Summary: The Bible speaks of the church as the Body of Christ for a reason, but most believers fail to celebrate their unique place in the body.
The ancient Romans had an aphorism that went “Mens sana in corpore sanos.” It means, “A healthy mind in a healthy body.” The ancients were quite correct that the two go together. The mind directs the body. It may do it on a subconscious or even unconscious level, but without signals from the brain, the rest of the body doesn’t function normally. In a reciprocal fashion, if the body doesn’t provide oxygen to the brain through the normal flow of blood, the brain can die, and if the body is being stuffed with too much of the wrong thing (too many carbohydrates, too much alcohol, too many drugs, etc.), the brain won’t function normally.
So, I don’t believe it’s any accident that the Bible so often speaks of the church as the “body” of Christ and of Christ as the “head” of the body. The only problem with pushing the metaphor too far is that, in the case of the church, the body cannot destroy the brain by its disobedience—though it can certainly cause itself to asphyxiate or become disabled. You see, the Presence of God in the Holy Spirit provides the “oxygen” or “breath of life” for the church as the “body” and Christ doesn’t need us to get that “oxygen” because Christ participates in that “breath of life” through the miracle of the Trinity. So, we can’t stop the flow of Spirit/oxygen/breath to the head. We can just fill up the rest of the body with the carbon-dioxide of Sin. Our spiritual dietary habits and lack of spiritual exercise can make us sluggish and unresponsive to the head, but we don’t endanger the head—just ourselves.
That being said, though, we need to understand the church as a “body.” A Connecticut Baptist named A. Roger Williams (a modern pastor, not the one who founded Rhode Island) once preached, “It is true that if religion begins with the individual it begins (my emphasis), but if it ends (my emphasis) with the individual it ends (my emphasis).” [A. Roger Williams, “The Kingdom of God,” in (ed.) Henry J. Young, Preaching the Gospel (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976), p. 32.] In both Pastor Nick’s sermon from Romans 12, last week, and today’s text, we see that God’s purpose in the believer’s life is for ministry (v. 12) and building up the Body of Christ (v. 12) until we reach the ultimate understanding of and fellowship with Christ (v. 13). Now, it’s interesting to me that both in last week’s text and this week’s text, we see that the Body of Christ is bound together by the Holy Spirit as the Spirit imparts grace gifts. I believe that spiritual gifts, undeserved gifts, are a key to being the church God wants us to be and we’re going to focus on those. But before we dive in, let me sound a warning from the great 20th century theologian, Emil Brunner.
On this subject, he says, “The Spirit does not create ‘offices,’ but ‘ministries.’ Although we must not force the figure [of speech] of the Body of Christ and must not claim ‘organic structure’ for the congregation, the biological concept of ‘function’ is more apposite than the legal concept of ‘office.’” [Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of the Church, Faith, and the Consummation: Dogmatics Volume III (Trans.) David Cairns (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1962 (original German, 1960), p. 43.]
Now, what he’s saying about “function” over “office” can best be illustrated by a terrific story I once heard in a taped message from a marvelous Baptist pastor named Ron Dunn. Dunn’s parable suggested that once upon a time there was a body where the eyes convinced all of the other parts of the body that the gift of SIGHT was the only important gift. They admitted that there were other gifts, but they ranked all of them below SIGHT and wanted all of those in leadership positions within the church to have SIGHT. What’s more, they couldn’t admit that SIGHT was only the right gift for those whom God had called to be eyes. They insisted that if all of the other body parts and organs were really, really spiritual enough and beseeched God enough, they could have the gift of SIGHT, too. They scheduled prayer meetings for the other organs and body parts to pray through for SIGHT. They scheduled training courses on “Learning to See.”
Now in that same body, there were some toes which had low self-esteem. They didn’t understand that God had given them the gift of BALANCE. They didn’t understand that even though they were often hidden and were never given any praise, God had called them to the vital ministry of BALANCE. They felt guilty that their gift couldn’t do more. They felt like they weren’t spiritual enough. So, they prayed and prayed, begging God to give them the gift of SIGHT. And since this is only a story where body parts act like people, I can say that God eventually gave in. Even though God knew the toes didn’t need this gift, God gave them the gift of SIGHT. And do you know what they saw? They saw the inside of a sock.