Paula Gooder is a writer and speaker on the Bible, particularly on the New Testament and is the current Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral. With over 30 books published, Paula has a wealth of wisdom and insight into reading and reflecting on the Bible.
Watch the short clip below where Paula talks about the importance of retreat for renewal of the Church for National Retreat Week. Then read an extract from Paula’s book ‘Everyday God’ to reflect further on Paul’s message in Corinthians about the body of Christ and what this may tell us about renewal of ourselves, and the Church.
Renewal of the Church
‘Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it’
1 Corinthians 12 v27
You may like to read more from 1 Corinthians 12 v 1-31, in addition to this extract from Paula’s book Everyday God: The Spirit of the Ordinary (Canterbury Press, 2012):
I have always had a very visual mind. When people describe things, I see them in my mind’s eye. Sometimes this is useful, often it is not. I don’t have a choice whether I visualise what is being described or not; like it or not there it is! As a result, I have always found myself intrigued by Paul’s metaphor of the Body of Christ. Did he, I wonder, have a visual mind or a verbal one? When he talked about all those in Christ being Christ’s body did he visualise, as I do, a vast, ungainly, lumbering body or was it more of an idea? I can’t help thinking that he might have veered towards the visual, not least because in 1 Corinthians 12 we find ourselves in the middle of a slightly farcical conversation between an eye and a hand and a head and some feet (1 Corinthians 12,21) about who has need of whom.
Not only is the image bizarre, it is also immensely challenging, though probably not quite as much for us as it would have been for Paul’s original audience. Paul lived and wrote 1 Corinthians, at a time when there were plenty of people alive who had seen the body of Jesus. He even makes reference to the more than five hundred men and women, most of whom were still alive, who had seen Jesus’ resurrected body. Jesus’ body was, what colour his hair was, whether his eyes crinkled when he smiled and many, many other details. For Paul now to say that those who are in Christ are Christ’s body on earth would have been mind- blowing to his audience. Since he was saying that the Christ who walked around Palestine only decades earlier now has a new body, a body made up of those who followed him and were baptized into Christ.
You could argue that Paul’s use of language about being a body (I am desperately trying to avoid the phrase ‘body language’ which means something else entirely to us!) would have been at least a little familiar to his audience, and this would be true. Members of the Corinthian Christian community who were accustomed to the workings of city states would have been familiar with them being described as a body which needed to work well together.
Equally readers of the book of Ezekiel would have been aware of the great vision of Ezekiel which likens the people of God to a set of dry bones which became a body into which was breathed the spirit of God. What Paul does here, though, is to take this well worn metaphor a significant step forward, because he did not say that the Christian community was any old body, but a very particular person’s body, and one that many of his audience would have seen with their own eyes. Paul’s language reminds us that our extraordinary calling as Christians is to live out our ordinary, everyday lives as Christ on earth.
The crucial word in that sentence, however is ‘our’. It is all too easy to slip into thinking that I am called to be Christ on earth, and if I fail that all will be lost. Paul’s point here is not that any one person is called to be Christ’s body but that together, all those who are in Christ can be the body of Christ. That is why we simply cannot afford for any part of the body to consider themselves unnecessary to the whole. We need all the help that we can get to live out this extraordinary vocation. Christ’s own self was so remarkable that it takes every single person bringing the very best of their spirit- given gifts for us to have any hope at all of fulfilling this calling. Just as in Ezekiel, it is God’s breath or spirit (in Hebrew and Greek the word can mean either) that brings the body to life and so it is the use of the spirit given gifts that ensures the life of the body.
Here the ordinary and extraordinary collide. Some of the gifts Paul talks about are what we would call extraordinary, like the working of miracles, speaking in tongues and prophecy. Some are what we might call ordinary, like helping or administration. The point Paul hammers home throughout the whole passage is that all the gifts are vital to the proper working of the body. Having a spirit-given gift and not using it in the body will sap the body of its life. Declaring that someone with their spirit- given gift is no longer needed equally takes the breath from Christ’s body.
The wonderful, ungainly, lumbering body of Christ needs every single one of us bringing all the gifts we have to live out this extraordinary of callings. No gift is too small, none too unimportant or ordinary, each one breathes life into the Body of Christ.
An extract from p112-114 of Everyday God: The Spirit of the Ordinary, Paula Gooder Canterbury Press 2012 (p112-114)