In his interpretation of the metaphor of the church as the body of Christ, John Calvin (1509-1564) perceives both mission and modesty. It is the role of each individual united in Christ, he argues, to exercise their God-given skills, gifts, and abilities in accordance with what has been given to them. Members must also, however, recognize the limits of their talents and exercise them with humility and concern for the dignity and ability of other members of the body. In this way, all may contribute to the good of the body as a whole to the extent they are able.

Individuals Are Empowered and Limited for the Common Good

We are called for this end: that we may unite together in one body, since Christ has ordained a fellowship and connection between the faithful similar to what exists between the members of the human body; and as human beings cannot of themselves come together into such a union, he himself becomes the bond of this connection. As then is the case with the human body, so it ought to be with the society of the faithful. By applying this similitude, he proves how necessary it is for each to consider what is suitable to their own nature, capacity and vocation. While this similitude has various functions, it should be especially applied to the present matter: as the members of one body—and they are all distinct—have distinct abilities, but no single member either possesses all abilities at once, or assume other members’ offices for itself, so also God has distributed various talents to us. By this act of distinction he has established the order that he wants to be observed among us, so that each person would conduct themselves according to the measure of their ability and not force themselves into another person’s office. Nor should one person desire to have all things at once, content with their lot; they should willingly abstain from usurping the offices of others. Nevertheless, when he notes with eloquent words the communion that is among us, at same time he also indicates what great zeal ought to be, so that the abilities that each member possesses would contribute to the common good of the body.

Commentary on Romans 12:4-5.

Romans 9–16, eds. Philip D. W. Krey and Peter D.S. Krey, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, NT vol. 8, p. 131.

RCS Series: Doctrine of the Church


William Greenhill | The People of God

John Calvin | The Body of Christ

Erasmus Sarcerius | The Temple of the Holy Spirit

Martin Luther | The Communion of Saints

Heinrich Bullinger | The Church’s Unity

Menno Simons | The Church’s Holiness

Nikolaus Selnecker | The Church’s Catholicity | July 23

John Calvin | The Church’s Apostolicity | July 30