10.7 Appraisal - the Body
In place of the old anchors of Jewish identity, Paul introduces a metaphor to convey the relationship of Christians to one another. The body ("soma") (of Christ) is for believers what the nation of Israel was to the Jews. Every believer is a "member" (or "part" or "organ") of that body. See 1 Cor 12. Our equivalent term would be "cell". Though diverse in giftings and functions, each cell is equally valuable. Even the weak are indispensable. There is to be no caste system, no "elites" vs "2nd-class citizens." The body metaphor is used throughout his letters:
Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body,and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us (Rom 12:4-6).
Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf (1 Cor 10:17).
For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink....there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other (1 Cor 12:12-27).
His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross (Eph 2:15-16).
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace (Col 3:15).
The testimony of church history frequently violates Paul's ideals. But that does not negate the fact that "the body of Christ" was Paul's (and Christianity's) solution to class and racial conflict. Secular political ideologies deal with class rivalries by first defining the groups and sub-groups, and then adjusting their demands according to some system of quasi-equitability. Paul's solution was to have the convert renounce his old affiliation, affirm the new identity through baptism into the body of Christ, and then to maintain peace among the members by self-regulation:
In humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4).
If it is objected that this is a simplistic and unrealistic goal, given the almost infinite possible varieties of human strife, Paul had a secret weapon. He relied on a "higher power" to maintain order: not Law, the old standby, but the Holy Spirit, who indwelt both the individual believer and the local church.
Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God (Rom 8:14).
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (1 Cor 12:7).
In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit (Eph 2:21-22).
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Eph 4:3).
The Holy Spirit was manifested in the church body through diverse gifts given to believers, through appointed leaders, and through Scripture -- which meant the Old Testament as interpreted by Paul. And so we have come full circle. At the start of this unit, we considered the "mystery" of Paul's hermeneutics, and we showed that it is "the mind of Christ" who is bequeathed to the believer through the Holy Spirit. Now we see that this Spirit who re-interprets sacred Scripture is the same One who infuses and orders the local churches. It is the Spirit who tears down the barriers between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, and refashions the cells into a new creation:
In [Christ] the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord (Eph 2:21).
This was the source of Paul's inspiration, and it was the thrust of his Gospel: the great antidote to religious racism was not a change in Law, but individual and corporate rebirth in a new Spirit.