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.]