The Body and The Bride…
Recap: Over the past two weeks we have seen how the Bible teaches us that a church is not a building but a group of followers of Jesus. In fact, what the Bible teaches us is that the church is actually an invisible building made up of people. And that these people belong to Christ and it is His church that is being built and that He is doing the building.
We also examined the evidence of the Book of Acts that the disciples or followers of Jesus were ‘of one accord’ PRIOR to the Holy Spirit being out-poured onto them and continued to be of the same accord afterwards. And we demonstrated that if we are to expect another out-pouring of the Holy Spirit then we should be looking to find some common ground upon which to stand.
What the Book of Acts then records after Pentecost is how Jesus began to build this invisible building, the church.
Now, within the overall idea of the church there are several other concepts and terms that warrant explanation. Two of these are The Body and The Bride. This week will be focus on The Body although it must be stressed that the two concepts are not in any way mutually exclusive as we shall see.
The concept of the body as being related to people who follow God is entirely a New Testament idea. Until the cross, God’s chosen people had always been a nation. Since the cross, however, the whole world has been invited in and so the terminology naturally changed. This is because within a nation you could have some that believe and some that don’t. So rather than calling all believers ‘Israel’, we refer to them as the church or more ofdten, as the body.
Leaving aisde what Jesus said about His own body in the gospels and in particular what is recorded in the Book of John for the moment (these things are highly important and connected but we will come to that later on), we start to see through the various letters of the apostles to the various groups of believers around the region that the concept of an invisble body is developed as a way of understanding not only how the authority of Christ works but how our roles work in interaction with one another.
On this occasion, in the Greek, there is no confusion by what was meant in the original letters and what we read as ‘body’ in our translations. The word ‘soma’ is pretty much used on each and every occasion throughout the New Testament which (unsurprisingly) translates directly as ‘body’. So whether it is Jesus talking at the Last Supper or Paul writing to the Ephesians the word simply means the same. But, as we will read, there appears to be a deeper concept within the idea of the ‘body of Christ’. Just as we talk of our own bodies as a whole, beneath the surface we are in fact made up of much more than the word body affords, and so when we read of the body of Christ there exists a significantly deeper meaning.
We see this in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians when he describes the church as Christ’s body. The passage is lengthy but the context is required:
“…which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” [Ephesians 1:20-23 NKJV]
Let’s break that down. First of all this passage is part of a prayer that Paul is praying over the believers who are in Ephesus, in which he asks God to give to them the ‘spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him’ (verse 17). And he asks that this revelation will bring understanding of just how blessed we are (see verse 3) and exactly what God has done for us and our position in the heavenly places.
Secondly, the phrase ‘heavenly places’ does not refer to heaven itself but instead to the invisible realm that is all around us. We may only see ourselves in the physical sense but in the spiritual realm it is clear that if we have the Spirit of God living in us then everything in that spiritual dimension is able to see that. It is only us who fail to see it. Demons know what we have, even if we don’t know it ourselves. How do you think that the demons knew about Jesus when they would call out His title? They saw into this invisible realm.
So, by that rational, we can break the passage down like this: God has raised Jesus from the dead and given Him a place to sit next to His throne that can be seen by all in the heavenly realm, and that this place or position He has been given has more authority than every principality (spirits or demons that control regions see Daniel 10) and power and everything that has a name of authority, not only now but in all of the future. Not only that but God also put all things (that is everything you can think of and more) under His feet or control. And, not only that but puts Him in charge of the church (that is the believers of Jesus) which is the body that belongs to Him and that the church possess the fullness of the Godhead (see Colossians 2:9-10). So, in other words, if we could see into this invisible dimension we would see other believers (like ourselves) as marked with the Holy Spirit or seal (see verse 13) and part of a single entity which is ruled by Jesus Himself. It is because we don’t see it and our failure to understand it that leaves us ineffectual in our lives. If we could see it, we would understand it and would use the authority we have been given in Christ to be more effective as Christians.
Let us imagine for a moment that we accept that we are, as followers of Christ, part of an invisible building/entity/structure/body. That Christ is in charge of this building and of the ongoing building works. This building is made up of the people whom He Himself has chosen (Ephesians 1:4), all interlocked like bricks in a wall or Lego, bound together by a common purpose. Living Stones. Look now at the following passage further on in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
“…having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” [Ephesians 2:20-22 NKJV]
Wow! So the purpose of this body/building/structure is to become a dwelling place of God Himself in Spirit! And we know this because the Holy Spirit of God lives within us. Now, if we are united, we form part of something much larger, much more powerful. Today’s churches (I use the plural even though it should be the singular) are divided, often by their own Statements of Faith. If we could see into the ‘heavenly places’ we would (I am certain of) see that as believers we are in fact all exactly the same. The spirit world sees us simply. Man makes it complicated with his denominations.
What’s the solution? The apostle Paul has a number of suggestions that all revolve around a single theme. But first let me ask you to think about the way in which your own body works, for it is no coincidence that the church is called the body of Christ. Our bodies are controlled by our heads. At the centre of the whole nervous system is our speech. It controls everything we do. We say things over ourselves and they come to pass. We speak words over others and they have power. People say stuff about us and it lasts. What proceeds from our mouths has power. And no wonder! Remember, we are made in the image of God. He has power in His words. The Word of God is described as a two-edged sword capable of great deeds. Jesus Himself is the Word made flesh. And, as we have seen in Ephesians, we have been given the same authority as Jesus. He has given it to us in the form of His Holy Spirit. We possess this same power. What do we use it for? Quite often for running other Christians down.
The Bible says let no unwholesome word pass from your mouth. Paul urges us to build each other up with encouraging words…build each other up…yes! like a building…like a temple. Read this from later on in Ephesians:
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, and for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking truth in love may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ- from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for edifying of itself in love.” [Ephesians 4:11-16]
You might want to read that again…slowly.
Speaking truth in love appears to be part of the growth process. Elsewhere in Colossians 2:19 is the confirmation…that this body has ligaments and sinews and flesh…we can’t see it but it is there nevertheless.
Let me tell you something that happened to me by way of as example. One particular day around 18 months ago when I was wrestling with God over all sorts of stuff, I was praying with my wife and someone else and trying to get to the bottom of what was ‘blocking’ progress on something. One of us was given someone’s name, someone I know well. So I went for a walk and in my mind’s eye God showed me that I envied this person because he had money. But what he also showed me was a cord or ligament that was fleshy and rubbery and quite thick come out from my chest and was stretched to this other person’s back. The cord was tight and held me in a certain place with him also held. Then I looked at him and saw that he had lots of cords all from different people in his life with whom he had fallen out with or had some grievance. There were cords all around him, holding him exactly where he was. In the spirit realm he could move, he was stuck fast, held in place by what others held against him or had said against him. As I repented to God for my envy I saw my cord to him snap and disappear and it appeared to loosen slightly the other cords around him, as if he was slightly freer spiritually.
I shared this vision with a friend once and he told me of a similar vision that he had had about someone he was praying for. This person had similar cords coming from his back and, as he was trying to climb a hill, they were acting like bungee cords, only letting him climb so far before pulling him back down. The cords, God revealed to my friend, were the things that other Christians had said about this poor guy. Other Christians. With the power of Christ at our disposal in our mouths. Power to build up…and power to tear down too.
When I was preparing for this study I came to a full stop and felt unable to explain any more about the body of Christ. I went to bed, exhausted. The following morning I woke at around 5 am and had the explanation in my head. God sometimes does this. To Him I am grateful for this explanation…and perhaps even a prophecy:
Ezekiel 37 tells the story of the Valley of the Dry Bones. We all know it. It almost seems out of place in Ezekiel because of so much of his prophecy related to contemporary events going on around him. Perhaps this did. But what God showed me when I awoke was that the dry bones represent the church of today…dead, lifeless. But if we speak what God tells us to then we can start to put flesh onto those bones. Flesh that builds up. The words come from our mouths. Good words that encourage one another. Proclamations and declarations over people that will encourage them before the Spirit of God will breath new life into the now built up bodies. Every bad word we say over anyone holds that person in that place. Every good word has new life, new flesh in it.
You want to be a part of building something good from dead bones? Then seek the Holy Spirit on how to pray for the Christians you know. Ask Him to give you words of encouragement for them. Speak only good. Speak the truth in love. Love builds up. It puts flesh onto dry bones.
My prayer is that everyone who reads this will know the heart of Jesus who is the builder and chief cornerstone of this invisible body that is His church. Let us put aside the reasons why churches disagree and instead act in love towards each other.