Of all the metaphors of a NT assembly, the one given the most space in the epistles is that of the body. We maintain a distinction between “the body of Christ” (note the article “the”) and “body of Christ” (without the article). “The body of Christ” comprises all true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ in the Church Age. Christ “is the head of the body, the Church” (Col 1:18, KJV). Furthermore, Paul says that there is only “one body” (Eph 4:4, KJV). Yet Paul tells the Corinthians they are “body of Christ” (1Cor 12:27, no article, KJV). Perhaps we could say, then, that the local assembly is an expression of the body of Christ. Norman Crawford wrote: “The fellowship of an assembly is an expression of a wider fellowship. It is in an assembly that the unity of the body is seen in practice.”
Now You See Me
A major concept of a body is manifestation. Your spirit and soul need a body to manifest your presence. The local assembly (“body of Christ”) should be a manifestation of Christ to the surrounding community. What an incredible privilege to be a part of this. It is indeed humbling to have people say about the local assembly, “I see Christ here.” So, if a NT assembly is, figuratively speaking, “body of Christ,” what’s a body to do?
The Body and Activity
Without a body, you cannot see, speak, feel or listen. God did not give us a physical body with the intention of inactivity. Nor did God put us into “the body of Christ” with the expectation of spiritual lethargy. Paul sets the body metaphor within the context of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. Among the many activities/gifts he outlines within the Corinthian assembly are teaching, prophesying, healing, helping, administrating, speaking in tongues and interpreting those tongues. These together emphasize the various activities that should have characterized the Corinthian assembly at that time in history. Similarly, no one should be sitting still doing nothing; a body is to remain active. So how active is your local assembly? And how active are you within it?
The Body and Diversity
At birth, the human body has 270 bones and over 600 muscles. Each one has a function in contributing to the body’s activity. Some are large, some are nearly microscopic, but all are necessary.
A ship’s captain and his chief engineer were debating who was more important to the ship. They agreed to trade places for a day in order to prove their superior place. The captain went to the engine room while the chief engineer ascended to the bridge. A few hours later, the captain nervously appeared on deck with a wrench in his hand and was covered in oil and grime. “Chief!” he yelled, waving a wrench, “You’d better get down there: I can’t make her go!” The chief engineer replied instantly, “Of course you can’t, Captain. She’s reefed!” It’s during times like these when we realize we all need each other and everyone has a vital role to fill.
Paul asks the Corinthians, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” (1Cor 12:29-30, KJV) The implied answer to these questions is, “No!” The assembly is diverse, just like a body.
Three things would be helpful, therefore, to keep in mind. First, no one believer should do everything. God did not intend one man, or one woman, to do all the work needed in a local assembly, just as He does not intend any part of the body to do everything in the body. Paul said, “For the body is not one member, but many” (1Cor 12:14, KJV). Second, every believer shouldn’t be doing everything. This is often reflected in some assemblies as far as public speaking is concerned. Not every brother is gifted to preach the gospel, yet all “take their turn” anyway. It can be as awkward and ineffective as basketball players refusing to use their hands during the game. Not every brother should necessarily be preaching and teaching publicly. Third, every believer should be doing something, even if that something appears small. Paul writes, “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” (1Cor 12:21-22, ESV). No one is insignificant in the local assembly, just as no part of the body is dispensable.
The Body and Unity
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:12 that “the body is one.” We are one in Christ, but are we one in purpose? Do we practically demonstrate this unity in the local assembly? Are we taking the time to meet together, pray together, remember the Lord together, work together, reach souls together, etc.? Are we involved in one another’s lives? Would people look at your assembly and say, “They are a united body of believers?” There are a hundred things or more that can divide us, and sadly, we allow or create those divisions by fleshly actions, harmful words, or superior attitudes. The harmful things we may do to one another in a local assembly bring harm to ourselves, for “the body is one.” Paul adds, “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (12:26, ESV).
The Body and Maturity
Just as a human body grows, develops, and matures, so should that maturity be displayed in “the body of Christ” (note the article). In Ephesians 4, Paul, speaking of the Church, introduces the body metaphor again, stating his desire that “we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children” (4:13-14, ESV). As believers in a local assembly, we should be an expression of this growth and maturity, which is especially demonstrated in our behavior toward one another.
The metaphor is rich and far-reaching in its application. We are honored to be a part of that body, for the assembly is, figuratively speaking, “body of Christ.”