A Body (Published 1983)


In the previous paper, the church was considered under the metaphor of a building. A building is not an organic structure, although it involves organisation. It is composed of stones, bricks and mortar, timber and the like, bonded together to form a whole. Peter wrote of the church as composed of “living stones … built up a spiritual house”, 1 Pet. 2. 5 R.V. Such was the material of which Christ would build His church.

Contrariwise, the use of the metaphor of “a body” denotes an organic unity, to which all its “members” contribute. Properly considered, membership in or of the church is not that of belonging to an institution, but that of belonging to the mystical body of Christ, of which the human body, in the various functions of its many members, is a type.

We are wholly indebted to Paul for the use of this metaphor, which he uses both for the mystical body of Christ and for the local church. In Ephesians 1. 22, 23 he described the church as Christ’s “body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all”, over which Christ is “the head”. As His “fulness”, the church may be said to fill out Christ; indeed, in his use of the analogy of the human body as typifying the body of Christ, in 1 Corinthians 12. Paul wrote “so also is the Christ”, v.12 (Greek). In other words, a “head” is not of itself a body; it needs “members” to complete it. “The Christ” would be incomplete without His “members”.

In Ephesians 1. 22 Paul wrote of Christ as “head over all things to the church”, that is, as exercising supreme authority therein. Such authority has not been delegated by Him to anyone; cf. 5. 23, 24. But in chapter 4 Paul wrote of “one body”, v.4, “the body of Christ”, v.12, of which Christ is “the head”, v.15, that is, in an organic sense: “From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth … maketh increase of the body”, v. 16; cf. Col. 2. 19.

By definition, in order to achieve the efficient working of the whole body, every member must discharge its due function, else the body were so much the poorer. No member can be dispensed with; none is superfluous. Its members are all interdependent, “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”, Rom. 12. 4, 5.

Paul developed this theme at length in 1 Corinthians 12. Although there are “many” members, there is but “one body”, which is analogous to “the Christ”, v.12. Baptism “by one Spirit.

. into one body” is the unifying element, which unity we are exhorted “to keep”, Eph. 4. 3. No member can contract out of the body because of envy of the functions of another member, whether it be “foot” or “ear”, or any other member. The “hand” cannot perform the function of the foot, or the “eye” that of the ear, 1 Cor. 12. 15, 16. The eye needs the ear and the ear the nose, v.17. All are interdependent. No member determines its own function; that of each has been determined by God, who has “set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him”, v.18; cf.v.28. Neither is there room for a superior independence on the part of any member, no matter how seemingly important—“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”, v.21. The eye is dependent on the hand and the head on the feet. Even those seemingly unimportant members, “less honourable” or “uncomely”, are “much more … necessary”, vv. 22, 23. There must “be no schism in the body; but … the members should have the same care one for another”, v.25. All are “severally members” of “the body of Christ”, v.27 R.V.

Just as in the metaphor of the church as a building there is growth, “in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord”, Eph. 2. 21, so there is “increase” or growth in the body of Christ. Particular gifts, such as “apostles … prophets … evangelists … pastors and teachers”, 4. 11, are given “for the edifying (i.e., building up) of the body of Christ”, v. 12. Such growth has prospect of “a perfect (i.e., full-grown) man … the measure of the stature of the fulness of the Christ”, v.13 (Greek), that is, when all the members will be complete. Members should “grow up into him in all things … the head, even Christ; from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body”, vv. 15, 16; cf. Col. 2. 19.

There is no room for “sleeping partners” in God’s business, which can only thrive by the exertions of all who are employed in it. It is not less so in “the body of Christ”, as Paul’s teaching makes clear; all the members must be involved, “the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal”, 1 Cor. 12. 7; “all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will”, v. 11; “by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body … and have all been made to drink into one Spirit”, v.13; “God hath set the members every one of them in the body”, v.18; “God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith”, Rom. 12. 3; “we… are . every one members one of another”, v.5; “the whole body … compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part”, Eph. 4. 16. It rests with each and all to discover their place in “the body of Christ”, and to exercise that function for the good of the whole body. The special gifts of “apostles … prophets … evangelists … pastors and teachers” were given to the church “for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering”, Eph. 4. 11, 12 R.V., that is, to set “the saints” themselves to work.