Have you ever seen one of those pictures that show you all the lights on the earth at night as seen from space? (Well, at least now you have.)
I have a vision: since we are the light of this world, let us be such a pattern, such a covering of the earth with light. Us the church is what I mean. Let us span the earth and spread the Kingdom of God.
When we look at the world, it is fractal in nature. Principles that hold true, patterns that exist on miniature levels repeat themselves in growing complexity to form higher order bodies. Subatomic particles form atoms that form molecules, organelles, organs, and man. And it does not stop there.
Paul talks of the church as the body of Christ, with Jesus as head and us as the body. And I believe that this is much more than just a picture.
At times we feel that Paul had all the revelation, and had it at once. But just like everybody Paul grew in revelation and knowledge over his lifetime, and his revelation was patchwork. With many things, the bible just sets us on a trajectory to grow much further than the writers of the bible ever have. Just look at slavery and women’s rights.
Paul, when in Ephesus in his early days, got a glimpse of the church as the body of Christ, and developed it throughout his life with more and more details. Let’s have a deeper look. But we have to remember one thing: the order of the books in the new testament is not chronological, but by size and gusto of Martin Luther.
The letters of Paul historically start with the letters to Galatia and Thessaloniki. Soon, the first letter to the Corinthians followed in about 54 ad. The further relevant books for the image of the body of Christ are, in chronological order, the letter to the romans about 56/57 ad, Colossians and Ephesians in 62 ad. Thus Paul wrote about this scattered over about 8 years. Interestingly enough, the first letter to the Corinthians originated in Ephesus on his third journey, and ended in the letter to just that church.
The Body in Corinth
Our journey starts in 1Co 10:17.
Because there is one loaf of bread, we who are many constitute one body, since we all partake of the one loaf of bread.
One body was broken for us, symbolised as a loaf of bread, so we become one body.
But within the same letter Paul extends this picture. In chapter 12 he shows that, though we have different gifts, heritage, and social status, we are one body in the spirit through baptism.
For it was by one Spirit that we were all immersed into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free; and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
Called by the Spirit, and expressing our acceptance of the death and resurrection of Jesus and its necessity for me personally makes me a part of that Body.
We also have different assignments and anointings, but still remain one body, just as the body parts in our natural body. Diversity in unity rather than levelling and equalising. A thought that echoes in Rom 12, but is enhanced by some work I have to do and allow within me as a part of this body.
The Body in Rome
The letter to the Romans was written about 2-3 years afterwards. It focuses on our journey deeper into the body-
- I give my body as a living sacrifice
- I change the way I think
- I receive a measure of faith and put it to work
- I humbly do not exaggerate myself
I exhort you, therefore, brothers, in view of God’s mercies, to offer yourselves as a sacrifice, living and set apart for God. This will please him; it is the logical “Temple worship” for you. In other words, do not let yourselves be conformed to the standards of the ‘olam hazeh. Instead, keep letting yourselves be transformed by the renewing of your minds; so that you will know what God wants and will agree that what he wants is good, satisfying and able to succeed. For I am telling every single one of you, through the grace that has been given to me, not to have exaggerated ideas about your own importance. Instead, develop a sober estimate of yourself based on the standard which God has given to each of you, namely, trust. For just as there are many parts that compose one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function; so there are many of us, and in union with the Messiah we comprise one body, with each of us belonging to the others. Rom 12:1-5
The Body in Colossae
Paul wrote the letters to the Colossians and the Ephesians from his house detention in Rome, about 5 years after the letter to Rome.
Christ is the image of the invisible God. First Jesus alone, as the firstborn from the dead, but than us all as the company of firstborns. He as the head still holds first place in everything, but God wants to come to fullness in him – Christ that is. In the Greek it says “him” and refers back to Christ instead of Son, as translated in the BBE. It is obvious that we are the image of the invisible God now, from our making as the image of God in the first place, our restoration through the work of Jesus, and him being back in his rightful place as lord of all.
Also he is head of the Body, the Messianic Community—he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might hold first place in everything. For it pleased God to have his full being live in his Son [him]. Col 1:18-19
Paul goes on to say that we suffer as he suffered to fulfil Christ’s pain. Whatever is necessary to grow the kingdom.
Now I have joy in my pain because of you, and in my flesh I undergo whatever is still needed to make the sorrows of Christ complete, for the salvation of his body, the church. Col 1:24
We need to watch our connections as well. Do not belittle yourself connecting with man that belittle themselves, worshipping their own thought constructs or angels, or wants you to watch what you eat and drink or certain days and feasts. For they are
… not joined to the Head, from whom all the body, being given strength and kept together through its joins and bands, has its growth with the increase of God. Col 2:19
God gives growth.
Paul repeats that heritage and social status does not matter, but Christ in us does. Forgive, as he has forgiven. Have mercy, have love, have unity, let peace rule. In short: live a godly lifestyle. This will keep you in the body.
And let the peace of Christ be ruling in your hearts, as it was the purpose of God for you to be one body; and give praise to God at all times. Col 3:15
The Body in Ephesus
The most complete picture of the body of Christ is found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
He repeats the fact that Jesus is the head of the congregation, which is his body (Ephesians 1:15-23).
He reintroduces the one new man – a new expression for the fact that there is no more Jew or Greek, man or woman, slave or master. This body stretches all categories of humanity that still today seem so important: nationality and race, gender, and social status. (Ephesians 2:14-18)
He also tell us the secret again: heirs of God’s Kingdom and promises. (Ephesians 3:5-6).
But then he even goes further, He gives us a recipe for growth and maturity.
There is no division, as there is only one body:
There is one body and one Spirit, even as you have been marked out by God in the one hope of his purpose for you; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all. But to every one of us has grace been given in the measure of the giving of Christ. Eph 4:4-7
But Jesus gave himself in the form of the fivefold ministry to the church. Those with one of these anointing are to invest themselves in the growth and maturing of all others in the church. For centuries God gave grace and we lived without these anointing or at least with just a subset. But lately, Jesus is restoring all of them to his body.
And he gave some as Apostles, and some, prophets; and some, preachers of the good news; and some to give care and teaching; For the training of the saints as servants in the church, for the building up of the body of Christ. Eph 4:11-12
There is no growth above a certain threshold without the offices and functions Jesus explicitly equipped and called for this. But there is not the full measure of maturity, health, maybe even love without everybody growing into his or her specific calling and strengths.
But saying true words in love, may come to full growth in him, who is the head, even Christ; Through whom all the body, being rightly formed and united together, by the full working of every part, is increased to the building up of itself in love. Eph 4:15-16
Paul also likens Christ with Jesus as head and us as the body to marriage: becoming one flesh. Marriage, the perfect picture on earth to depict unity and fruit, live and creativity.
May our understanding of the body of Christ grow just as Paul’s grew, and may we live it more than any church age before.