Have you ever seen Christians treat “church” as something they do instead of something they are? Have you ever looked around church and thought, “There’s gotta be more to it than this”? In 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul calls Christians members of the body of Christ. I assure you if you stick with me, you’ll never see that passage the same again.
In the United States, there is a big box store that sells stuff in bulk called Sam’s Club. In addition to being able to buy a thousand rolls of toilet paper at a time, you can also purchase video games, drones, and TVs there. Soon after earning my driver’s license, my friend James and I drove to the nearby city. With all the freedom in the world, what did we decide to do? We agreed to go to Sam’s Club. Did you know you have to be a member of Sam’s Club to shop there? We didn’t. Now, the name should have given it away (Sam’s Club), but give us a break. We were sixteen years old with very little life experience. Neither one of us had gone there before, and we believed it had some cool stuff to look at. I had my driver’s license and a co-pilot. Who was going to stop us? We parked my 1988 Chevy S10 Blazer in the parking lot and walked right in. (This is where experienced Sam’s Club shoppers gasp.)
Apparently there’s normally a person at the door checking membership cards, but they must have been on break at that moment. There wasn’t a stumbling block in the way of our “Who’s gonna stop us?” attitude. We oo-ed and aww-ed, made some selections, and marched to the checkout registers. The cashier said, “Membership card, please.” Who’s gonna stop us? Looks like this cashier was going to. To become a member of Sam’s Club, you had to be 18 years old, sign a contract, and pay $35 a year. I’m not sure what it costs today, but who knew you had to be a member of the club to shop at the…club?
If I want to go golfing at the local golf club, I need to become a member by signing a contract and paying some fees, just like Sam’s Club. Sadly, so many people treat the church like a club, which can be defined as “An organization [that’ll be a kew word later] or society of people who share a common interest or activity. A club is a place where people come together to socialize, network, and pursue their shared interests.” Is that what Jesus had in mind for us when He calls Christians members of His church?
So far, we have only been using the word member one way—the way it relates to a club. However, Jesus used it in another way—the way it relates to a body.
If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.Matthew 5:29–30
Here, Jesus speaks of members of your body—your eyes and hands. How valuable are they to you? And how painful would it be for you to lose one of them? That’s how Jesus sees members of His church.
And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.Ephesians 1:22–23
The word church is used over 100 times in the New Testament. However, the apostle Paul’s favorite way of referring to the church in his epistles is with the word body. Jesus is the head of the body, and in Ephesians 5:30, Paul says, “we are members of His body,” and in 4:25, he says, “we are members of one another.” Your arm is a member of your body, but your arm is also made of members itself—elbow, wrist, hand, and so on. Each member of the church—member of the body—is connected to each other and subject to the head.
That shows us how to live in two respects.
In respects to the head, we are to live in constant obedience. Your hand is supposed to move every time your head gives it instructions. Likewise, it is to stay still in areas where there are no instructions. However, if your hand doesn’t move when it should, or moves when it shouldn’t, there’s a disconnect. It needs to be addressed as soon as possible. As members of the church subject to Jesus, we must live according to His word. If we start disregarding the instructions of the head, there’s a disconnect. It needs to be addressed.
Now, sometimes addressing the problem is enough. Your arm wasn’t moving because it was “asleep.” But once it “woke up,” enduring the pins and needles, it got back to work. When Paul was talking about the members of the body of Christ, he said:
Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light. See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.Ephesians 5:14–17
If you, as a member of Jesus’ body, are asleep—you’ve not been working, or you’ve just tried to scrape by with the bare minimum of Christianity—it’s time to wake up.
Sometimes, however, more drastic measures must be taken. On many occasions, Jesus warns the disciple that unfaithfulness, unfruitfulness, and unrepentance will result in a permanent disconnect.1
If you are a member of Christ’s body, stop treating your membership as you would a membership at Sam’s Club or the country club—you pay your fees, you sign your contract, you put your name on a roll, and you show up from time to time.
Understanding the biblical meaning of “member” will also affect how you view your role in the church. If the club you’re a part of is only some social group of people who gather together over similar interests, what happens when your interests change? I think of the ten years I was member of the body of Christ in the Wellington region of New Zealand. My friend Antony said more than once, “If it weren’t for Jesus, I wouldn’t know any of you.” You may think that sounds like an insult, but it wasn’t. The church in Wellington was made up of over a dozen nationalities from every age group in various stages of life with completely different interests. His point was if Christianity was simply a social organization, then there would be no other reason to bring such a diverse group of people together. Yet every time we saw each other, we knew our connection; we knew our value to each other; we loved being members of the body of Christ.
When I travel and meet with Christians in other cities and countries, even if I have never met them before, I am able to greet them as brothers and sisters. We are related by blood—the blood of Christ.
Here’s the biggest takeaway.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul writes at length about the implications of the church being a body. He says that those who have been baptized into Christ are members of Jesus’ body (vv. 12–13). Then he compares individual disciples to body parts, like hands, feet, eyes, ears, and so on. He also says some members serve “unpresentable” roles. In your body, you have the presentable parts, like your hands and your nose. You also have unseen members like a liver and a spleen. Since we can see what you create with your hands, and you take in the world through your eyes, you may be tempted to say those are your most valuable members of your body. However (may this never happen to you) but if you lost your hand, you’d likely survive and find a way to go on living. But what if you lost your heart, a member you have likely never actually seen work?
Here’s one of the points Paul makes: Every member of Jesus’ body is valuable, whether we see what they’re doing or not. But the inference is we must actually be working.
When we view the church as an organization, we ask, “How can the church serve me?” Yet the Bible presents the church as not an organization, but an organism. With this in mind, we begin asking, “How can I serve in the church, in the body?”
Or to adapt from a famous speech: “And so my fellow [members of the body of Christ], ask not what [the body of Christ] can do for you; ask what you can do for [the body of Christ]!”
- See John 15:1–8, Hebrews 10:26–31; and Revelation 3:14–19 ↩︎