For week two of Random Text Tuesday (RTT), my random-text selector gave me Romans 12:5.
So we who are united with Christ, though many, form one body, and belong to one another as its limbs and organs. (Romans 12:5, REB)
As I think on this verse, I’m struck by the many different areas this body metaphor applies to. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes with nearly identical wording, using the metaphor there to show how different people manifest different gifts, and urging them to allow everyone’s participation without elevating certain gifts above others.
Here in his letter to the Romans, Paul uses the metaphor in the context of growing tension between Jewish and Gentile believers, reminding them that both groups are ultimately one body in Christ, and that Jew and Gentile alike ought to come together to use their gifts for the good of all.
Moving from the New Testament context to contemporary application, I have often heard these passages applied to the many different traditions and denominations within Christianity. In fact, this is probably the way I’ve most frequently applied the metaphor myself.
The Christian church is beautifully diverse with so many differing ways of understanding God. Unfortunately, this often leads to fighting among ourselves. How much better would it be to recognize that these different traditions are members of the same body, and to look for how each can learn from the others?
But let’s take it one step further. In this passage, when Paul speaks of those who are in Christ or united with Christ, he is referring specifically to believers—to those who have recognized the reality of their union with Christ. However, there is an even truer sense in which all people are in Christ, whether or not they have yet recognized this reality. “Indeed he is not far from each one of us, for in him we live and move, in him we exist” (Acts 17:27–28, REB).
So if we were to take Paul’s body metaphor to its logical end, we could conclude that all of humanity together forms a single body. We all belong to one another. When we fight against anyone, we are fighting against another member of the same body.
No wonder Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves. And no wonder he even told us to love our enemies. For when we show love to anyone else, we are indeed showing love to ourselves.
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