For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
– 1 Corinthians 12 : 14, 19-20, 26
It is easy for us to slip into the assumption, from our experiences with reading human writings, that metaphors in the Scriptures are simply literary tactics designed to illustrate a particular point more thoroughly. To some degree they are: no doubt the authors of the various components of the Word intended them to be seen as such. But even though they do serve this purpose, i think a larger truth is at play here that many of us miss. i know it was not until recently that it was shown to me.
If we grant that God is indeed creator of everything, and we grant that He inspired the writing of the Scriptures, then any symbolism in the Bible is not truly symbolism at all, but something different. In fact, it is just the opposite of symbolism. It is somehow both more and less than mere poetic device, because now God is not only author of the metaphor, but author of the object it points to as well. Thus when Christ calls us “the salt of the earth” in Matthew 5, He is not using a crafty illustration, He actually means that the very characteristics with which He imbued salt at the formation of the universe are literally characteristics which you are expected to have. We should bring flavor and preservation to the world, and have our only identity in serving that purpose in Christ. When we are called by Him “light,” it is not flowery prose, but instead a command to shine, to reveal the dark places of the world, to provide safety and warmth and peace.
i think it fair to say that if Christ feels comfortable using metaphor in this way, and He does quite often, then when we find metaphor elsewhere in the Scriptures we can look at it the same way. Because, after all, “all Scripture is God breathed.” (2 Timothy 3 : 16) Thus when we see multiple times in the writings of Paul that we are referred to as a body, i do not think it was written merely to illustrate a point. i believe whole-heartedly that we are to do everything in our power to mimic exactly the characteristics of a body. God could have made bodies function however he wanted them to. He chose this way. So it is not merely helpful advice or artful allegory, it is the very blueprint for our existence together as humans.
Just as in organic tissue there are millions of individual functioning units (cells, organelles, amino acids, etc.), so we all have our own drives, our own paths, our own functions. But no one will argue that the human being as a complete unit is incomparably more powerful than the meager skin cell. The human being is only functional when every cell is at peace with its neighbor, doing the part it is assigned, responding in propriety to instructions given from the brain, and not choosing instead to go its own way. Only one thing happens in the body when a cell operates independently: it dies. It cannot live without inputs from other cells and direction from the head. Sometimes it begins to concern itself only with itself and with the replication of that self, and thus it becomes cancerous, growing wildly out of control damaging everything around it, and eventually causing the entire body to stop working. Many times it simply shuts down: it stops taking input from other cells, stops responding to stimulation, stops producing anything of value, and simply dies and passes into other cells as mere materials for re-use.
We are not to be these ways. God has left us a fairly clear explanation of why. When we are out of right relationship with the Head and with one another, either we will continue to grow unchecked until our appetites are so monstrous and destructive that they are consuming everyone around us, or we will retreat to our corners of the world, neglect those near us, and slowly fold in on ourselves until we fade completely away. There is no more compelling argument for man’s need for community. We were made by it, and made for it. Without it, we are just slowly drifting, falling, dying.
Loving one another is not merely a rule of order that makes us somehow “good people.” It is absolutely vital to our existence. We are interconnected in ways we do not see. Isolation is an illusion and a lie, no matter how much we may at times wish for it. The entire race of man is one giant organism. Some cells have come before us and their work and memories and legacies have built us into what we are today. Some cells are to come after us, in turn drinking in whatever we leave behind. But for now, we are a body, all of us; Christians, Jews, Muslims, pagans, whites, blacks, women, men, old, young, whoever we are and wherever we have been and whatever we may feel: this machine will not long survive if we do not reconcile, rejoin, and love one another’s faces off.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
– 1 Corinthians 13 : 1 – 3