The Body of Christ, The Church

How do we reach unity in the Body of Christ?How can the church be one, when we are all so different? So many denominations, so many congregations, and each of them filled with individuals of incredible diversity. It’s a mystery how the Holy Spirit brings us into unity. We need to understand how to be in harmony with the Holy Spirit’s work of building and strengthening the church. This means understanding in what sense we are one, otherwise it’s simply a concept to us, and is not grounded in practical reality.

What we need is a change of perspective: from human thinking to God’s perspective. This is difficult for us, but the Bible reveals much about the God’s way of viewing his people.

When Abraham was promised that his descendants would be “as the sands of the sea” in Genesis 22:17, this was a double prophecy. Not only would he be the father of a great nation, he would also be the “father of the faithful.”

And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:29

So we see that it was promised that those who belong to Christ would be numerous, and that is clearly the case. As of 2010 around a third of the world’s population, 2.2 billion, were counted as “adherents to Christianity.” There is something very humbling to carry the sand analogy of Genesis 22 through and think of oneself as a single grain of sand among so many.

While God loves us each individually he also has a divine perspective. He is the exalted Creator, all powerful and all knowing. While we are made of the crude elements of the earth, he is the divine God. From his point of view, we are not so different from one another. All are sinners, having fallen short of the glory of God. To him, our differences are not extreme. We all need to be conformed to Jesus Christ.

So often we have a human perspective, focusing on our own tiny world view. Have you ever looked at sand under magnification? Each grain is so distinct! Many grains are made of broken shells of different types, and are colourful and oddly shaped. Yet, to look at sandy beach, all grains look uniform. How can we break away from focusing on our differences and see the Body of Christ from God’s perspective?

As we consider the Church as a whole as “the sands of the sea,” we immediately understand that it is impossible for us to relate to the vast body of believers worldwide. We don’t know 2.2 billion people, we can’t fellowship with that many. That is why the Church, the whole body of Christ, must also exist as churches, small local groups who fellowship and experience the oneness of the Body of Christ together. Paul’s letters are addressed to individual churches that he had raised up, in various cities like Ephesus and Corinth.

These churches had specific problems and concerns that he addressed with them individually. Of course we can learn from their church issues, they tend to be universal concerns within the greater Church, appearing on the local level. The life of the Body of Christ is not a concept. It’s important to understand this, that we are meant to live our Christian lives in communion with other believers. We are meant to become one with the body of Christ, the Church, as we become one with our church on the local level.

Paul spoke about this many times, imploring the churches to have unity. He asked them to stop fighting and striving, and to stop making distinctions between rich and poor. He spoke about oneness in the body in this scripture that I want to focus on today:

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:1-5

We must understand how we, who are so diverse as individuals, and fellowship in churches which are distinct and separate, are still one with all who are in the body of Christ. To understand this, let’s look at all the things that make us one.

One Body

We are all individuals, with different stories and histories and problems and abilities. Too often in churches this is a source of division as we bump against each other’s differences.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 1 Corinthians 12:12-14

The scriptures make plain that the distinctions between us of nationality, ethnicity, socio-economic status and so on, have no bearing to our position in the body of Christ.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. Romans 12:3-5

In order to be one, we must always keep in mind that we are One Body. Though different, our differences are meant to complement and feed each other, rather than being a source of division. The way we ensure this happens is to remember that we are a part of a larger picture, and each member of the body has his or her own contribution to make. This takes “sober judgment,” or deep consideration. We must contribute some effort to seeing the value of all members in the Body of Christ, instead of focusing on our own small role.

One Spirit

The Holy Spirit gives us our identity as one unified Body of Christ. How can we be different if we all drink from the one Spirit? The work of the Holy Spirit brings us all into communion with Jesus Christ. As we look at other Christians around us, are we moved to consider, “This person has the Holy Spirit, as I do, therefore we are one”? This can be a conscious decision, to choose to look at the Body of Christ in this way.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 1 Corinthians 12:12-14

One Hope

When we struggle in life, we can carry on because we have a bright hope in Jesus Christ. This is a blessing we share with all other Christians. Do you remember as a child having thoughts like, “I hope there isn’t a math test on Monday!” Often such hopes are dashed and reality sets in on Monday morning. But our hope in Christ is a living hope, one with absolute certainty. Jesus rose from the dead, he conquered the grave! That means we share with all other Christians a common certainty about the future, but also one that sees us growing and changing now, in this life, as well. That is the gift that Jesus gave us by his resurrection.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead… 1 Peter 1:3

Part of that hope is that we will live forever, together with those who share this life in Christ. How can we be at odds with those we will spend eternity with? We will stand together before the Lord, there can be no divisions or strife between us there. Does it help to think of this passage, which speaks of how we will rise to greet Jesus at his return? What a triumphant moment that the Body of Christ will share together:

Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. 1 Thessalonians 4:17

One Lord

When we stand before the Lord we will stand as one, with no distinctions, that is clear. Personality differences do not count to God, to him what matters is that we are like Jesus Christ, our Saviour. If we all conform to him, could there be any appreciable differences? If we were all loving, kind, generous, wise, and exhibiting all the traits of Jesus, how could we fail to be as one?

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18

Rather than seeing the differences between ourselves and others we should be looking at Jesus. In what ways do we need to allow the Holy Spirit to transform us to make us more like Jesus?

One Baptism

We become transformed to Jesus Christ by the process of sanctification. At baptism we are cleansed of guilt by the blood sacrifice of Jesus. Throughout life we maintain this as we bring every sin to God for cleansing. We know that all are sinners, and that means we individually are sinners as well. How can we criticise? To know yourself as a sinner in need of continual cleansing is to see yourself in the Body of Christ. We all share in a common baptism. We do this individually, but this means that communally, as the Church, we are being washed and prepared to be with Christ.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. Ephesians 5:25-27

One God and Father of All

God is our Father. In the family of God there are no “black sheep.” We are one family, united with one Father, who loves us all as dear children. It is a large family, but there is more than enough love to go around in the family of God, the Church!

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. Romans 8:29

Surely there must be nothing more pleasing to a parent than when all the children get along together and care for each other. This is the picture we see in this next scripture. It glorifies God when we worship him with one voice…all in accord and living in harmony:

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6

How is it going in your church? Are you contributing to the unity and oneness in the Body of Christ? Each of us must look at how we are fulfilling our role in the church. If we are creating strife, argument and dissension, we are fighting against the work of the Holy Spirit. But if we are encouraging, comforting, loving, helping and supporting each other we are truly one. This is God’s perspective.

Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. Philippians 2:1-2

There are so many ways that we are one as the Body of Christ. Let’s not allow anything to come between us. Let’s think about how we can have the Holy Spirit work through us, as we love and care for each other in our local congregations.

This message is from a sermon given by Karen Dixon at Victoria Park Christian Centre on 24 April, 2016. Our services are at 6pm on Sunday evenings and are open to all. Join us as we come together for worship and fellowship!