The Body of Christ
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.
(Colossians 1:18-20 NIV)
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When people are near death,
they usually share those things
nearest and dearest to their hearts
with those who are
nearest and dearest to their hearts.
In John 13-17 we are given the privilege of joining in on the final, private words Jesus spoke to His twelve disciples at the Last Supper. It was the last time they would all be together before He went to the cross.
When people are near death, they usually share those things nearest and dearest to their hearts with those who are nearest and dearest to their hearts. Jesus was "near death". Very near. His time had come. We too are His disciples. I highly recommend you read the full text of John 13-17 for yourself; but for now, let us listen to and watch closely a few highlights from His final words and deeds in those chapters
The evening began in John 13 with something that seemed to be rather strange to His disciples. He washed their feet. I don't know if you have ever washed anyone's feet or had your feet washed by someone else. I can somewhat identify with Peter's reaction. Like him, I would much rather be the one washing feet than the one having my feet washed. It is uncomfortable; but to have one's feet washed by the Lord was a deeply humbling, intimate and moving time for the disciples of Jesus.
In John 14 Jesus comforted His disciples as He discussed His departure with them. "Let not your heart be troubled . . . ", He told them (v.1). He promised to prepare a place for them in eternity, and He promised them He would return (v. 2-3). He boldly proclaimed He was "the way, the truth and the life" (v. 6). He made what was perhaps His boldest proclamation of all. "If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him" (v. 7). He and the Father were one. Jesus also promised them a "new" teacher—the Holy Spirit (v. 26)
In John 15 He gave the parable of the vine and the branches, imparting the truth of His union—His oneness—with them and theirs with Him. "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing" (v. 5 NAS).
In this parable He clearly illustrated that He is the source of all Life and to thrive in this Life we must recognize our complete dependence upon Him. He also warned His disciples that the world would hate them as it had hated Him.
He is the source of all Life
and to thrive in this life
we must recognize
our complete dependence
In John 16 Jesus again promised them that the Spirit of Truth would come to guide them into all truth (v. 13). He spoke to them about the grief they would feel upon His death, and He then promised them that they would triumph—even in tribulation— through Him. Quite an incredible promise.
"These things I have spoken to you that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world" (v. 33 NAS)
In John 17 Jesus enlarged on His union with those he called His own (v. 9).
"I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me. And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given to them; that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them, and Thou in Me, that they be perfected in unity, that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and didst love them, even as Thou didst love Me" (John 17:20-23 NAS).
These are profound words indeed. Jesus prayed this incredible prayer in behalf of His eleven remaining disciples (for Judas had already left to betray him), but it is clear He was also praying for you and me. Here again is what He prayed.
We are asked to surrender
to a vision of God
greater than we now know.
"I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their [the disciples'] word . . . " (v. 20).
It is WHAT Jesus prayed for His disciples that is so powerful. He prayed that those He called His own would be one; that just as He is in His Father and His Father is in Him, we would also be in Them. This is so remarkable, I want to say it again. Jesus prayed that we would be one with Him and His Father, as They are one, and that we would be one with one another (v. 21). And he then imparted His glory to them and to us (v. 22). The reason He prayed such a prayer? "That the world may believe that Thou didst send Me" (v. 23). It is not for our glory that He prayed this. It is for His glory.
This particular passage of Scripture is one of the most important revelations for the believer in the entire Bible. It magnifies the great commission to go into all the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:20). It profoundly qualifies and clarifies the Christians' relationship with the God of the universe. His life is ours and our life is His, and we are one.
We are One
In verse 21, when Jesus prayed that we would be one, He did not mean unity in the sense of agreement on every jot and tittle, but that we would be one with one another in heart and spirit in the centrality of Christ in our lives.
The last recorded words
before He left the upper room
for Gethsemane were
that we would be one with Him, and one with one another,
even as He is one
with His Father.
This brings us back to Jesus's parable of the vine and the branches. In this very meaningful parable, He also instructs His disciples that we are inseparably one. We are one with Him, and we are one with one another. We draw our life from Him and share His life in, with and through one another. And because of our oneness with Him, we also draw His life from one another.
The last recorded words Jesus prayed before He left the upper room for Gethsemane were that we would be one with Him, and one with one another, even as He is one with His Father. I know I am being redundant, but I strongly want this to take deep root in your heart.
There are several dynamic descriptions in the Bible of this amazing, loving, almighty God with whom we are one. Let us
look at just a few. Read and complete the following verses:
"As I [Daniel] looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened" (Daniel 7:9-10 NIV).
There are several
in the Bible of this amazing, loving, almighty God
with whom we are one.
"I [Daniel] looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude"(Daniel 10:5-6 NIV).
"Then there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking" (Ezekiel 1:25-28 NIV).
"His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in the furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing water. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance" (Revelation 1:14-16 NIV).
There was no strength left in Daniel upon seeing the glorious vision of the Lord. His healthy complexion turned to a deathly pallor. Ezekiel fell on his face. As did John. I can only grasp a small sense of what they must have felt as my heart pounds as I write out the descriptions of these heavenly visions. Their words were few. They were all dumb-struck with overwhelming awe.
This great One,
the Lamb upon the throne,
and His Father,
and His Holy Spirit,
are the Ones
with whom we are one!
This great One, the Lamb upon the throne, and His Father, and His Holy Spirit, are the Ones with whom we are one! Never should we be casual and overly familiar in our conversations or in the way we live our lives about such a One as He. Neither should we be aloof or casual about our relationships with one another, for we are all one. Father, Son, Holy Spirit, you and me. And it is by Him, and through Him that we are in Him.
Paul doesn't tell us what he saw when he was "caught up to Paradise" (2 Corinthians 12:4), but it must surely have been what Daniel, Ezekiel and John saw. How else could Paul have written the magnificent Epistles of Romans, First and Second Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, First and Second Thessalonians, First and Second Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and possibly Hebrews by the power of the Holy Spirit? How could he have known all he knew lest he was privileged and chosen of God to be granted a glimpse of the glory of the Lord? Below are several passages from those epistles that give us further insight into Christ and the eternal destiny of His church.
How could Paul have known
all he knew lest he was privileged and chosen of God
to be granted a glimpse
of the glory of the Lord?
"giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. 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 first-born from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in him" (Colossians 1:12-19).
" . . . 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 be head over everything for the church which is his body, the fulness of him who fills everything in every way" (Ephesians 1:19-23 NIV).
"Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit" (Ephesians 2:19-22 NIV).
We are not God,
but we are in union
with the One Who Is God.
This is indeed
a breathtaking thought.
The Body of Christ
The New Testament uses many metaphors to describe our union with the Godhead. He is the vine and we are the branches (John 15:1). He is the root and we are the green olive tree (Romans 11:17). We are one bread with the bread of life (1 Corinthians 10: 17). He is the head and we are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12, Colossians 1:18). He is the bridegroom and we are the His bride (Ephesians 5:22-32).
The metaphor we will be studying for union or oneness with God in this lesson is that of Christ as head and the believing church as His body. We are not God, but we are in union with the One Who Is God. This is indeed a breathtaking thought.
What I hope to impart in this lesson is our integral, inseparable oneness with God. This is as true of our union with God as it is true that all of our individual physical body parts are in union with and dependent upon one another. Just as Jesus was and is dependent upon the Holy Spirit and the Father—so also are we dependent upon the Godhead and one another for our maturity and well-being.
Just as Jesus
was and is dependent upon
the Holy Spirit and the Father—
so also are we dependent
upon the Godhead and one another
for our maturity and well-being.
"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 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 to the whole measure of the fulness of 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" (Ephesians 4:11-16 NIV).
These verses tell us we are fitly joined together. The word "fitly" means "closely jointed together" in the Greek, as a physical body is jointed together. The word "compacted" in the Greek means driven together, united in association or affection. This word means "knit together and intrusted (to Christ our head and also to one another)".
These words also tell us what sort of people we ought to be "in holy conduct and godliness" (2 Peter 3:11). Loving, caring, watchful in the truth we embrace, wise in our associations, careful with our relationships, committed to the Lord, to one another and to the maturity of the body of Christ, with the ultimate goal of this maturity being love.
We cannot mature,
cannot become conformed
to the image of Christ,
apart from this knitting together
of one another.
These are tall orders indeed, but they are also possible as long as we submit to God, to our spiritual leaders and follow the instructions of Ephesians 4:11-16 above. And we must always remember that we cannot mature, cannot become conformed to the image of Christ, apart from this knitting together of one another.
These are God's plans and aspirations for His body while on the earth, and He will bring them to pass. From the days of the book of Acts until now the baton has been passed from generation to generation. And so it will be until He returns. This is the great commission, and we are not alone. Jesus Christ, our Head, is reigning on His throne in heaven. He is, however, not just "up there". His head is the indispensable member of our Body, and it is planted firmly upon the shoulders of the apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists—and upon all of us living upon the earth. His life surges through every fiber of our being every moment of every day. Shall we not "run with patience the race that is set before us" (Heb. 12:1)?
He promised, " . . . and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen" (Matthew 28:20).
1 Corinthians 12:12
We learn in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 and Romans 12:3-8 that God has equipped his body with many gifts. These gifts are numerous and varied.
1 Corinthians 12:4-7 says, "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal."
Romans 12:4-6 says, "For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us . . . ".
Anyone in on the
inner workings of a church
knows the necessity
of God's people
and their many
and various giftings.
Anyone in on the inner workings of a church knows the necessity of God's people and their various giftings. If you have ever watched any "happening" come together in a church, you know there are scores and scores of people, most of them working behind the scenes, involved in triumphantly bringing that event to a glorious conclusion. Events are not, however, the ultimate function of Christ's body. It is that our " . . . hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:2-3).
It is also that " . . . we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13), that the world may believe in Jesus Christ through our word (John 17:20). Though the Lord bears the ultimate responsibility, we indeed do share a responsibility to the Lord and to one another.
We cannot function effectively
when we are not properly related
to one another—that is, knit together in love and operating in our diverse and
many God-given gifts.
The Body—Our Relationships with One Another
As I have already noted, our physical bodies cannot survive apart from its many parts functioning in proper relationship to one another. The same is true of the mystical body of Christ. We cannot function effectively when we are not properly related to one another—that is, knit together in love and operating in our diverse and many God-given gifts.
1 Corinthians 12:12-27 describes the dynamics of the body.
Verse 12 affirms what we have already studied about Christ's body.
"For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ."
Christ is the head and is, therefore, a part of the body.
Verse 13 below sheds more light on the body.
"For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit."
The baptism into the body of Christ takes place at the moment of conversion, where the believer is identified with the body of Christ. Baptism does not always mean "immersion"; rather, it symbolizes "identification." In reality, this is where the word baptism came from. A garment was "immersed" in dye, and when it was removed, it was then "identified" with the color of the dye. Therefore, when we embrace Christ, we are baptized into His body by the Spirit, and are "identified" with—one with—Him and His body, the church.
identification with Christ.
Verses 14-25 describe our need for one another. Read these verses carefully. They are very important.
"For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another."
These verses metaphorically relate body parts to the presents (gifts) and presence each of us bring to one another. God created us to be related to one another. He has "tempered us together". The word "tempered" in verse 24 means "commingled, assim- ilated" in the Greek. He has ordained us to be an integrated body.
No half-way healthy human being
can live without relationships.
We only need to take
a look at loners
to see their lostness
and inner poverty.
Even when a missionary goes off to serve in an area where there are no other Christians, he or she goes there to add souls to the body of Christ for the Lord. No half-way healthy human being can live without relationships. We only need to take a look at loners to see their lostness and inner poverty. Our need for community is only heightened once we become a committed and involved member of the body of Christ. One of the first things Jesus did when He began His ministry was gather a small community of men and women about Him.
Certainly we cannot manage lots of best friends. Building relationships requires a great deal of time and emotional investment. There are those upon whom we rely more than others, but we must have a few Christian friends with whom we can tell anything and everything. These are those who will weep with us and rejoice with us and highly value us on our bad days as well as our good ones. And we must be that same kind of friend. This requires trust—a proving of ourselves that we are faithful, trustworthy and confidential. To have good, close friends we must also be one.
V. 26 gives us a description of what sort of body we are to be. It tells us that we are to be compassionate, unselfish, faithful and caring toward one another.
"And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular."
Romans 12:15 admonishes the body of Christ to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep. Hebrews 13:3 tells us to remember those in prison as though we were there with them and not to forget those who are treated cruelly, since we ourselves are in the body.
Have you ever noticed that when your back hurts your entire body hurts? There is not a comfortable position to be found. What Paul has written here by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is that as members of the body of Christ we will hurt when others hurt. We will also celebrate the victories of others. We will care deeply about the members of God's family, especially those weaker and less honorable.
The body of Christ is
Jesus with skin on
for those in need.
I have been through many crises since I became a Christian. My son was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the bloom of his life. My husband was chronically ill for six years and died. He went through the largest personal bankruptcy in the history of the United States at the same time that he was dying. My granddaughter was nearly killed by two dogs several years later. In every case, the body of Christ, which I call Jesus with skin on, gave me strong love and support. I received many notes, letters, hugs and prayers of encouragement from believers. I am quite sure I would never have made it without them and am eternally grateful for every one of them. Many wept with me time and time again. I will always remember the goodness of God expressed to me through His body. This is what we are—a unique expression of Christ in us, the hope of glory.
Just think of Aaron and Hur holding up the hand of Moses as he interceded for Joshua. In long, ongoing trials, we all need Aaron's and Hur's in our lives.
In long, ongoing trials,
we all need
Aaron's and Hur's
in our lives.
I particularly love Paul's description of his ministry. I pray that my own ministry expresses itself in the same nurturing way his did.
"For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness—nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well- pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us" (1 Thes- salonians 2:5-8 NAS).
Colossians 3:9-16 admonishes us to stretch ourselves toward this goal. Read this passage and complete the list of God's character traits that He desires to see perfected in His body.
"Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."
"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:7-8 NAS).
Around 2,000 years ago,
Jesus called a scruffy
little band of men,
and they turned
the world upside down.
The Great Cloud of Witnesses
Around 2,000 years ago, Jesus called a scruffy little band of men, and they turned the world upside down. The lame walked, the blind saw, and people willingly died for their faith in Him. John was the only disciple who was not martyred for following Christ. The Lord is doing the same thing today. We are part of that same scruffy band of men and women of God who are turning our world upside down.
I think about the pilgrims who sailed across uncharted waters to find freedom to worship and to evangelize the lost. I think about the burgeoning Chinese church today. At the risk of their lives they meet together to worship, pray and study God's word. The last estimate I heard, there are 30,000,000 believers in China and the numbers are increasing daily. I remember soberly the missionary and his two young sons who were recently incinerated in their car by a band of hoodlums in India. Jim Elliott was murdered by the Auca Indians in Ecuador. His widow Elizabeth later returned to live among that same tribe to share the love, mercy and forgiveness of Christ with them. Amy Carmichael sailed the seas as a young girl not yet twenty to rescue young boys and girls in India from fates worse than death. I think about my friend's daughter, Michelle, who began working with gangs in the ghettoes of Los Angeles at the age of 17. She has barely escaped death several times by the supernatural protection of God. Multitudes of believers have died in prison for their faith. Millions have been and still are being martyred for bearing the name "Christian". And God's eternal purpose keeps rolling on until He returns. To Him be all the glory.
Let us run with endurance
the race that is set before us,
fixing our eyes on Jesus,
the author and perfecter
of our faith.
Let us always consider these and that great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us every moment of every day. May it be our prayer to "lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart" (Hebrews 12:1-3 NAS).
Jesus, we are in awe of you as we study the visions of You that You gave to Daniel, Ezekiel and John. We know as glorious as they are, we will not see You as You really are until we are with you. We cannot wait to see you face to face. We are grateful You have chosen us to be one with you in earth and in heaven. Help us be one with each other. Enable us to fulfill your will on the earth. We trust you to equip us for your work. We worship you, Lord. In Your Name, Jesus, we pray. Amen.
The Body of Christ (c) by Anne Murchison 2002
Not for commercial use.
Please feel free to copy for for personal use.
Please credit the author.