“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Romans 12:4–5, NASB95)
Last Sunday at the completion of one of the playoff games, a reporter asked one of the players a question to which the player harshly tore down another player on the opposing team. His comments were puffed up, unkind, and unwarranted. And this week it has been a topic of discussion, not only in the sports media, but in many other forms of media. Some people who were on the fence in who they rooted for, were even changing their positions because of this one person. An NFL roster carries 53 active players, and the actions of this one man colored in many people’s eyes their perception of the team and even the program as a whole.
Here in Romans 12 Paul uses the figure of the body to represent the church, the Body of Christ, of which every believer is a member. He focuses on its unity in diversity - one body representing its unity, and many members that do not have the same function, representing the diversity. Just as it is in nature, unified diversity in the church is a mark if God’s sovereign and marvelous handiwork.
This one football player put himself above the rest and in so doing did more to tear down the image of his team, than to build into it. In the church we are brought together by God as one to accomplish His intended purposes which in part include the building up of each other. Paul focuses here specifically on the diverse uniqueness and importance of each member to the body’s proper performance. He points out the obvious truth that, although we have many members in one body, nevertheless all the members do not have the same function.
He is about to focus more specifically on spiritual giftedness, but before doing that he first establishes the importance of the whole package and that we need to live under the daily reality that God placed each of us in His church and He has an intended purpose in doing so.
Spiritual gifts do not always correspond to what we commonly refer to as church offices - such as apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor-teacher (as we reads in Ephesians 4:11), or even deacon (as we read about in 1 Timothy 3). Most church members do not have a specific office or title. But every believer, from the youngest to the oldest and from the newest to the most mature, has a Spirit-given ability to minister to the body of Christ through some spiritual gift which is added to their God given abilities and developed talents. It is the use of all that God has given us that is his pre-ordained function in the church.
In the spiritual organism that is Christ’s church, every constituent part - whether obvious and important, such as the arm, or hidden and unnoticed, such as the small blood vessels and glands - is critical to its proper functioning as a whole. It is diversity working in unity and in harmony that enables Christ’s body to be and to do what He directs it to be and to do.
Because it is so normal and dependable, the great wonder of the proper operation of our bodies is seldom appreciated or even noticed. We have but to think, and our hands, feet, or eyes immediately do what we want them to do. Because we have trained them to respond in certain ways, they do many things almost automatically. Our most critical bodily functions - such as our hearts’ beating and our lungs’ breathing - require no thought at all. They simply do their jobs, performing their divinely-designed functions minute after minute, day after day, year after year. The interrelationship of the parts of our bodies is so unbelievably intricate that medical science continually discovers new functions and relationships. It is often only when our bodies cease to function properly that we appreciate how marvelously God has designed them.
On the negative side, there are also rebellious cells, as it were, in the body of Christ. Some are benign, in the sense that they do not destroy the church. They simply gorge themselves on blessings and benefits at the expense of the rest of the body. They become fatter and fatter, always taking in, seldom giving out. The focus of their whole existence is self-service. Their creed is: “I will get all I can from God and all I can from the church.” In their unfaithfulness to the Lord and to His people, they sap the church of its vitality and can so weaken it that it becomes emaciated, not functioning normally.
The church also has “cells” that are mutinous to the point of destruction. Through outright heresy and flagrant immorality, these malignant members openly attack the rest of the body, eating away at its very life.
As believers, we are interrelated in a spiritual unity. Christ has designed us to work uniquely but harmoniously as His Body on earth - to be His own hands, His own feet, His own voice. We share a common life, a common ministry, a common power, and, above all, a common Head. We are endowed in countless combinations of the specific gifts mentioned here and elsewhere in the New Testament. But it is our Lord’s design and desire that our diversity in spiritual gifts be manifested in unity of spiritual service.
"(12) For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. (13) For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (14) For the body is not one member, but many.” … "(18) But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.” … "(20) But now there are many members, but one body.” … "(27) Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 18, 20, 27, NASB95)
Don’t let yourself get caught in the trap of nursing hurts. Guard what God has entrusted to us that we might preserve the unity which He has given us in Christ as we together submit to Him who is the Head. Scripture speaks so much of the ‘one another,’ several of which follow later in this chapter, and they all have to do with how we not only build into each other but how we walk alongside each other when things aren’t as clean as we want them.