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Part 6 of series: The Church as the Body of Christ
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So far in this series I’ve begun to explore what it means for the church to be the body of Christ. We’ve seen how Paul, in trying to instruct the Corinthians, used the image of the body. But he was not the first in his time to utilize body imagery in reference to human community.
Paul also uses the metaphor of the body to defend the contribution of each part to the health of the whole. But then he adds an insight almost completely opposed to the reasoning of Menius Agrippa:
In fact, some of the parts that seem weakest and least important are really the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect from the eyes of others those parts that should not be seen, while other parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together in such a way that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity.(1 Cor 12:22-24).
For Paul, as for Agrippa, the stomach is necessary. But the writers part company with Paul’s observation that the weakest parts – the stomach, for example – deserve extra honor. If the Roman state is like a body, then the lower class stomach gives honor to the upper class head, the stronger, more presentable part. In the body of Christ, the opposite is true. That’s the way God designed it.
To those Corinthians who boasted in their spiritual accomplishments, therefore, Paul brings a word of rebuke. The ones they would consider less honorable are, in fact, worthy of greater honor. The weak and unworthy stomach gets the limelight while the apparently glorious head gets the shadows. Or, for those who picture the body with the head on top, the body of Christ is doing a headstand. From a worldly point of view, everything is upside down.
If you spend time in a healthy church, you’ll see this inversion again and again. When I was an associate pastor at Hollywood Presbyterian Church, I had responsibility for the educational ministries. Every now and then I’d wander around on Sunday mornings, checking on classes for all ages. I remember once peeking in a classroom for three-year olds. Sitting on the floor was an immaculately dressed woman who was reading a story to a group of children. In her professional life this woman was a vice-president of one of the country’s most prestigious corporations. But as she got down on a three-year old level, literally, only her clothing gave away her worldly success. Within the body of Christ this powerful, honorable woman was a humble servant of powerless, undistinguished children.
We will always feel the pressure to adopt the values of the culture around us, to get the body of Christ back into a more socially acceptable position. But the church of Jesus Christ must find a way to stand on its head, rejecting cultural norms in favor of the unique priorities of God.