Who We Are (and Are Not)

The Characteristics of the Body of Christ in Paul’s Letters to the Churches

  • char·ac·ter·is·tic - nounˌ\ker-ik-tə-ˈris-tik, - a distinguishing trait, quality, or property that makes a person, thing, or group different from others [Merriam-Webster Dictionary]

When describing someone we know very well to a friend or acquaintance, we generally list any number of characteristics that define or set that person apart. Our goal is to paint a word picture of who that person is, and is not, and we use their defining characteristics to do so.

Paul the Apostle took this approach when speaking of and to the Church—the Body of Christ. His writings overflow with characteristics that define and describe the miracle God has given birth. His use of the personal pronoun “you” in his letters to the churches is almost always plural—that is, of and directed to the collective, corporate, community that is God’s family and dwelling on the earth, not the individual believer. And while what he said was to particular portions of God’s people in the past, we know that how he spoke of the Body of Christ then has immediate and broad application to God’s entire family today because we are all one in Christ and in one another; then, now and forever.

More We Than Me

What you'll find at the links to the right is just this: from each of Paul’s letters to the churches, a listing of the characteristics he used to describe the Body of Christ—who we are (and are not), and given this wonder, how we are called to walk as our response as we together manifest who God has already made us to be.

If you’re like many of us, you’re already very familiar with the how-we're-to-walk part, but perhaps not so much with the who-we-are part. If so, try this: 

  • Pick a letter and, for a few days, read through and think about just the characteristics of Who We Are. (Or better yet, read them aloud, one after another. After all, Paul’s letters were written to be shared in church gatherings. The spoken word is very powerful, even when speaking only to oneself.)
  • After you’ve become familiar with all the Who We Are’s, then go back and read them again, but this time add the Walk This Way imperatives in the right column. Keep in mind, however, these do not stand alone. Each is a response to and proceeds from something Paul has just said or is about to say about Who We Are. Trying to apply a to-do apart from its context risks misapplying the author’s intent.

As you read the Who We Are’s and the Walk This Way’s—think we, not me. At some point it’s a given you’ll make individual application, but don’t rush the corporate. Let it roll around, sink in, perhaps challenge conventional perspectives. You may well end up in the same place individually, but don’t be surprised if it’s the same but … well … different.

Should you be at all interested, you'll find some additional caveats and suggestions here.

Finally—if you find yourself reading a Who We Are and saying to yourself, “That’s not me! That’s not who I am,” may I humbly suggest, if you are indeed Christ’s, that Paul would disagree?

Feel free to holler. Email is below. Enjoy, and God bless!

Bill Weaver
Chattanooga TN

© Bill Weaver 2012 - Email Bill at Heartland