Members Of The Body Of Christ
One Body Many Members

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 60a of 83

3  For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. 4  For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:  5  So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. …” (Romans 12:3-8).

We saw previously how the apostle begins this second division of his epistle with three general exhortations.

He urges us, —in view of all that God has done for us, —to do three things. First, we must present our bodies as living sacrifices unto God; secondly, we must cease to be conformed to this present evil age; and thirdly, we must be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

But now, having spoken in general terms, Paul is ready to enter into some specific instructions about the Christian life. He is essentially saying: This is how your life, —which is transformed by the renewing of the mind and consecrated unto God, —should be lived.

How does Paul enter into the subject of the Christian life? He enters through a door which he considers to be most important for every Christian, namely the church. The Christian life cannot be lived apart from the church. So Paul begins with some instructions on church life!

In particular, he tells us about how as a church we can dwell together in unity. If you read the epistles, you will see that this is a subject that the apostle Paul is deeply concerned with. He deals with this issue, not only here, but in much of 1 Corinthians, in Ephesians, and in Philippians.

If you look at these passages, you will find the apostle speaking about practical unity in terms of truth, spiritual gifts and love. Church members are like uneven and unwieldy twigs that need to be held together by some special provisions. Theologically, the church is united in Christ by His word and His Spirit; but practically, the three things that bind the church together like three bands are truth, love and gifts. When members of the church actually enjoy unity in the church, it is because truth, love and gifts are being properly used and exercised.

Now, Paul has already spoken about the truth that unites. He spent the first eleven chapters of this book doing so.

But now in chapter 12, he will speak about practical unity in terms of spiritual gifts (v. 3-8), and then he will speak about unity in terms of love (v. 9-21).

The Lord helping us, in the present study, we will focus on his instruction with regard to how the church must be united in the use of spiritual gifts, which she has received from the Lord.

Paul tells us three things in these verses. He says:

·    Firstly, as members of the church, we must not think of ourselves too highly (v. 3);

·    because secondly, every member is placed in the church to serve the body of Christ (v. 4-5);

·    and so, thirdly, we must exercise the gift that God has given us zealously (v. 6-8).

Now, for the purpose of our study, we must re-order the three points a little.

Let us begin by considering that the church is one, though it has many members.

1.  The Church is One Body with Many Members

4 For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: 5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.

The church is like a human body.  The human body is one, but it has many parts: the head, the ears, the eyes, the arms, the hands, the legs, the feet, the toes, the heart, the lungs, etc, etc. These parts are so intricately connected that they cannot survive by themselves. And each part has a different function. In order for the body to survive, every part must do its work.

The eyes must see, the nose must smell, the hand must take the food, the tongue must taste, the intestine must digest, the heart must pump the blood, the arteries and capillaries must transport the nutrients to every part of the body.

Every part of our body is important for our well-being. Whenever any part of our body is not functioning properly, we feel discomfort. We feel sick. We may even need to see a doctor. It may be just an ulcer on the tongue, but it affects us terribly: we’ll find it hard to eat, and we will not feel like talking. Or it may be a fractured toe, and again it will affect us. We will not be able to walk properly. We may not even feel like doing anything at all.

Now, the church is just like that. It is like that especially in its visible local manifestation. God, by His mysterious providence, brings individuals and families together. He joins them together as a body. They must function together as a body with Christ as the head of the body (cf. Eph 5:23). Every member is important for the well-being of the body.

Though we comprise many members with very different background and upbringing, we are no longer independent individuals. God has made us parts of a body. We are one body with many inter-dependant parts.

Now, take note that we are not merely joined together in the way that a commercial or social organisation may be joined together. A commercial or social organisation may speak of itself as being a ‘body’ because every member is functionally related to each other. But the relationship between members in the church is not just functional. It is more intimate than that. It is a spiritual relationship so that unlike in a commercial organisation, you cannot lose a member without affecting the rest of the body.

This is why Paul says: “we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another” (v. 5). And elsewhere he says “whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it” (1 Cor 12:26). We are intimately connected to one another. In fact, if you think about it carefully, you will see that because the Spirit of Christ is our essential bond, we are connected together to one another even more intimately than the parts of our bodies to each other.

But now, Paul also say that “all members [in this body] have not the same office” (v. 4). What does he mean?

Well, some think that Paul is using the word ‘office’ (πρᾶξις, praxis) in the official sense of the word—as in the offices of prophet, priest and king, in the Old Testament or the offices of elders and deacons in the New Testament.

In other words, in their opinion, Paul is saying that the church has different appointments. Some are ordained to be pastors, some are ordained to be ruling elders, others are ordained to be deacons. And the rest of the members are not ordained. They are appointed as the laity. Their job is just to attend worship and give their tithes and offerings.

But this is, certainly, not what Paul is saying! Paul is simply saying that each member of the church has a different function or a different part to play in the body.

In fact, the word rendered ‘office,’ occurs five other times in the New Testament and it is always translated ‘deed’ or ‘work’ (e.g. Mt 16:27, Rom 8:13b). In speaking about the members of the church having different offices, Paul is speaking about the different work they do in the church.

Every member in the church has a different function just as every part of the body has a different function. And as the parts of our body cooperate together to function as our body, so the members of the church must cooperate together to function as the body of Christ!

For the orderly and healthy running of the church, some of the functions must be carried out by lawfully-ordained officers, namely elders and deacons. But Paul is not here concerned about the orderly running of the church. He is concerned rather about the bodily or organic life of the church.

Thus, Paul does not here speak about different appointments, but different gifts in the church (we’ll see that in verse 6). It is in order that the members of the church can function in the body of Christ that the Spirit of Christ has given gifts to every member. And these gifts differ from person to person.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12—

14 For the body is not one member, but many. … 17 If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? 18 But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.…” (1 Cor 12:14-19).

In other words, we have all been fitted together by God to serve as different parts of the body. Think of it this way: Whenever our Lord raises up a congregation to serve as a local body of His, He has a master plan for the body. He knows exactly what parts are needed for that particular congregation at any particular time.

So He gathers the members: there will be one to serve as a preacher, a number to serve as rulers, some to handle the finances of the congregation, some to precent, some to arrange the furniture for worship services, some to cook, some to publish, some to visit the poor, some to devote to prayer, some to translate, some to encourage, some to give, etc.

In a wonderful and mysterious way, Christ our Lord brings all these members together to form His church. Some will be joined to His body sooner, some will be joined later, but all in His perfect time-table for the growth of the church.

No part of this body is superfluous—like a sixth finger or a sixth toe. If the church is constituted lawfully and in accordance to God’s word, then it will be, by the grace of God perfectly balance and healthy.

Well, sometimes, as the church grows, the Lord will determine that more members must be added; and other times, certain parts may be called to glory and other parts may get diseased and must be cut off by church discipline. But in general, every part of the body plays an important role in the life of the church. It is a beautiful body in our Lord’s sight. It is a body that reflects the church universal invisible which Christ will present unto himself as “a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing” (Eph 5:27).

Thank God that He has set us as part of a church that we may have a foretaste of being in fellowship with Christ and with all the saints throughout the ages in all eternity!

Now, in order for us to function in His body, Christ our Lord gives us different gifts. But because some gifts seem to be greater while others seem to be lesser, there will be a temptation for the members of the church to become jealous of one another; or to think of ourselves to be more important than others. That is, we may be tempted, either to despise our gift and to think that we are of no use in the church, or to become proud of our gift.

But this ought not to be the case. Paul teaches us that…

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim