The Doctrine of the Church in the Bible

Church Life: Unity

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. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.—1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 27

Paul uses the picture of the body to teach the horizontal dimension of union with Christ. He compares the human body, which is unified despite its many members, to the church (v. 12), which also has many members but is one body. Why? Because all members of the church participate in one Holy Spirit when they become part of Christ.

Paul uses images of baptism and drinking to communicate how the Spirit unifies: Christ baptized us “in one Spirit . . . into one body . . . and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (v. 13). The second image tells of believers’ initial reception of the Spirit, the river of living water, of whom believers may drink and never thirst again (cf. John 4:14; 7:38). Likewise, at conversion Christ baptizes all Christians into one body, and the Spirit is the medium of that baptism, the bond of union with Christ and thereby with other believers.

In 1 Corinthians 12:14–26, Paul continues to develop the body metaphor, proving again that a human body is one precisely because it has many parts. No single part can therefore call itself
the whole (vv. 14–20). Moreover, the parts we keep hidden or consider least honorable are actually most necessary, and their honor comes from God (vv. 21–26).

Paul does not keep the metaphor abstract but applies it directly to the Corinthians: the Corinthian church is the body of Christ (v. 27)! His admonitions about the body in the previous verses belong to them, but they also have the honor of being a part of Christ both in the unity of their church and as individual members. Paul implies that the Corinthians must live with the
humility of Christ, recognizing that while they have the honor of being his body on earth, their behavior toward each other and the world could dishonor his name.

Theology for Life

In salvation the Spirit joins us spiritually to Christ. In so doing, he joins us to all other believers too. May God help us to treat them as fellow members of Christ’s body by the Spirit, remembering that both our role and the roles of fellow believers are vital to the flourishing of our Lord’s church.

For more on the church as the body of Christ see:

  • Rom. 12:4–8
  • 1 Cor. 5:1–5
  • Gal. 3:25–29
  • Eph. 4:1–16

For more on church unity see:

  • John 17:17–23
  • Rom. 15:5–6
  • Eph. 4:1–16

This article is adapted from the ESV Systematic Theology Study Bible.

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