Ten Characteristics of the Body of Christ
As we examine the body of Christ metaphor, it becomes clear that Paul identifies numerous characteristics of the body of Christ. The first two, diversity and unity, were discussed in the previous post. But it is necessary to add a few points that haven’t been made.
- Diverseness. First of all the diverseness of the body is seen in its appearance, cultures, and gifts. All of the body has varying backgrounds. Even within the same cultural setting, the body is different and because of that, you cannot expect every one in every place to be the same. Like-mindedness as Paul speaks of in Philippians 2:2 doesn’t mean we all think alike, but rather we all think like Christ. Tweet This
- Unity. Even though the body is diverse, it is also unified. The body of Christ has certain qualities in common. Qualities such as the Fruit of the Spirit should be present in the body of Christ. It is these qualities that bring about unity, especially the fruit of “love.” In fact, when Paul finished his discussion on the unity and diversity of the body in 1 Corinthians 12, he concludes by saying “and now I will show you the most excellent way” and then he proceeds to show the Corinthians and us, the way of “love” for each other.
- Universal. There is only one church of God, only one Body of Christ, and if a person is a believer then they belong to that one church and one body. It doesn’t matter where they are physically; they are a part of God’s church. Paul emphasizes this universality in 1 Corinthians 12:13 when he states that “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.”
- Submissive. The fourth characteristic of the body of Christ is that it is “submissive” to Christ (Ephesians 5:24). There is only one head of the universal church or body of Christ, and that is Jesus. The church is to submit to Him. The word “subject” or “submit” means to: “Be under obedience; to put under; subdue unto.” It is a positional submission. Just as the body is under the head, the church is under the authority of Christ.
- Holy and Blameless. Paul points this out in his epistle to the Ephesians when he tells them that Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her…”holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:26-27). Christ is the Savior of the body (Eph. 5:22) and as such, He loved the church and did everything possible to make it holy, cleansed, radiant or glorious, without stain, wrinkle, or any other blemish, holy and blameless! Christ has made His church, His Body, complete. Not perfect in that the church would never make a mistake, but complete in the sense the Jesus has done everything he needed to do for the body to be successful.
- One Flesh. The sixth characteristic of the body is that it is one flesh. The idea of unity and oneness within the body is represented in the phrase Paul uses in Ephesians 5:30-32 when he is speaking of a man and woman becoming “one flesh.” To understand this, we have to look at and examine this “profound mystery.” The same way that a man and women will leave their father and mother and be united to each other, so too the believer leaves the world and the body of sin and is united as one flesh in the body of Christ.
- Built Up. Another characteristic of the body is that it can be “built up.” This is accomplished through the workings of the five fold ministry of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. To build up simply means to edify and encourage. (Ephesians 2:21-22) The Body of Christ can be and should be encouraged and perfected. The way it is built up is in love, as each part does its work. If one member of the body isn’t doing their part to edify the body, then the body is suffering.
- Living Organism. The body and the church should also be looked upon as a living organism. The church of Jesus Christ, or the body of Christ is alive. We are a living organism that should be affecting all with whom we come in contact. Just “as every member of the human body is fed by the same bloodstream, joined by the central nervous system, and knit together by joints, muscles, fibers and tendons, so we are brought together in Christ as a living, spiritual organism.”
- Connectedness. The ninth characteristic is the “connectedness between the body (church) and the head (Christ). Whatever is done to the body of Christ is also done to Christ. The implications of this idea are extremely “far reaching.” People are suffering all over the world for the church. It’s not redemptive suffering as Christ did, but it is a ministerial suffering. The body can suffer for righteousness sake. It can suffer in the same measure with which it will identify itself in Christ. Jesus stated “if the world hates me they will also hate you.” When the church is persecuted, Christ is persecuted. This is evident by the words Jesus spoke to Saul of Tarsus in Acts 9:4. Saul was asked by Jesus, “why persecutest thou me?” Saul was persecuting believers in Christ, not Christ Himself. But Jesus viewed that persecution as an assault against His own body. There is a deep connectedness between the believer and Christ. When you attack another believer, you are attacking Christ. Tweet This This is a very serious sin. Be careful what you say and do to another believer, because you are saying it and doing it to Christ. (Read more from Frank Viola and his post “Warning: The World Is Watching How We Christians Treat One Another.”)
- Fullness of Christ. The tenth and final characteristic is that church or the body is what Paul calls in Ephesians 1:22-23, the “fullness of Christ.” The many members make the head complete and He in turn makes the church complete or full. “This is true figuratively, but it is also true factually. The church is in a real sense the reincarnation of Christ.” It is so exciting to realize we are the body of our Savior, Jesus the Christ. We are to complete His work here on earth.
There are many other qualities that the body of Christ should exemplify as we relate to God and to each other in community. Romans 12:9-21 is a very extensive list of attributes on how the church and body should live and act toward each other as they live out their role as the “body of Christ.”
What is your role in the body of Christ? Are you fulfilling it? Leave a comment and share with others.