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The Body of Christ
4Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Rom. 12:4,5).
These verses contain an illustration that compares the fellowship of Christians to the human body. In verse 3 of Romans 12, Paul began a series of exhortations concerning the Christian’s relationship with other Christians. That verse urged the Christian to look at himself with sober judgment, not thinking too highly of himself. Then, in verses 4 through 8, Paul describes the fellowship of believers as forming one body in Christ. So, verse 3, speaking of developing a correct estimation of oneself and one’s own gifts, serves as an introduction to verses 4 through 8, because the attitude encouraged in verse 3 is necessary for the successful operation of the Church as one body.
Paul speaks of the Church as being the Body of Christ in many places (see I Cor 10:17; Eph. 1:23; Col. 1:18,24; 2:19; 3:15; etc.); however, there are three major passages on the subject: I Cor. 12:12-30; Eph. 4:4-16; and the one here in Romans (Rom. 12:3-8). These passages are not redundant, but they each emphasize a different aspect of the church as the body of Christ::
1. In I Cor. 12:12-30, Paul deals with the Church as being one body organizationally, with Christ as the head and the members given specific roles to make up a structured union. Thus, he says: “But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other... Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues” (I Cor. 12:24-25,27-28).
2. In Eph. 4:4-16, Paul deals with the Church as being one body spiritually, unified in doctrines and beliefs. Thus, he says: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6).
3. Here, in Romans 12:3-8, Paul deals with the Church as being one body purposefully, with each member contributing his talents and gifts according to the purpose and goal of the Head. Thus, Paul says: “We have different gifts, accourding to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully” (Rom. 12:6-8).
Note that Paul is not describing the unity within a single church or church denomination, but the unity within the whole Body of Christ, “the” Church, if you will. We should see ourselves, not as members of an individual church organization, but as members of the Body of Christ, united under His rulership as the Head of the Body.
Paul begins these verses by saying “Just as...”, thus, signaling the beginning of an illustration. Illustrations and parables are very useful in teaching the truths of God. This is why the Bible is full of illustrations, parables, types, analogies, etc. The things of heaven can seem abstract when put in heavenly terms; but when spoken in earthly terms, they become straightforward and immediately applicable.
In this case, Paul uses an illustration that is easily understandable to “each of us”, because, indeed, “each of us has one body with many members”. The interpretation of this illustration is directly at hand. We need only consider how the different parts of the body work together to keep the body alive and functioning properly. In the same way, we are to perform our duties in the service of the Head of the Body (Christ), just as the members of our body perform theirs. Each of us has a purpose and we are each vitally important for the health and survival of the Body. As a member of the Body, we must see that we do not fail to perform our well-defined role. Just as a heart must pump blood, a lung must breathe, a kidney must cleanse the blood, so we too must not neglect our duties and responsibilities to the Body of Christ.
Now, as in the human body, the “members do not all have the same function”. It is important that we all, by the guidance of the Spirit, seek our proper function as a member of the Body of Christ. As Paul says in the next verse, “We all have different gifts” (Rom. 12:6). And elsewhere, he says: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” (I Cor. 12:29-30). Indeed, “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (I Cor. 12:18).
With this in mind, the body of Christ has unity. There is no reason to envy someone else’s gifts in the service of God. It is God who has distributed them. You will be most content when you serve the Lord according to His will, for it is His Body. It is damaging to the Body when someone is not being guided by the Holy Spirit in the work of Christ. Not only does this promote disorder in the Body of Christ, but if you are not performing your assigned role, a vital function is left undone. “If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?” (I Cor. 12:17).
“So in Christ, we who are many form one body”. Since it is “in Christ” that we form one body, this unites us toward one goal and purpose: the goal and purpose of the Head of the Body. When strife occurs, it can quelled by seeking the will of the Head. If we seek His will and follow it, unity will be restored. It seems strange that sinful people from so many walks of life, with varied backgrounds, from vastly different cultural backgrounds can be united in one purpose and “form one body”, until we realize that the union of us into one Body results from the fact that we have one Spirit dwelling in us, a Spirit that is able to bring us together in unity if we would but follow His guidance.
We not only form one body, but “each member belongs to all the others”. Because we belong to each other, we should readily render our services to others and accept the service of others in our works for the Lord. Furthermore, since they “belong” to us, we should consider precious our fellow “members” who are working together with us for the furtherance of the kingdom.
In summary, we must all be acutely aware of the fact that we, as Christians, are members of the same Body. Belonging to the same body rules out rivalry, stifles selfish ambition , suppresses separate interests and induces intimacy. When we were on our own, we were driven to disorder, division, self-exaltation, and apathy. However, with the awareness that we belong to the same body, we are driven to humility, charity, affinity, unity and activity.