“I’m not the mouth in Christ’s body.”
Paul talks about the church as Christ’s body. The body is made up of many members (e.g. 1 Cor 12:12). All of these members are equally important, but they’re not all the same. Some people are feet, others are ears, others are eyes, and noses, and hands (1 Cor 12:15-26). We all do different things, but we all belong to each other. “So,” you might say, “I’m not a mouth. Speaking is not my thing. I have other, equally important, roles in Christ’s body.” That is, maybe you think that you’re not the kind of person to speak the gospel to others because you’re not that kind of body part.
But there’s a problem with this line of reasoning. When Paul talks about the church as Christ’s body, he never limits gospel-speech to individual body parts. In fact, Paul makes it crystal clear that gospel-speech is something that infuses the whole body.
Let’s look at how Paul begins his discussion of the body:
You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:2-3)
What the key thing Paul says about the work of God in individual Christians? God’s Spirit creates gospel-speech. The Spirit of God is the Spirit who makes us say, “Jesus is Lord”! That phrase, “Jesus is Lord”, is the heart of the message of salvation. It’s exactly the same phrase Paul used in Romans 10:9 (see my previous post, Saved by the mouth). A Christian is, in essence, somebody who speaks the right way. By contrast, the definition of idolatry is worshipping things that don’t speak (1 Cor 12:2).
So when Paul talks about the church as the body of Christ, he begins with gospel-speech. The body is is a great illustration of unity in diversity. But it’s important to understand what belongs on the ’unity’ side of this metaphor, and what belongs on the ‘diversity’ side. Gospel-speech isn’t just one of the body parts. At its core, gospel-speech is part of the ‘unity’ side. Gospel-speech is fundamental to the body.
When it comes to the body, you have to think about gospel-speech in the same way you think about love. ‘Love’ isn’t an optional extra for Christians. Love is a non-negotiable for everyone in the body (check out 1 Cor 13). Of course, we’ll all love each other in different ways, according to different needs and different circumstances. But it would be crazy, wouldn’t it, to divide up Christ’s body and assume you can identify people who have the job of being ‘loving’ and other people who don’t have the job of loving others. Love is something for everyone. The same is true of gospel-speech. Different people will speak the gospel in different ways. But gospel-speech is a non-negotiable factor for each individual in the body. There’s no such thing as ‘speaking’ and ‘non-speaking’ parts in Christ’s body. That why Paul goes on in 1 Cor 14 to urge all the Corinthians to work hard at the right kind of speech; speech that builds the body in love.
You find the same pattern in Ephesians 4:11-16, which another key passage about the church as the body of Christ. Paul begins by acknowledging that there are some people who have special speaking roles (Eph 4:11):
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, (Ephesians 4:11)
But speech is not limited to these special speakers. The purpose of these special speakers is to help the whole body to speak the truth. Whole-body gospel-speech is the ultimate vision for the church:
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)
The ‘truth’ that builds the body is the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is a spoken message (cf. Eph 1:13, 4:21). When it comes to the body of Christ, gospel-speech isn’t restricted to any one body part. Gospel-speech and love are the basis and the means by which all the other parts of the body grow.
Gospel-speech (along with love) isn’t just one of the body parts. It’s really more like DNA. DNA is the basic molecular code that sits in the nucleus of every individual cell in our bodies. Different cells grow in different ways and make up different body parts. But they are united by same basic code: the DNA. In the same way, gospel-speech is part of the basic reality that informs all of our other actions and relationships in Christ’s body. Different members of Christ’s body will speak (and live out) the gospel in different ways. But gospel-speech permeates everything.
But hang on, you might say, this whole “speaking the truth in love” thing is about how I relate to insiders, isn’t it? What does it have to do with speaking to outsiders? In the next post, we’ll look at that very issue. Is there a difference between speaking the gospel to insiders and speaking the gospel to outsiders?
This is the sixth post in a series about gospel speech. In the next post, we’ll think about another objection: “I’m more comfortable speaking the gospel to insiders rather than
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