Your Question: What does it mean that the church is the body of Christ?
A live, healthy human body has a head, every part of the body has a purpose and performs different tasks, but all submit to the head. You cannot have a functioning body without a head. Paul uses this comparison to explain what the church is in Ephesians 5:23-24. Jesus Christ is compared to the head – the part of the body to which the rest of the body submits. We who are Christians, church members, believers are compared with the body.
As Christ is the head of the church he is the one that we need to listen to and obey. When we respond to his commands and directives we will achieve the work or tasks that he has commanded us to do.
The head is also an image of the source of life as we see in Colossians 2:19: the Head, from whom the whole body… grows with a growth that is from God. So when Christ is called the Head of the church, it means that our life and the nourishment for our life comes from him.
But the body is important as well. Paul points out that when the church is functioning at its best, every church member, every Christian has been given gifts and skills and work to do in order that the church, like a human body, will function effectively and efficiently. He also explains that every member of the church is vital to the functioning of a healthy church.
Just as a body wouldn’t say to the hand, feet or legs I don’t need you, because I only want to hear, see and smell. Nor would it say to the eye or ear I don’t need you I only want to walk and do things with my hands. So no part of the body is irrelevant or useless. (1 Corinthians 12:12-20).
When a part of the human body is suffering, hurting or has a problem, the whole of the body is affected. Have you ever fractured a leg or arm, hit your thumb with a hammer? Have you ever been ill? Did it affect the whole of your body and the whole of your life? It did – if you break a leg or arm, or are sick in some other way, it often hurts and all you can think about is the pain, or you have to find different ways of getting around or performing all the tasks you need to do.
You will be kind to your arm or leg if it is broken, and would guard it against more pain or injury. This is how it is with the church, if one member of the church is suffering, the whole of the church will suffer too and we need to help, protect, or take steps to bring about healing in order that the church will not become disabled, or lacking in any of the vital tasks of the body.
The body is made up of many parts as is the church, and we have a responsibility to each member of the church, just as we have a responsibility to our bodies to care for it and keep it as healthy as possible.