The concept of the one body is very familiar to us. Paul in particular gives it a lot of attention, opening up and explaining the figure so that we can see the full power of it.
If you haven’t lately, you could reread Romans 12:3-10, 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Ephesians 4:11-16. (In fact the theme comes up all through Ephesians, in every chapter but the last. It similarly surfaces all through Colossians, and multiple times in 1 Corinthians aside from the extended exposition in chapter 12.) It’s well worth the time to read and ponder all these passages, and most importantly to think about how to apply them. Way too big for a short note—so please do some private work on it!
For today, just one aspect that has struck me. The Ephesians 4 passage concludes:
the parts need each other so the whole body can function
Joints. The whole body, Paul says, is joined and held together by its joints. Very obviously true of the physical body, and when we think about it just as certainly true of the Lord’s body.
At the risk of belaboring the obvious: A joint is where two different parts come together. Paul emphasizes how the parts need each other so the whole body can function. But we know (both in the physical and the figurative) – where parts meet, there can be friction.
In our physical joints we have cartilage that allows the parts to act together smoothly. The shoulder, elbow, wrist and fingers have to work together to accomplish anything. It takes all those joints to do even one simple thing.
But sometimes joints don’t work so well. Arthritis is inflammation of a joint. Is there such a thing as spiritual arthritis? Indeed there is. What’s the result? There is pain, pain that affects the whole body, and it becomes very hard for the parts to accomplish what they need to.
Factors outside the body affect arthritis, such as the weather. Spiritually, we have factors such as the pandemic that are affecting our connections, our joints. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune problem. From a CDC article: “Your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body by mistake, causing inflammation (painful swelling) in the affected parts of the body. RA mainly attacks the joints, usually many joints at once.” Does it strike you, as it does me, that we have some spiritual rheumatoid arthritis?
only when every joint is working properly does the body grow, and build itself up in love
I believe Paul thought so too. He was concerned about the emergence of painful inflammation, at the places where the members interact. He really leans on this point, and he says that the body is held together by every joint. Every one. Otherwise it isn’t a whole body. And only when every joint is working properly does the body grow, and build itself up in love.
We do have inflammation at some of our joints. Some of this is provoked or at least worsened by outside factors. Many ecclesias are in real distress due to the pandemic, political situations, disasters, persecution and other severe difficulties. And also, we have autoimmune inflammations—the body attacking itself.
What can we do about any of it? We know in our physical bodies that there are things we do that make the inflammation worse. In the spiritual equivalent, laying blame would be one of those things. Rehashing the past is another one. Innumerable others. Medically, there are such things as anti-inflammatories that can make a huge difference in how we feel, and how well we function. Are there spiritual equivalents?
How do we reduce inflammation? Stop doing things that increase it, for starters! That’s liable to mean closing our mouths (including our social media “mouths”). Why is it that we humans find it so compelling to spout off in inflammatory ways? Especially as brothers and sisters in Christ, members (we fervently hope) of his own body, we ought to realize that it hurts the whole body when we aggravate an already inflamed joint. It hurts our head, the Lord himself, when we do that.
So, stop being inflammatory ourselves. Then, what can we do that’s anti-inflammatory, that will reduce inflammation that is already started? We each have to work on that ourselves; surely we can identify places where we have a joint with another member, that has some pain, that would benefit from the anti-inflammatories of loving kindness, forgiveness, patience.
We can absorb the balm of the hope of the kingdom, and accept the therapy of the Word of God, to reduce the inflammation that may lie within ourselves, and maybe help whoever is on the other side of that joint too.
We need every joint. And we need every joint to be working properly. As individual members of the one body, we may not have much we can do about joints remote from us, but surely we can and must attend to the proper working of our own points of contact with other members.
We need every joint. And we need every joint to be working properly.
From the 1 Corinthians passage, stop saying, “I have no need of you.” Stop feeling, “I’m not part of the body.” I need to believe, be truly convinced, that I need you. And understand that you need me, specifically you need me to apply the anti-inflammatories. The whole body needs me to be healthy, my joints with others to be working. My head needs it—the head feels every pain in the whole body.
We are capable of doing some pretty foolish things, and we end up spraining something. And sometimes injuries or inflammations come along that weren’t our fault at all. Whatever the cause, there’s a joint that isn’t working properly. What does our head direct us to do? Stop making it worse. Consult the physician. Protect the affected part. Apply the balm. Do the therapy. Stop just putting up with the pain and really focus on healing.
Love, your fellow-member one joint over,
Paul Zilmer, Bloomington, Illinois