Something that was culturally earth shattering about Christianity 2000 years ago was one of its foundational teachings referred to in the New Testament as the body of Christ. A modern equivalent could be called the team of Christ, and as every person who has played a team sport knows, each individual player is important to the success of the team. In the same way, the revolutionary teaching of the body of Christ is one that emphasizes the importance of every single person who belongs to the body and the role they have in helping the body function.
This teaching about the body of Christ is explained by Paul and Peter in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4. I highly recommend reading through these short passages to get a handle on this teaching in their own words.
My personal breakdown of the teaching
The basic idea is that every single person who commits their life to God through putting their faith in Jesus Christ is a valuable and indispensable part of the family of God.
Why was this revolutionary 2000 years ago?
Because if you were low on the societal totem pole, your life was, in essence, worthless. Slaves, people with disabilities and disease, the poor, the uneducated, the outcasts of society, and many other types of “low lifes” had no significance in any culture around the world. It was only when Jesus came along and established, eventually throughout the entire world, what we refer to today as the “sanctity of human life.” This is the concept that no matter the condition or status of a human, they are valued and should be protected and cared for.
To take it one step further, the teaching of the body of Christ emphasizes not only your right to life and self worth, but also your value and responsibility in helping others. That means, as a child of God, you are not only loved but are very much needed in the service of other people.
Recognizing your place in the body of Christ
Many Christians have a hard time coming to a solid conclusion on what their personal calling in life is and what their Spiritual gifts are. This has to do, in a large part, because of the tradition of dividing the church into what is known as the “clergy,” consisting of less than 1% of the church, with the remaining 99% referred to as the “laity.”
The problem with the clergy/laity paradigm is that it cultivates a mentality that if you are a “lay Christian” you are not a part of the ministry. There is a common question asked of people who begin to mature as a Christian, “are you thinking about joining the ministry?” This should be a red flag for a gross misunderstanding about what it means to “join the ministry” in the first place.
While there are obviously leaders with particular gifts in the church, there is no such concept as a “clergy/laity” division found in the New Testament. Conversely, the apostles taught that any person who has put their faith in Christ and received the gift of the Holy Spirit was now officially “in the ministry.”
Peter puts it like this, Each person should use whatever spiritual gift they have received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. In other words, we are all ministers to others according to the specific gifts and callings in our life.
The brick wall that many Christians have built up in front of them is the false mentality that becoming a “minister” to other people requires first either going to Seminary or joining some form of mission team or service program. Therefore, until you have the time to attend Seminary or join some form of organized ministry, you really aren’t capable of serving and ministering to other people. In essence, the false mentality is “Go big or go home.”
On the contrary, the teaching of the body of Christ emphasizes our day to day life in serving others. It recognizes (main point of 1 Corinthians 12) that while many are called and gifted to be leaders, most are called to be ministers to people in “behind the scenes” ministries. This means that these people will typically get no recognition, no praise from others after performing their service, no standing ovation, no “well done Pastor,” or “you really preached a good one today, Reverend.”
The “behind the scenes” ministry in our day to day life is what most people refer to as the ordinary. It is the role of being a spouse, a mom, a dad, a coworker, a business owner, a neighbor, and a friend. It is the day to day choice to look for opportunities to encourage, to serve, and to help. It is not glamorous or praised by this world, but it is your calling as a Christian to be extraordinary in what most people refer to as ordinary.
Don’t think you have to knock it out of the park for God to be pleased with you in your service to other people. You don’t have to join an organized ministry and you don’t have to go to Seminary. You just have to recognize the place in life God has you in right now, and no matter how ordinary it may seem to you at first, begin serving those people who are nearest to you on a daily basis.
…in view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is, his good, pleasing and perfect will. -Romans 12:1-2