For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be?
As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 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 members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.
You would be forgiven for thinking that this passage is all about team work. Using the image of the body, Paul tells us how important each part of it is and how no part of it can function without the other. It is a way of saying that all Christians have gifts to bring and all strengthen the life of the Church. And that is true, as far as it goes.
But what Paul is saying goes much deeper than that. Note the beginning of the passage: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ”. It does not say, “so it is with the church”. Paul is not talking about the Church as a sociological entity, he is talking about the new community of Christ. He is painting a picture of what a community that truly lives in Christ’s way looks like.
Orators in Paul’s day often used the image of the body as a metaphor for society, to denote the different roles its members played. It was particularly used to preserve the social order and to urge people considered inferior to stay in their place. Paul takes the same image but turns it on its head. In the body of Christ the weaker members are indispensable, clothed with greater honour, treated with greater respect. In the body of Christ new ways of relating are practised that challenge the power relationships of society. All members belong and stand equally before God. In the body of Christ God’s future is lived today.
It is a place where the vision of the heavenly banquet becomes reality: everyone is welcome and diversity is celebrated and valued and seen as a source of strength. The church in Corinth struggled to live out that vision, as do we. But it is only when living like this, that the church is true to its nature and calling.
Loving God, we thank you that you give us every day images to teach us how we should live. Help us to be the body of Christ today: bringing light in darkness, sharing hope in despair, being love in deed. May we use all our gifts to live today in faith and to walk Christ’s way in peace. Amen
Francis Brienen, Deputy General Secretary (Mission), Muswell Hill URC
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