In Part 1, I discussed how as Christians, we are interconnected with each other to make up the church, the body of Christ. There is a oneness that we share, whether we are aware of it or not, whether we like it or not, that is bestowed by God. This oneness shifts the focus from "me-ness" to "otherness" as I look not only to my interests but the interests of others, Philippians 2:4. Our American culture tends to resist otherness and emphasize me-ness. Our culture is not focused on "the good of the whole" as much as on "what's in it for me?" So as a church in America, we have largely conformed to our culture's mindset and let it influence how we "do" body life in the church. In addition to our culture's push for individuality and independence, we each are dealing daily with our own flesh (sarx in Greek) which is also opposed to otherness and instead wants to do what feels good for me.
If we are to grow in this oneness which God has formed in us through his Spirit, we need to be deliberate. God often bestows on us blessings, that if we do not appropriate or take possession of for ourselves, we can still live as though they were never given. We don't enjoy the benefits of those blessings. For example, if someone grants me a check for $1000, and I put the check in my desk drawer but don't cash it, I still have the check, but I have not appropriated the benefits of the check. The fact that I put it in my desk instead of cashing it, does not nullify the fact that the person gave it to me. I can even boast that I was given a check for $1000, but unless I cash it, the check does not have any impact on my life.
We tend to live the same way as the body of Christ. We have been given a new family, a place to belong, an identity in Christ, a purpose, a source of strength and encouragement, but if we don't access those things, we will continue to live independently. And we, the church, suffer as a result.
I would like to propose that the more we are connected with Jesus in our personal lives, the more we will desire to be connected with his Body. If we don't desire to be with our spiritual family maybe it is because we think, "I'm good, just me and Jesus." If this is our mindset, however, we are deceived because we are not truly connected to Jesus, the head, unless we are connected to his body, the church. We can imagine how unnatural and deformed a physical body would be if it had a head with only a foot attached, but we too often think we are okay with this in a spiritual sense. If we are truly, in a healthy way, connected to Jesus, we will also be connected with his body. A person is made up of a head and a body. We don't separate them. To do so, would be to kill them. To separate in our minds or behavior, Jesus from his Body, we suffer and inflict pain on ourselves and others. We may even suffer our own spiritual death if we remain disconnected too long.
Two quick thoughts, but not comprehensive, about how we should view the body of Christ: First, we read in I Corinthians 12:26 "If one member suffers, all suffer together..." This verse states that because we are a body and interconnected by Christ's Spirit, we all suffer if one suffers. We have experienced this when someone loses a family member or endures a chronic illness. Ideally, we support, encourage and stay tuned in with that person or family as they endure their suffering. Another way to apply this verse in lieu of us being part of a body, is that even if we ignore or "turn a deaf ear" to someone's pain, we still will experience suffering. How so? Our independent, self-centered natures tend to pick and choose whom we deem worthy of our time and energy. What if there is a sister in the Lord who always seems needy? Or what if someone's feelings were hurt because of something you unknowingly did and once you found out about it, you released yourself from any responsibility to resolve it because "she needs to be tougher" and besides, you don't do "drama?"
If I overlook signs of cancer in my body because I am too busy to take note, that doesn't mean the cancer isn't there. It doesn't mean the cancer will not continue to grow and wreak havoc in me. If my doctor tells me I have an infection on my arm but I refuse to care for it, thinking it will get better without medicine or attention, then it will most likely fester to the point that my whole body will suffer with fever and pain. Similarly, in the body of Christ, if we do not recognize our responsibility to one another and take it seriously, we will eventually suffer as a result of our neglect of others' suffering. Ignorance is not bliss in the body of Christ. Intolerance with the weaknesses of others in the church does not reflect our oneness with his body nor does it glorify him.
Secondly, Jesus, our Savior and our King, humbled himself and washed his disciples' feet. It was a customary practice at that time that was usually done by a servant. But in doing this, Jesus showed that even though he was the Creator and King, he was not above washing our feet. In John 13:14, he says that we ought to also wash one another's feet. That doesn't mean that we should set up feet washing in the foyer of our church buildings. It means that we humble ourselves every day and seek to meet the needs of our fellow Christians. We serve when it means getting dirty physically or pushing us out of our relational comfort zones. We serve when our time is abundant and when it is lacking. We serve even when we know someone has bad feelings toward us.
"Church" is not a club where we attend regularly, pay our dues, and receive a few perks. It's not an obligation we have every Sunday morning that we fulfill, leaving without any thought the rest of the week about our spiritual family. We may attend a time of worship and preaching with a group of people every week, but that is not the summation of life in the body of Christ. In fact, some churches are fairly "comatose" when it comes to growing into the likeness of Jesus, loving and caring for each other, and living in the Spirit. If this is the case, a spiritual health evaluation may be in order, which may require serious repentance by members and leaders alike.
Me? or Us? Until we embrace the oneness into which God has fashioned us, we will miss out on benefits and blessings for spiritual growth, individually and collectively. We will miss opportunities to love like Jesus. We will fail to be the body of Christ that reflects his love and grace to our neighbors. We will not be a united front that offers Light to a dying world. We may stall out at just being a well-intentioned religious group that has no more impact on our community than the nearest gym or the local food bank. Let's go ahead and cash that "check" and enjoy the abundance of God's blessings available to us.
I think the answer is Us...in Christ.