The Body of Christ

Now ye are the body of Christ, and severally members thereof (1 Corinthians 12:27).

Christians not only represent the Lord Jesus Christ; they are to understand themselves as His body.

The Christians in Corinth were able to exercise spiritual gifts; it was evident they handled these gifts with great immaturity, using them to show off and to presume a greater level of spirituality than that of others. Paul attempted to explain to them another way: the way of love, the exercise of spiritual gifts to encourage and build up the whole as opposed to the elevation of the individual (1 Corinthians 12:1-14:40). As part of that exhortation Paul sought to focus the Corinthians on their participation in and as the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. Paul goes well beyond suggesting the metaphor; he elaborates on the connections and applications at length. A body has many individual parts but remains a coherent whole; so with the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-14). The individual parts of the body have different, unique, and important functions, and each is necessary to the well-being of the whole; so it is with the body of Christ, in which God has put every part according to His pleasure (1 Corinthians 12:15-18). Different parts of the body need each other to work most effectively; so it is with the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:19-21). In fact, many of the most necessary functions of the body are the most hidden and “modest,” and given greater honor on account of their “humility,” and so the body of Christ is to maintain care and concern for its members, with each suffering and rejoicing along with those who suffer and rejoice, so that no division may exist in the body (1 Corinthians 12:22-25). In short, the human body is sustained because its constituent parts perform their individual roles while supporting the roles of others in an organic unity; it could be said that the parts have care for each other, recognizing the importance of all for proper function, and so it must be in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Paul manifestly used a metaphor to describe the church as a body; we are not physically interconnected with each other. But we should not deprecate what Paul says as “mere metaphor,” as if its metaphorical nature denies its substantive reality: Paul expected the Christians in Corinth to work together as a body, to care for each other as a body, and to give each member the respect and honor in valuation as critical parts functioning to build themselves up as a body. This is not a one-off message, either; Paul elaborated in similar ways in Romans 12:3-8 and Ephesians 4:11-16. In 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 Paul spoke of the Lord’s Supper as communion, a joint participation in the body and blood of Christ, because we who consume the one bread and cup are the one body of and in Christ. It is possible to literalize Paul’s metaphor to the extreme in damaging ways, but it is hard to overstate the importance and the power of the image: Christians are the body of Christ. They do well to act like it.

Our age is a hyper-individualist one. Everyone seems to glorify and advance the standing of the individual. Western philosophy has led us to the point in which man is the measure of all things, and his or her individual judgment is elevated above all else. Over the past few hundred years we have seen a consistent pattern of advancing the interests of individuals along with a corresponding denigration and thus weakening of communal bonds and norms. “Middle class values,” especially as expressed in America, exalt the individual’s ability to rise above their station and to carve out a more prosperous life for him or herself and the “nuclear family,” yet without concern for the effects of such elevation on a local community, the larger community, or the environment. Political partisans argue about where individual rights, control, and power are to be exercised, but underneath never truly question the assumption. Likewise, for some reason or another everyone decries and laments the loss of community and shared values, yet none prove willing to question or challenge the cult of the individual to a sufficient extent to stem the tide. Some seek to hold on to both at the same time, and yet time and again we see that such is impossible. One can seek the interests of each individual, or one can seek the best interests of a community as a whole; the two at some juncture will always be at odds.

We are thus stuck in a similar predicament to that of the Corinthian Christians: the glorification and advancement of the individual comes at the cost of the betterment of the whole. The Corinthian Christians could use the spiritual gifts God gave them to exalt themselves and advance their selfish purposes, or they could use them humbly to serve one another and build up the body; they could not do both. This challenge was originally laid at the disciples’ feet by Jesus in Matthew 20:25-28: the world is always about glorification and advancement of one’s individual or small tribal interests to the expense of all others, but in the Kingdom of God in Christ this cannot be so. Those who would be in God’s Kingdom in Jesus must seek to serve and better others, as Christ Himself did. They must put the interest of others before their own (Philippians 2:1-4). One cannot seek the welfare of the body of Christ while seeking to exalt and glorify oneself.

Christians therefore must be careful regarding the elevation and exaltation of the individual. It is true that far too often communities have gone aside to the doctrines and spirits of demons, turning into cults or religious institutions which suppressed and did not advance the truth. As individuals we must come to God in Christ for salvation; we have our individual roles and functions in life that are independent of the work of the corporate collective of the people of God (Acts 2:38-41, 1 Timothy 5:16). But we must not miss the overriding emphasis of the New Testament: salvation is only in the body of Christ; God works through His people, but has always worked through His people for the sake of the whole. We may come to Jesus to be saved as individuals, but we cannot find salvation independent of His body; instead, we are to become one with each other as we become one with God in Christ (John 17:20-23)!

As long as the individual is elevated the community will suffer. As long as the individual insists on his own way, he or she is still of the world, and not acting according to Christ. We are members of the body of Christ; we have our individual efforts, but all our efforts are to be unto the benefit and advancement of the purposes of the whole. We must care for each other and value each other. Such is easier said than done; such is often quite messy and complicated in practice. People are hard to love. But that’s what God in Christ is all about: loving people and bringing relational unity where there has been alienation. May we seek to build up the body of Christ above all else, and sublimate our interests to that of the whole so as to glorify God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Bread Taken, Blessed, Broken, and Given

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it; and he gave to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26).

At the time only One Person understood the significance of what was taking place.

It was customary to share bread at the Passover meal, the annual remembrance of Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage by YHWH (cf. Exodus 12:1-28, 13:3-16). Yet on this Passover in 30 CE Jesus infused this particular bread with far greater significance. He took it, blessed it, broke it, and gave it for His twelve disciples to eat, declaring that it represented His body (Matthew 26:26).

Unfortunately the bread has become a matter of controversy. Some would later claim that Jesus intended for the bread to actually, physically transform into His body, even though He nowhere says or claims as much. Some went too far the other way and claimed that the memory of Jesus’ body was all that was important and no bread was necessary at all. While Jesus never intended for anyone to believe that the bread actually, substantively becomes His body, the association between the bread and His body exists for good reason!

Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to His disciples. As Jesus had done to the bread as representing His body, thus He experienced in His own body over the following 18 or so hours. Jesus was taken, arrested, and brought before first the Jewish and then Roman authorities (Matthew 26:47-27:25). Before His betrayal Jesus prayed to the Father for His will to be done (Matthew 26:42); in the midst of His sufferings He prayed for the forgiveness of those who were crucifying Him, thus seeking to be a blessing to those who were hurting Him (Luke 23:34). While the Evangelists assure us that none of Jesus’ bones were broken, according to what had been prophesied (John 19:32-37; cf. Exodus 12:46, Psalm 34:20), Jesus was most assuredly broken down in other physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual ways on account of the betrayal, mockery, scourging, abuse, scorn, and crucifixion which He experienced (Matthew 27:26-49). Yet Jesus suffered and experienced it all to give Himself as the perfect sacrifice to defeat evil, to atone for sin, and to allow the restoration of all mankind back to the Father (Matthew 27:50, Romans 5:6-11).

The bread of the Lord’s Supper therefore most assuredly represents Jesus’ body, not just in metaphor but also in the whole experience of what was done to the bread, being taken, blessed, broken, and given.

Christians assemble on the first day of the week, the day of the Lord Jesus’ resurrection, to observe the Lord’s Supper, and, as Paul reminds us, to proclaim His death until He comes again (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). When we break the bread we jointly participate in Jesus’ body (1 Corinthians 10:17). Therefore, in our own lives, we also ought to reflect what is done to the bread in the body.

In Christ God has taken us out of the world to become a peculiar people for His purposes (1 Peter 2:3-9). While God has blessed Christians with all spiritual blessings in Christ (Ephesians 1:3), He also expects Christians to be sources of blessings for all with whom they come into contact (Matthew 5:13-16). Yet, in order to truly serve God, we must be broken: at first, humbled and brought low by the realization of our sin, its consequences, and what was required to secure our redemption (Ephesians 2:1-18, Titus 3:3-8); at times broken by suffering, persecution, and/or trial, suffering as our Lord did, ceasing from sin, having our faith refined as through fire (Romans 8:17-18, 1 Peter 1:3-9, 2:18-25, 4:1-2). Finally, as the Lord Himself declared, if we would be great in His Kingdom, we will secure it only through giving of ourselves for the purposes of others, serving others, seeking the best interest of others (Matthew 20:25-28, Philippians 2:1-11).

Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to His disciples. Jesus’ body was taken, blessed and a source of blessing, broken, and given for the sin of the world. If we would share in His Kingdom and the life that comes through His name, we as Christians must not only observe the Supper of the Lord but also must share in it, being taken by God, blessed and a source of blessing, broken, and given for the service of God and others. We do well to share in the bread and thus the body of the Lord Jesus, but let us always remember that in order to proclaim Jesus’ death we must share in that death and its suffering if we would also share in His resurrection and life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Conformed to the Body of His Glory

[The Lord Jesus Christ] who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself (Philippians 3:21).

The centerpiece of Christianity, the resurrection of Jesus and the hope of the resurrection of all on the final day, has always been a stumbling block in culture. Among the Jews of the first century, some sects like the Sadducees denied the resurrection entirely, while those who did believe in the resurrection envisioned it only in terms of the last day (John 11:24, Acts 23:8). To the Greeks the resurrection was sheer folly (Acts 17:32): while the different philosophical schools among the Greeks had their many differences, all were agreed about the betterment of the soul than the flesh. Philosophers like Plato wished to leave the physical world behind; to them, to be raised from the dead would be more akin to “hell” than “heaven.” One thing was certain to them: the dead stay dead.

Ever since there have been many who have questioned and challenged the resurrection on various grounds, but one of the most pernicious challenges to the resurrection of Jesus involves its over-spiritualization. Many share many of the same doubts as the Greeks regarding the profit in the creation and yearn to live in a purely spiritual state. So it was among the Gnostics in the first and second centuries, suggesting the resurrection was already past, understood only in terms of spiritual enlightenment or regeneration (2 Timothy 2:16-18).

It is true that Paul does speak of baptism as a resurrection in Romans 6:3-7; the soul is dead in sin and is brought back to life in Christ through faith in conversion and discipleship. Yet Paul is quite clear that, for believers, the “spiritual resurrection” has already occurred (note the past tense in Romans 6:3-7), yet there remains a resurrection that has yet to take place (1 Corinthians 15:1-58).

We get some understanding about this resurrection from Paul’s exhortations to the Philippians. Paul has spoken about how he proved willing to consider all the credentials he obtained under the old covenant as garbage to know Christ and the power of His resurrection in order to obtain his own resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:7-11). He insists that he has not yet obtained that resurrection (Philippians 3:12). At the end of this section he declares that our citizenship is in heaven, from which we await the Savior, the Lord Jesus, who will “fashion anew” (Greek metaschematisei, “change the figure of, transform”) the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of His glory (Philippians 3:20-21). This “fashion[ing] anew” and “conform[ity]” to the body of His glory is the bodily resurrection of the believer and his or her transformation for immortality!

We are not told much about Jesus and His resurrected body, but we do know that after He arose from the dead, death had no more power over Him, and he would die no more (Romans 6:8-9). He was recognizably Jesus, able to eat and no phantasm, yet different, able to walk through walls and be in different places at inhuman speeds, indicating transcendence of the space-time continuum (Luke 24:31-43, John 20:19-20). Paul speaks of the transformation in the resurrection of the corruptible and mortal body into an incorruptible and immortal body, the transformation of the body empowered by the breath of life to the body empowered by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:35-53). John assures us that even though we do not fully understand what we will be, we know we will be like Jesus on that day (1 John 3:1-3).

Paul, therefore, provides a message of hope for the Christian: Jesus will return one day, and through the power of God, He will raise our bodies from the dead and transform them so as to be just like His glorified, resurrected body. This is part of the ultimate redemption of the creation envisioned by Paul in Romans 8:17-25 and seen in a figure in Revelation 21:1-22:5: a place where futility, decay, corruption, death, violence, suffering, sin, and all evil are no more, where God dwells with man and provides him with eternal comfort and glory. This takes place when the new Jerusalem, the holy city, the Bride, the church, comes down from heaven (Revelation 21:1-4); this redemption is not the rejection and denial of the creation of God, but its restoration to the condition in which God intended it from the beginning, accomplished perhaps through fire (if 2 Peter 3:1-13 maintains primacy) but most assuredly through the power of God. God did not give up on His good creation when it suffered decay and corruption when sin and death entered it; He did not give up on humanity once they sinned against Him. Instead, in Christ, He makes all things new (2 Corinthians 5:17, Revelation 21:5). The old world of sin and death meets its end and the new world of righteousness and glory takes its place (Romans 8:18, 2 Peter 3:13); the old humble body is raised, transformed, and obtains the glory of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:35-53, Philippians 3:21). That will be the final victory over sin and death!

It would have been very easy for early Christians to minimize or spiritualize the resurrection; their message would have been much easier for the nations to accept that way. Yet even though the bodily resurrection was an embarrassment to the Greeks, the early Christians continued to insist on it, rather bearing the insult and shame of such a view rather than to conform to the popular opinion of the day. They knew that the ultimate hope of the Christian is not in the spiritual resurrection which can be obtained now by finding eternal life through trusting in and serving the Lord Jesus Christ; their ultimate hope was the resurrection and transformation of the body and the final victory over sin and death on the last day. Early Christians knew they already had the redemption of the soul, and adopted as children into the family of God (Romans 8:1-16), yet they hoped for the full adoption as children of God in the redemption of the body in the resurrection (Romans 8:17-25). The resurrection of the body was non-negotiable in their eyes, and for good reason: their hope was in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:23); if we do not share in a resurrection like His, we will not be like Him! On the first day of the week after the Passover in 30 CE, the tomb was empty, and the disciples of Jesus saw Him in His resurrected body. They then proclaimed that the day would come when the tomb of believers will also be empty and they will be forever with the Lord in their resurrected, glorified bodies (John 5:28-29, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58, Philippians 3:21)! Yes, we must experience spiritual resurrection, and must do so quickly before the Lord returns. Yet we ought to look forward to the day of the resurrection of the body, as the early Christians did, looking forward to the transformation of the body toward conformity to the glorified body of Christ, when death will be finally vanquished once and for all! Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Pure in Heart

“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

Purity has been a sacred matter throughout the generations. It seems that almost every culture has some ritual declaring or making participants clean or pure; we tend to value pure, clean things. Insistence on cleanliness and sanitation is perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the medical and public health fields. In general, we associate good, positive things with purity and cleanliness, and negative, evil things we portray in dirtier, filthier ways. Purity is good.

In order to communicate the value of purity in a physical way, God established many commands regarding cleanliness for Israel in the Old Testament. Certain foods were reckoned as clean, and others unclean and defiling (Leviticus 11:1-47). Many bodily discharges rendered a person ritually unclean, needing purification (cf. Leviticus 12:1-8, 15:1-32). Various skin diseases also rendered a person unclean (Leviticus 13:1-14:57). Many of these cleanliness laws were established to limit contagion and the spread of disease; others were designed to mark out Israel as a special people. All of the cleanliness laws, at some level, were designed to instruct Israel about God’s sanctity and the need for cleanliness before Him.

By the first century, the Israelites were quite faithful when it came to ritual cleansings. Many small pools used for such ritual cleansing, known as mikva’ot, have been discovered through archaeological digs; some are mentioned in John 5:1-4 and John 9:7. The Israelites understood the concept of ritual cleansing; they placed a high priority on remaining ritually clean and pure.

External cleansing is great, well, and good, but Jesus’ radical message in Matthew 5:8 is that it is not enough. External cleansing can only remove the symptoms of defilement, not the cause.

Jesus considers those who are pure in heart to be blessed, or happy. It is the internal purity which allows for external purity and righteousness; despite whatever pretense people may try to maintain, as long as there is impurity and defilement within, impurity and defilement must come to the surface some day. True defilement is not something a person can ingest; defilement comes out from what is within, which is Jesus’ powerful message in Mark 7:14-23.

This “beatitude” is as much a challenge as it is a declaration of blessedness. None of us can be fully pure in heart; we all fall short of God’s glory and sin (Romans 3:23, 7:14-25, 1 John 1:8). There is always a strong temptation to foster and harbor impure thoughts and attitudes within ourselves; we easily deceive ourselves into thinking that since no other human can perceive our thoughts, no one else knows what we are thinking. To this day people face strong societal pressures to make sure that their outward actions conform to societal norms; this is why we rarely tell others how we really feel about them, and very few of us feel comfortable admitting the darkness that is often present deep within us. Thus, we keep things inside.

But God does see and know; all things in darkness will be revealed by light at some point (Ephesians 5:7-13). Meanwhile we labor under significant burdens, trying to save face and keeping up a false exterior. It never works out; it always collapses somehow.

This is why God throughout the New Testament insists on a complete cleansing and renewal of the individual. It is not as if people are generally good and just need a little help here or there; we must come to terms with our sad reality. Sin has corrupted and defiled not just our deeds but also our thoughts and feelings, and we must fully repent, changing our minds so that our attitudes and actions will follow (Acts 2:38). This is why we must capture every thought unto obedience in Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5); this is why we must mentally dwell on that which is good, holy, and profitable (Philippians 4:8). We must in every way seek to remove all that which is unholy, impure, and defiled from our thoughts and feelings; then we can live without hypocrisy, allowing our exterior to shine with the interior light which comes from Christ (Matthew 5:13-16).

Those who are pure in heart shall see God. We are not intended to understand this verse on a physical, concrete level: after all, the heart is merely an muscle pumping blood, and no man can see God (John 1:18). Purity in heart involves purity of mind and emotion, and none of this is possible without purity in soul. Little wonder, then, that the Risen Jesus speaks of the saved as those who have not soiled their garments and who walk with Him dressed in white (Revelation 2:4-5), and Paul speaks of Jesus presenting a church to Himself which is pure and unblemished (Ephesians 5:25-27). Those who are pure shall be with God forever and will stand in His presence in the resurrection (cf. Revelation 21:1-22:6).

Such purity cannot come from our own futile efforts; we can try to cleanse ourselves all we want, but the stain of sin remains. None of us will walk in white because we, by our own power, have kept from defilement. We all need cleansing, and continuous cleansing at that, from Jesus through the blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins (Romans 5:6-11, Ephesians 5:25-27). We must seek after purity in Christ; we must seek to align our will to His so that we can be conformed into His image (Romans 8:29), and thus maintain our cleansing. Let us seek to be pure in heart so that we may see God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Exercise

And exercise thyself unto godliness: for bodily exercise is profitable for a little; but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life which now is, and of that which is to come (1 Timothy 4:7b-8).

Exercise is not one of those things where there is much middle ground. It is something that you either do or you don’t. If you do it, you either enjoy it or you don’t. If you don’t do it, you probably don’t enjoy it much at all if you ever feel compelled to do it. Exercise is one of those practices in life that also tends to generate a lot of emotion. People get quite passionate about engaging in exercise or in avoiding it.

1 Timothy 4:8 tends to be “ground zero” in religious discussions about exercise. Much is made about how Paul declares that bodily exercise is only profitable for a little, and yet godliness is profitable for all things. And this is quite true, and exactly for the reason Paul provides– the spiritual will endure after the body perishes. All flesh is as grass (Isaiah 40:6, 1 Peter 1:24); if we obsess over our physical appearance and our physique, we are investing too much in what will not endure, and comparatively too little in what will endure.

But let us not distort Paul’s words too far the other way. Paul is not giving license here to gluttony; self-control and sober-mindedness must prevail even in terms of eating and physical exercise (Galatians 5:24, 1 Peter 4:7). Paul does say that there is benefit in physical exercise; yes, it is comparatively lesser than the value of spiritual exercise, but it presents benefits nonetheless. Both Paul and Timothy were far more active than most Americans today; we should not imagine that they would approve of Christians having neither concern nor repentance regarding the care and maintenance of their physical bodies. Just as we should not obsess over the physical condition of the body, so we also should not entirely neglect the physical condition of the body. We are not to be Gnostics; we are to understand that the body has temporal value as the “Temple of the Holy Spirit,” and it is hard for us to “glorify God in our bodies” when we show little concern for our physical health and well-being (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

This entire dispute misses the point of what Paul is really trying to accomplish in 1 Timothy 4:7-8: he is attempting to help Timothy, and us by extension, to understand how to grow and develop spiritually in terms of physical exercise. The metaphor is quite appropriate.

In order to function effectively, a human being must exercise his or her body. If we do not use our muscles, they atrophy and quit working entirely. When we maintain good discipline and work our muscles through exercise, be it through actions in daily life and/or through time we devote to conditioning, we actually tear up our muscles in the process. But when the body works to heal those muscles, they end up growing bigger and stronger. As long as we keep conditioning those muscles, they will maintain their size and/or grow. If we stop exercising at any time, we will experience loss of muscle and will be less strong and dextrous. Exercise must be a continual event– it cannot be done once or only for a short period of time and be successful. Recent studies seem to show, in fact, that the worst thing we could do to our bodies is to exercise in spurts, being active in exercising for a few weeks or months, quitting for a while, and then taking it up again. In such situations it seems that no exercise would be less damaging to the body!

As it is with the physical body, so it is with our spiritual lives. If we are going to live spiritually, we must exercise spiritually. If we do not devote ourselves to spiritual matters– learning more about God’s Word and will, indeed, but also practicing the spiritual disciplines, including prayer, evangelism, service, etc.– we spiritually atrophy and die (Romans 12:1-2, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, 2 Peter 3:18, etc.). When we seek to develop spiritually, we are going to be hurt and injured at times, having to learn from failures, perhaps experiencing persecution, but it is through those experiences that we experience spiritual growth (James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:3-7). We must continue to devote ourselves to the spiritual disciplines lest we lose what we have obtained and grow weak (2 John 1:8). We must devote ourselves ot the spiritual disciplines continually, understanding that we will not automatically spring up to be spiritually full-grown with only minimal effort (Hebrews 5:11-6:4). While we might experience spiritual growth in spurts, we should not spiritually exercise in spurts– we must maintain a pace if we want to make it to the goal (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

Physical exercise does have profit; it is good to maintain a body in decent condition, able to meet the challenges of each day, practicing discipline in what is consumed and in effort expended so that the work of God is as unhindered as possible from physical ailment. Spiritual exercise has greater value because it will endure longer than bodily exercise. Nevertheless, notice how Paul indicates that there is always benefit in exercise and the maintenance of the self-discipline that it demands. Let us maintain that kind of self-discipline in terms of both body and soul, working towards self-control and growth in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry