Have you ever stubbed your toe or cut yourself? Or maybe something far worse happened that inflicted a lot of physical pain? Whatever hurts doesn’t just affect the limb or organ but seems to affect your whole body and even your mind. You have a harder time concentrating; maybe you lose your appetite. The connectedness of the human body and mind is incredible. If one part is affected, the whole is affected.
Paul compares the church to a body in which each member is connected to every other member, despite dramatic differences in appearance and function. Consequently, despite the vast differences among the men, women, and children who have embraced Christ from every tribe, tongue, and nation, the body of Christ is a unit connected like the limbs and organs of the human body.
Christians Everywhere Are Connected
Paul explains that this is because of the one Spirit who works salvation in any who believe that Jesus Christ died for their sins.
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 one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Cor. 12:12–13)
What does this mean for us? Paul continues to explain that since the body is unified, no one can say to another member “we don’t need you” or “you don’t belong here” (1 Cor. 12:21–23). On the contrary, we as a body should be keenly aware of the other members and aware of them as only a united body can be. Paul admonished the Corinthian church, which was riddled with division, cliques, selfishness and unkindness, to remember their connectedness as a body.
But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Cor. 12:24–26)
Empathy and Love Are the Result of Unity
Paul urges the church to care for each other as if others’ suffering is their suffering and others’ rejoicing is their own rejoicing.
This is good for the church to continue to take to hear. Many fellow believers are suffering for various reasons. If you broke your arm, you would not ignore it or deny it; you would have a hard time continuing to function in daily life if you did! So also, if a member of the body of Christ is suffering, imprisoned, mistreated, hungry, or thirsty, the whole body feels it. The church is not just your congregation but the whole global community of Christ followers. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us of this unity:
Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Heb. 13:3)
This is the way of love in the body of Christ, to “love your neighbor as yourself” such that you bear the burdens of others along with them as if they are your own.
Christ on the cross bore the ultimate burden—our sin. In his own body and spirit he wept with those who wept. He bore the marks upon his own body of the cruelty, mistreatment, and abuse of sinful humans. He did not just remember those in prison but was imprisoned for their sake and for the sake of those who imprisoned them, so that abused and abuser alike could be saved.
Carrying the Cross
As Jesus instructs his disciples, “bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:28). We can only do this because of Christ’s work on the cross. The good news, the greatest liberating news, is that Christ was imprisoned, mistreated, abandoned, for the sake of his body, the church. The absurdity of the cross is the greatest act of love in the history of the world and compels us to respond. In dying for the sins of the world, his ultimate act of love and service freed us to sacrificially love others as if their burdens were our own. God works all parts together as one, bonded and united by the blood of the Lamb, so that each has its proper function and place in the beautiful tapestry of God’s image of which Christ is the head.