The Body of Christ
Genesis 2 shows us that God took a rib from Adam and made Eve out of it. This typifies the relationship between Christ and the church. Just as Eve came out of Adam, the church comes out of Christ. God made Eve out of Adam. Likewise, He created the church out of Christ. God gave us not only the grace, power, and nature of Christ, but He also gave us the Body of Christ. God has given us His bones, His flesh, and Himself, even as He gave Adam’s rib to Eve. What then is the church? The church comes out of Christ. The Bible shows us that Christ is the Head of the church and the church is the Body of Christ. Individually speaking, every Christian is a member of the Body of Christ and comes out of Christ.
There is one thing we must take note of: The Body of Christ is on earth, but it is not earthly. It is heavenly, yet it is on earth. When Saul was persecuting the church, on his way to Damascus, the Lord Jesus asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). The Lord’s word was quite strange. He did not say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting My disciples,” but “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” He did not say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting My church,” but “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” This showed Paul that the church and Christ are one. The church is one with Christ, so much so that when a man persecutes the church he is persecuting Christ. This shows us also that the Body of Christ is on earth, because no one could persecute it if it were in heaven. The Body of Christ is on earth. Therefore, Paul could persecute it. Because the Body of Christ is the church on earth, Paul’s persecuting of the church was his persecuting of the Lord Himself. Many people say that the manifestation of the Body of Christ is something that will occur in heaven. They say that one has to wait until he is in heaven before he can see the manifestation of the Body. If this were the case, Paul’s persecution of the church could not have been considered as his persecution of the Lord. The Lord said that Saul persecuted Him when he persecuted the church. Therefore, the Body of Christ is manifested on earth, not in heaven. The church as the Body of Christ is on earth. We have to express this Body while we are on earth. Although the Head is in heaven, the Body and the Head are one. The Body on earth and the Head in heaven are one. To persecute the Body is to persecute the Head. To persecute the church is to persecute the Lord. The two are one, and there is no way to separate them.
Some may ask, “How could the Body of Christ be expressed on earth during Paul’s time? From the time Paul was on earth until now, one thousand nine hundred years have passed. Every year countless numbers of people throughout the world are saved and added to the Body of Christ. Many more will be added in the coming days and years. How could the church at Paul’s time be called the Body of Christ?” One brother in the last century gave a good answer. He said that the church is like a bird. When it first hatched, the feathers were not well developed. Yet we can say that it was a bird. When it becomes full grown, we still say that it is a bird. Feathers from elsewhere are not added to the bird; they grow from the bird itself. The growth and maturity of the bird are the result of the inward activities of the bird’s life. This is how the church grows on earth today. Although Paul persecuted the church in its infancy, it was nevertheless the Body of Christ. From that time on until today, nothing has been added to it; it has only become more full grown.
Although the church on earth today is still very small in size, it is nevertheless perfect within. The growth of the church issues from within itself. It grows out of Christ. The church on earth today is the Body of Christ. Apparently, saved ones are being added to the church. But as far as its spiritual reality is concerned, no one has ever joined the church. The Body of Christ grows by itself from within. It grows continually out of the Head. The church is simply the extension of the Body of Christ on earth. The church dwells on earth but comes out of the heavenly Head. At the same time, it is a Body in oneness with the Head.
We must be clear about what the church is in the eyes of God. The church is the Body of Christ. Therefore, anything smaller than the Body cannot be the basis for the formation of a church. We cannot establish a church based on doctrines, systems, or rituals. Neither can we establish a church based on the name of a founder or a place of origin. All these are smaller than the Body of Christ. If we want to start a church in a locality, we must learn to stand on the ground of the Body. We must welcome and accept all the members who have fellowship in the Body of Christ. Whoever is in the Body and of the Body is a brother or sister in the church. If we stand in the position of the Body of Christ, our number may be small, but we will still have a proper basis for forming the church. However, if we do not stand on the position of the Body of Christ, we will have no basis to form any church, even though our number may be very great.
Once a church which takes the Body of Christ as its basis is established in a locality, no one should separate himself to set up another church under the pretense of differences in doctrines, views, or opinions. The basis of the church is the Body of Christ. The desire to uphold a certain doctrine is not a justifiable basis for forming a church. If the basis of the first “church” is not the Body of Christ, one can, of course, set up a church that is based on the Body of Christ. But if the basis of the first church is indeed the Body of Christ, we must fellowship with it. We cannot walk away and form another “church” of our own.
A local church should include all the children of God in that locality. The church takes the Body of Christ as its basic unit. If other brothers and sisters will not come, that is their own concern. But the church should not impose any condition upon anyone other than the need to acknowledge the Body. The Body is the only condition for forming a church. A church cannot be smaller than the Body of Christ. In other words, whoever is of Christ should be in the church; whoever is in the Body of Christ may not be rejected.
However, to accept anyone who is not in the Body of Christ or to embrace unbelievers is to go beyond the Body of Christ. That would no longer be the church of Christ; it would be an organization of confusion. In conclusion, whatever falls short of the Body of Christ or goes beyond the Body of Christ is not the church.
First Corinthians 12:12-13 says, “For even as the body is one and has many members, yet all the members of the body, being many, are one body, so also is the Christ. For also in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and were all given to drink one Spirit.”
We have seen that the church comes out of Christ. Now we want to see how the church is one in the Holy Spirit.
The church comes out of Christ. This speaks of its origin. Every Christian possesses a new life. The one life of Christ has become millions of Christians. John 12 speaks of a grain of wheat which falls into the ground and dies and bears much fruit. All the grains which are produced from the one grain have the same essence as the original grain. One grain has become many grains, and the many grains come out of that one grain. How then can the many Christians who possess the same life become the one Body of Christ? This is where the work of the Holy Spirit comes in. The one Christ has become millions of Christians. Now the Holy Spirit baptizes these millions of Christians into one Body. This is the fundamental teaching recorded in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13. The Body is one, yet it is composed of many members. How can the many members become one Body? “In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” In other words, this Body comes into being through baptism. Through baptism in the Spirit, the many Christians are immersed into one Body. Every Christian is like a piece of stone hewn out of a big rock. The Holy Spirit is like the cement which cements the stones back together to become one rock.
The Body of Christ has two basic principles: First, apart from that which comes out of Christ, there is no Body of Christ; second, apart from the operation of the Holy Spirit, there is no Body of Christ. There must first be the baptism of the Spirit and the infilling of the Spirit; God’s children must all be baptized by the Spirit in order to become the Body. This was what happened at Pentecost in Acts 2. Many had received the Lord’s life and had become His many members. Then the Lord baptized these many members through the Holy Spirit into one Body. Those who know the Lord and the Holy Spirit also will know this one Body. There are many members in the human body, but the head rules over them all through the nerves. Likewise, the Head of the church joins the many members into one Body through the Holy Spirit.
The church is out of Christ, and it is formed into one Body in the Holy Spirit. Christian fellowship and communion should be based on one’s standing in the Body of Christ. We have no relationship other than this relationship. We are not bound together because we are Jews or Greeks. We commune with one another because we are all members of the Body of Christ. Our communion with one another is based on the Body.
There is only one basis for our fellowship in the church — our being fellow members with one another in the Body. We cannot have any fellowship that is based on any other foundation. Any fellowship outside the Body of Christ is a division. Any fellowship that is not as large as the Body, that is in fact smaller than the Body, is not the fellowship of the Body. Any boundary that is different from the boundary of the Body, though it may not contradict the boundary of the Body, is a hindrance to the Body boundary. Such a variation in boundary will always hinder the fellowship of the Body. We cannot accept any fellowship that is different from the Body. We are here to maintain the fellowship of Christians, the fellowship of the Body, not any fellowship that is smaller than the Body.
First Corinthians 12:14-21 says, “For the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body, it is not that because of this it is not of the body…If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were the hearing, where would the smelling be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, even as He willed. And if all were one member, where would the body be? But now the members are many, but the body one. And the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.” Verses 28 through 30 go on to say, “And God has placed some in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then works of power, then gifts of healing, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all have works of power? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret tongues?”
There are many members in the Body of Christ, and the Holy Spirit dispenses all kinds of gifts and ministries to them according to the need of the Body. The Lord grants the members different kinds of gifts and ministries for the purpose of supplying the need of the whole Body. The Lord knows that He will not make the whole Body the eyes or the whole Body the ears. The Lord gives the members different gifts and ministries to supply the whole Body. As the human body needs all the members, so the church needs the different kinds of gifts and ministries for its spiritual service. Some serve in the ministry of the word. Some serve by performing works of power. Some exercise the gift of healing. Some render helps. Some speak in tongues and some interpret tongues, etc. The church must provide ample opportunity for all the brothers and sisters to serve. All the members, including the uncomely ones, are useful in the ministry of the Spirit. It is impossible to have a useless member in the Body. Every brother and sister is a member in the Body and every member has his or her function and service. As long as you are a Christian, you are a member of the Body of Christ, and as a member in the Body, you must have your own service before God. We must honor such a practice of universal service. Every Christian must have his or her respective function and must serve the Lord according to this function.
Every member in the church should find a place to serve. Everyone should serve and there should not be any monopoly. A member or a few members should not replace all the members in doing everything. Any system that does not provide opportunity for all the members to function is surely not of the Body. In the physical body, the eyes, the mouth, the feet, and the hands may all be very busy. Yet they do not contradict each other. Something is wrong if only the eyes function while the mouth, feet, and hands do not. If the eyes, mouth, feet, and hands all function together and coordinate as one entity, we have the body. If some serve and others do not or if only one or a few serve, we do not have the Body of Christ. We must be very clear about this principle.
Romans 12:4-8 says, “For just as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we who are many are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. And having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or service, let us be faithful in that service; or he who teaches, in that teaching; or he who exhorts, in that exhortation; he who gives, in simplicity; he who leads, in diligence; he who shows mercy, in cheerfulness.”
Another matter which requires special attention in the Body is that both the grace and the gift that everyone receives are different. The passage in 1 Corinthians 12 emphasizes the ministry of the word and the miraculous gifts. The passage in Romans 12, in addition to speaking of the ministry of the word, includes ministries of other services in the church as well. Some give, some lead, and some show mercy. All these can be considered works of the Levites. They are services that pertain to practical affairs.
Romans 12 shows us that everyone who is gifted must function according to the gift which God has given him, whether it is in the ministry of the word or in the ministry of service. He who prophesies, let him prophesy. He who serves, let him serve. He who teaches, let him teach. He who exhorts, let him exhort. He who leads, let him lead diligently in the church. In other words, everyone should serve. Everyone should have his or her specific service and should be faithful to this function. Everyone should know what he can do before God and what gift he has received from the Lord. This knowledge should direct him to function in a specific way. No one should go beyond his own function to take over the service of others. No member should take the place of another member, and no member should relinquish his own function. All should serve together, and everyone should fully apply himself to his own work. In this way the Body of Christ will be expressed.
The Body cannot allow one member to neglect his duty. The whole Body is in darkness if the eyes do not see. The whole Body cannot walk if the feet refuse to walk. The eyes should see and the feet should walk. Even though the gift that you have received from God may be small, you should not hide your gift. Even if the gift you have received from God is just one talent (Matt. 25:14-30), you should not keep it or neglect it. Whether one’s gift is big or small, whether it is “five talents,” “two talents,” or “one talent,” he should exercise what he has and serve accordingly. If he refuses to give himself to his service and instead buries his “one talent,” the church will suffer. If a few members in the Body refuse to function, the Body will suffer great loss.
It is not easy to find five-talented ones in the church. Yet every child of God, no matter how small his gift may be, has at least one talent. If all the one-talented ones will rise up to serve, they will be more effective than the few who have five talents. If all the one-talented ones will rise up to serve, the church will surely flourish. All those with one talent should rise up to serve. Whether or not the church will prosper depends on whether the one-talented ones will rise up to serve. If only a few people are laboring and working, we do not have the church. If all the brothers and sisters are working and laboring, it will be the church serving and the Body functioning. A few members no longer will take over the function of the whole Body. We hope everyone who has “one talent” will dig out his talent from the earth. Everyone who has the “mina” should realize that the handkerchief is for wiping sweat, not for wrapping up his mina (Luke 19:20). We must learn to serve according to our ability. When everyone rises up to serve and no one passes his responsibility to someone else, we have the church.
Ephesians 4:11-13 says, “He Himself gave some as apostles and some as prophets and some as evangelists and some as shepherds and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints unto the work of the ministry, unto the building up of the Body of Christ, until we all arrive at the oneness of the faith and of the full knowledge of the Son of God, at a full-grown man, at the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
The kinds of people spoken of here are slightly different from those spoken of in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. The people here are all ministers of the word. God’s intention in giving the church these ministers of the word is for the building up of the Body of Christ. The ministers of the word have a special place in the building up of the Body of Christ. For the building up of the Body of Christ, we should ask God for more ministers of the word.
At the same time, the church should provide ample opportunities for new believers to manifest themselves, to see whether they are ministers of the word. We should not hinder the gifts that God has given them. We should not take away their opportunity to manifest themselves as ministers of the word. For the Body of Christ to be built up, the church must ask God for more ministers of the word. It must also provide ample opportunities for each one to manifest himself as a minister of the word.
First Corinthians 10:16-17 says, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the fellowship of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the fellowship of the body of Christ? Seeing that there is one bread, we who are many are one Body; for we all partake of the one bread.”
The church is the Body of Christ. Therefore, its mission on earth is to express this Body and to manifest the oneness of this Body. It should show everyone that the Body is one. The church does not need to wait until it is in heaven before expressing the oneness of the Body. It expresses the oneness of the Body while it is here on earth.
“Seeing that there is one bread, we who are many are one Body.” In the New Testament the breaking of bread is a very important matter. Whenever we come on the Lord’s Day to break bread and remember the Lord, we acknowledge that the Lord has broken His body for us. We also express that the Body is one. The breaking of bread signifies the Lord’s giving of Himself in love on the cross for us; the oneness speaks of the union among God’s children. Every Lord’s Day we come to the Lord to acknowledge that His body was broken for us and that all of God’s children are one. On the one hand, we testify that the Lord’s body was broken for us. On the other hand, we testify that the church is the Body of Christ and that this Body is one. We who are many are one bread and one Body. We express this oneness. Whoever understands the Body of Christ renders this testimony on the Lord’s Day. On this day he testifies that there is only one bread. In the eyes of God, this bread is the center of all the meetings. God’s children should gather together for the purpose of breaking bread and fellowshipping with one another. The more one understands the Body of Christ, the more he will testify of the oneness of the Body through the breaking of bread. The breaking of bread is a remembrance of the Lord’s death, and it is an expression of the oneness of the Body. “Seeing that there is one bread, we who are many are one Body.” We do this to show the world, the universe, and the whole creation that the church is one Body!
May the Lord be gracious to us, and may He show us clearly that the basis for forming the church is the Body of Christ. We are members one of another in the Body. Through the baptism of the Spirit, we are constituted as one Body. Thus our fellowship should be based only on the Body of Christ. In the Body every member has its function and every member should serve. We should ask God for more ministers of the word on behalf of the church, ministers who will perfect the saints to the work of the ministry unto the building up of the Body of Christ. We should also express the testimony of the oneness of this Body through the breaking of bread. May God bless all of us!