The second dimension of diversity within the body deals with diversity of people groups. Paul sketches how Christ’s saving work has ended all hostility along socioethnic lines and brought formerly alienated groups into one body, once for all (Eph. 2:14–16; 3:6). Whether we are talking about Jew-gentile division of Paul’s day or the racial/ethnic divisions of today (in America, Malaysia, China, Eastern Europe, or anywhere else), the glory of the gospel is this: since salvation is by faith alone (not DNA or any externality), the church brings unity across people groups while celebrating the rich blessings each uniquely contributes to the body. The unified body thrives not despite its diversity but because of it.
United to One Another
There is a final illuminating difference between the building and bodily metaphors: the former places us side by side as bricks in a wall, while the latter convey the living, breathing way we are “members of one another” (Rom. 12:4; Eph. 4:25). We are united not only to Christ but also to each other in a way that no other earthly organization, club, or team can offer. Like body parts that share the same blood, neural pathways, and so forth, Christians belong to each other—indeed, we need one another—in a way that we barely understand. For this reason, Paul exhorts us to care tenderly for the weaker members among us, not to ignore or despise them, drawing an analogy from physical bodies in which vulnerable body parts are offered more care, not less (1 Cor. 12:21–25). If we are members of one another in the body of Christ, the health of one affects all (v. 26).
If all this is true, the metaphor of the “body of Christ” casts a stunning vision for what the church can be. No church is perfect, but on its best days a church should be the place where there is no isolation, for we are beckoned into relationship with other members of the body and Christ our Head. No true believer is amputated from the body of Christ. The church should also be a place where differences in gifts or people groups lead not to divisive tribalism but to a unity forged from diversity, which the world can never achieve. And through all this, the church should be a place where hurting people, weighed down by suffering and sin, can be nourished back to health and treated with utmost dignity and worth—not left abandoned. May the bodily metaphors for church life call us continually to such a vision.