The Apostle Paul compared the Church to the body of Christ in several of his epistles. He expounded on this idea most in 1 Corinthians 12. I was thinking about this the other day when a friend and I were talking about all the different groups within our church and the different jobs they do. This is exactly what Paul says. Just as the different parts of the body serve unique functions, different members of a church serve unique purposes.
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. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13.
My friend used the analogy of a flock of birds that flies in unison to describe how we ought to be as a church. We all should be going in the same direction together, she said. But with a flock of birds, there is no real connection. Any one bird can leave the flock and fly a different way. I think that Paul’s analogy of the church being like a body is much more appropriate to understanding how a church must work.
In the church, some people function as the eyes to see and discern the direction the church must go. Others serve as the mouth, either preaching, teaching, or singing the gospel to the rest of the body. Still others serve as the hands, doing the visible work of the church, whether that be setting up for services or providing food baskets for the needy. And then there are those that serve as the stomach of the church — I may not know what they do for the church because like the digestive work of the stomach their work is hidden — but I know what they do is vital for the life of the church.
There are some body parts that one can live without, such as a hand, foot, or eye. And in the church there are certain functions that can be lacking but the body as a whole can still serve the Kingdom of God. But one very important part of the body, without which it will die, is the heart. The heart pumps blood to the other organs and extremities to provide them with vital oxygen and nutrients. In the church, all of the parts of the body of Christ must be fed by the life blood pumped through them by heart of Christ. Without Christ, the body — the church — is dead.
A body must also have brain function. The brain sends vital electrical signals throughout the body to tell it what to do. If the eye sees a danger approaching, it sends a signal to the brain that then transmits the orders to get out of the way. When the order comes, the hands and feet obey or risk serious injury. In the church, the Holy Spirit serves as the brain. Each part of the body of Christ must be in communication with the Holy Spirit.
A person whose body no longer communicates with the brain because of a severed spinal cord become a quadriplegic. Since the brain still communicates with the parts of the head and certain vital organs, that person can still serve the Kingdom of God with their eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. But the rest of the body can become an obstacle that must be overcome for effective ministry to occur. In the same way, if parts of the church are not in communication with, are not actively listening to, the Holy Spirit, they can become obstacles that the rest of the body must overcome. Serving the Kingdom of God is not impossible, just more difficult and challenging.
Having said all that, I have to ask myself “so what?” How does considering this comparison of the body of Christ to a physical body help me serve God better? The answer is that it makes me think long and hard about what part of the body I am supposed to be. When I say “yes’ to yet another church committment, am I serving the function God wants me to serve, or am I a hand trying to function as an eye? Am I worried about what the other members of the body are doing and wishing that was me or am I content to fulfill the function for which God made me.
But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 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 12:18-21.
It also makes me think about how important it is for ME to have the heart of Christ and to be in communication with the Holy Spirit. Because I keep these things in mind, I am aware of my role as an encourager in the church (don’t ask me what body part that corresponds to). And so I listen to the Holy Spirit and tell the hands “We need you. Your work is important.” I tell the eyes, “Thanks for keeping a lookout for us and discerning the direction we should go.” I say to the feet, “You’ve done a great job of bearing the burden of taking us in the direction the eyes have seen is appropriate.” All the parts are vital, seen or unseen. We are the body of Christ bringing knowledge of the Kingdom of God to a world that needs it.