The Body Analogy for the Church: 1 Corinthians 12:13-27
“12) For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13) For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14) For the body is not one member, but many. 15) If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.” 1 Corinthians‬ ‭12‬:‭12‬-‭15‬ ‭
The Bible uses three basic analogies for the church. It is referred to as a living building, a flock of sheep and a body. Each points to the living and organic nature of the church. There is much insight that can be gained from these analogies.
I might be stretching, but when researching the complexity of the human body, I discovered that our physical bodies are made up of eleven interdependent systems. As I briefly studied each system, I noticed that it had a correlation to the local church.
Let’s have a little fun in this section and compare the eleven systems of the human body to the local church. When any system in the human body fails, health is compromised and in some cases immediate death results. Every system needs to be healthy and functioning for the overall body to thrive. I believe there is much to learn from biblical analogies. 1. Skeletal system- The skeletal system is the framework of the body. It is what gives the body its basic shape, while protecting the delicate internal tissues and organs. The joints of the skeletal system act as levers that are attached to various muscles. The elbows, knees, ankles are just a few examples of these levers.
Possible Spiritual counterpart in the church: Biblical Doctrine. (Ephesians 4:14-16; II Timothy 3:16-17) Solid biblical doctrine is the framework of the local church. It is vital that the church has a biblically sound support system to hold up and protect everything else. This is what gives shape and function to the church and prevents it from becoming jello or mush.
2. Muscular system- There are three types of muscle tissue included in this system; skeletal, cardiac and visceral. A.) Skeletal muscles are voluntary muscles that work with the connective tissues to allow the body to move. Voluntary simply means the muscles respond to impulses from the brain that are a result of your desire to move. B.) Cardiac muscles are those that form the bulk of the heart’s wall. They provide involuntary heart beat. C.) Visceral muscles are also involuntary. They are the smooth muscle that help move food along in the digestive tract, veins and arteries as well as the tubular structures of the urinary tract.
Possible Spiritual counterpart in the church: Empowering leadership: (Acts 6:1-8; Ephesians 4:11-12) Equipping and training leaders in the church and then empowering them to do ministry is similar to the muscles in the body. Just as it takes many muscles to move the body and accomplish a task, God desires many people in the church to be trained and empowered for ministry.
3. Digestive system – The digestive system is comprised of all the organs that help break down food into absorbable forms and nutrients the body uses for fuel.
Possible Spiritual counterpart in the church: Applicable teaching. (Matthew 4:4; I Peter 2:1-3; Hebrews 5:11-14) Solid doctrine is vital to the church, but God’s word must be understood and applied to daily living. It is vital to minister the Word of God on the level of people where it can be applied to their lives.
4. Circulatory system: This is the vital transportation system within the body. It is comprised of the heart, veins, arteries and blood. It carries everything from oxygen, nutrients, hormones and blood cells to every cell in the body. It also carries wastes from the cells back to the liver and kidneys to be eliminated.
Possible Spiritual counterpart in the Church: Gift Oriented Ministry. (Ephesians 4:11; Romans 12:3-8; I Corinthians 12:4-11) The Holy Spirit is like the life-blood of the body. He gives unique spiritual gifts to each person so they can carry out their vital functions in the body.
5. Respiratory system: It is in the lungs where oxygen from the outside meets the blood by way of the thin tissues in the lungs. The process of breathing takes in oxygen and lets out carbon from our body.
Possible Spiritual Counterpart in the Church: Inspirational Worship. (John 4:23-24; Ephesians 5:18-21) Worship is to the church what breathing is to the body. It is the life breath of the church.
6. Integumentary system (skin) This is the largest of all systems. It is comprised of the skin, hair, nails as well as the sweat and oil glands. It functions as a protective covering for the underlying tissues against drying and invasion by toxins or pathogenic organisms. The skin is also responsible for regulating body temperature.
Possible Spiritual Counterpart in the church: Functional Structures. (I Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-2:5) Just as various people groups have different colors of skin, there seems to be room for diverse approaches of church organization and structure. The key is that the structure should be flexible and functional to serve the needs of the church just like the skin encloses the body.
7. Nervous system: This is a very complex system by which all parts of the body are controlled. It is made up of the brain, spinal cord and nerves. It also includes special sense organs such as the eyes, ears and taste buds.
Possible Spiritual Counterpart in the church: Passionate Spirituality. (Acts 4:13-31; Philippians 1:20-24, Philippians 3:7-16) The early believers were passionate in their Spirit filled devotion to Christ. This fire or fever became like the nervous system in the church to set the tone and excitement level high for Christ.
8. Excretory system: This is comprised both of the large and small intestines as well as the urinary track. As a whole, it ensures the absorption of proper nutrients into the blood as well as the removal of toxins and waste products from the body.
Possible Spiritual Counterpart in the church: Discipleship, accountability groups, confession ( II Timothy 2:1-9; Acts 2:42-47, I John 1:9) These work together like the stomach, intestines and colon for big life transformation. These close and vital relationships are the place where the old life is set aside and the new life is nurtured. These are so effective when understood and done well that they have been called by a number of dynamic names including “Growth Groups” and “Shepherding Groups.”
9. Reproductive system: The reproductive system includes external and internal organs as well as related inner structures that are required for the reproduction of another human being. It can also provides great pleasure and fulfillment.
Possible Spiritual Counterpart in the Church: Witnessing and Evangelism. (John 15:16; Acts 1:8; I Thes 1:2-10) This is the exciting activity responsible to new birth in the church. In the early church it was often “need based” but always included sharing the seeds of the gospel message and the birth of new believers.
10. Endocrine system: Although there are few parts to the endocrine system, it is vital to the health of the individual. It is made up of organs called “endocrine glands” that produce hormones and emzimes. These hormones in turn regulate growth, use of food within the cells and reproduction. The thyroid and pituitary glands are the two main endocrine glands.
Possible Spiritual Counterpart in the Church: Loving Relationships. (John 15:34-35; I John 4:7-12) People need to be enfolded into the body of Christ in loving and connected relationships. The hormone of Agape love sets the tone for body life. Love is powerful and the fruit of the Spirit through each Christian is meant for ministry to others. Paul said about the church, “from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:16 NASB)
11. Immune System: This system is the body’s defense against infectious organisms and other invaders. Through a series of steps called “the immune response”, the immune system attacks organisms and substances that invade body systems and cause disease. It also promotes healing in the body when injured.
Possible Spiritual Counterpart in the Church: The armor of God (spiritual warfare) coupled with prayer and intercession for the body. (Ephesians 6:10-20, Galatians 6:1-4, James 5:13-18) Just as the immune system constantly monitors the health of the body, the armor of God is intended for protection. The final weapon against the enemy in Ephesians 6:18-20 is intercessory prayer for all the saints. We are to bear one another’s burdens and rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. We also surround the sick and pray for them.
If you come from a science or medical background, this discussion might be elementary to you, but I trust it motivates you to think through the aspects of a healthy church. The human body is very complex. As mentioned earlier, the illustration of a body is the backdrop for every text in the Bible about spiritual gifts. So where might spiritual gifts fit into this discussion?
Possibly this study could be reworked around the spiritual gifts. Honestly, that’s a bit beyond my pay grade. But, I am inclined to believe the gifts are like the vitamins, minerals and nutrients that fuel the human body. They are provided by the Holy Spirit and are vital to healthy church growth and function.
Any vitamins or minerals left out of a balanced diet will lead to deficiencies. Any one overly supplied can result in other problems. The way God created the human body fascinated me. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. The same applies to the body of Christ.
It is imperative that you find and become part of a good local church. You cannot thrive in isolation.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global