Anyone who's ever had a broken foot knows it's pretty tough to get around without the help of that appendage. We take our bodies for granted when they're working well, but when something goes wrong, we see how much we need every single bit of ourselves to function. The same is true for the Christian community—at least according to Paul.
We Are One Body
Paul uses the metaphor of a person's physical body to describe the way that Christians all should be working and living together:
There is one body and one Spirit […] But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift […] The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ[…] We must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:4, 7, 1-12, 15-16)
Basically, Paul is saying that Christians are all like different parts that make up one body. They each have to play their part in order to keep this thing going. Even body parts no one cares about (pinky toe—we're looking at you), can turn out to be vitally important (ever try walking with a broken pinky toe?).
Wait a second…does that mean someone has to be the butt? And someone the brains? Well, Paul doesn't say who gets rear-end duty, but he's pretty clear on who's the head:
- "[God] has made [Jesus] the head over all things for the church." (Ephesians 1:22)
- "Christ is the head of the church, the body." (Ephesians 5:23)
- "He is the head of the body, the church." (Colossians 1:18)
- "Hol[d] fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows." (Colossians 2:19)
That's right. Jesus is large and in charge of this body.
Whose Body? Jesus' Body!
So Christians are all one body. Everyone's working together, sharing, loving, living. But Paul takes the metaphor a step further. This is no ordinary body Christians are part of:
No one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body." (Ephesians 5:29-30)
That's right. This is Jesus' bones we're living in, okay. The church is made up of all different people, but when they work together, they become Christ's body. That's like saying that when we all join in with each other we have the same power and impact of Jesus working in the world. It's sort of like what would happen if the Power Rangers came together to form a giant robot Jesus instead of the Megazord.
Of course, lots of different folks have different ideas about what this image could mean. That's the tricky thing about symbols—they can mean a bunch of stuff. Some Christians believe that you have to be part of a certain denomination to be considered as part of the body of Christ. Others think the idea is more universal and that anyone who believes can become Jesus. It just depends who you ask.
What's clear is that Paul wants to say that we're all related to each other and that we're all in this together. Peace, love, and fully-functioning body parts for all.