Paul compares the church to a human body in his letter to Corinth. Although no analogy is perfect (and this one is no different) I have always greatly appreciated this depiction of how a church operates. I use the term “operates” as the body analogy speaks to the more utilitarian portion of the church- where as the analogy of family probably speaks better to some of the other aspects of cooperate worship. I also feel this analogy is apt whether we talk about the church as a local group of believers or the larger global collection of believers. It is a good analogy in many ways.
Paul suggests that a church is like a body, with many parts doing various tasks. All the parts are useful and needed and the variety is partly what makes the body so successful. The greater diversity of gifts and greater number of parts means a greater breadth of ability. Although Paul speaks about this in relation to service according to gifts- the sense that people give according to their various strengths and abilities- I think it can also address the concept of service according to needs- individual parts can assist beyond their area of expertise. To keep with the analogy, if I am washing dishes I would use my hands, because they are the best tool for the job. However, if both my hands are busy doing the dishes, my foot may have to intercede to do the task of trying to keep the dog out of the trash. Although my hands would also be better suited to stopping the dog, sometimes the foot must step up to do the job anyway (Yes, I know puns are terrible- but I could not resist). The same concept applies if one part if injured, other parts may have to be substituted. For instance, when I broke my elbow I saw it fitting at times to use my face to turn on a light switch.
Paul gives us this picture not to create limits, penning everyone into their personalized box of abilities, but as a way of stressing the importance for everyone to give what they have- whatever they have. Weather it is the best gift for the task at hand, or the need exists and there is a warm body willing to do the work. Both are useful and necessary.
I also find this analogy great to stress the importance of everyone pitching in. There should be no listless body parts. The body does not have any parts that are excess, every body part serves a function and exists for a reason. It is true there are those parts that serve limited purpose (fingernails and hair for instance) but once they are no longer useful they are trimmed or fall away. Other more prominent parts, once unusable create hindrance to the rest of the body, it is paralyzed by the languishing limbs. And once the vital portions of the body breakdown the body is unable to sustain any longer. Every part has a purpose and every part- when functioning- benefits the entire body.
There is a support system intrinsic in this idea- of the church as a body. It gives greater importance to the unity within the church. Working together with cooperation and support. Not only cooperation for accomplishing whatever task is set forth but also for the care and development of each part. If we neglect any one part- the entire body suffers. Because that is Paul’s true point in the passage. Yes, the variety is good. Yes, having everyone being active is essential. But ultimately, he wants us to know that we are to be joined together in unity and cooperation. (Despite Paul’s best efforts we still seem to be constantly distracted by a made-up hierarchy of those said gifts, but I digress). The body is unified together- under one HEAD. One brain, one master control centre. I want to state clearly that control centre is not the pastor, not the priest, or the head deacon. The head is Jesus Christ. It is the reason why the church is called Christ’s body. Not for the body’s own sake and own purpose, but to act for Jesus in the world. He is the head; the body serves his will. As soon as the body sets up a replacement head or serves the body itself rather then Christ- it is lost. I have been a part of church bodies that have worked in a unified cooperative way, it is amazing to be a part of a church like that. But mostly I have seen bodies that seem to be broken down. Either the body is mostly paralyzed with many useless parts. Or it has become a headless church, content to serve and function only for itself. But perhaps the most bizarre picture of all is a church with a transplanted head. Where Jesus has been replaced by an ideology, or specific leader. There may be some unity in a church like that, but it is grotesque by any estimation.
Paul compares the church to a body in Corinthians not to spur on work or create efficiency through division of labour. His entire point is to create unity together within the body under Christ. And it is a comparison timeless in that it is just as true today and as when he wrote it then.
Meet the Pastor
Pastor Heather and her family have been a part of the Cold Lake Community since December 2006 and she has been the pastor at Community Baptist Church since September 2017.