One Body in Christ - part 1
Probably everyone has a handful of people whom they like to be around.
There are our much loved friends, our family, and our favourite church members. But to a degree, we still prefer to be isolated from others. Often by deliberate choice there is a separation between people. And even without being aware of it, we slip into judging each other.
I remember reading once that when we meet someone new, we quickly form a judgment about them. Within five seconds of their beginning to speak, or even before they have said anything, we have reached conclusions about what kind of person they are—conclusions based on superficial things like the kind of clothes they wear, their face, and the shape of their body. After five seconds we know (or we think we know): “This is a person I want to talk to.” Or, “This is someone I don’t care about.”
We also judge one another based on views and opinions. We’ve labelled some people in our church as “conservative,” others as “liberal,” and so on. Whether this is a successful person, a younger person, or an important person—that determines how I am going to treat them.
With what kind of eyes do you look at people? Whether in wider society or in our own lives and in our churches, there is this constant creation of islands: groups in isolation from others.
Conflict in Corinth
Is this something new? Not at all. Humans have always been experts at making distinctions and building walls. As long as there are other people with us on our side of the wall, we are happy.
We see it in the Bible too, in 1 Corinthians 12. In Paul’s time, there were a few well-known dividing lines, things that put you in one camp or another. Were you a slave, or were you a free person? Were you a Jew, or were you a Greek? A citizen of Rome, or a non-citizen? These were significant divisions. A Jew had nothing to do with a Greek. A slave was a nobody. Only a citizen had any rights.
As people who used to be pagans and unbelievers, the Corinthians were accustomed to making these kind of judgments. They were used to looking at people with the standards of the world. They were so used to it that even when they became Christians, they kept forming cliques and special groups. Only now they were fighting over something different: they were fighting over which spiritual gift was best, and which role in the church was most important.
Paul can hardly believe it. In Corinthians 12:4-6 you can hear him insisting to these divided believers:
There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.
In other words, how can there ever be division when we have the same God, the same Lord, the same Spirit?
But judging other people, and being separate from others, still happens. It happens in the very place where it shouldn’t happen, among Christ’s people! Like those Corinthians, we tend to think a lot of ourselves. “I have gifts and talents. I’m important and interesting. And I will spend time with the people who are easy to spend time with, the ones who approve of me.” But everyone else hardly matters.
The Holy Spirit says there is a better way. Instead of being lonely islands in the ocean—separate from one another, disconnected and eroding—we are part of the great continent that is the one church of Jesus Christ, unified and firm. Another way to put that: We are all members of Christ’s body. This is what Paul says in verse 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.
One Body, Many Parts
There are a few pieces to what Paul says about the body of Christ, so we should look at this carefully.
“The body is one”—this seems obvious. We each have one: a cohesive body, tightly integrated with itself and unified. Almost by definition, a body is one. The limbs and all the parts are meant to stay together. If the body isn’t one, then it is probably dead.
“A body has many members.” There are so many different parts to the body. Four limbs: two arms, two legs. One each of a brain, a nose, and a mouth; two eyes, two ears; 206 bones, more than 600 muscles, and 900 ligaments. The human body has about 7,500 named parts!
Many of our body parts are so very different from each other. There is everything from your beautiful eyes, to your squishy liver, to your ugly toes. Yet together they are a cohesive whole. You need it all, because that’s how God designed it: “All the members of that one body, being many, are one body.”
Now for the comparison, the essential truth we need to work with: “So also is Christ.” Paul is saying that Christ has one body. And it is the church. It is all the people who believe in Him for life and salvation.
Like the body has so many different parts with different functions, there’s also so many believers in Christ Jesus. There are people with all kinds of backgrounds and abilities and strengths and weaknesses, but in Christ we are unified. In Christ, we are meant to function together.
That is the next thing Paul says, in verse 13, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free.” Notice how Paul chases hard after those fundamental differences between people: “Are you a Jew, or Greek? Are you a slave, or a free person?”
Just like we would say: “Are you white or coloured? Rich or poor? A tradesman or a professional?” It doesn’t matter. Why not? Because “by one Spirit we were all baptized into body.”
When we receive the Holy Spirit and believe in Jesus Christ, we become part of something far bigger than what can be defined by race, character, culture, or economics. For we the many are part of the one body of Christ!
Connected to the Head
One implication of being the body of Christ is the importance of being connected to our Head. That is more basic biology. The rest of your body parts won’t do well if you remove your head. In the same way, as believers we need to be joined to Christ. He is essential, the one who is over all those other parts of the body. The Head gives the direction and purpose and vitality that are crucial to life.
When the Bible speaks about the church being “Christ’s body,” that is not simply his ownership of us. To be Christ’s body means having a union with Him, a personal attachment with Him as Saviour.
Compare it to when you talk about “your house” or “your car”—those are just things that you have, that you have paid money for, and you might sell one day. It is a lot different when you speak of “your hand” or “your heart,” for that is more than ownership. These are integral parts of you that you won’t give up.
In the same way we are Christ’s body: we are joined to Christ by faith, and all his benefits and blessings become ours.
We are connected to Christ, and connected to one another—only now the question is what this body will do. The question is whether we will live in the unity that is ours. Will the body of Christ merely talk about this unity, or will we actually experience it?
This is what we will consider in the next article.