The Church: The Body of Christ
John B. D. Page, Harrow
The apostle Paul was entrusted with a dual stewardship. The preaching of the Gospel was one, 1 Cor. 9. 17-18, and the unfolding of the mystery of the Church as the Body of Christ was the other, Col. 1. 24-26. In the Epistle to the Romans, he gives a detailed exposition of the Gospel. In Ephesians, he expounds the truth of the Church as a whole, and not in its local sense.
This second "stewardship" (dispensation, a.v.) is related in Ephesians 3. 2 to "the mystery", which is a word that Paul borrows from the heathen world indicating a secret revealed to the initiated few, and it is "in New Testament usage a spiritual truth heretofore hidden, incapable of discovery by mere reason, but now revealed", (Fausset).
Let us now consider
1. "The mystery of Christ".
"By revelation" from the Lord, without any human intermediaries, Paul learned of "the mystery" which he defines immediately as "the mystery of Christ", or literally "the mystery of the Christ", 3. 3-4. The context does not permit the term "the Christ" to mean the Person of Christ either in history or doctrine, but it denotes the Head and all the members of the Body as an organic entity, and so the "mystical Christ", that is, Christ and the Church, is in view. Such a phrase shows how Christ has given so graciously His name to the Church, of which He is the one and true Head.
This mystery, which was not disclosed to generations prior to the cross, has now been revealed by the Holy Spirit to the apostles and prophets for us to understand, 3. 5. Therefore, it is a doctrine which was unknown in the age of law but is peculiar to this age of grace.
To appreciate the significance of this "mystery of the Christ" when it was made known to first century Christians, we need to remember that even Jewish believers, owing to their nation's covenant relationship with God, resented not the salvation of Gentiles in a future age (as foretold by Isaiah and other prophets) but the inclusion of Gentiles in the Church. To these early Christians, the universality of the Church was a major issue, but the Lord revealed to Paul that the Gentiles should be "fellow-heirs, and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel", 3. 6 r.v. Such a statement denotes the corporate joining together of believing Gentiles and Jews at the present time, an equality between them, and the sharing of blessings on the basis of equality, all of which has been made possible "through the gospel".
First, Gentiles are said to be "joint-heirs", signifying that they are participants with Jews in the gospel, as Paul told them on an earlier occasion, "God . . . (gives) you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified", Acts 20. 32.
Next, Gentiles are "fellow-members of the body". As a human body consists of many members, all of which form one body, so the mystical Body of Christ comprises both Jewish and Gentile believers as joint-members of this Body.
Then, Gentiles are "fellow-partakers of the promise", which may be an allusion to that given to Abraham. This promise is centred in Christ, and, unlike the Abrahamic one, Gen. 17.7-8, both Jews and Gentiles share it.
"Unto me", says Paul, the privilege was given not only to "preach . . . the unsearchable riches of Christ" among the Gentiles, but also to enlighten "all men" of "the fellowship of the mystery" which has been "hid in God" from all previous ages, so that now "the manifold wisdom" of God is made known to the angelic hierarchy of principalities and powers in the heavenlies, which refers undoubtedly to the holy angels in heaven, "through the church", 3. 8-10 r.v.
Reflecting upon the wonder of "the mystery of the Christ", Paul bursts forth in prayer, the second in this Epistle, 3.14-21, and towards the close he prays that we "may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height" of it, 3. 18.
Our next point for consideration is
2. The Unity of the Body. In chapter 4, Paul continues with the subject of the Church as the Body of Christ, and he strikes immediately a practical note, imploring us to "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith (we) are called", v. 1. It means that we should conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the divine call, not bringing shame upon the Name of Christ but showing Christ-like consideration to others, and at the same time "endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit", v. 3. In our walk, the Lord does not request us to make unity, but to "keep the unity" that already exists, for it is "of the Spirit"—a Spirit-made unity—and we are bound together "in the bond of peace".
This unity of the Spirit is founded upon seven unities of doctrine, each of which needs our brief consideration, 4. 4-6.
"One body": Not one church, or church unity, both of which are the aim of the Ecumenical Movement, a vast lifeless organization of Christendom, but it is the mystical Body of Christ, which is the one and true Church, unrecognized by the world; it is a living organism, for each member is organically united with Christ, the Head, and with one another.
"One Spirit": He is the Agent who is forming and indwelling the Body, and He maintains its unity.
"One hope of your calling" : Formerly, we had "no hope", but God "hath begotten us again unto a lively (living) hope", which is the "blessed hope" of the Lord's coming for His Church, 2 . 12; 1 Pet. 1. 3, Tit. 2. 13.
"One Lord”: Such a title, like that of the Head, demands an acknowledgement of His authority, but there is a difference between the Lordship and Headship of Christ. Individually as members, we submit to Him as Lord. But collectively as the Church, we are subject to Him as the Head.
"One faith": This is undoubtedly "the faith which was once delivered unto the saints", Jude 3, as revealed in the Scriptures, and it is fundamental to the unity of the Body.
"One baptism": This operation of the Holy Spirit was initial and final at the outpouring of the Spirit of God on the day of Pentecost, for "by one Spirit were (not, are, a.v.) we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles", I Cor. 12. 13. The aorist tense of the verb, "were baptized", indicates that this "one baptism" is a past act, uniting all believers of this age to Christ, and it is not to be sought, for it has been already wrought, and it has never to be repeated.* '
"One God and Father of all" : He is "above all"—His supremacy; "through all"—His providing power; "and in you all"—His indwelling presence.
The mention and order of all three Persons of the Trinity in these verses, "one Spirit", "one Lord", and "one God and Father of all" is significant. Whilst Christ, as "one Lord", is central in the list, the Spirit is put first, because the writer is dealing with "the unity of the Spirit" in the one Church. The unity of the Body is not now visible because the Head is not visible, but such unity will be seen when the Lord is manifested and His saints are with Him.
*Other expositors believe this refers to baptism in water. Eds.
Now, we shall consider
3- The Maturity of Manhood.
The unity of the many members and organs of a human body, all functioning in harmony, is wonderful, but there has to be food provided for a natural body to grow and attain to the stature of manhood. Likewise with the Body of Christ, Paul passes on from its unity to the provision of "gifts" for its sustenance and its growth to "a fullgrown man", Eph. 4. 13 R.v.
Before He "gave gifts unto men", Christ "descended first into the lower parts of the earth" during His days of burial and "led captivity captive", and later He "ascended up far above all heavens", 4. 8-10. Hence, none other than the ascended and exalted Lord in heaven "gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers" to His Church on earth, 4. 11. The first two gifts of apostles and prophets were for establishing the Church, 2. 20, whilst others are for the subsequent edifying of it. Othergiftsareenu-merated in 1 Corinthians 12. 28, but "evangelists" are significantly omitted because their work lies in the outside world of men, yet such work being in fellowship with their brethren.
These gifts are not offices to be held but they are men whose ministry is for the perfecting and fitting of the saints, and it is their responsibility to do "the work of the ministry" with the view of edifying and promoting spiritual growth in the Body of Christ, Eph. 4. 12. Such ministry is for the development of the Body, so that we all may attain unto "the unity of the faith" which means one body of truth, and unto "the knowledge of the Son of God". Here, the word "knowledge" which is epignosis, a strengthened form of gnosis, occurring only twice in Ephesians, denotes a knowledge that develops and grows as a result—not of intellectual activity—but consequent upon a relationship between the person knowing and the Person known, and so becoming a full knowledge of that Blessed Person, the Son of God.
The ultimate objective of this ministry by the "gifts unto men" is for the Body of Christ to become "a perfept (or, fullgrown, r.v.) man", which means nothing less than spiritual maturity of manhood, and "unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ", 4. 13, which, according to W. E. Vine, signifies "the standard of spiritual stature being the fulness which is essentially Christ's".
The next point is
4. The Responsibility of the Head. In verses 15 and 16 of chapter 4, Christ as the Head is introduced and linked with the growth of the Body. In I Corinthians 12, the same symbol of a human body is applied to a local church, but with an important difference. Regarding a local assembly, the word "body" is used to describe it characteristically, consisting of many members spoken of as "feet", "hands", "ears", "eyes", and "head", vv. 14-21. Then the writer adds, "now ye are a (not, the, a.m.) body of Christ, and members in particular", v. 27. Here, in Corinthians, the "head" is not mentioned separately from the body (symbolizing a local assembly), but as part of it, v. 21. In Ephesians, the head is apart and distinct from the body, and so in the application of this figure of speech to the universal Church Christ is the Head whilst the Church is His Body.
Let us look further at verses 14-16, with which the paragraph closes. In verse 14, the writer warns that a lack of a firm conviction (which comes from imbibing scriptural truth) is a sign of spiritual immaturity as seen in "children", who are easily "tossed to and fro" upon billows whipped up by "every wind of doctrine" from false teachers; hence they become the prey of cunning and unscrupulous men who are responsible for the many "wiles of error" r.v. "But", argues Paul in verse 15, to attain spiritual maturity we need to be "holding the truth" (Wigram) with conviction and "in love", so that we "may grow up into him in all things" which means attaining the same measure of growth as seen in Christ who is the Head.
In verse 16, probably alluding to a human body with its two hundred and six bones intricately joined one to another, Paul sees "the whole body", a term embracing the entire Church from Pentecost to the rapture, being fitly framed together and compacted by the joints with which it is supplied. From our viewpoint on earth, we may see only divisions as we scan the pages of history, but from God's viewpoint in heaven, the whole Church, as seen in Christ is wonderfully knit together and united, each part functioning effectually. "From whom", the opening words of the verse, point us back to Christ as the Head, because "increase (that is, continual growth) of the body" is dependent upon, and derived from, its "head, even Christ", the Source of its sustenance. According to Colossians 2. 19, not unlike this verse in thought, spiritual "nourishment" for the Body is ministered from "the Head", being supplied through its "joints and bands".
Even in this materialistic age, in which we have largely lost our sense of wonder, we must marvel at "the mystery of the Christ" and how we are fitly joined together into the body. Surely, our hearts should be warmed within with praise to the Head!