Influential Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung once said: “Man, as we realize if we reflect for a moment, never perceives anything fully or comprehends anything completely.” That thought mirrors what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:12 about our earthly perceptions: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror” (NIV).

The way people use language provides insights into their thought processes. The Hebrews thought of “body” in a different way than we do today. We emphasize the autonomy of the individual; they saw themselves as a collective “flesh.”

The question Westerners must ask ourselves is whether we can understand the meaning of the body of Christ, or if our world-view becomes too individualistic and self-centered?

Over time, we have progressed from not considering the individual body to almost worshipping it. This is probably the main obstacle to an accurate understanding of the body of Christ. Believers are tainted by the spirit of a narcissistic age.

We use verbal symbols, or words, to communicate our ideas with others. But when we do, there is always a slight difference in meaning between what the speaker intends to communicate and what the hearer understands.

This isn’t just because people don’t listen. Differences in background, education, and life experiences can put a different interpretation on the same words.

In addition, different people have slightly differing definitions of the same word. Thus, another person usually gets the gist of what we’re saying, but as Jung observed, we never achieve a 100 percent correlation.

For practical, everyday interactions, what people lose in the process is not a major problem. However, when we need to communicate in precise terminology, this can pose significant problems.

These problems are rooted in the way we use symbols. Symbols are like containers (I picture them as containers or bowls) holding meanings. They have power to shape how we understand ourselves and our world. When we possess symbols that are true to God’s plan for us, we can enjoy their richness as we fulfill His purpose for our lives. For example, we can endure incredible hardship if we grasp its deeper meaning.    

Understanding the broader meaning of one’s life and existence lifts us above an existence based primarily on consuming products and services. The broader meaning of life is comprehending what people in everyday life are lacking, and what the body of Christ has to offer them.

Thus, “body of Christ” is not symbolic or metaphorical, but rather literal. We are not like the body of Christ; we are the body of Christ. The concept is not one of multiple personalities in community, but of a single organism with a single personality.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote that “in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5).

At the time, any other writer might have written that “we, though many, are one body.” That would have emphasized the unity of the believers. But Paul added the crucial phrase, “in Christ,” which helps us know that we are to be more than just unified in the same way our favorite football team, sorority, or fraternal organization comes together to achieve a particular goal.

We are one. We are Christ’s body, meant to operate in unity and for His glory.