In our sixth metaphor of this series, we are looking at one of the most famous biblical metaphors of the church: the Body. Interestingly, this is a metaphor that Paul seems to have borrowed not from Old Testament imagery (like the Temple or the Flock), but from his modern secular contemporaries. In Greco-Roman society, the body metaphor was often employed to describe the way that the polis (the public life of the society) should be organized. In the 1st Century Greco-Roman world, society was highly stratified according to wealth, power and social standing. The body metaphor was used to remind lower-class people to “stay in their place,” emphasizing that the Emperor is the head, the elite are the important parts like the hands and feet, and everyone else is in their place to support those in more prominent positions. It was a metaphor of subjugation.
Paul, on the other hand, employs the metaphor to emphasize the exact opposite: that those who are in most visible or public positions in the church must not see themselves as more important than those in the less visible or less obviously “important” positions. With Christ as the head, there is no place for stratification or subjugation within the new community of the church. Every person has immense value, for every person has been gifted by God to contribute to the whole. Paul takes a metaphor of subjugation and transforms it into a metaphor of affirmation, affirming the value of every person in the community no matter how small or seemingly weak.
This Sunday we’ll talk about how this metaphor of the Body applies to our own community, specifically the need for unity, the recognition of each person’s unique role to play, and the call to live in interdependence with one another.
In preparation for worship, I encourage you to read the whole of 1 Corinthians 12 and ask God what he wants to teach you personally and our community as a whole through it.
Our weekly worship guide can be downloaded here.
1 Corinthians 12:12-27
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.