One of the most helpful ways that Paul explained our relationship to Christ and to the Church is the teaching that all believers together form the body of Christ, the Church with Him as the Head.
Since we all have a fairly good understanding of our own body and how it works, we can transfer this understanding of physical things to spiritual things - both of which are equally a part of reality.
The first and most important aspect of this is the Headship of Christ in Ephesians 1:16-23; Colossians 1:17-20. The second is the unity of Believers and their Responsibility to that Unity in Ephesians 3:17-4:16. The third is the inter-relationship of the members in I Corinthians 12:12-27.
We will look at each one of these parts of the whole picture briefly.
The symbol of the body of Christ speaks of an organism - not an institution. It is alive and working, but only because of its relationship with the risen Lord, who is its Head. He manifests His Life through its members, in which His Holy Spirit dwells.
Paul speaks first of the Headship of Christ - but not only over the Church. Listen carefully to what he says in
Ephesians 1:16-23 - I "have never stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power, and dominion, and every title that can be given not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to the head over everything for the church, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way."
Paul restates this message a little differently but just as powerfully in Colossians 1:17-20 -
"He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that In everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."
This gives us a brief picture of Christ's exalted place – He is ruler of the whole universe - only through Him do all things hold together. He controls the very elements, the movements of all the heavenly bodies, the seasons, the winds and rains; He is King over all kings and Lord over all lords - He is the Head over all earthly rulers; He is also in complete control of angelic powers, whether good or evil.
He is Head of all things and also the Church. Indeed it is for the good of the church that He exerts His power over all these things - so that His Church will never be destroyed, but will inherit the fulfillment of His many promises to it. Time could be well spent studying the History of the Church and see the many times men tried to destroy the Church - but we are living proof of its continued life, and we can be fully confident that it will never be killed, but will go on to glory.
In Ephesians 3:17b-4:16, Paul speaks of the Unity of Believers and their responsibility to that Oneness:
I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and thru all and in all.
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it...(-8,9,10) 11. It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining the full measure of perfection found in Christ.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head that is Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."
Truly, it is the highest calling that we have as Christians.
To become more like Christ by spending much of our time knowing Him and practicing those things that bring Him honor and glory - in faith, in love, by the Spirit's power. As long as we can major on the Unity we have in Christ - one faith, one hope, one baptism, one Spirit, one Father, one Saviour - we can avoid divisions and work for the Lord together.
Finally, the figure of the body gives us an excellent picture of the inter-relationship of the members to the whole. Paul speaks of this in I Corinthians 12:12-27.
The body is a unity, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body - whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free - and we were all given one Spirit.
Now the body is not made of one part but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!"
On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable, we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Now, you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.
Each member of Christ's church has equal value in God's sight, even though each differs in their particular form, or place, or use within it. This diversity of gifts and offices gives the variety - planned by God to contribute to its beauty - just as God designed the human body, balanced and pleasing to the sight.
Just as in our bodies all parts are in some respect useful and necessary to each other, and to the whole body - so in God's church - there are no duplicate or unnecessary parts.
Just as when an injury is done to our body we give that part special attention and care and work for its healing, so in Christ's body, the church, we must seek to make right any injury to any member. We must work for healing. We must have a tender concern for each other and not despise any member, just as we care for each part of our bodies, for total good.
I hope that this symbol and reality of Christ and His Body, the Church, gives you a way to picture Who Christ Is! Who we are together! And who you are as a member. It is a picture of leadership, unity, and all parts essential to make up the whole. It can continue to remind us that we are under the Headship of Christ and without Him we have no life. It can remind us that we as a church are united by this life which Christ gives us. And that everything we do affects Jesus and every member of His Church, whether for good or ill.
So let us work to bring honor to our high calling, no matter what our part in the body of Christ may be. Each is useful and necessary. Let us share each other's hurts and rejoice in each other's joys in the name of Jesus Christ our Head.
This article was written by my father T.O.D. Johnston, who was licensed to preach the Gospel by Paran Baptist Church on May 26, 1979. He has been a student of Scripture since 1972. View more lessons at his Bible Study Lessons page.