Imagine walking through the forest along a well maintained trail and looking to one side and seeing signs of a faint path in the woods that is covered with dead branches and underbrush. It is an old path but to explore it will require a fresh clearing of the path for it to be usable.
Similarly, a path in the church that is given little focus and is largely overgrown is an understanding of the corporate nature of His body. So to that end let’s clear away some theological underbrush so that we can see this path and explore it.
We may at times reference Paul’s use of the different parts of a body in exploring spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12) but we need to go beyond think of our role/body specifically and see our in His body when we hear the term. In the West we live in a very individualistic culture, however the New Testament (NT) was written in the context of a culture that focused on community over individuals. While every individual is important and of incredible value because of Jesus sacrifice, the focus of the NT, just like the first century culture, is where we as individuals fit into His body, the larger community. We are called to find our place in the body to serve and encourage the other parts of the body (Gal. 5:13, Heb. 10:24-25).
Here is a sampling of verses that highlight this truth.
4 Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:4-5 (NKJV)
20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. Ephesians 2:20-22 (NKJV)
14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height– 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, Ephesians 3:14-20 (NKJV)
Peter is saying we are individual stones in a larger building. The ‘you’ in Ephesians 2 and 3 are both plural, not singular. Paul’s prayer is for a corporate rather than individual experience. He wants us to know that the church corporate is what we are being built into and that our growth is to be into Jesus. He is the foundation and the purpose of our growth, as Peter also notes, is that we are shaped to align with the cornerstone. We need to look like and reflect Jesus to properly fit into His body. Paul also prays that we as the church corporately would experience the width, length, depth and height of Jesus love.
So, if we want to grow let’s walk a corporate path, looking for ways to build up and serve His body because when one grows we all grow.