The church or the Body of Christ has great glory. This glory is particularly seen in the Book of Ephesians. This book has been called “Queen of the Epistles” and even “The Holy of Holies of the New Testament.” Commentators tell us that more is said about the church in this book than in any other epistle.
We see in Ephesians that we are gloriously chosen and gloriously blessed as Christians. While we may be working out our salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), so far as God is concerned our salvation is a “done deal.” In Ephesians 1:4 we read that “He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless.” One commentator mentions that this is not something we preach to the lost but rather it is a “family secret” that we believers enjoy. We also read in Ephesians 1:3 that the Lord has “blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” We realize by this that heaven has nothing better than Jesus and that he is given freely to us.
In addition we learn that we are seated in a glorious position. Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:6: “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” We should not be living “under the circumstances” so to speak, but we should be reigning with Christ in this life (Rom. 5:17). Furthermore, we are considered by Christ to be trophies of his grace. Ephesians 2:7 states: “in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” God fully plans to show us off before angels and heavenly powers.
In Ephesians 1:18 we realize that we believers represent “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” Or as the Psalmist put it: “O God; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name” (Psa. 61:5). We Christians just need to look around us in church and try to realize the splendor of this glorious inheritance that God has given us in his people. The following story is related concerning the wealthy publisher, William Randolph Hearst, who collected art treasures from all over the world:
One day Mr. Hearst found a description of some valuable items that he felt he must own, so he sent his agent abroad to find them. After months of searching, the agent reported that he had finally found the treasures. They were in Mr. Hearst’s warehouse. Hearst had been searching frantically for treasures he already owned! Had he read the catalog of his treasures, he would have saved himself a great deal of money and trouble.*
THE BODY HAS GREAT UNITY
Ephesians tells us that “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 through all and in all” (4:4-6). We cannot help but notice how many times the word “one” appears here. There is only one body, not two or two hundred, just as there is only one Israel.
It is much like our physical body. If we tear up our body we will have to live with it, because it is the only one we have. In the church we cannot hurt someone and then run away to another church. We cannot gossip, deceive and fib to each other in the one body.
We cannot allow the body to be divided over peripheral matters. It is true that many of our present denominations started this way but we cannot allow this divisiveness to go on. In the Baptist denomination where I grew up there were at least fifty different kinds of Baptists. There were Southern Baptists, American Baptists, Free Will Baptists and even a group calling itself Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian Baptist. We cannot allow the body of Christ to be divided over such fuzzy theological nonsense.
Jesus has made the unity and we are simply asked to keep it. In Ephesians 4:3 we read: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” The original idea here is that we must “endeavor” or “zealously give diligence” to keep this precious unity. We should note in Ephesians 2:14 ff. and in 3:6 that this unity must eventually include the Jewish people along with us Gentiles. God will make of the two one new man; one new humanity. This mystery has been revealed now for almost two thousand years and yet the bulk of the church still has no clue about it.
In several places Paul points out how our physical bodies correspond very well to the spiritual body of Christ. This truth has also been brought to light by the work of Dr. Paul Brand. Dr. Brand was the eminent doctor and surgeon who did groundbreaking work on the dreaded disease of leprosy. Dr. Brand makes the following points regarding the comparison of our physical bodies with the Body of Christ. He says that some cells benefit from the body but do not cooperate. These cells have a name. They are called “cancer.” He remarks that the dreaded disease of leprosy results from a loss of feeling; a loss of the sense of pain. Obviously a spiritual leprosy develops when we quit feeling for one another in the body. Brand also says that God requires one thing of his cells, that each be loyal to the head; and that each cell is flooded with communication about the rest of the body. He also remarks that the body’s cells have a nearly infallible sense of belonging.
A most remarkable thing that Dr. Brand points out is that each cell in the body is stamped with the DNA of the whole body. He compares this with the Body of Christ where each cell or member is also stamped with the DNA of Christ. ** We realize how this is the complete identity code of the whole body and how having it helps each member grow to the “whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).
THE BODY ALSO HAS GREAT DIVERSITY
One mystery of the body is that with its great unity there is also great diversity. When we look around us we realize that God is a God of diversity. We see this in the fact that while there are billions of leaves on the trees, there are not two alike. The same applies to the billions of stars in the heavens.
The early church experienced a wonderful unity but at the same time it had a great diversity. Some people in that church kept kosher and some did not. Some people ate meat and some did not. Some observed special days and others considered all days the same. In spite of this they still experienced great unity.
We cannot help but observe that there is great diversity in all living things. My wife can bear witness that I am a meticulous gardener. I lay out all the rows in my garden with a string and then I plant all my tomatoes exactly along that stretched-out string. I do the same with my beans. When the beans come up I have been known to dig up a plant that is out of alignment and position it once again next to my string.
Still, when these plants begin to grow they insist on growing according to the laws of life. They grow in almost every direction and they pay no attention whatsoever to my string. We can line up tombstones in a perfect row as they do in the military cemeteries but we cannot line up living things. We must remember this fact and give the members of Christ’s body plenty of freedom and room to grow.
Such diversity is really a healthy thing in the church. There must be freedom of expression and even freedom to lodge dissenting opinions. Many years ago during the Charismatic renewal in the US there was a group of Christians in our state who all met together in one of their homes. Undoubtedly this was a fine group of people and they probably had sweet and wonderful fellowship together. However, on one occasion they had a word of prophecy advising them that the Lord’s coming was near and that they should all tarry in the house until he came. They decided to do just that and thus spent the night together. Since the Lord didn’t come they decided to remain another night and then another. They stayed for a week and then for several weeks.
The newspapers began to report on this amazing story. In time some lost their employment. Finally the finance companies began taking away their vehicles and the mortgage companies began repossessing their houses. At last even the state got into the act and began to take away their children. The ugly episode brought great shame on the name of Christ. It could have all been avoided had it been possible for the diversity in the body to be expressed. The true church must allow for diverse opinions and for loving critique of teachings and doctrines. The blood of the whole body must be allowed to circulate through it all. If we tie a string around a finger we will find that soon the finger will become discolored and eventually gangrene will set in.
We see that in the body of Christ there is a great diversity in gifts. In Ephesians 4:8 we read: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.”
In Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 we read about some of these gifts. They are listed as gifts of prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing, leadership, showing mercy. In the Corinthians list these are mentioned: wisdom, knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, powers, prophecy, distinguishing spirits, speaking in tongues and interpreting tongues. We might refer to these as “gifts in the church.” They are liberally given and if we gave a test today most people in the church would have at least one of these gifts.
We see that there are also “gifts to the church” as mentioned in Ephesians 4:11. These are listed as Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. We realize that these are gifts of gifted leaders. These gifts to the church are commonly referred to as the “five-fold ministry.” Some object and declare that they should be called a “four-fold ministry” since pastors and teachers share a single definite article in the Greek. However, we see several occasions where pastors and teachers are listed separately. For instance, in 1 Timothy 5:17 we realize that church leaders do not always have to be preachers and teachers. The two are different callings obviously. We should always be careful to honor the gifted leaders that God sends. 1 Thessalonians 5:12 instructs us: “respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.”
THE BODY HAS GREAT INTERDEPENDENCE
The members of our physical bodies work closely together and this is also true of the Body of Christ. Once more we refer back to the work of Dr. Brand. He illustrates how cells from a chicken’s heart when placed in a saline solution continue to beat at the normal rate of 350 beats per minute. He remarks how at first these cells beat in a rather haphazard and disorganized manner but after a few hours in the solution they all begin to beat in unison and that without a pacemaker of any kind.
In the Body of Christ we are all strangely and gloriously connected. The Bible says we are united together by joints and ligaments (Eph. 4:16). These are things like blood vessels, nerve endings, muscles. Through these vessels we receive nourishment and strength from the head. I am told that the Latin word for “religion” comes from the word “ligament,” so we can see how central these ideas are to the Christian faith.
We are a part of each other and we must work together. We cannot puff ourselves up and think we have no need of others. Paul says: “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!’” (1 Cor. 12:21). One of my seminary professors used to gross out his classes by giving the illustration of a 175 pound eyeball just rolling around and staring up at the sky. We would call such a thing a monstrosity or better still, an eyesore. Paul makes it clear that we must refrain from puffing ourselves up and also from belittling ourselves or our gifts and even from
Some may feel today that their lives are a “bloody mess” when compared to others. However, if we could hold a human liver in our hands we would be holding a “bloody mess.” It would sure be hard to live without this “bloody mess” in our bodies. No, we must not exclude ourselves from the body of Christ.
Dear friends, we cannot live without Christ’s Body. We desperately need one another if we are ever to grow to Christ’s measure and stature. We must not let ourselves become discouraged with our own situation or with others in the church. When God is finished with it the Body will be beautiful – and you will be beautiful too.
* Warren W. Wiersbe, Ephesians, The Bible Exposition Commentary, (Wheaton, IL, Victor Books 1996, 1989), Logos Research Systems, Comment on Ephesians 1:18.
** Paul Brand & Philip Yancey, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI 1980), pp 20-47.
This article is a condensed version of a sermon preached at Narkis Street Church, Jerusalem, April 14 2007.