Church; the Body of Christ
There was once a man who went to his vicar and complained; “The other day I came across a man in great distress, he had been robbed, beaten and had no where to stay. I phoned the church office, no answer, I phoned the Vicarage, three times – no answer, I even phoned the church warden – again no response. In the end I had to help the man, I gave him a shower, a warm bed, and a square meal. The church should have been there for him.” The vicar replied, “They were!”
Today we are looking at what it means to be the Body of Christ. Firstly, I want to look at some of the theology behind this concept and then I want to go on to a more practical application.
What does is mean to be the Body of Christ? This is a concept that mainly comes from Paul and which he expands upon in different letters. In Romans 6 he describes how we have been united with Christ in his death and resurrection, we die with him and rise with him, we die to sin and its hold over us and rise to eternal life. We are one with Christ in his death and resurrection. And the church marks this through the two sacraments of baptism and communion. As Christians we are united to Christ. We mark our death to sin and celebrate our redemption through his resurrection. We receive and participate in his body and blood each time we take communion.
In 1 Corinthians 12 verse 27 we read: “Now you are the body of Christ”. Notice that Paul does not say we are the body of Christians as you might expect, instead he says we are the body of Christ. As a body of Christians we are little more than a club (definition - an organization of people interested in a particular activity or subject who usually meet on a regular basis) but as the body of Christ we are an organic unity, in which we not only belong to Christ and to one another within his body, but also abide in HIM and find life in him. Without Christ, and for that matter without his body, there is no true salvation. David Watson.
Arnold Bittlenger describes it thus: In order to accomplish his work on earth Jesus had a body made of flesh and blood. In order to accomplish his work today, Jesus has a body that consists to living human beings.
All Christians are part of the Body of Christ. As 1 Corinthians 12:13 says, “For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink”. If we are Christians, we have all been baptised with/in/by his Spirit. Lesslie Newbigin says is well; “The life of the Christian is life in Christ, and it can at the same time be described as the life of Christ in the believer”. We are all in Christ and Christ is in us all by his Spirit.
We are all part of the body. But we are not all the same. 1 Corinthians 12:12&14 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ … And so the body is not made up of one part but of many. We are all different, we are all unique and we are all important. John Stott: “We are not to imagine that every Christian is an exact replica of every other, as if we had all been mass produced in some celestial factory. On the contrary, the unity of the church, far from being boringly monotonous, is exciting in its diversity. This is not just because of our different cultures, temperaments and personalities, but because of the different gifts which Christ distributes for the enrichment of our common life”. I find this so exciting and at the same time challenging! There is so much to discover about what makes the other members of the body tick, but it isn’t always easy to love them!
Each part of the body has a different role but in order to complete a task it will take more than just one part. Think about the parts of the body that are used to eat a meal (hands, eyes, mouth, tongue, teeth, intestine, stomach etc) the same principal applies when we see someone new come to faith (people to pray, someone to explain, someone to challenge, people to welcome and befriend).
In Ephesians 4 we read that the different roles of the different body parts are there to equip the body for service SO that we may be built up and come to maturity. If you don’t use certain muscles in your body they stop being effective and if we stop using the gifts and body parts that the Lord gives the church they too may stop being effective. The Body of Christ is to develop and come to maturity and it requires us to work together in the Lord’s service not as lone players in order to come to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
This is both scary and exciting. We have a powerful and loving God who has a work for his body to do. One thing I have learned over lockdown is that I can be a couch potato but my body will bulge, I will get breathless, my mind will dull and I will become bored and depressed. But if I get up and get going, I will get fitter, my mind will thrive and I will be inspired. I think that the church can be in danger of becoming a spiritual couch potato or in the words of David Prior “a pious ghetto of religious fanatics” instead of the Body of Christ placed in the world to serve.
We have a choice; do we sit around in a holy huddle or do we actively participate in the body of Christ? In my reading this week I was challenged by the question. “If your church closed tomorrow, would your community notice?”
Are we happy with the way our church is or do we want to mature and grow in Christ? One of the ways in which we grow to maturity is according to Paul in Ephesians 4:15 is speaking the truth in love. This was one of my promises as a member of the Lee Abbey Community. It means that rather than having a go at someone behind their back we are accountable to one another, we encourage one another to be the best we can be, to use our gifts, to pray for opportunities and to flourish within the Body of Christ.
The problem with the church is we tend to compare ourselves to others. This is a BAD idea. It can lead us to become jealous of others’ gifts or to think that we are less important. We start to want to be a hand, or an eye when God has made us a foot or an ear. As we saw earlier in order to complete a simple task like feeding ourselves, we need more than just one body part. God who made you has a place for you in his body. As it says in 1 Corinthians 12:18 God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. This means that if you are part of the body, he has placed you where he wants you to be and given you the gifts he wants you to have. Don’t allow envy, fear, a sense of inadequacy to prevent you from taking your part within the body. Be part of the adventure!
The second temptation within the body is to think that your role and place is more important than others’. They may look down at others who may be going through a hard time and actually need protecting and looking after, or they may be so ambitious that they only see what they do as having any significance. Unfortunately, we see again and again in the church across the world people who build empires. They model the church on themselves and seek to find their meaning and significance from what they give to the church. They may see themselves as God’s gift to the church. They forget that there is only one head and he is Jesus Christ! Indeed any Christian who operates independently from others is reducing their own effectiveness and that of the body as a whole.
Instead of building empires let us work together as the body ensuring that each part has equal concern for the others. As we care for our own body we need to take regular care of the Body of Christ but when one part of our body isn’t working properly we take special care of it – resting it, exercising it, giving it medicine and time to recover. So we care for those parts of the body of Christ.
Paul Barnett suggests that the poor and the weak (those who believe themselves to be “less”) are often not inclined to feel any concern for the rich and powerful, but rather to resent them. Equally, the powerful (those who are confident and ambitious) tend not to spare too much thought for the weak. Indeed, they would find it remarkable if the poor and weak felt or showed any concern for them. But Paul will not allow that divide to separate member from member in the body of Christ.
Each one of us belongs within the body of Christ and we have a distinctive contribution to bring. You may think that you are too weak, too young, too old, too poor, not intelligent enough etc to be of value, but God doesn’t. He made you for a purpose and Paul encourages us to desire and seek the gifts of the Holy Spirit in order to build up the body. You may not be able to go out and serve others but you can pray, you may not feel you have a good enough Bible knowledge to teach but you can tell others what God has done for you, you may not think you can visit people in need but you can pick up the phone and chat.
- We need one another
- We differ from one another
- We are to care for one another.
I believe that if we operate as the body of Christ in the wholesome way described by Paul there will be exciting times ahead where we see the Holy Spirit working in power through us. We will impact our community, see others come to faith, see men and women restored, healed and forgiven. BUT if we instead work as individuals, each with our own agenda, competing with one another, seeking personal glory and comfort we might as well shut down the church. We are not fulfilling our purpose.
As I end one final quote:
The Church is the Body of Christ, and the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. He fills the Body, directs its movements, controls its members, inspires its wisdom, supplies its strength. He guides into truth, sanctifies its agents, and empowers for witnessing. The Spirit has never abdicated His authority nor relegated His power. Samuel Chadwick