“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” As I mention in my sermon on the text for this Sunday, the Lord’s question to Saul is an unsettling one. While Saul thought he was persecuting a set of propositions, he was, in reality, persecuting a person. But he was not persecuting just any person; he was persecuting the exalted Lord Jesus, the one who had given Saul the very breath with which he threatened the church.
While I focus on the idea that enmity with God is the natural (fallen) state of man in the sermon, I also want to reflect on the more positive side of this profound question from our Lord. Specifically, I want to reflect on the solidarity between Christ and his body, i.e. the church. Then, I want to take it one more step and reflect on the solidarity between the members of Christ’s body.
This idea has roots in the Old Testament. In Zechariah 2, God speaks through his prophet to his people, warning them to flee from the coming judgment against the nations. Then, in v8, he gives his reason for the coming judgment: “for he who touches you touches the apple of his eye” (Zech 2:8 ESV). Here, God’s chosen people are described as “the apple of YHWH’s eye,” which describes the people, not merely as an object of affection, but as God’s very eyelid or pupil.1 To afflict God’s people is, metaphorically speaking, to afflict God.
This OT idea then surfaces in Jesus’ ministry in Matthew 25. Looking forward to the final judgment, Jesus promises that he will commend and reward the good deeds of his chosen people: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt 25:40 ESV). Here again, God expresses solidarity with his people.
So, then, Jesus’ words, while still being striking, are not without precedent. And Paul, maybe reflecting on all of these things, reminds us that Christ’s solidarity with his people is more than an interesting idea: it is the means by which we are saved from our sins. Paul says, “For our sake [the Father] made [the Son] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in [the Son] we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21 ESV).
But, of course, Jesus’ question to Saul in Acts 9 reminds us that our union with Christ extends beyond the work of justification. After being made right with God, we are still united to Christ in such a way that he still shares, so to speak, in our suffering, even as we share in his.
It is from this perspective that Paul rebukes the Corinthian church and commands them to flee sexual immorality. The whole basis for his argument is that the members of the church are the members of the body of Christ (1 Cor 6:15). The reality, as Paul explains it, is that the church is already betrothed and thus one with the bridegroom who is Christ (1 Cor 6:17). And this reality, made possible by the indwelling Spirit, means that the members of Christ’s church do not stand alone (1 Cor 6:19-20).
It is not a stretch, then, to see how Christ’s solidarity with us, the body of Christ, leads to solidarity among the individual members of Christ’s body. If we are united with Christ corporately, then our horizontal relationships are also wrapped up in this union. To be sure, our union with one another is derivative. That is to say, we are not united with one another in the same way that we are individually united with Christ. Nevertheless, we are united with one another in a way similar to the way that our own body parts are united to one another.
To conclude, my hope with this reflection is to help you see from a fresh perspective those exhortations in Scripture that have to do with our horizontal relationships. When Paul says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15 ESV), he is exhorting the members of the one body of Christ to a sympathetic solidarity. The church ought to be distinct from the world at least in that we don’t merely send warm thoughts and feelings but rather sympathize with the grief of fellow believers. So, too, when fellow believers rejoice, we have the privilege of actually rejoicing with them because, in a way, their joy is our joy because it is also Christ’s joy.
1Thomas Edward McComiskey, “Zechariah,” in The Minor Prophets, ed. Thomas Edward McComiskey (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018), 1060–61.