“Ouch!” I cried, as a sharp pain clenched a muscle between my shoulder blades. Groaning, I tried to stretch it, to no avail. Ever since I started working out again after the holidays, I’ve rediscovered muscles that I forgot were there!
This is a familiar process for me. I take breaks, then jump back in to exercise and wish I’d never left. In recent years, I’ve chosen to submit to a trained professional who met with me twice a week to help me keep my body in shape and prevent pain because of my back condition. My favorite one went to school to study muscles, how they interact, and the importance to our bodies of each and every one. He stated his philosophy like this: “People can’t be healthy or strong if even one muscle is not doing its job right.” Thinking that was a little fanatical, I challenged him and said, “What about all the other functions that don’t seem related to muscles?” Thus began a rich dialogue that continued every time we met, and which improved not only my physical health, but my understanding of the Bible’s body metaphor for our corporate life as believers.
Of all we discussed about muscles and health, a few ideas grabbed my attention. First, healthy muscles affect our posture, which affects our breathing and blood flow and therefore the function of every other body part. Also, healthy muscles metabolize nutrients better than fat, and they allow proper use of calcium, which helps us to have more energy by day and sleep better by night. By doing exercises with weights to build muscle, our bones stay stronger, which helps prevent bone disease and fractures that plague many of our aging community and family members. If any muscle group is less fit than others, the body has to spend energy compensating for that area, which can compromise areas of function elsewhere. A body only works its best when every muscle does what it’s meant to do.
Of course, it’s not just muscles that need to be pulling their weight for our bodies to be fully healthy. Just as muscle affects many other systems, every part of our bodies affects a variety of others. The vascular system connects with our eyes, ears, digestive tract, and skin. Anyone who’s had a sinus infection can attest to the ear nose and throat being inextricably linked. Our small intestine effects our hair and nails by the nutrients it absorbs. I could go on and on, but you get the point here. Every part matters, every cell contributes. Every part affects all the others, whether it appears that way or not.
While humans are still discovering ways this is true, God has always known because He made us that way in the first place. The more one studies the human body, the more obvious is God’s deliberate choice of the body to describe the church. How many times have we heard these phrases: “the body of Christ,” “there are many members, but one body (1 Cor 12),” or “Christ is the head of the body/church (Eph 4)”? Like our literal bodies, the church body suffers together, rejoices together, grows together – whether we acknowledge this or not. For this reason, Paul spends much of his pastoral ministry exhorting right living and our individual role in corporate holiness as Christians. In particular, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 flesh out the facts of our life as one body.
First, we are one body with many parts. Diversity is a good thing. Different styles of ministry are valuable. There are 10 different systems in the human body (such as the muscular, digestive or nervous systems). There are 650-850 different muscles in the human muscular system. This is like the 9 different spiritual gifts God defines in 1 Corinthians 12 and the infinite different personalized ways people display each one in their circumstances (evidenced by the differing ways the basic list of gifts is presented by different Biblical authors). 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 both describe spiritual gifts God has given to us as believers. Every person has at least one, and while not all are gifted at the same levels, we each have a job to do and a ministry to fulfill in life. What would happen if the whole body were one member? How would we see if all the eyes became hands? Paul’s answer is simply that we cease to function as God designed us. We compromise the whole body and, like a rogue cell becomes a cancer in our bodies, a person in Christ’s body who doesn’t do what God designed her to do ends up draining resources from the rest of the organism.
Second, we become more unified as a body of believers when we become more individualized. When we as individuals make the choice to use our gifts in each situation we face, we bring more integrity and unity to the entire body. When we each choose to obey the commands God gives us and choose the new man over the old, corruptible man, the body of Christ becomes more cohesive. When we step out in faith and grow individually in the strengths and gifts God’s given us, the whole body gets healthier.
Third, we grow and become stronger as a body as we each live as new women, instead of in our old behaviors of laziness, lying, stealing, sexual sin and others.
If we put on the new man (Eph 4) every believer benefits from us doing what God desires according to the specific gifts He’s given us. As we faithfully walk with Christ in each tiny daily challenge, we provide another healthy cell to the body. When we allow ourselves to fall in to old patterns and live as the old man, we drain the body like a cell that is sick. We all grow up as one body with Christ as the head. Notice that no mention is made of anyone being the brain, the lungs or the heart in 1 Cor… those core jobs are God’s alone. He is the vine (the CNS, the pulmonary system, the cardiovascular system) and we are the branches (all the cells those systems feed and provide life to).
Nature is a rich resource for insights into spiritual principles. God points us to these insights in scripture when it describes how the heavens and earth declare His glory, and His people exist as a living body both individually and as a community. It covers all the basic sciences – astronomy, geology, physics, chemistry and biology. And every one reveals brilliant truths about the creator of the universe.