In the passage to which now we turn, the apostle designates the assembly, “Body of Christ”(1 Cor. 12: 27, lit.). The omission of the definite article is significant of the fact that the local assembly, to which the designation clearly belongs, is not “The Body of Christ” actually, but “Body of Christ” characteristically. In other words, the principles that are true of the unity of life in the risen Christ, into which all the saved of the dispensation have been brought, find practical expression in the local gathering. The figure used is suggestive of certain aspects of collective privilege and responsibility, to which now we would invite the attention of our readers.
First of all, it demonstrates the fact that the local assembly is
A UNITY OF LIFE.
“The Church which is His Body” (Eph. 1: 22, 23) is the Church of the Dispensation. The term comprehends the aggregate of the saved since the dispensation began. It includes, not only every true believer in our Lord Jesus on earth at any given time, but every saint of the dispensation. “There is one Body” (Eph. 4:4).“By one Spirit are we all baptised 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”(1 Cor. 12: 13). Thus God has brought into being a unity of life eternal, having made us fellow-members in the body of which the ascended Christ is Head.
It is clearly the thought of God that the power of this be demonstrated in the local assembly. It is His desire that all who are one in Christ should be gathered together in their own locality, so that, as thus together, they may give expression to this essential oneness. Such a unity as this condemns denominationalism. Appreciation of it is the remedy for partyism and division. The local assembly is the divinely appointed home of every saint. Met together as one in Christ, on ground common to all who believe in Him, gladly welcoming into happy, holy fellowship, for Christ’s sake, all who belong to Him, the local gathering of the saints is the miniature of the Church of the Dispensation, a practical expression of the Unity of Life.
The figure used is expressive of still another idea. It is that the local assembly is
A UNITY OF LAW.
Normally, the members of the human body are in complete submission to the control and guidance of the head. Just as the body is the medium of expression of the will and thought of the head, so is it here. That which gives character to this unity of assembly life as described in 1 Cor. 12, is the sovereignty of the Triune God. This will be clearly seen by a reference to the following texts: –
(1) “Now hath God set the members everyone of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him” (v. 18). God has, according to His sovereign will, appointed the place of every member of the body. Is not that a solemn consideration for any of His people, who fail – or refuse – to take their place in the assembly, or, for any reason, leave the place that has been so evidently appointed them of God?
(2) “All these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will” (v. 11). The Spirit of God has acted in sovereignty in appointing to each member of the body its own distinctive gift, with which to serve for the enrichment and blessing of the whole assembly.
(3) “There are differences of administrations, but the same Lord”(v. 5). That is, each member functions, in its own appointed place and at its own appointed work, in direct responsibility to the one Lord of all.
The object in view in all the work of the Spirit in us, is to bring us to this place of glad surrender to the Lord. To that end, He engages our affections with Him, until we are brought to His feet with hearts aglow with love and worship, crying, “Jesus, Lord”(v. 3), with a complete abandonment of ourselves, and unreserved surrender of our wills. Thus, each taking the place that God has appointed; each doing the work that the Spirit has given; each acting in obedience to the absolute authority of the one Lord, His will paramount and practical, the assembly will demonstrate a Unity of Law. The secret of the orderliness of the tribes of Israel encamped around the sanctuary, was the one principle of rule acknowledged there. So, in the assembly, the Lord gathers around Him those who express their devotion by obedience, and amongst whom His Will rules and His Word guides. Not that their spirit is legal, nor His yoke bondage. It is the living energy of a body, not the restraint of a prison.
The third idea suggested by this figure is that the local assembly is
A UNITY OF LOVE.
In all their inter-relations with each other, the members of the body are actuated by the spirit of selfless love. “Less honourable” members there may be, and parts that lack, but every member of the body is vitally necessary, however feeble. God has ordained that “the members should have the same care one for another,” “that there should be no schism in the body.” If this be practised, jealousy and envy will have no place (vv. 14-18) and self-sufficiency and independence will be impossible (vv. 19-27). The law of the body is one of inter-dependence. God has made us essential to each other. There is not one saint that we can do without, and the absence of one is detrimental to the whole. The spiritual nourishment that each receives from the Head is passed on to the fellow-members for the enrichment of all, as fellowship is maintained in the Unity of Love. Thus the assembly becomes a place of spiritual wealth.
Such then is the assembly as represented in the Scriptures. It is ours to give the representation practical form today.