All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. 1 Corinthians 12:27 (New Living Translation)
What is the church?
The passage reads: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (New International Version)
In order to start the message one must first ask what is the church?
To be able to answer that one must know what Christ has to say about the church here’s one of the first indications that Christ says about the church.
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20 (King James Version)
This is a prophetic voice at the time to a divine reality that will ultimately be fulfilled in the coming of the Comforter (the Holy Spirit), on the birth of the church.
But what can be said here is that the church is the community or better yet the people who gathers around Jesus, who promises to be with those who gather in His name.
The church is people who gather around Jesus. The sight of the Disciples around Jesus in the Last Supper is a clear picture of what the church is. And true enough God is there in the community gathered around Jesus for the church is made up of believers of Jesus upon whom Jesus sent the God the Holy Spirit to indwell with the very presence of Jesus.
This picture of the Last Supper as a visual image of the Church has taught me to appreciate my parents in their desire for all of us to always eat together in the same table during mealtime, because it is in the family meal that people unknowingly proclaim Christ’s Body as a family that bonds and shares their life in the same manner that Christ invites those who follow Him to share their lives with Him in a loving relationship with God as their Father.
Note that we are not just a community we are a community that gathers around Christ because we have a special relationship with Christ because John 1:12 says that we who believe in Christ are God’s children or a member of God’s household, through Christ. Therefore the image of Jesus in the last supper is somehow even more real in the Christian household during dinner time for it is an image of a divine reality where people of the same household in Christ are gathered to commune and partake of a common meal.
What’s more interesting is that Christ still talks to the Church through the Scriptures especially in those that we call Epistles in the New Testament.
As Biblical Christians it is important for us to understand that every epistle in the New Testament is originally addressed to a specific congregation in a specific geographical region that would be the case in our passage which is written for the Corinthian Epistles which is addressed to believers in Corinth, that being the case it is important for us to know who the Corinthians are and how similar they are to us so that we can make sense of what Paul is actually saying to his audience thus giving us insight on how we can understand what God intends to speak to us in the passage.
The Corinthian Church
Corinth was the capital of the Roman province of Achaia (present day Elis, in Greece), the Southern third of what is now Greece. It was a large city, some believe as large as five hundred thousand people; the second-wealthiest city in the empire (after Rome); a leading seaport and trade center (ceramics); and terribly immoral. Corinth’s temple of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, had hundreds of “sacred” prostitutes; and calling someone a “Corinthian” implied that he or she was immoral. The Christian church was prone to division and factions, tolerant of promiscuous sexual behaviour, ate meat that had been offered to idols, indulged in gluttony and drunkenness at the Lord’s Supper, and argued about spiritual gifts. 1
Any contemporary Christian who would enter the Corinthian church these days would not be surprised at what they’ll find for it is in this church that we are introduced to a church with all the problems that any modern church like Grace Bible Church is faced with: cliques and factions, church discipline, conflicts among believers, sexual immorality, marriage, divorce, sensitivity towards new believers, propriety in worship, and the proper exercise of spiritual gifts. 2
Basically, the church in Corinth is a problematic church that is vibrant, gifted and yet is also divided.
A divided church
One of the primary reasons why the Apostle Paul wrote this letter was to urge unity which can be clearly seen in 1 Corinthians 1:10 where Paul writes: “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (New International Version)
In general, divisions within the church at Corinth seem to be a problem, and Paul makes it a point to mention these conflicts in the beginning. Specifically, pagan roots still hold sway within their community. Paul wants to bring them back to what he understands as correct doctrine, stating that God has given him the opportunity to be a “skilled master builder” to lay the foundation and let others build upon it (1 Corinthians 3:10).
It wasn’t until chapters 12-14 that Paul lengthy addressed the divisions in the Corinthian church. In 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, the apostle pointed out that diversity derives from God himself. Verses 12-14 appealed to the need to have diversity in the context of unity by introducing the concept of the body. Just as a body has many parts, so the church as the body of Christ has diversity in its members, but there is unity in its quality of being a body. Verses 15-26 attempted to illustrate the implications of the unity and of the diversity within the body of Christ. In verses 27-31 Paul returns the major focus to diversity once again. 3
Addressing them directly he (Paul) states, “And you are Christ’s body.” The word “you” in Greek is plural and it is in the emphatic position of the sentence, “And YOU ALL are Christ’s body.” Paul does not state that the Corinthians are the totality of the body of Christ. He does not state that they are part of Christ’s body. He declares that the nature of their relationship to Christ is that of being his body. The point is that all he had communicated about unity and diversity regarding physical bodies in the preceding verses should be understood as applying to them.
The final part of verse 27 states that each of them is a member or a part of that body. Just as the parts of a physical body are incredibly diverse the Corinthians should understand themselves as incredibly diverse. However, in spite of all the diversity of the parts a physical body is still a unity. The Corinthians’ diversity cannot change the fundamental unity that is theirs simply by being Christ’s body. 4
You are the Body of Christ
It is here that I would like to turn all your attention to our passage, where we will try to dig into what the passage has to say about the church as the Body of Christ.
- The usage of the term ‘Body of Christ’ reminds us that Jesus is a living person.
Biologically we all inhibit bodies it is one of the things that living beings have and in talking about the Body of Christ that we must take note that the body is something material or physical, thus it is seen, heard, felt, and tasted.
The body always pertains to something that lives, for if something is dead we usually describe the dead bodies as the ‘remains’ of someone.
We must remember that God’s self-revelation (or apokalupsis – unveiling in Greek) of Himself, His mission, and His work of redemption came to its fullness embodied in flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, a doctrine which we define as the Incarnation.
The depth of our alienation is such that God is not to be found by us unless God enters that alienation and finds us there. This God did in the crucified Jesus. Jesus lived a life of loving identification with us in all sorts and conditions of human life. In other words, He practiced the kind of love which is not mere benevolence, wishing people well from a distance, but that love which enters people’s situations and makes their plight sympathetically its own. Jesus identified especially with those who experienced the depths: healing the very sick, and the destitute beggars, restoring the dead and dying to life, touching the lepers, befriending the outcasts, freeing the demented from demons of oppression and isolation, attracting the notorious sinners with his freely forgiving love. Finally, he ended up where any of these people could have ended up: a failure, condemned to perish as a criminal, agonizing in pain, deserted by his friends, forsaken by His God. He died the kind of death which symbolized God’s verdict on sinful humanity: condemned to perish. He died expressing the tragic meaninglessness of the human fate: ‘Why have you forsaken me?’ As Jesus died he did not enter those depths where godless and godforsaken human beings can only cry out to God or for God or against God. But He did not enter them on His own account. He did so in consequence of the loving choice of identifying with others which He made in His life and sustained in His death. He died our death, sharing our failure, condemnation, despair and godforsakeness.
Because Jesus died our death, death need not be the fate it otherwise is. The light of Jesus’ resurrection dispels the shadow death casts over life. 5
Therefore we are not merely proclaiming a Living Christ but also a resurrected Christ who has won victory over the sting of death and is now inviting us to enter into a new life with Him as our Lord.
Taking off from this Christocentric logic of the church we can now see that our proclamation of Christ, our salvation and His Kingdom is seen, heard and felt in the community that gathers around Jesus.
- The church as the Body of Christ reminds us that the church is a living community of persons that gathers and proclaims the living Christ.
The Body of Christ that is the church (12:12) is a community that gathers around Jesus.
It is here that we must understand that the body as attested in the passage relates to Christ and that the audience of the passage is the body of Christ.
”You are the Body of Christ,” means that it is in us and through us that Christ acts to make Himself known to the ends of the earth.
It is interesting to note that in the original Greek language the word used for body that is soma which is the same word upon which we get the word ‘sum’ which is often used in mathematics to tell what comes out of whenever two or more numbers are added.
Thus the body is the sum of many, the many that forms a single unit that makes the world, see, hear and feel the reality of God in Christ.
The word sum also refers to what could be said as: ‘the bottom line’ – the bottom line for people who follow Christ is that they are a part of the body of Christ.
The body always points to something that we discover out through our senses thus to speak of the body of Christ is always to speak of a unified body that exists to make people experience the reality of Christ not only in words but in acts of service that is in accordance to the life that the Incarnate Christ lived in the world.
It is here now that as a church we are now confronted with several questions:
Do we understand the body of Christ as something that is only of spiritual essence thus putting emphasis on what is unseen?
Do we see the church as a body that makes Christ known as the church reveals Christ in the essence upon which people experience Christ through their senses?
Experiencing Christ through our senses and proclaiming Christ as a church are two intricately related concepts that ought to be considered by the church and its members whenever they would gather on Sundays.
Gathering to corporately worship the God who has sent Jesus to us is an affair of us becoming a body that corporately proclaims Christ in the songs we sing, in the passages we read. Thus the gathering of the body is a gathering that looks back to the past in order to proclaim something that God did in Christ in the past and God has done in the past through Christ is still something that has an ever growing significance in the present that ultimately leads to something for all of us in the future.
Our corporate worship is our public act of proclaiming God in our combined awe and reverence in worship.
As the Australian theologian Benjamin Myers puts it:
“As members of the Christian community gather together, they continue to enact their participation in Jesus’ life by speaking – by telling the story of Jesus as the community’s own story, as a story that narrates the truth and meaning of every person’s life. Such gospel-speaking stands at the heart of everything the community is and does – whenever the community gathers, it gathers in order to hear and to tell the story of Jesus.” 6
- We are all part of the Body of Christ therefore we are all part of one another.
The original Greek shows a paradox in the passage where it says that the body (the soma) of Christ is made up of (mele’) members that are (merous) or individual.
To put it in context the entire body is composed of members that is committed Christians that are at the same time diverse for there still exists among them their individuality (merous).
Keeping that in mind the New Living Translation translation now makes proper sense of what is echoed in the original as it states: “All of you together”.
It is also important to notice that this is a corporate assembly of worship that is unified – not compartmentalized into our minor doctrinal distinctives, worship preferences, personal biases and ministry backgrounds.
We are the body of Christ, each one of us is a part of the whole to insist on not becoming a part of the whole is to disobey God’s design for His Body.
Our petty differences ought to come after what God intends of us. Our differences must be reconciled by constant conversation as individuals who understand ourselves as a part of the whole and that as a whole we ought to wholly pursue the truth in love as a community that seeks to struggle about what Sacred Scriptures say about the things that we as a community should value as important.
Rupertus Meldenius’ quote serves as a good rule of thumb for this: “In essentials unity, in non essentials charity. ”7 Note the word charity which is derived from the Greek word charis which is the original word that was used for grace – that is unconditional favour rendered unto someone. Our distinct identities in light of unity therefore challenges us to exhibit grace as God did, and even if our church bears the name Grace Bible Church it is a sad truth that all of us are still far from being able to exhibit such grace among our brethren.
We are the body of Christ we are distinct individuals who have a role to play that is distinct. That distinctiveness of each one of us is what adds character to our corporate incarnate body. It makes us a body that does not merely echo a Christianized version of the world out there but rather a body of Christ that is counter-cultural in the sense that we become a community that is constantly questioning the status quo of the world.
We are the body of Christ therefore we must find our place in this body, because whether we like it or not we are part of this local body whether we like our fellow systems, organs, cells, tissues etc it means that we are all an integral part of the whole and being a part of the whole makes us disciples in the path that Jesus laid out for us as a body that proclaims Him that is to live the life as a body that loves the unlovable among us, that sees beyond the individual biases among us, a body that seeks reconciliation, community fellowship and seeks to include those who are out there into the joy of our community (or our church) that we should love because Christ loved us enough to die for us so that through the Spirit we are able to come together as a community that celebrates Christ.
Conclusion: We are the body of Christ.
The body of Christ as a witness to the Savior reminds me of how early on God planted the seeds of the Gospel in me – before I ever heard the Gospel or have ever read the Bible when I was first brought to Grace Bible Church sometime in 1983 in the old building by one of my brothers it was there that I first got acquainted with a living community of love that gathers around Christ, whose love and fellowship with one another made me want to stay and not leave the church.
I knew very little at the time but as I look back now I came to realize that perhaps that is what seems to have been lost with the concept of the church as a witness to Christ – the koinonia or the community that invites us to become a part of it perhaps that is the reason why we as a local body fail to invite more people in because deep in ourselves we know that the church does not properly bear witness to Christ because deep in our hearts we love our church, our doctrines, our ministries, our programs and our traditions more than we love Christ who loves people. Loving and following Christ as a church implies genuine love for everyone who is a part of this congregation.
Look around you I am pretty sure that there are people here in this sanctuary that you like sitting with in a worship service more than others. I know there are people here whom we have difficulty seeing eye to eye, or someone who may have hurt you our people who have made you feel unwelcomed.
The reminder of membership in into a single body is a reminder for all of us to follow Christ in all that He did even to the point of loving the unlovable which is what we were in the eyes of God before Christ came and restored us into a proper relationship with God.
As we end I invite you to say this to whoever is sitting beside you right now turn to them and say: “I am a part of you as much as you are a part of me for we are all a part of one Body that is Christ’s Body.”
This exercise reminds us to see our brethren as real people who are pretty much like you and I. Real people who are not perfect, people who are hurting and are longing for belonging which can only be found in the community that Christ founded to serve and love the hurting world that He would ultimately restore upon His return.
If what has been talked about seems to make very little sense perhaps it is because you have yet to become a part of the Body of Christ which is His household.
For those of you who feel that way I have great news for you this is a family that always has a seat at the table for anyone who wants to come. The Gospel is an invitation for everyone and this is one family that wants you to come in.
I invite you to commit yourself to Christ in faith for that will ultimately make you a part of His Body. Renounce the life that you are living now and come to Jesus acknowledge you need for Him to be able to become a part of God’s family invite Him to forgive you of your sins and to rule over your life as you are now desiring to follow Him.
May this message be a admonish us all to be community of love until Christ returns in glory.
- 1 Schwarz, John – A Handbook of the Christian Faith p. 137
- Hahn, Roger – Bible Study on 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:131, CRI/Voice, Institute
- The Doctrine Commission of the Church of England – The Mystery of Salvation p. 103-104
- Myers, Benjamin – Theology for beginners (17): Church http://faith-theology.blogspot.com/2006/09/theology-for-beginners-17-church.html
- Meldenius , Rupertus – Paraenesis votiva pro Pace Ecclesiae ad Theologos Augustanae Confessionis, Auctore Ruperto Meldenio Theologo, p. 62