“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people, once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10). In Jesus Christ God gathers a people to be his very own. They were not a people, people of different nations, races, and families. In Christ Jesus they are now one people, one nation, one race. They are bound together by a common heritage, a common calling, a common loyalty, united together in one God, in one Lord Jesus Christ, in the one Spirit of God.
Using the metaphor of the human body, the apostle Paul describes the people of God as one body composed of many diverse members. One body, the people of God are the body of Christ. “And he [God] put all things under his [Jesus Christ’s] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23).
The human body, composed of many diverse parts, is one body. All the parts of the human body work together for the good of the whole. With the metaphor of the human body Paul paints a picture of the church, of the church’s unity. There are many individual members, yet one body, united in Christ. Unity, not uniformity, rather there is diversity–in God-given abilities, in spiritual maturity, in familial background, in ethnicity and nationality, in social and economic standing, and in the struggles of life. There are many diverse members but one body, united in Christ. Paul pictures the diverse people of God as one body in Christ, united and functioning as a whole for the good of each other, for the good of the whole.
“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:4-5). “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27).
Notice the source of the body’s existence and unity. “So we, though many, are one body in Christ” (Romans 12:5). As the human body is one body though it has many members, “so it is with Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12). “Now you are the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27). In Christ, with Christ, of Christ, the church is, and the church is the body, because of Jesus Christ, because of the relationship all the members have with Christ and with one another through Christ. The church is the body of Christ, not by accident or by the invention of humankind.
In his letter to the Ephesian Christians, the apostle Paul describes the church as Christ’s body over which Christ rules. Christ loves the church. He died for the church. Christ reconciles us with God as he reconciles us to one another in his one body, the church. Peter O’Brien writes Paul “emphatically underlines (the church’s) significance within God’s purposes…(a significance, with its blessings, which) comes from its relationship” with Christ who as the body’s “head graciously fills it with his presence” (The Letter to the Ephesians, 152).
Everett Ferguson rightly states, “Christ is the central reality of the church” (The Church of Christ, 102). Christ is the body’s Creator, Savior, Sustainer, and Lord. Christ identifies the church, the body, with himself. He is the unity and life of his body, the church. Our relationship with Christ and with God is within his body, not apart from it. Note the following texts.
“And he [God] put all things under his [Jesus Christ’s] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23).
Christ’s “purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Ephesians 2:15b-16 NIV84).
“Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior” (Ephesians 5:23b).
“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish…For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body” (Ephesians 5:25-30).
Christ nourishes and cherishes the church, his body, his own flesh, because we are members of his body! The love of Christ for the church is not because it is an institution or an ecclesiastical structure. His love and care for the church is because we (Christians, people) are the members of his body.
On occasion I have said if it wasn’t for people the church would be a perfect place. The church though is people. Forgiven. Sanctified in Christ and by his Spirit. Yet the members of the body are imperfect. The church, the body, therefore, will not always behave as Christ its Lord commands and leads it to behave. Whatever the imperfections may be, the church is the body of Christ. The body is Christ’s not because the members have it all right. The church is because of Christ. The church is the body of Christ through the sacrifice, grace, longsuffering, and love of God in Christ Jesus.
(Scripture quotes, unless noted otherwise, are from the English Standard Version.)