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. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.1 Corinthians 12:12-13
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul uses a familiar metaphor to help us understand how the church functions and fulfills its purpose. Our physical bodies are one unified body, yet with many “members” or parts: arms, legs, eyes, ears, nose, mouth. Each of the parts are not isolated and independent, doing their own thing, working towards their own purposes.
The arm doesn’t have any grand ambitions to separate itself from this annoying, restrictive body and make it on his own in the world. No! All the diverse parts work together to make the body function and fulfill its purpose.
Paul continues, “…so it is with….” Now, what we expect to hear is “so it is with the church.” Because Paul is clearly talking about the church.
But Paul says, “so it is with Christ.” Paul makes such a connection between Christ and the church, that he can sometimes use the terms interchangeably! He will go on to say, “You (the church) are the body of Christ…” (12:27).
Christ is represented, witnessed, and embodied in the world through the church, including through specific, local churches like ours. And that’s how God intended it. Knowing full well we would often fail miserably at this.
This also means that if you identify with Christ—if you call yourself a Christian—you are necessarily a part of his body, the church. You are not called and saved to belong to Christ, and ignore and reject his body. There is no place for a Christian to get grand ambitions and dreams of what they could do if they could only separate themselves from this restrictive and difficult group of people called the church.
No, being a Christian means belonging to the church, Christ’s body, God’s people. That’s how God designed it.
A further implication of this is that the work and ministry of a church, if it is to be healthy and effective, involves the whole church. The work of God’s church doesn’t just happen on stage, on Sundays, or in the elder meetings, or among those with official roles.
The work of God’s church happens among the whole church body: on Sundays and throughout the week, in formal and informal ways, in conversations, in texts, in invitations to share a meal, in asking questions, in reading the Bible together, in providing for one another’s needs, in using our various spiritual gifts to serve one another.
Again, “you are the body of Christ….” You—who confess Jesus—are the church. You are not merely a consumer of a product, a passive bystander, a recipient of benefits, an enjoyer of the entertainment of a Sunday service.
You are the church! And your service, ministry, presence, wisdom and insight and personality and giftings—as God works in and through you—constitute the work and ministry and health of the church.