When Saul of Tarsus fell from his horse on that famous road trip to Damascus in the 1st Century, he lost his sight in the glare of some profound revelations. He also heard a voice. What the voice said changed not only Saul but, eventually, the whole world.
Most of us would be familiar with the story. The most common understanding of its significance is that this is Saul’s encounter with the risen Christ. In this encounter, this Jewish man with Roman citizenship, whose credentials as a rabbi were impeccable, was given the task of taking God’s message to the non-Jewish world. He did this under the Roman version of his name, Paul. The rest is history, with his message even reaching the far-flung shores of our wide, brown land.
However, there is another important layer of what Saul/Paul was confronted with that day.
He heard Jesus say, “You are persecuting me.” That voice didn’t say, “You are persecuting Jesus’ followers”. It said, “I am Jesus and you are persecuting ME.”
As Paul reflected on this over the next few years he developed his understanding into the concept of the Church as the body of Christ. As with a human body, the body of Christ has many parts. It has different ethnic parts, different socio-economic parts, different geographic locations and different skill sets (or gifts), but all are of the one body, united by the one Spirit. (See 1 Corinthians 12:12-27)
What this means is that Christ is present in the world through His followers, who believe in Him and have God’s Spirit. God speaks as we speak, sharing the Word with others, and God helps others in practical ways when we serve them. Or, as The Basis of Union puts it, “Through human witness in word and action, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ reaches out to command people’s attention and awaken faith.”
As a result of this understanding, Paul often wrote of the importance of the different members of Christ’s body working together, supporting one another.
The prime example of this was during the famine in Jerusalem where he organised churches in other locations to provide financial assistance to those who were suffering. Paul was effusive in his praise for the Macedonian church, which “gave as much as they were able and even beyond their ability” and which had pleaded for the privilege of sharing in this service of the Lord’s people. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5) This, I believe, was a real world example of what Paul had said about how the eye can’t say to the hand that “I don’t need you.” (1 Corinthians 12:21)
There are other examples of Paul teaching in this manner.
He instructs Timothy that the church should take care of widows (among the most vulnerable in society at that time) and to appropriately remunerate pastors (1 Timothy 5). He reminds the church in Rome that, because we are ‘’one body in Christ and individually members one of another’’, so we should employ our gifts for the common good – gifts that include hospitality and contributing to the needs of others (Romans 12:3-8).
A young man named Titus was entrusted with collecting the generous contributions from the Macedonians and delivering them safely to those who needed them. Is it pushing the body metaphor too far to suggest that he was like the blood veins, transporting sustenance from one part of the body to another? Perhaps, but in any case Titus was chosen because of his faithfulness to the gospel, his trustworthy character and his practical, administrative abilities. He was the first Treasurer of the church and someone whose virtues I seek to emulate in my role as Executive Director of Treasury and Investment Services within the Uniting Church here in NSW & ACT.
My role exists because, when the Uniting Church was formed 40 years ago, it intended to give effect to the notion of the body of Christ in the way money is managed. The financial resources of each part of the Church are not meant to be used only by that part of the body, but to be available for the good of all. It’s never been done perfectly, but it’s encouraging to see that intention built into the Church’s foundational thinking, with management of financial resources seen as an important ministry activity.
My goal, and that of all involved with the Synod’s Treasury and Investment Services arm, is to help the Church to provide real world examples of Paul’s teaching about the body of Christ.
Warren Bird is Executive Director of Uniting Financial Services