Ours is an individualistic culture. That’s not some new observation. Nor would it surprise anyone if we said the culture at large tends to shape the church in particular. But this morning I’m struck afresh by how compromising individualism can be to the church being the church and thus, how compromising it can be to the mission of the church. This morning I’m chewing on what it means to be individually members one of another.
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
(Romans 12:4-5 ESV)
Dependency isn’t a cultural value espoused at large today. To be dependent implies being deficient. Too often thought of as a sign of weakness. Counter-cultural to the value of being able to “stand on my own two feet.” But with the body metaphor in mind, only the feet can stand on their own two feet. Unless the shin is attached to the feet, it has nothing to stand on. Does that make sense?
Given our cultural individualistic conditioning, for many it’s a stretch to concede to being part of a body. Of “losing” my identity within a more collective identity. But to think of myself as individually members of others? Of actually being attached and reliant on other individuals? Talk about cultural dissonance.
As a believer I’m not just to be part of a body in some abstract sense, I am to be literally connected to other members in a physical expression of the body, a local church. To be who I am called to be in Christ, to serve as I am called to serve for the kingdom, I am dependent not only on Christ, I am reliant not only on the Spirit, but I can’t do what I was redeemed to do apart from other members in the body. The picture of the body says that my hand does me no good if it isn’t actually attached to my arm, and my arm to my shoulder, and my shoulder to my head. I am an individual, but I am to be individually members of one another. That’s how God designed this living thing called the church to work.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
(Ephesians 4:15-16 ESV)
It makes sense that we are “born again” in Christ so that we would “grow up” in Christ. But we are to grow up as we.
We grow up as a unit, as the whole body. Far from an individual sport, sanctification is designed to happen in the context of every part of the body being joined and held together so that as each part does its part it makes the body (and thus the individual parts of the body) grow up, building itself up in love. We flourish as we count ourselves and connect ourselves individually as members one of another.
Counter cultural? Absolutely. Counter experience? Unfortunately, for too many too often — that’s the price of being a work in progress dependent on other works in progress. But essential? I’m thinking. Beneficial? Yeah, that too!
Noodling this morning on the implications of being a body. Meditating on the metaphor of the body and how it challenges the primacy and priority our culture (both at large and in the church) puts on being me, myself, and I. Thinking about my congregation. Imagining them more as other parts of the body on which I’m dependent, and they (unfortunately perhaps, but God’s grace is sufficient) on me. Believing this is how God, in His wisdom, is going to conform us to the image of His Son even as He sends us to be ambassadors of His kingdom.
Individually members of one another.
Only by His grace. Believing He has designed it for His glory.