Sunday, October 29, 2006

Metaphors for the Church: The Body of Christ

And He is the head of the Body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. Colossians 1:18
My brother is currently in basic training for the Army. He graduates in the very near future and I have never been more proud of him than I am now. He has written me several times and through my communication with my mom and his letters to her, I have seen an incredible maturity in him that I have not seen before. When he first began writing, he did a lot of complaining; homesickness, unable to get along with anyone, the food was terrible, waking up too early, extreme dislike for the drill sergeant. But it is the army, right?

One of the last letters I have received chronicled how he and his platoon spent a three day stint in the woods learning flanking maneuvers; indispensable training. Reading between the lines, he expressed a newfound respect and admiration for His drill sergeant as well as the men in his platoon. Three days with no shower must forge real community.

What arrested my attention through the course of his letters has been the progression of respect and admiration for the drill sergeant as well as the platoon. Regardless of his feelings for the members of his platoon, they were able to work together, because they realized a common purpose, a singular goal. Without one another, they understood that failure was the only perceivable outcome. Though my brother experiences minor differences with several members of the platoon, the platoon subordinates their personal feelings and biases to the drill sergeant because the goals they hope to achieve can only be accomplished under His leadership and guidance.

This is a very clear picture of the church in action, the church as who she is supposed to be. She is to act and serve in such ways that make people see Jesus in what is done. This brings us to the second metaphor for the church; the church is the body of Christ.

This means that we are to do on earth what Jesus would do if He were here physically. This is the most common analogy for the church in the New Testament, used fifteen times. What does it mean? For 33 years, Jesus was God incarnate, God in a human body. Through that body he went about doing good. With His eyes He saw the hurts of the oppressed. With His feet He went to their side. With His hands He reached out and healed them. With His mouth He lovingly and passionately taught them. And now, Jesus perpetually incarnates Himself in this new body, the church.

The church then is the means by which Jesus Christ expresses Himself on this earth; it is the means by which He ministers. The world does not and will not see Jesus Christ unless it sees Him in and through His church. Paul Powell said, “What His physical body was to the incarnate Christ, so the church is to the risen Christ.” The church should take her cues from the pages of the Gospels; what did Jesus do in His human body? He fed the hungry, He clothed the naked, He healed the sick, He befriended sinners, He visited prisoners, He taught the masses, He preached the Gospel, and eventually He laid His life down for the very world that rejected Him. Jesus put His body at God’s disposal for the service of humanity; should the church do no less?

These truths have several implications. As the body of Christ, respond to Him. We are members of His body and He is the head of that body. My head is the control center of my body. It is the location of my will, my decision-making capacity, logic, reason, and understanding. Without it, I do nothing.

My college anatomy text taught me that my neurological system works by a complex series of electrical signals. I pick up a ball from the ground because a complex series of electrical signals, originating in my brain, moves throughout my nervous system and instructs me to squat down at my knees, bend at my waist, reach out my hand by extending my arm, and grasping with my fingers, clutch the ball. In the same way, Jesus, the head, is to direct His church. The church responds to carry out His will, obey His commands, fulfill His wishes, and follow His precepts.

It is possible for a person’s mind to be sharp and clear, to function normally, yet the body to not function as it ought to. Joni Eareckson Tada, one of the sweetest figures in contemporary Christianity, had a paralyzing accident when only seventeen years old that halted all her hopes and dreams. It is possible for Christ as head of the church to be alive and well, healthy and whole, yet the church as His body to be paralyzed by such things as fear, apathy, and a lack of faith.

A body can be weakened by disease, and no disease afflicts the Body of Christ more greatly than sin. A body can atrophy from inattention and lack of use. There was a time when I shared the body mass index of a wire coat hanger. Now when I exercise, I discover those muscles I used to have. My mind is in good shape, yet my body does not respond as it used to. A great tragedy in the church is the Body is not as healthy and vigorous as it could be, failing to live up to her true potential.

As the body of Christ, serve others. 1 Corinthians 12 is Paul’s’ treatise on the unity of the Body of Christ and his great illustration is God’s placement of all the parts of the human body exactly as He has chosen them to be. Some parts of the body are more prominent than others. Some places in God’s church are up front, like the eyes and the mouth. Some places are that of stability, balance, and support, like the knees or backbone. Some are necessary yet inconspicuous, like the wrists and elbows. Some are seen, some are not, but they all are important.

And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it (1 Corinthians 12:26). When my leg itches, I instinctively reach down and scratch it. If I bang my thumb with a hammer, I put it in my mouth to soothe it. But I do not spend all my time worrying about myself; I also minister to those around me. I scratch another one’s itch. I don’t spend all my time rubbing and patting on myself; neither do I walk around all the time with my thumb in my mouth. I use that same hand to soothe another one’s hurt.

As the Body of Christ, be united. This is perhaps the most important point. A lone soldier does not make an army, which my brother quickly discovered. Unity is the key; a marriage is not a marriage without a bride and a groom. A family is not a family without relatives. Parts together make a body. And people together, united in Christ, make a church.

Paul’s great treatise in 1 Corinthians 12 shows us the futility of division and strife among the Body of Christ. A foot cannot be a hand, an eye cannot be an ear, though some will inevitably strive to be. But God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased (1 Corinthians 12:18). These various parts of the Body all work in tandem with and not contrary to one another. All the parts are different but perform a vital role necessary to the function of the entire Body. If one part is sick, diseased, or atrophied, then the other parts suffer along with it. When one part isn’t functioning properly, then the function of the entire body is compromised. And the church is made up of many members, each one blessed with a spiritual gift to be used for good for the whole Body. There are no useless parts of the Body of Christ!

In Matthew 10:42 Jesus says that giving out a cup of cold water in His name is worthy of reward in heaven. Even the slightest service among the Body of Christ does not go unnoticed by the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Last year as we studied history in homeschooling, I discovered something I had never known before. The medical science of reattaching severed body parts actually began in India. That shocked me, for the first ear was reattached over two thousand years ago. I believed that medical reattachment technology was a relatively new science. Through the wonders of medical science, many parts of the body that have been severed can be reattached with minimal complications. Yet God has been in this business for millennia. Are you severed from the Body of Christ? If you are severed from the Body of Christ by sin, then the Great Physician can perform a miraculous reattachment “surgery” grafting you back into your rightful place in the Body.


All Scripture taken from the NKJV.


Nephos said...

Thanks for this post! Great way to start off a Monday morning. This picture of the church is one of my favorites.

It's interesting that when people have amputations, they often feel "phantom" pains. The absence of a severed part seriously affects the remaining body.

Tony said...


Thanks for the kind and encouraging words!

That is a great observation about "phantom limb syndrome;" I wish I had thought of it so I could have included it in the original post. I will tuck it away for a sermon illustration!

Sincere blessings,