There is a great deal to teach about when it comes to understanding the Body of Christ. Most of us know in a general sense that the Body of Christ is the Church. It is all the believers acting as the “hands” and “feet” of Jesus reaching out to the lost and dying throughout the world. While all of that is true, it remains that there is a pressing need in our generation for Christians to have a much fuller understanding of the Body of Christ and how we relate to it as individuals.
How do we personally relate to the Body of Christ?
The spirit of the age that we live in, especially in the West, is that of radical or extreme individualism which is literally leading the mass of people toward a narcissistic, ego-centered worldview. This is something that stands in direct contradiction to Body Life-the way the people of God live out their Church life. That, the Bible says, is self-destruction. It is self-destruction because of the fact that our “self” is deprived. It is desaturated of life, fully fallen, sinned-out, and totally shot. Not a sliver of good remains within us.
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. (Rom 7:18)
So while the world tells us to inflate, exalt, and indulge the self with pleasure, the Bible says to crucify it. Therefore the first step in entering into an authentic Church life and contributing to the Body of Christ is crucifying the self. You don’t inflate it but deflate it. You don’t exalt it but humble it. You don’t indulge it, but discipline it.
To clarify the definition of the Body of Christ we must see it in three ways. First is the literal Body of Christ, resurrected from the grave, ascended to the right hand of the Father. Second is the spiritual Body of Christ, in which every believer throughout history into the present (and future) is baptized by the Holy Spirit. Thirdly is the local Body of Christ which exists within the constraints of a particular time and place on earth. “Bodies of Christ” scattered abroad.
The way we relate to the first is by way of personal relationship with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. The way to relate to the second is by virtue of being born-again into the divine family of God as a son or daughter making us all brothers and sisters with everyone from Abraham to the Apostle Paul to the last saved soul on earth. The way we relate to the third is by the act of submitting to and meeting regularly with a local group of believers.
1) If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (Col 3:1)
2) 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 Cor 12:13)
3) Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. 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. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. (1 Cor 12:4-28)
The third way is the one that needs particular emphasizing because the extreme individualism of our day is causing many Christians to believe that the first two ways are sufficient for our walk and the third is not necessary. In fact we presume to think that the third is merely institutional or man-made and therefore of little or no relevance to our lives as Christians. But such thinking is to put the entire teaching of 1 Corinthians 12 in the trash. God has appointed in the local church body various kinds of talents, gifts, activities, and means of service.
Your Part: Singleness of Purpose
Of Zebulun 50,000 seasoned troops, equipped for battle with all the weapons of war, to help David with singleness of purpose. (1 Chron 12:33)
Each individual is given something. He is appointed by God a specific function or role in the Body of Christ. This is an all-important truth that cannot be overlooked. This means that each individual has the responsibility to offer that talent or gift to the Body of Christ and not bury it. Likewise, church leadership has the responsibility to see to it that each individual has a place to use their talent and to encourage them in the use of it.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Rom 12:3-8)
It is interesting that Paul precedes this passage with a warning: do not think of yourself more highly than you ought! The reason he gives for this is that we are one body and individually members of each other. We need each other. We are not the Body of Christ in and of ourselves! How many of us like to think we can do everything ourselves and be some kind of jack-of-all-trades Christian. But this is not possible because talents are appointed and apportioned by the Almighty God. He decides who is gifted with what.
The members do not all have the same function. Think again about the varieties of talents, gifts, activities, and means of service. There are endless possibilities to the make-up of a local body. Obviously some of the more pertinent gifts are those such as prophecy, healing, discerning spirits, tongues, teaching, exhortation, giving, leadership, mercy, etc, but there are also varieties of service and activities which could be anything from real estate to a foreign language to a musical instrument.
Our function as individuals in the Body of Christ, as granted by God, should transcend church attendance. It is not a function turned on for an hour each week and then turned off when you go home until you return again. Our function should become part-and-parcel of our personal identities.
Every individual needs to find out what their role in the Body is. God is ready to reveal that to listening ears. When we know our role, gift, or talent, we need to take it to the max. This means self-discipline and self-sacrifice. If you try to be great at too many things you will end up good at nothing. It is a matter of investing whole-heartedly into that talent God has given you to produce those most return that you can. But to do this we must renounce the selfish individualism that bids us to “live in the moment” and do all you can for the sake of pleasure-eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you die. Such an attitude will cause us to spread ourselves thin across all sorts of activities, skills, talents because we are doing it all for ourselves. The local Body of Christ should be the most preeminent thing in our lives. This doesn’t mean neglect of our personal lives, or our family lives, for we and our families are included in the local Body of Christ. It means rather a re-thinking of how we spend our time alone, with our families, and with the local Body of brothers and sisters.
Think of those musicians who are a part of a professional orchestra. Their life and career is literally the instrument they play. Because they practice and train devotedly with such discipline and singleness of eye they are able to contribute a powerful part to the whole Orchestra. The benefit they reap for all the hours and years of hard discipline and practice is the privilege of contributing to and being part of a glorious force of music which is reward enough in itself.
Or in the case of the army think of how men will spend all their time training and specializing in one field or weapon to become as skilled as possible in it. When that one soldier of skill is combined with a multitude of soldiers of skill you get, once again, a glorious force of strength that is not quickly defeated. Whereas if soldiers are all trained in all manner of fields and weapons so as to become mediocre in skills, it is of no advantage; they will be but a mediocre force when combined and easily subsumed by the enemy.
William M. Thayer writes on having singleness of purpose:
By singleness of purpose we mean an early decision to follow a certain occupation or profession as a life-work, keeping that object constantly in view, true as the needle to the North Pole, and pushing using for it through sunshine and storm to the goal. That is what the great apostle meant when he said, “This one thing I do.” That single purpose took possession of his soul, and all the powers of his nature combined and bent to its accomplishment. In his triumphant declaration, “I press toward the mark for the prize,” is not only a dauntless spirit, but also the lofty aim that never knows defeat. Perhaps the wise man put it best of all, when he said to the young, “Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left.” That is singleness of purpose….There is no grander spectacle than that of a youth girding his loins for the battle of life, his sharp eye upon the flaming goal in the distance, his soul on fire with enthusiasm for victory, and all barriers crumbling beneath his feet. These are the few who were not born to die. They live for one noble object and so they live for all.
What, then, is the goal of the Christian Body of Christ?
Is it to seek growth? Is it to form grandiose and ambitious plans? Is it to design the perfect model? Is it to live for the community around us? No, it is none of these. The goal of the Christian community is to be spiritual:
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2:12-16)
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. (1 Cor 3:1)
Jesus says we must be spiritually born again if we will enter the Kingdom of God, and that our whole path is centered on seeking this Kingdom:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Mat 6:33)
He calls us to make one thing the primary focus of our seeking hearts. It is not church growth nor great plans or strategies, nor producing the finest models for fellowship. It is to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. But what does seeking the Kingdom of God have to do with becoming spiritual? Further exposition on what this means leads us ultimately to the Spirit of God:
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Rom 14:17)
For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. (1 Cor 4:20)
This kingdom does not consist in talk, food, or drink, but in power, righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit. Therefore we don’t judge a church by its numbers, designs, forms, models, or growth-we judge it by its power, its righteousness, its joy, and its peace! That is what you will find in a strong, mature, and glorious church!
To recap what we have said in our study:
- The Body of Christ has the divine purpose to become a powerful and glorious force in the world.
- We must individually strengthen our primary function and skill as best we can for the sake of the Body of Christ.
- We must not “live in the moment” for ourselves but be thinking ahead and finding out our function and gifting as early as possible so that we may use our talent for the sake of the Body.
- We must grow out of our infancy into spiritual maturity and strength according to our respective functions by seeking the Holy Spirit. When the hand grows strong, and the foot grows strong, and the other members of the Body each grow strong, only then can we have a strong Body of Christ.
That will be the day when our “Orchestra” resounds with a majestic beauty and power that will leave the world standing in awe.