What, exactly, is the church? Is it a building or is it the people who gather inside, and what should our relationship be to each other? According to the Bible, the church is comprised of those who have experienced the new birth—those who have submitted themselves to the authority of Christ and trusted in His finished work on the cross for forgiveness and salvation. They are the redeemed, the people of God, and the Bible refers to them as the body of Christ.
“[the church] which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:23)
Romans 12:3-5 explains, “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each on a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.”
1 Corinthians 12:12-27 goes into even more detail:
“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks [literally, everyone else], whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.” The church is the body of Christ, and each Christian is a member of that body. Just as a human body is comprised of many parts—not all the same—the church is made up of different individuals with different spiritual gifting, placed within the church as God pleases. So what is our relationship with each other within the body of Christ?
The first thing that we need to realize about any other genuinely reborn member of Christ’s family is that we all have the same Holy Spirit in us:
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and father of all, who is above all and through all, and in you all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6) This is why there is genuine fellowship between all truly born again individuals; we may come from vastly differing backgrounds, but we love the same Lord and we have the same Spirit.
The second thing we need to realize is that there may be many local congregations, and even different denominations, but according to Scripture, there is one faith and one body of Christ. Jesus knew mankind’s tendency to create schisms, which is why He prayed for His followers before going to the cross:
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (John 17:20-23) This oneness applies only to those who belong to Christ, however. Simply desiring unity or ecumenism between the different faiths means nothing. We must remember that “The Lord knows those who are His.” (2 Timothy 2:19b)
The third thing we need to understand is that we are interconnected; it is impossible for someone who belongs to Christ to suffer and it not affect the church as a whole. 1 Corinthians 12:26 says, “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” God’s heart is for us to love each other—it is more than just His desire, it is a command. “For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another…My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” (I John 3:11, 18)
The last thing we need to know is that we have different spiritual gifts and God uses us in various capacities. Because we come from widely divergent backgrounds, and have different experiences, natural abilities, and giftings from the Holy Spirit, God is able to use us in different ways. Ephesians 4:7-16 explains:
“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men’…And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, til we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” It makes about as much sense for me to want someone else’s ministry as it does to want his or her spiritual gifting. God understands each of us best; He understands not just our spiritual gifts, but also the full picture of what we are capable of doing at this season of our lives and what we cannot. His decisions are the best, and we need to prayerfully seek His will as to the work He has for us.
Thank You that You are the head of the church, Your body, and that You have placed me in that body exactly where You desire me. Help me to honor You in all things in whatever capacity You call me to function. Amen.