The principle question I want to address is: What does the Apostle Paul mean when he refers to the church as the “body of Christ” and how does that relate to “members of the body” or “believers” as they identify their ministry and role in the body?
This is a five part post and will address four areas of concern in regards to the “body of Christ” metaphor: (The links will be active as I post them over the next week)
- An explanation of the “body of Christ” metaphor (Part 2)
- Characteristics of the body of Christ (Part 3)
- Christ’s role as the “Head of the body” (Part 4)
- The member’s role in the body (Part 5)
In Paul’s writing to the Corinthian church, he informs them in I Corinthians 12:27 that they are “the body of Christ.” The designation he uses is primarily a statement of “identity.” The reason it is important for us to understand the “body” metaphor is that it addresses the vital issue of who we are as Christians and where our identify comes from. It’s unfortunate that many believers identify more with their race and nationality than they do with Christ! Tweet This Followers of Christ are not just another body as some might define a body, which would be: a group of persons associated by some common tie or occupation and regarded as an entity. This would be a good definition if we were talking about the “Senate Body,” the “Student Body,” or some other natural group of people. Although this definition has an application to the body of believers, the body of Christ is more than what is implied by this designation. Christians are the body of Christ because they were “baptized by one Spirit into one body,” (1 Corinthians 12:13) not because they signed a “membership application” saying they believe a certain doctrine or tenet. Tweet This
Paul uses the metaphor of the “body of Christ” with 4 different groups of people:
- Corinthians — (1 Corinthians 12:27) “Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.” This is the only group that he actually calls “the body of Christ.”
- Roman Christians — (Romans 12:5) “So in Christ, we who are many form one body and each member belongs to all the others.” Paul’s emphasis is for the believer to understand that they are not their own but that they belong to the body. The implications of this are far reaching when it comes to the use of the believer’s gifts to help the body and how they are to treat others who are in the body. These two aspects are examined further in the posts covering the “characteristics of the body of Christ” and “the member’s role in the body.”
- The believers at Ephesus — (Ephesians 3:6) “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” His emphasis to the Ephesians is that not only were they the body of Christ, but they were one body.
- The believers at Colosse — (Colossians 1:24) “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”
All these scriptures support this concept that the universal, worldwide church is the body of Christ. This designated title of the “body of Christ” is not assigned to a certain “select few” but is meant for all believers and is a “unity that transcends all racialism or nationalism.” (Author Frank Viola does a great job of expounding on this idea in this post on “A Jesus Response To The Race Problem & Ferguson.”)