Being the Body
What Does It Mean
To Be the Body of Christ
In the World, For the World,
For the Glory of God?
Many minds and hearts from different backgrounds coming together to effect change as one body. The following series is this body, the Good Works body, searching for the answer to “What does it mean to be the Body of Christ in the world, for the world, for the glory of God?” We all have different perspectives, different questions to be answered in this layered question. Our hope is that we may be able to start a dialog, not just within this body, but with you.
The Body of Christ is not something formed later, it is not doing in the future:
It is here now.
Here is wherever I am, you are, we are.
I cannot expect to change the entire world and neither can you.
I can change me
you can change you
together we can change each other
perhaps we can change ourselves in such a way that compels others to notice, to join – but this is secondary.
These changes ought to grow Love in me and in us. These changes ought to make me a better lover of people, of the earth, of justice and peace. These changes ought to tangibly affect the people around me here in my community, in my life, in my sphere of influence. These changes ought to change my world and my place in it. And together, these changes ought to change our world and our place in it.
As the Body of Christ, we should seek out the poor, broken and outcast with the intent of embracing them. What is meant by embracing them? Embracing these individuals starts with treating them as human beings who have the same value before the Almighty God as we do. By treating them as humans, whether that is asking them their names or enjoying time to get to know them, several amazing things can happen at the same time: restoration of self worth, participation in a group that is loving and potential opportunities for discipleship are revealed to the local body of Christ. When the local body of Christ reaches out to all members of society with the desire to do more than fill the pews it begins to demonstrate the desire to change society both local and distant (state, national and global). This desire could be expressed by participating in lives through loving them and instructing them in ways to imitate Jesus it fulfills the teachings and commands God passed on through Jesus, the apostles, church fathers and preserved by the presence and work of the Holy Spirit.
What does the world gain from the Body of Christ treating people as valuable? God’s active presence in the world provides a means of understanding humanity’s options including the option to move away from the daily grind of accepting brokenness reinforced by paradigms of indifference. When the local body of Christ intentionally acts with the goal of showing reconciliation and transformation of individuals, families, local and global communities, society is forced to accept the validity of living for something other than the American dream, self-preservation or communal well being. This type of societal response will meet resistance, be scoffed at and be judged by some as abnormal or wrong. But these expressions of desiring to keep the status quo are okay. They are okay because not everyone gets the importance of changing paradigms. This is either because they refuse to change or they need time to let the idea sink into their thought life. Both refusing to change mindsets and needing reflection were present when Jesus was preaching, healing and performing miracles and they will continue to be represented by parts of society until the Second Coming
The body of Christ is how the world sees Jesus. The body of Christ is defined as any and everyone who claims Jesus as their Savior and lives this out. When Jesus became human, his physical body was the way in which people saw him and related to him. Since he is no longer on the earth physically, the way through which those who don’t believe see him is through us, his believers. We are the body for him as he is no longer physically here. You can take this as literally as you want. We’re his hands that touch the wounds of the needy. We’re the arms that wrap around and hold the hurting. We’re the feet that carry his message to different places. We’re the ears that listen to those around us. We’re the eyes that see people through the blood of Christ, in love. We’re the mouths that proclaim his love and forgiveness and build up rather than tear down. We’re his heart that beats for his people and their redemption-his heart that gives and gives. It’s his Spirit inside of us that allows us to have a heavenly perspective and relate to our Father in heaven. To be the body of Christ literally means to be Jesus to people.
The church is the body of Christ. One cannot sit in a church or paint a church. The church is composed of people, people who love God, desire to be models of Christ, and support one another in being more like Christ. By modeling Christ the church is a living symbol of who Christ is by being an example of his love and sacrifice. Distinctive characteristics of the body of Christ are a striving to grow in one’s relationship with God, unity amongst believers, humility, care for vulnerable people, being kind to unkind people, giving without expectation of return, trusting in God’s faithfulness to provide for needs, and taking risks to love others. In pursuing God, supporting one another and living out Christ’s example the church is the body of Christ and becomes a living organism of relationship over a place.
Symbolizing Christ as the body of Christ requires sacrifice. Sacrifice is the greatest way Jesus displayed God’s love for the world. Sacrifices are made as believers separate themselves from their culture and pledge allegiance to God. Comforts, relationships, wealth, good health, and stability are sacrifices Jesus made in order to share the good news, reach out to lonely people, heal the sick, and give to orphans. The hands and feet of Jesus continue to be present in the world as followers of his example give up living in luxury, choose building others up over themselves, are kind to people at work who make life difficult, or seek friendship with people who are homeless or have disabilities. To be the body of Christ is to be like Christ in the world today.
 Ephesians 4:1-16 Today the word church is most often referred to as a place. Its meaning as the assembly of believers or all who believe is often not what first comes to my mind when thinking of church in daily life.
 Deuteronomy 10:12-13
 Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:37-38, John 17:11, John 13:14-15, Deuteronomy 10: 6-21, Deuteronomy 10:6-21, Luke 6:35
 Luke 9: 57-62 14:25-33
I was at Friday Night Life a couple of weeks ago getting all the Kids’ Club stuff set up and ready to go, preparing for another night of kids wanting my attention, our attention [love through discipline]. My friend Brittany was walking around with me as I was going in circles making sure everything was in its proper place. We were heading back from the water fountain to the dining area and she asked me, “Can I do this someday?”
I questioned in reply, “Do what? Kids’ Club?”
“Yeah” she said, “Be a Kids’ Club leader!”
I responded with enthusiasm, “Absolutely yes, you would be the best leader Brittany, after all, you have grown up in Kids’ Club.” She smiled and actually seemed excited by this idea, we continued on our way.
This teenage girl actually got it. I smiled, I felt relieved knowing what we were doing every Friday had a purpose. Most nights I know Brittany is bored, I can see the expression on her face, the rolling of the eyes, the absence in her presence. Let’s face it; we do have to cater to the young. Our Kids’ Club is for ages 4-17. What a difference, what a range! I know this is why we consistently have to lay the law down for the teen boys who just won’t calm down, I know this is why we have to even ask them to leave from time to time, and I know this has to be why our teen girls never show up. It is a huge gap, a huge responsibility to keep all these minds entertained for an hour every Friday. I guess we do the best we can with what we have. I wonder if this has become an unknown prayer of mine, “God, please let me do the best I can with what I have to work with, I mean with what you have given me to work with.”
Being a co-supervisor of a ‘Club for Kids’ is really a demanding responsibility. We have to discipline, we have to be consistent, we have to be ‘on’ at all times, we have to catch fights before they happen, and sometimes we have to tell the boy without a coat it’s time for him to walk home. This is emotionally draining and if I really let it get to me my whole weekend is spent thinking in hindsight, ‘did I really get my point across to Billy?’ ‘Did Stephanie know that disciplining her whining was really an act of love?’ ‘Did Jack know I really care if he doesn’t have a coat, or even a sweatshirt?’
So what does it mean to be the body of Christ in this world, of snot-nosed, whiny, beautiful children and teens? I find it hard sometimes to even ask this question, at least ask this question out loud. I am afraid of the answer. I feel selfish and comfortable where I am and only giving myself to them for so little time one night a week. But in this world of youth they need Christ. In this world, the body of Christ needs to be consistent and easy to read, like a picture book.
I often think of those pictures we see with Jesus surrounded by children. Like in Matthew 19, “Then the little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them.…Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” He did it so well. He loved them so easily, faith like a child, right? That’s what He asks of us, His body of believers. Christ is asking us to be like the children, to trust blindly, to be lead by faith, to have hope and express open-ended love to our world.
Our children in Athens County are living in poverty. Do they know they are living in poverty? Do they know they are compiled in statistics? I bet if I asked them they would be surprised to know this. They would be confused and ask many questions on how that could be. They are too concerned with playing with their friends, and giving to their families to see themselves as poor. To be the body with these youth is to simply listen and love, to play basketball and color, to listen to jokes and give genuine advice. To be the body of Christ with this culture, with this generation, is not show pity but to be honest and available, to be a friend, to give love.
In the opening of John’s gospel we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This scripture describes an eternal and powerful nature who, in the same flow of narrative, self-constrains, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
The actions that Christ, the Word made flesh, took in bodily form shocked his contemporaries. They reflected his purposes from Luke 4:18 and 19,
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Luke’s gospel fleshes out Christ’s ministry among unexpected people. He drove out demons, touched and healed the sick. He welcomed people who were hurt, overcame their pain, and offered them forgiveness. He told financially secure people to eat with beggars and to be generous. He kept the law perfectly, but taught its champions to live by love as a means to attain true perfection.
Christ’s way of life is the foundation on which we build our corporate lives. Being the body of Christ means, in some way, taking on Christ’s Way as our own. We in the Church are also born into the world, but like Christ, guided by the Spirit, who changes our intentions and gives us a different purpose.
You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. (Romans 8:9)
We are “called out” of the world and yet still very present in it. We inherit a sort of resilience—Christ touched the leper and, rather than contract leprosy, healed the infected person. His body in the world today, when it is at its best, functions in a similar capacity. Together, we can enter boldly into relationships with people who are in pain or suffering the consequences of sin. If we ourselves remain firmly bound together in Christian communities we can reach out without fear; we will not “be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
Often people who come to Christ and join a local church experience healing. They exchange their hearts of stone for hearts of flesh. Bitterness is overcome by gratitude. Their membership in the body causes a transformation in them. They experience a sort of resurrection.
When our friend Janet brought Robert to our little church for the first time, he made a clear and memorable impression. He was dying slowly and very angry about it. Everything that he said was intended to scare us off. He wanted to make sure we didn’t like him…but we did. In fact, the Spirit of Christ in us loved him. My husband began sitting with him in the back row. He made it clear that he wasn’t put off. He had actually been looking for friendships, and after about six months, Robert became Ben’s best friend in Athens. Ben took over picking Robert up for church and would talk with him for hours. The more Ben listened, the more Robert’s speech changed. Softened. It wasn’t a one way relationship; Ben poured into Robert, but Robert began to make an investment in Ben that Ben was willing to receive.
When Ben got stressed about work, Robert asked me if he was OK. When an older woman at church wanted to learn how to use a computer, Robert wanted to know what we were going to do about it. When I got a chest cold that didn’t go away, he put his hand on my shoulder and prayed for me. Robert would come to our house sometimes for dinner, or let me send lunch home with him. He started to pick bouquets of wildflowers for me from his yard.
And when Robert died, over thirty people came to his memorial service to celebrate the person he had become—to express our gratitude that he was a part of us in Christ.
We enter into the sorts of places and relationships in which Christ moved during his earthly ministry. We hold onto hope for people that exceeds the hope they have for themselves and, like Christ, sometimes experience grief as a result, but we are available. We know that things can get better, so we encourage people to taste and see that the Lord is good.
God is glorified when we persevere in showing love, and when we keep our faith. Perseverance is an act of worship. We can continue to hold out the possibility of belonging, of forgiveness of sin, of repentance, of reconciled relationships (with oneself, with God, and with others) to people who are not walking with Christ. We hold onto hope.
Our motives for sharing revelation and wisdom are to make sure we all walk in complete reverence to our Holy God. Not only can we not approach God in any kind of manner but we also must respect those who are the temples of the Holy Spirit. In love and reverent fear we should come one to another especially in sensitive matters of reconciliation.
To each one there have been things afforded to them. What things have been afforded to you? What side of life have you seen and experienced that God has given you to offer to your other brothers and sisters in Christ? We all see through the glass dimly. We all know in part. But as we come together it becomes a more clearer picture. Who has a right to devalue what God has given; not even the person themself. There is something to be learned from every spectrum of life. No matter what country, ethnic culture or class, everyone has learned things that others have no knowledge of unless it is shared. Even every generation has its own awareness. Unless we come together we will not see the whole human part of the picture. In the past I looked at impoverished conditions and hardships as a hindrance in life. That somehow being impoverished or enduring trials consumed you. But it seems that anything can consume a person. It is what you do with the state you are in that matters. God has given us all portions as we are born into this earth. We just need to gather what it is He is calling us to; for who is responsible for what family they were born into that they cannot put that aside to see the greatness of what they were called unto.
The Body of Christ is a broad term that has many, many members. The Body of Christ may be a small, medium or large group of many different kinds of believers that collectively totaled create a mass of people who are called to do the Lords work. The work they do is in the world, for the world, and should Glorify God.
To be the body of Christ is made up of many followers of Christ. That is to be a believer and a worshiper of Christ. A follower of Christ will also be a lover of people, especially the widows, orphans and strangers, the poor, aka “the least of these.” Members of the Body of Christ will seek out opportunities to minister to the least of these. They will show love and acceptance to the ones less fortunate in the world.
That is what Jesus taught his followers to do. This is called ministry. There are great blessings for those who minister to a hurting soul or a not yet Christian. They have the mission to win them to Christ. This could be called us doing Gods Will with an obedient heart to love mankind and each other. We are called to love and minister to our neighbors. Isaiah 61:1 is our prophetic calling: The Spirit of the Lord us upon me and he has anointed me to preach Good News to the poor.
Since the beginning, God has pronounced Light good. There is nothing more natural than lightness and darkness. While we retain the image of God in our creation, our nature often leads us to diminish this natural light. With Christ, pure Love entered the world. Man, for the first time since the Fall, lived without sin. The grace that allowed this pure light to radiate to all humanity for all time is the same divine and saving grace that allows us to flee our darkness, and to cling to the light. Community is one essential element to struggling out of darkness, and I believe that this is precisely why God has placed us in it. It is within the beloved community in which God has placed us that we begin to increase the goodness, the light, within us. We call this beloved community the body of Christ…
It is not often in our nature to be selfless, much less to be selfless to our own detriment. Our example from Christ however, is completely clear – even unto death, we allow ourselves to become the victims. We must defend the weak, to be sure, but never at the expense of peace. Justice is one of God’s primary concerns, but justice must always come in conjunction with peace and righteousness. In Mathew 5, Christ teaches, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” And, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” To be considered a child of God, we make peace. To become a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, we allow others to persecute us. We cannot become the “righteousness of God” through worldly means. While there is expediency in power, it is within the mysterious and loving vulnerability of Christ that we will find God’s Kingdom, and not in the pursuit of worldly power.
This cannot bring us glory.
Again, this cannot bring us glory.
How could it? We have nothing in this world to gain from allowing others to take advantage of us. Yet, knitted into the very fabric of our being is the unquenchable desire to draw near to God, to seek the Light. Christ prayed even for those who were killing him. The images of God in us recognize the Good. The spirit of God in us draws us nearer to Him, and to the spirit of God in others. We are created in the image of God, but often our actions prove us far from godly. Therefore, we must struggle to deny ourselves, and the tendency toward selfishness and pride and sin in our nature, and to become more godly, thus bringing glory to God by becoming more like Him, and less like ourselves…
James 1:27 tells us that “Religion that God our father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
We become polluted by the world when we give in to our sinful nature, and become righteous when we follow God. This sounds so beautiful, because it is, and so difficult, because it is not necessarily natural to us. While I believe that we all retain some of the image of God, we also have the capacity to act in a very base and fallen manner. So, we do not return to God accidentally, but consciously, deliberately, choice by choice and action by action. We return through a decision to follow Him, but if our actions do not promote godliness, we become polluted, and thus God’s light in us grows dim. We are taught, particularly in the modern West, that we can all “have it all.” But is it not possible that by gaining the world we risk losing what we need most? The claim that we can all have the best of what the world has to offer, and at the same time the best of what loving God brings us, can seem quite contradictory. This does not seem to me to square with the teachings of Christ. There may be times that following God brings worldly reward, but if this is our motivation, then we have missed the point. Drawing near to God can be difficult; our worship often requires sacrifice…
We all needn’t “have it all,” for we are mere members of a body. In community, our strengths should encourage others, while our weaknesses can be minimized through the strength of others. This is probably all the advice we truly need to begin to bring glory to God. We are called to use our gifts to build up the body, and in turn to be built up through the gifts of others. This can also be all the advice we need to potentially be very, very profoundly unhappy in the world, for to turn from the patterns of this world can be agonizing. The sacrifices that God requires from us are often not what we would chose to give up. But this is the nature of sacrifice. Turning from things you do not desire takes no effort. Allowing people to take advantage of us does not come naturally. But, there is comfort in God, in following Him. Our minds are renewed by turning away from the patterns of this world. They are renewed through the transformation that takes place upon the recognition that our lives are not our own. We do not belong merely to ourselves, but to God, and to one another. Living for ourselves alone will always, ultimately, prove hollow and fruitless, for this is not why we are here…
So, herein lies the real trouble. We posses the knowledge of good and evil. We are given God’s Spirit to teach us, and, in addition, by denying the world and renewing our minds, we are “able to test and approve what God’s will is.” But, we do not always want to do his will. Part of our soul cries out to God, to the Light of the World, and part of us remains mired in darkness. We are equipped for every good work, but struggle to choose lightness over darkness.
We glorify God by worshiping him. We worship him not merely with our lips, but with our hearts and minds and actions and strength (and, often, with our weakness). This cannot be accidental, but rather it is all about choice. We do not accidentally bring glory to God. We must choose to worship. We must choose to bless those who persecute us. We must choose to become poor in spirit. We must choose to comfort those who mourn. We must choose to be merciful. We must choose to be pure in heart. We must choose to make peace. We must choose persecution because of righteousness. We must choose joy. We must choose love – and all for the simple reason that God first loved us.
We make all these difficult (and often unnatural) decisions, not for ourselves, but for the world. A world filled with fallible, fallen people that God loves so very much. In community, we seek to be one, even as Christ and His Father are one. So that the world may know that God sent Him, and that He is real (John 17). We make these choices for God, because God loved us enough to continue loving us through all our sin and imperfection. We choose love because without it, the earth will never be “as it is in heaven.” To glorify God we must seek first His kingdom. We must deny ourselves and fully embrace all that self-sacrificing radical love requires. And we must do it with joy. For when we fail, we fail not only each other, but God as well.
Every time we fail to repay evil with good—to bless those who persecute us, every time we fail to become meek or poor or merciful, we miss an opportunity to bring Light into the world, to bring glory to God. Whenever we miss an opportunity to increase the light in ourselves, we decrease the amount of light brought into the world. It is true that a city on a hill cannot be hidden, but, unfortunately, we are able to dim the lights.
Thankfully, the opposite is also true. Every time we glorify God through conscious acts of righteousness, we help to pave the way to the city on the hill. Every act that builds up the body of Christ helps to light the way. The better lit the path, the more who tread it. Someday, I pray, we can all find our way home.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Passover meal that Christ and his disciples shared before his death. Here are those short passages from Matthew, Mark, and Luke:
“While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to his disciples, and said, ‘Take it; this is My body.’” (Mt. 26.26)
“While hey were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it, and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take it; this is My body.’” (Mk. 14.22)
“And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’” (Lk. 22.19)
Jesus takes bread, blesses and gives thanks for it, breaks it, gives it to everyone and says, “Take this and eat it; it is my body.” How significant: what Christ shares with his disciples as an act of remembrance is a chunk of bread ripped apart. Christ identifies his body, himself, with broken bread and, really, broken-ness. There is something in this that I can’t seem to move away from, something connecting this moment of Christ sharing his body at the supper with the many-membered Body, the physical likeness of Christ now on the earth. If Christ in his body chose to identify himself with suffering and brokenness and enter into those fully along with all of humanity and all of the earth, and left this symbolic act of bread and wine as a remembrance, than shouldn’t the Body of Christ still be broken bread and poured out wine? Shouldn’t this Body also identify itself with suffering and brokenness, and enter into it willingly, both in ourselves and in others? Christ made people whole through his words, his touch, through faith in his Father. He was hoped for as Emmanuel, God with us, and he was physically present with people. And God is still with us. Christ’s body can still touch, still speak, still listen, still be present. How can we be this, together?
I confess that sometimes I want to run from the shattered places in myself; I want to build walls against the pain and suffering of others because it seems like too much. I’m weary from weeping, and my heart it prone to getting all calloused on the outside, and in laziness my faith in hope grows weak. So maybe that’s the point of togetherness. If we are embracing the brokenness in ourselves and in others together, then it’s spread out, and we have each other to help keep perspective and heal when we are hurting. We are not alone anymore. We are with God and with each other. A lone finger isn’t hovering in the air trying to hold up a heavy bag; it’s a finger that’s part of a hand, connected to an arm that’s joined to the torso through the shoulder. It’s all those parts together holding something heavy.
I have hope, and I hope to have more hope. Hope in togetherness and unity. Hope in love and sacrifice. Hope in presence and touch. Hope in God for wholeness for the earth and all that is in it.