The Body of Christ
By Eddie Cloer

"Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it"  
                                (1Corinthians 12:27).

Suppose a man attempted to use a small airplane as a car. He would find the airplane hard to steer, awkward to turn at corners, abnormal for passenger comfort, improperly designed for land travel, and completely unsuited for highway traffic. To designate an airplane as appropriate for use as a car is unrealistic because of the "intrinsic character" of the airplane. It was not built for this use, and such a use of it would violate its nature.

Erroneous pictures of the church of the New Testament are often held because the church's nature is misunderstood. Therefore, acquiring an understanding of the "intrinsic character" of the church is necessary for perceiving accurately its function, purpose, and identity in the world.

As we have seen, one of the key expressions in the New Testament (especially in the writings of Paul) for the church is "the body of Christ." This phrase is used both as a practical illustration of the church (1 Corinthians 12:23-26) and as a functional description of the church (1 Corinthians 12:27). The nature of the New Testament church cannot be understood unless this phrase as a description of the church is comprehended.

Let us give special attention to this New Testament designation for the church. What does this expression convey?

'Appendix 3 includes all appearances of the phrase "the body of Christ" in the New Testament. This list will help you to study the use of this phrase and to consider this important aspect of the nature of the church.

UNION WITH CHRIST

First, this phrase indicates union with Christ. Conversion is more than "the pledging of one's loyalty to Christ." It is being uniquely united with Christ as one enters the spiritual body of Christ.

As part of the process of conversion to Christ, we are baptized into Christ. Paul wrote, "Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?" (Romans 6:3). The idea of being united with Christ is especially observed in Romans 6:4: "Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." (Emphasis mine.) Paul also said, "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, . . ." (1 Corinthians 12:13). At baptism, then, we are brought into union with Christ as we are implanted into His spiritual body.

This singular, spiritual union with Christ might be compared to marriage. When a man and a woman enter into marriage, more is taking place than "two people making a commitment to each other for life." In marriage, a union occurs-a union so profound that the husband and wife can be referred to as "one flesh" for life (Ephesians 5:31). We often say of a couple, 'They said their vows to each other." Perhaps it would be better to say, "They entered into the union of marriage." The word "union" conveys a continual oneness. Marriage does not consist of two just agreeing to walk together or to live in the same house; marriage is an agreement of two to be one for life, to be joined together in a marital union that only fornication or death can destroy. This is true to the extent that when two enter marriage they surrender authority over even their own bodies. Paul wrote, "The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does" (1Corinthians 7:4).

In like manner, at conversion we enter into a union with Christ as we are added to His spiritual body, the church. We become one with Christ-Christ is ours and we are Christ's. No longer do we have authority over our own lives; we belong to Christ-we live in perpetual oneness with Him (1 Corinthians 6:16).

UNITY THROUGH CHRIST

Second, the description of the church as the "body of Christ" suggests unity through Christ. It pictures the church as an organism with many members functioning together as one body.

Paul wrote, "For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ" (1 Corinthians 12:12). Many different members comprise the one body of Christ. What Paul said of the physical body could be said of the church: "For the body is not one member, but many"; "And if they were all one member, where would the body be?" (1 Corinthians 12:14, 19). Thus, it must be concluded that Christians "are Christ's body, and individually members of it" (1 Corinthians 12:27).

The unity experienced by the members
of the body of Christ shouId be similar
to the unity of the members
of the physical body.

The expression "body of Christ" not only suggests that we belong to Christ but that we also belong to each other as each member of a physical body belongs to the other members. When one member of the body hurts, all the members sympathize and hurt. An obvious deduction from the "body" concept would be this: "That there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it"
(1 Corinthians 12:25, 26).

When the expression "body of Christ" is understood, the rationale for denominationalism is destroyed. Denominationalism advocates many different bodies, each having different identities and beliefs. The "body of Christ" concept of the New Testament pictures one body, the body of Christ, with every Christian as a member of it, loving all other members and looking out for every other member of that body. If the church of the New Testament is the body of Christ, denominationalism cannot be God's design for "the church"; if denominationalism is right, the New Testament church cannot be the one body of Christ.

On the night of His betrayal and arrest, Jesus prayed for the unity of those who would later believe on Him (John 17:21-24). On Pentecost, after His resurrection from the dead, He established the church which, as His earthly body, would create and maintain that unity for which He had prayed. As we enter the body of Christ, we enter into a unity with all the members of that body. All dividing walls are broken down: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).

The unity experienced by the members of the body of Christ should be similar to the unity of the members of the physical body-the unity of working together, loving each other, and sympathizing with each other. No one member of a physical body is in competition with any other member. Each member works with all other members and produces a coordinated entity which functions as a united body.

The only request Jesus has ever made of His people is that they be His spiritual body on the earth. He did not asked them to be denominations of all types and names. Loyalty to Him demands that we honor Him by fulfilling His request to be His one spiritual body.

UTILITY FOR CHRIST

Third, the "body" description of the church connotes utility or usefulness for Christ. It implies the way Christ's work is to be done in the world.

Of his life and service, Paul could say, "For to me, to live is Christ, . . ." (Philippians 1:21). He did not represent a denomination or any other manmade group or organization; he stood before men as a member of the spiritual body of Christ. He saw himself as God's instrument of reconciliation among men: "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God"
(2 Corinthians 5:20).
Paul even saw his sufferings as being for Christ's body: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ's afflictions" (Colossians 1:24).

How is the work of Christ to be carried out on earth? How is the earthly ministry to be continued now that Christ is at the Father's right hand in heaven? The answer to these questions is plainly "through the body of Christ." With the establishment of the church, Jesus sent forth into the world His spiritual body as His means of serving and loving the world.

The New Testament does not speak of a headless body or a bodiless head. If no Christians existed on the earth, Christ would have no body to guide, to direct, or to do His work. If Christians did not look to Christ as their sole authority and guide, the church would be a headless body. Jesus is the head of His church, and His church is made up of the people on the earth who have yielded to His will and who function as His work force here.

Christians are Christ's spiritual body to do His work. We are His eyes to see the needs of the world. If we do not see human need and minister to it, the eyes of His spiritual body are sightless eyes . We are His ears to hear His Word and heed His directions. How tragic it would be if Christ's spiritual body were deaf to His will! We are His tongue to speak His Word and to sing His praises in the world. It would indeed be heartbreaking to Christ if His body were to be speechless at such a time as this. We are His shoulders to carry burdens and responsibilities. Christ wants His church to be healthy and strong so that we can carry whatever assignments He may give us. We are His feet to run His errands in the world. We must keep His feet strong and make them swift to run for Him. We are to be His gentle hands of service. Let us make sure that His hands are complete, competent, and committed for service.

Think of the utility, the genius, and the practicality of the spiritual body of Christ. Anytime, anywhere someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a functioning member of Christ's body to do His work and to manifest His love. By this means, he continues to carry on the ministry of Christ. He is one with Christ and one with all other members of His body. Thus, the unity of Christ's church is evident to the world. Each Christian refers to himself only in the way the Bible refers to the church. He does not look to any earthly headquarters for his guidance; he looks only to Christ, the head of the body. As a result, all honor and glory is given to Christ. See how simple, yet how wise and effective, the "body of Christ" is!

Even to our finite human wisdom, the "body of Christ" concept makes sense. It is efficient, workable, and practical. It reflects God's wisdom and glory.

Let us do the work of Christ as the body of Christ for the glory of Christ.

CONCLUSION

The church is the body of Christ on the earth. Because of this truth, Paul said of the Christians in Rome, "For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another" (Romans 12:4,5). In becoming Christians, we enter into a union with Christ, a unity with each other through Christ, and a utility, a usefulness, for Christ.

What a difference exists between a mannequin in a department store window and a human being! The mannequin has form but no life. It has an outside, a body, but no inside, no spirit. It is just a replica, an artificial representation, not the real thing. A human being has form, spirit, and life; he is genuine in body and spirit. He has a body, a soul, and a mind. He can think, feel, love, and obey.

The difference between a mannequin and a human being illustrates the difference between a manmade organization and the body of Christ. The human organization has form, but God does not indwell it; only man dwells within it. Whatever a human organization seeks to accomplish must be done through the energy and wisdom of man alone. The body of Christ is indwelt by the Spirit, is alive with the life of God, and is guided and directed by Christ Himself.

The church of the New Testament is the body of Christ. Every authentic Christian is a member of it. It is not an organization, but an organism which is alive with the Spirit of Christ. It is guided by Christ, its head. Its purpose in the world is to live and serve to the glory of Christ.

Are you a member of the body of Christ?

QUESTIONS FOR STUDY
AND DISCUSSION

  1. Discuss the two ways the phrase "the body of Christ" is used in connection with the church.
  2. Describe our baptism into Christ in terms of being united with Christ.
  3. What does Romans 6:3 say about coming into Christ?
  4. Compare our union with Christ with oneness in marriage.
  5. What does Romans 6:4 say about union with Christ?
  6. How does 1 Corinthians 12:13 say we enter Christ?
  7. Who are the members of the body of Christ, churches or Christians?
  8. What does the phrase "the body of Christ" suggest concerning our relationship with one 
       another?
  9. Discuss denominationalism in connection with the unity concept of the body of Christ.
10. What does Galatians 3:28 say about our unity in Christ?
11. In what way is the work of Christ to be done in the world?
12. Is the church a headless body or a bodiless head?
13. How do we function as the body of Christ in the world?
14. Are the church and "the body of Christ" the same?
15. Compare and contrast an organization and an organism.

For Preaching and Teaching Purposes: Sermon or Teaching Type: Basic pattern; deductive; topical. Subject: The church. Theme: The church, the body of Christ. Title: The Body of Christ. Preaching or Teaching Portion: None; topical. Proposition: (Declarative/didactic) The church is the body of Christ. Interrogative Question or Probing Question: What? Key Word: Characteristics. Major Points: I. Union With Christ; II. Unity Through Christ; III. Utility for Christ. Sermonic or Teaching Objective: To persuade people to live as members of the body of Christ.