The Body

“He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”
‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:16‬ ‭NLT‬‬

“For His “body” has been formed in His image and is closely joined together and constantly connected as one. And every member has been given divine gifts to contribute to the growth of all; and as these gifts operate effectively throughout the whole body, we are built up and made perfect in love.”
Ephesians‬ ‭4:16‬ ‭TPT‬‬

Paul continues with his analogy of a human body, using it to demonstrate how a spiritual body is supposed to work. It’s an analogy that is easy to follow because we are each intimately acquainted with our own bodies. Just looking at our hands, we see the various component parts all joined together, the fingers and joints, the skin, the tendons, the nails, each having a function as God designed them. We also know that when our hands don’t work properly, perhaps through diseases such as arthritis, or after an injury, all our whole bodily functions can be impacted. One of the amazing things about our human bodies is their ability, at least to a certain extent, to repair themselves. So if we cut a finger, it will heal itself after a few days. 

Paul used this analogy to describe how our church bodies should function. A church consists of people. Different ages. Men and women, boys and girls. Different gifts and abilities. So we might have medical professionals, carpenters and others who work with their hands, office workers, retirees, stay-at-home mums, and so on. And in Paul’s analogy, each part of the church, the “body”, helps other parts of the body to function well. Helping it to grow, “so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love”. And then the analogy continues because this body connects with other bodies around them, becoming the Bride of Christ, the Church.

But – there’s always a “but” – what about churches that only have a handful of members? Or what about Christians who are not part of a church? I believe we have to face the reality that many churches are not functioning as they should. Some churches have just a few elderly people, congregations getting smaller every year as individual members die. And I know several Christians who have become disillusioned with their local church and who have left, cutting themselves off from the life that comes from being a part of a church. And not just for them – leaving a church might mean that those left behind are deprived of a “gift”, making the growth of the church that bit more difficult. Sadly for them, Christians who are not plugged into a church tend to wither and die spiritually, abandoning their faith. And even more sadly, churches have become places shunned by people in our societies; just a place to visit on the occasion of weddings or funerals, or perhaps when there is a special service such as at Christmas. A place of no relevance, though, in their day to day lives. 

So how does all this impact the Christian pilgrim, on his or her journey. Straight away, we have to realise that we are not the only ones on our spiritual journeys through life. We must find, and become part of, a fellowship of believers, fellow pilgrims like us. This is the place designed for Christians, where we can grow in our faith and function as we should. I can find no other way in the Bible. And we pilgrims march on together, stronger in our faith because of our love for each other.

In Revelation 19 we read about the Bride, the church, making herself ready for being joined in marriage to Jesus. A lovely picture of the perfect marriage. One day we will all be together in His presence. But also we will all have to individually stand before God to give an account of our lives. In our churches we can help each other. We grow together in love, just as God designed. But always remembering that we have a loving Heavenly Father, who cares for us, loves us and desires our highest good. We won’t find the perfect church, but we will find a place where “we are built up and made perfect in love”. Just as God designed.

The Church and the Plan

God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display His wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was His eternal plan, which He carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.”
 Ephesians 3:10-11 NLT

Perhaps in days past, verse 10 came to form the basis for the ornate and expensive buildings that today bear the name “church”. Wonderful created works such as St Paul’s Cathedral in London. My local abbey in Dunfermline dates back to the 12th Century, a beautiful building standing as a testimony to the builders. There are many examples of a previous age of religious building that are truly amazing in their expressions of beauty and value. Perhaps it was hoped that the impressive architecture would be an example of God’s wisdom, in the process reminding the “unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” of His plan. But it is clear from Scripture, that the “Church” is the people, not the building. We read in Colossians 1:18 that Jesus “is the head of the body, the church“.  Jesus isn’t the head of a building. 

So we Christians are the “Church”. And God’s purpose was to use us, not buildings, to show the inhabitants of the “heavenly places” His wisdom. Much is said in the Bible about the church, such as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27, “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.”). Or the bride of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2, “For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ.”). And we all together, in unity, will one day be present at a marriage feast, as we read in Revelation 19:9,  “Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ And he added, ‘These are the true words of God.’” Jesus even taught about it through a parable, which we can read in Matthew 22. 

Many books have been written about the Church, but what does all this mean for a 21st Century pilgrim like me? How does God’s purpose for His people affect me? Or involve me? Can I just gloss over this verse and continue to warm a pew every Sunday and live my life regardless? This is obviously a personal decision, one that needs to prayerfully be made in God’s presence. But if God has a plan for His Church then He has a plan for me, because I count myself as one of His people. Part of His global and eternal Church. And as we read today, I am part of His plan to display His wisdom not just to a sinful world, but also as a sign to the “unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places“. We who are His people pray together for access to this “wisdom in its rich variety” so that we can be worthy of our calling. And we do our bit for His purposes, fulfilling His plan, disseminating the Good News about “Christ Jesus Our Lord“.

The Church

“Now He is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made Him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is His body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with Himself.”
‭Ephesians‬ ‭1:21-23‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Earlier in this first chapter of Ephesians we read that God had a plan. “And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth.” (‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭1:10‬ ‭NLT‬‬). Now that the plan had come to fruition, Paul reaffirms the greatness of Christ, and His status as being the ultimate head of all things. Even head over our presidents or prime ministers. Jesus had, and still has, that authority. And He always will have for all eternity. God’s plan has been implemented through Him. Paul continues with the revelation that all this was because of the Church. But what is this church? A dictionary look up immediately defines churches as ornate and religious buildings, but the dictionary writers had obviously not read these verses. Paul is quite explicit – the Church is the Body of Christ. And Christ is the ultimate authority over everything for the benefit of the Church. 

As an aside, the devil is not the least bit concerned about church buildings. He knows that they are a wonderful device for soaking up the resources of God’s people, their time and their money, in building maintenance. Two congregations local to where I live are in a perilous state because they were very building focused and their church buildings have had to be abandoned because maintenance will cost money that they don’t have. Without a building they are, as Jesus said, “like sheep without a shepherd”

But back to the real Church – the Body of Christ. Romans 12:4-5 reads,  “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” The Body of Christ is composed exclusively of Christians. Not denominations, I should add. All those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour qualify for membership of the Body of Christ. Sadly, this opens a can of worms, because Christians are not good at accepting people in other denominations. The problem is summed up in this old song by the Christian singing group, the Imperials.

Well, you can call yourself a Baptist and not be born again,
A Presbyterian or a Methodist and still die in your sin.
You can even be Charismatic shout and dance and jump a pew.
But if you hate your brother you won’t be one of The Chosen Few.

We need to be careful about what we say about other Christians and other denominations. Whatever we are denominationally labelled matters nothing – the important thing is our relationships with God and each other. Another reason to be careful in what we say about other denominations is that all Christians form the Body of Christ. If we criticise Christians in other denominations, are we not criticising Christ Himself?

Moving on swiftly, we Christians are in a very blessed position. With Jesus as our Head, and us made “full and complete by Christ” we are unstoppable. Praise be to our wonderful God!