3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it…11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:3-7,11-16 NIV)
The body was the Apostle Paul’s standard illustration for making clear the inner life of the church. There is one church universal which is invisible in its own nature. It is the gathering of those who have living faith in Christ and so are united to each other because they are united to Jesus. This universal church becomes visible wherever the people of God, either many or few, meet together to worship, pray, maintain the ministry of the Word, spread the good news about Jesus, have fellowship, and celebrate the sacraments. Paul, writing to the local church at Corinth says, ‘You are the body of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 12:27). He would say the same thing, no doubt, to every church he would address. Each local church is a small scale representation and an authentic sample of the church universal. When people look at any local church, they should see the life of the universal church concentrated in that one place.
What sort of life should they see? Body life. The life in which all parts are contributing to the welfare of the whole body. Our bodies give us trouble when any part is not working properly. For instance, the parathyroid glands are four tiny glands, located in the neck, that control the body's calcium levels. Each gland is about the size of a grain of rice. Proper calcium balance is crucial to the normal functioning of the heart, nervous system, kidneys, and bones. I didn’t know they existed before they were damaged when I had my thyroid removed many years ago. The result was my brain function was diminished (something I can’t afford!), and my nervous system was out of whack - literally. My doctor would slap me on one side of the face and the other side would twitch. I also put rosters together at church that made no sense. One of my young adults came to me just after returning to work and said to me Steve, I’ve got a problem with the roster; you’ve put me on 6 things tonight, 3 of which are at the same time. Also, I’m down to play the piano - I can’t play any musical instruments. Tiny parathyroid glands matter! When the parts work properly, the body’s life is a wonderful thing. It’s like watching Olympic athletes in action - every part of the body is trained and straining for the goal (except for golf, and I’m sorry to say, shooting).
In the same way Paul wants us to understand that the life of a church is a wonderful thing as, in the power of God’s Spirit, each limb, unit, bit, piece, joint, and muscle does its best and contributes to the health of the whole.
Body life is a term for the network of mutual relationships which Christ both calls and causes the limbs of his body to build. The Bible spells out the ethics of body life in terms of valuation and service. The racial, social, economic, cultural, and sexual distinctions which operate as restraints on our acceptance and appreciation of each other cannot be totally abolished. However, the limits that they impose must be transcended. In Christ’s body all must welcome and value each other as ‘members of one another’. You might not get that from watching what goes on in church sometimes, but God wants life in his new society to be a perfect blend of affection, goodwill, openheartedness, and friendship - love, actually.
Service is love in action. Christ’s body builds itself up in love. This love is more than sweet talk and smiles; its true measure is the evil that you avoid inflicting on others and the good you go out of your way to do for others. How is the church built up and edified in love? By each part working properly in fellowship: sharing what, by God’s gift we have, and are. This sharing is the service or ministry to which every Christian is called. Either we all advance towards Christlike maturity together through mutual ministry (lay people to lay people, lay people to clergy, clergy to lay people and clergy to clergy…ie., everyone to everyone), or we all stagnate separately.
A good place for each of us to start is personal reflection. Take a moment to identify any ‘them and us’ attitudes that you might have which could make it harder for your fellowship to be a ‘perfect riot of affection, goodwill, openheartedness, and friendship.’ How could those attitudes start to change? Make every effort to to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
A second step (simultaneous with the first step) is to express gratitude for all the ‘hands’, ‘feet’, ‘arms’, ‘noses’, ‘ears’ - all the parts of the body - around St Paul’s who are serving you. Gratitude is the heartbeat of the Christian life. There are people standing in the car park welcoming you, and helping you park. There are people vacuuming floors, handing out information, leading worship, preaching sermons, serving food and drinks, setting up tables, leading creche and Kid’s Church (the list is long). Everyone of them is vital to the body functioning. Express gratitude for loving service.
A third step (simultaneous with steps one and two) is to become a functioning member of the body. Join one of the teams serving at St Paul’s. Take a practical step to advance towards Christlike maturity together through mutual ministry.
Pursuing healthy unity with you,