The Church: The Body of Christ

This post begins a new series called “The Church in Metaphors.” Each post explores a metaphor that the New Testament uses to describe the purpose of the church, what occurs at church, and what the Christian community is all about. 

Like many instances of metaphorical language, the phrase “body of Christ” has often slipped into our conversations about church without serious reflection. While it is a legitimate synonym for “church,” it is rich with meaning if we take the time to properly perform an operation. Several passages in Paul’s work pick up this language (See Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-27; Eph 4:1-13; Eph. 5:23, 30; Col. 1:24). For this post, I’d like to dissect some of the major functions of the “body of Christ” imagery to discover what the concept’s anatomy offers Christians today. There are at least three main observations I have about this metaphor.

Firstly, the body is a system that works together as one. Several of these passages stress the oneness of the body (Rom. 12:4; 1 Cor. 12:12-13; Eph. 4:4). Though on a local level churches seem to split and splinter all the time, the capital “C” Church is one and cannot be divided. “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” (1 Cor. 12:12). The fact that we are all the body and “members of one another” (Rom. 12:5) has natural ramifications. As Romans 12:3 reminds, we should not think so highly of ourselves or our gifts. Also, the Body must care for each other part. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26). In other words, we are all in this together.

Secondly, the body is a system that is made up of diversely gifted individuals. “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function,” Paul remarks in Romans 12:4. Look around at your church, and you can tell people are created differently—they don’t all do the same things nor can they all do the same things. But the purpose for gifts is not to lift ourselves up, but others. As 1 Corinthians 12:7 says: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” In Ephesians, the purpose of different roles in the Kingdom is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). Though the Body is One, each part is not the same—all parts work together, offering what they can, for the good of the whole. Let us not forsake our gifts.

Finally, the body is defined by its membership in Christ. When we experience the Christian community, we are participating in Christ himself. More than just a metaphor, “the body of Christ” is a statement about the spiritual status of the church. Though not using this metaphor, the idea is well-illustrated by Paul’s statement in Galatians 2:20 where he says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Our whole identity changes because we are in the Body that belongs to Christ—now Christ is in us as he is in our sisters and brothers in the Church global. In fact, the church’s very authority comes from the Christ. According to Paul in Ephesians 5:23, “Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.”
Calling the church “the Body of Christ” is more than just nice language. It shapes who we are, how we act, and how we make decisions.

Discussion Questions

  • At your church, what does it look like to be unified in the one Body of Christ?
  • What are your gifts, talents, or special roles in the church that make you unique?
  • How can Christians avoid competition revolving around our spiritual gifts?
  • What does it look like to think of church as a place to participate in Christ?
  • How do our lives change if we truly embrace being in the body of Christ?

Prayer Prompt

Ask the Lord to give you a spirit of unity as you approach the Body of Christ. Thank God for the Spirit’s gifts and pray for further chances to use them. Praise God for providing the church as a place to experience Christ’s works within us.

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