony between all them all. And so it is with the members of His Church. All its members, from the one behind the pulpit that everybody sees, to the one who vacuums between the pews week after week, are vitally important to the survival of the Church.

There is no division in His Body in His sight

…so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. (1 Corinthians 12:25 NIV84)

We must treat each member of the Church the way God sees them. Here’s how He sees them:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 NIV84)

There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to one hope when you were called… (Ephesians 4:4 NIV84)

God sees all members of His Body, regardless of their gifts and talents, as indispensable. And that’s how we ought to see each other. We shouldn’t play favorites. The things that divide society have no place in God’s Church.

Each member should care for the other

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:26 NIV84)

There is no place for jealousy or envy or strife in the Church. Because God is One, His Church should reflect that oneness in unity. There should be no divisions in the Body of Christ.

This verse describes the what real care looks like. When we love each other in Christ, the Church (including your local church) will function like a human body.

The Church is an organism. It is not a club, or a society, or a guild, or an association, or even a fellowship. To view it as such is to lower its dignity.

And yet, like those groups, the local church does have a membership roll, and a chain of leadership. If you join a local church, you have certain obligations to that body of believers. As a Christian you possess certain spiritual gifts your local church needs. As a Christian you owe Christ your dedication, commitment, and service. You owe that to His Body – from the great invisible Body of Christ in which all believers from all time have been placed by the Holy Spirit, to the local church you joined by confession of faith and promised to be loyal to.

So, what will you be doing next Sunday?


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