Romans 12:5 is often overlooked in reference to the function of the body of Christ. As a fellow member of the universal body writing from Macedonia to his fellow members in Rome, Paul reminded the Roman members that we “are one body in Christ, and everyone members of one another.” Being a member of the body means that each member is a member of one another. Our needs are ministered to by one another because of our spiritual attachment to one another in Christ. Our membership of the body of Christ, therefore, means that we are connected to one another as ministers to minister to one another wherever and whenever possible.
Each member of the universal body is gifted to function on behalf of Jesus in order to reveal the mutual ministry of the members of the one body. “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and everyone members one of another” (Rm 12:5). 1 Corinthians 12:12-18 is the commentary passage on what Paul reveals in Romans 12:5: “For as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the one body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ” (1 Co 12:12). Paul was speaking in reference to the universal body of Christ. He reminded the Achaian members concerning the oneness of this body of many members: “For the body is not one member, but many” (1 Co 12:14). And because the body is one universally, then a member that is a “foot” that may be in Ephesus cannot say to an “eye” that may be in Corinth, “I am not of the body,” and thus disconnect from the universal membership of the body of Christ (1 Co 12:16). Members function locally because of faith, and thus they function universally as the one body. No one member has a right to disconnect from any other member regardless of where any particular member lives in the world.
Peter’s letter of 1 Peter is a very good example of how this works. Peter wrote specifically to Jewish Christians of the Jewish Dispersion (1 Pt 1:1). These Jewish Christians were scattered in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia (1 Pt 1:1). Imagine the distance these Christians lived from one another? Most certainly did not know one another, but may only have known of one another. Nevertheless, in 1 Peter 4 Peter wrote to these scattered members to “be hospitable one to another without grumbling” (1 Pt 4:9). Every Christian has the responsibility of opening up his house to any traveling Christian. Though he may not have previously known a particular traveling member, fellowship in Christ goes beyond knowledge of other members. (See At 18:1-3 when Aquila and Priscilla took in Paul.)
In reference to the function of the universal body, Peter exhorted all these Christians who were scattered throughout all the previously mentioned Roman provinces the following: “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pt 4:10). This is the membership of the body functioning universally as the global family of God.
A very good example of this universal function is the publication of this book. The book was written by a member of the body in South Africa. However, proof reading of the manuscript was conducted by members of the body in America. The webmaster in America functioned to add the book to the Biblical Research Library on the Internet. It was then distributed by members of the body from the Internet, and then electronically circulated to all the world through emails and the Internet by members of the body. This is the one universal members of the body of Christ functioning as a united force to teach the word of God to people throughout the world.
In the historical context of both Paul and Peter, each writer wanted the individual members of the body not to forget that the whole universal body is made up of individual Jews and Gentiles. For this reason there can be no disconnection of members in reference to race, or location when functioning as the universal church. The members of the body, all of whom are gifted, can never be autonomous from one another. When any group of members bunches up and claims independence from any other group of members, then they are not functioning as a part of the whole body. They are saying in their declaration of autonomy that “we are not of the body,” or “we are the only body of disciples.” If it is wrong for any one member of the body to declare his or her autonomy from any other member of the body, then it is also wrong and divisive for any group of disciples to declare their function to be autonomous from any other group of disciples. The universal body is not composed of a consortium of autonomous local bodies. It is one body, though members have a right to organize together locally in order to accomplish unique functions.
We must never forget as universal disciples of Divinity that “God has set the members, each one of them [universally] in the body, just as He has desired” (1 Co 12:18). This is another way of saying, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved,” or as the King James’ rendering of Acts 2:47, “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”
When individual members of the universal body function as one body, then the body grows. When each disciple is connected directly to Christ, …
“… from whom the whole body being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working of each part, causes growth of the body to the edifying of itself in love” (Ep 4:16).
All gifts of every member of the body throughout the world are necessary for the building up of the body universally. Therefore, disciples must think universally, not just locally, when considering the importance of their gifts to build up of the body of Christ. The point is that all parts (gifted members) of the body are not all the same, but function in harmony as parts of the same body. When one part works, therefore, he or she functions as one with all other parts of the body throughout the world. When one works in teaching (“prophecy”), then he or she works for the benefit of the one universal body. When one works through serving (“ministry”), then he or she is working to serve the whole body. When one works to edify (“exhortation”), then he or she is working to encourage the body to function to the glory of God. Every member of the one universal body is necessary and gifted for the growth of the body throughout the world.
Paul concludes the context of Romans 12 with a “relational constitution” concerning the unified function of all disciples of Divinity (Rm 12:9-21). In his concluding remarks, he uses words as “love,” “kind,” “diligence,” “serving,” “perseverance,” “contributing,” “blessing,” and “rejoicing.” All these words explain the relational function of the members of the one universal body of Christ. These are the marks that identify the nature of the true body. It is by the implementation of these relational marks of identity that the whole body overcomes all evil of this world (Rm 12:21).
[Lecture series continues March 27.]