“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12: 27)
The metaphor that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 12 when he describes the church as a body with many parts is a good one. Paul wants us to think about the church as a complex system that functions when 1) each individual is doing their part and 2) when each individual is interacting with others in a kind of symphony (to mix metaphors) of worship that results in beauty and harmony, praise and functionality and most importantly in the building of God’s Kingdom as God is glorified. When the church functions in this way, it becomes a place marked by thriving individuals living in the kind of community that we might think about when imagining the Kingdom of God. It becomes a place where justice, mercy and wholehearted worship of God results in lives that are well-lived within a community that is thriving. I think it also significant that this discussion on the Body of Christ (the church) happens after Paul’s message about using our spiritual gifts. In that message he calls his readers to think about their individual parts fitting into a complex system where it is the system that praises God as each part uses its own individual Spiritual gift (s). This individuality in that message is qualified by the message that each us don’t just “do our own thing” but we act in concert with the other parts of the body.
Having given a very brief vision for what the church and the people within it are supposed to aim their life towards, I want to look at the flip side of this positive vision for the church and ask, what happens when the individual parts don’t do their part? What happens when, to use the famous Frank Sinatra lyric, “I did it my way?” A good way to imagine what this might result in is to imagine what might happen if the malignancy (using another metaphor from the realm of bodies…this time using a metaphor of physical disorder) of selfishness were to enter into our lives and that selfishness were allowed to grow in the church. In that case, the church would turn greedy as the individuals within it allow selfishness to grow into a cancerous tumor. If we allow malignancies to grow in our individual lives as well as in the church (and the Bible lists such malignancies in places like Colossians 3:5-11 where Paul says “put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly (sinful) nature.”), we find ourselves making less out of things that ought to be important in life; like the love that we have for family and the care we have for friends and neighbor. Most importantly, we would also find ourselves making less out of the relationship that we are to have with the Lord of creation and Lord of life. If we allow the malignancies of sin to grow, we would also find ourselves making more out of things that ought to be kept in-check. In that case, we might respond to requests made of us with very destructive thoughts like these, “this is my life…this is my time…this is my money…this is mine!” The Bible’s message is very different. We are to live our lives with God at the centre and to use the lives we have been given for God’s glory and for the world’s good. We are to live lives of humble service, just as our Lord did. These malignancies can turn into cancers and wreck the beauty, praise, functionality and harmony within the body of the church. That’s what we could expect to see when each part doesn’t do its part.
In my next installment I will explore what might happen when individuals within the body (system) of the Church take over; when the individual parts become too big for the body’s good.