Another image that Paul utilized to describe the church was that of the body of Christ. Paul’s use of the analogy of the church serving as a body was a common illustration utilized in the popular Stoic philosophy of the day. In this context, Jesus is not seen as a part of this body, but individual Christians compose the body with different members serving as different parts of the body. Paul desired to show the Corinthians that all of the members of the body were gifted and they all had a specific role in the body.
The imagery of the body of Christ should cause believers to recognize the need for one another. A mutuality exists between members of the body. Each member understands that they encourage or hinder one another’s growth. By emphasizing the church as serving in the role as the body of Christ, Paul celebrated the “diversity within unity.” As Jesus’ physical body was manifested during his personal ministry on earth, the church, serving as the body of Christ, is now his ministerial representation on earth.
The immense range of gifts represented within the church displays the need for one another, but it also showed God’s ingenuity concerning the differing types of gifts and special places within the body. The spiritual life of believers was never intended to be viewed solely in a personal context. As the body of Christ, believers are constantly to be mindful of the expected interdependency they have upon one another. Paul taught the Ephesian church that they were to rely expectantly on one another to be bold enough to speak the truth in love when one member strays from obedience. Within the body of Christ, the blood of Jesus has removed any blockades for admission and removed any stigma of preferential treatment. The body of Christ does not recognize the difference between nationality, race, or gender.
Paul uses the terminology of the body of Christ slightly different outside the Book of 1 Corinthians. In other contexts, Paul describes Jesus as the head of the church, being a part of the body. Individual members are to perform their function in congruence with the head’s direction. While Christ is seen as the head in this image and not in the imagery in 1 Corinthians, the functionality of the church remains the same. The church is to view its members’ roles as serving a specific function, and Christians are always to be mindful of their reliance on one another for spiritual maturation.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Distinctive Discipleship. He is married to Amanda and the father of two sons and one daughter. Travis graduated from North Greenville University with a B.A. in Christian Studies and earned his M.Div. and D.Min. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, with his doctoral focus on family discipleship.