Why is the body such a go-to illustration for Paul? He uses this idea in Romans 12, 1 Cor. 10 and 12, Eph. 3, 4 and 5, and Col. 1,2, and 3. What is it about the analogy between the church and the human body that fits so well with Paul’s message? Let’s consider 1 Cor. 12, the most extended use of the body metaphor. Paul is explaining the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and to do that he compares individual people in the Church to parts of the human body. In short: one body, many members, interdependent on each other. Just beneath the surface of the text hides the doctrine of the Trinity. Our bodies are made up this way, and the Church is formed this way, because God Himself looks like this: One God, three persons, in perfect mutual fellowship.
And this is why it is critical that we act like one body: we were made in the image of God in order to show the world what God is like. (Don’t be distracted – we aren’t trying to show the world that God has skin and bones, but having skin and bones enables us to do what God can do without them.) When individual members don’t get along, the picture the world sees doesn’t look like God at all. When each member disregards the others, we show the world a picture of the Greek gods – all concerned about themselves, having no unity, fighting and quarreling with each other. When all members try to do the same thing, ignoring distinctions and different gifts, we show the world a different set of idols: false gods like Allah or Buddha who are only concerned with unity, leading to suppression of differences and punishment of uniqueness. The doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of body life for the Church, and protects us from the tyranny of the false gods.
Like Paul, we need to make this high and holy doctrine touch down to earth, and Paul does it using humorous mental pictures with a point: Imagine you were a giant ear. Or, think about which of your body parts you like best, and chuck the rest. Who needs feet, really?
But it’s about the Church: what happens to the Church when you don’t participate? It’s like pulling off an arm, and leaving it at home on Sunday. Of course, sometimes we are sick, or called elsewhere for a week or two, but the point is that the rest of the body should notice that we are gone. Because our gifts are crucial to the well-being of the Church, our absence should be noticed like a missing arm gets noticed, and not like a missing sock that stays under the dryer until the last trump. When one member suffers, we all suffer. When one member is absent, we eagerly long to see them back again. We’re even glad to “donate a kidney”, as it were, when a member moves to another part of the Church, but we feel like we’re going through major surgery when it happens, because we are.
So think for a while this week about what gifts you might have, and how they can be used for the good of the body, praise God for the gifts of others that bless you, and pray that God would send us people with different gifts to grow us up in areas where we might be lacking as a congregation. Thankfully, Christ is the head of this body, the Holy Spirit is generous with His gifts, and the whole body lives under our Father’s care.