The Church Which Is Christ's Body

Ephesians 1:22-23

by The Rt. Rev. Daniel R. Morse


God has put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that fills all in all.— Ephesians 1:22-23

The Apostle is praying that we may know the exceeding greatness of God’s power toward us who believe, but he seems to be carried away from his theme in describing that power. But actually, he wants us to realize the greatness of the power that is working in us, and to know exactly how it works.

The figure of speech that St. Paul uses to give us some idea of the Church is the picture of the Church as “the body” of Christ. It is not surprising that the Apostle should have prayed so earnestly that we might have the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation”; nor is it surprising that he repeats the petition and says that we need to have “the eyes of our understanding enlightened," for this is undoubtedly one of the most difficult to understand. It is only as we are enlightened by the Holy Spirit that we can understand it.

There is much talk today about not being bothered with doctrine. There is also much emphasis upon entertainment; but the church is not a place where people are to be entertained and then given a brief, light, comfortable sermonettes for Christianettes. If we are to become mature, if we are to rise to the height of our “high calling in Christ Jesus," then we must so exercise our minds, and all our senses, that we may begin to have some conception of ourselves in the body of Christ.

I. The Comparisons

The commonest of all St. Paul’s pictures is that of the Church as the body of Christ. But it is not the only picture. We find in the second chapter that he compares the Church to a building. Jesus Christ himself he says, is “the chief corner stone” and the apostles and prophets are the foundation. He also compares the Church to a household in which Christians are members of the “household of God," and to a great empire like the Roman Empire. There is the central seat of authority, the emperor, but she has her people scattered throughout the world, and various officers who govern the Empire. Later he says that the relationship between Christ and the Church is similar to that between a bridegroom and his bride. Our Lord himself in the fifteenth chapter of John’s Gospel compares the Church to a vine and its branches.

All these pictures are designed to enable us to have some understanding of how the mighty power that is in Jesus comes into us, and enables us to live the Christian life and assures us that we are going to enjoy eternal life. We are interested in it that we may see how this “exceeding great power of God” actually operates in us.

What does that mean? First, we are “joined” to Christ. Think of a human body. From one standpoint a body is a collection of parts—fingers, toes, arms, legs, and so on. But the essential truth about the body is that it is not a number of loose parts which are somehow or other attached to one another. The marvel of the body is that all the parts are really one, they are in an organic, essential and vital unity. To put the point crudely, my fingers are not joined to the palm of my hand loosely, they are not simply tied on; it is a living connection, and there is a sense in which you cannot tell exactly where the palm ends and the fingers begin.

We must not press it too far, but it seems to me that every one of us is an off shoot of Christ, a development out of Christ. We have come out of him; we are not merely loosely attached to him. In his First Epistle to the Corinthians St Paul says: “We are all baptized by one Spirit into one body” (12:13). It is a spiritual unity, it is a mystical unity; and it is therefore something that is indissoluble.

It is a unity that we ourselves cannot bring into being. It is the work of the Holy Spirit alone which makes us Christians. This relationship of the Christian to Christ is not something which may exist today and not exist tomorrow. It is not something which depends upon our concentration or faithfulness. As it is the work of the Spirit, and done by him in his own way; it is permanent. You may backslide, but if you are in the body of Christ, you are in the body of Christ, and you will remain in the body of Christ.

The second principle which is particularly emphasized by the Apostle here is that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. He says that God “has put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church which is his body, the fulness of him that fills all in all.” Christ as Head of the Church is the sole authority, and we must recognize no other.

He is concerned to say that Christ as the Head of the Church is the source and the center of the life of the Church. This is made quite clear by the analogy of the body. In the body the head is the source and the center of power. The body derives its vital energy from the head. There is not a part of the body which is not controlled by nerves and the nervous system. And all the nerves ultimately can be traced back to the brain, which is in the head. When the Apostle says that Christ is the Head of the Church he means we have no life apart from him; all the energy and power come from him.

Another obvious deduction is, that the same life is found in every single part and portion of the body; and that it is this that gives unity to the body. No part of the body has an independent existence; all parts are bound together and are made sensitive to one another. It is the Holy Spirit that makes the unity; it is the common life and energy that makes us one. The only unity is a unity in the Spirit, a unity which is made by the Spirit, and sustained by the Spirit.

Our third deduction is that Christ fills the body with his own life. We are told in the Scriptures that in the Lord Jesus Christ dwells “all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9), and here we are told that in the same way the fullness of the Son is in the Church.

Once more the analogy of the human body is helpful. There is a sense in which every part of my body is full of my life and of me. My life and being are in every part of my body; indeed, the moment I cease to be, every individual member of my body will die. If you sever the main nerve, or the blood supply, for instance, to a finger, it will soon cease to be a part of my body. The whole of my life is in every single part. Christ’s “fullness” is in the Church, in us. The whole life of the vine is in the branch. So, as Christian people, we must realize that however much we may be conscious of our weakness, and of the strength of sin within us, and of the world and the flesh and the devil—all the powers and graces of the Lord Jesus Christ are in us as members of his body.

The body is one, and yet it consists of a number of individual members or parts. As St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians: “You are the body of Christ, and members in particular” (12:27). In the human body, as he points out, the hand has one function and the foot has another; the nose and eyes and the ears and the various parts of the body all have their individual parts to play. There are “beautiful parts” and “less beautiful parts," but they are all essential and they all work together for the proper functioning of the whole body. But the energy we exercise all comes from him.

Jesus himself made this quite clear when he said: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” We may be very active and busy; but that is not of necessity doing his work. Without him we can do nothing; but with him all things are possible. So we may say with Paul, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).

All this is implicit in the idea that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church; and so as we contemplate life and all its difficulties, and as we are tempted by Satan to feel that all is impossible, and that we cannot go on because we are so weak and the difficulties so baffling, we must remind ourselves of this truth and say: I am a very small and unimportant member, but I am a member of the body of Christ; I am “in him," and therefore, whatever may be true of me personally, the life of the Head is in me, and his vital energy is in me.

II. The Reality

I almost hesitate to mention the next great principle which is taught here in the phrase, “The church, which is his body, the fulness of him that fills all in all.” We have just seen that it means that his fullness is in the Church, his body. It also means that there is a sense in which we as the Church are his fulness. But let us be clear as to what this means. The Lord Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God is eternally self-sufficient and independent and has no need of us. But when we think of the Lord Jesus Christ as the One who has come to redeem us, and to present us to his Father, then in that sense he is joined to the Church and needs it. A head alone is not complete. A head needs a body, and you cannot think of a head without a body. So the body and the head are one in this mystical sense. As such we Christian people are a part of “the fulness” of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is the amazing truth of the Church, and since the Lord Jesus Christ returned to heaven, the Church is being perfected. Think of a new-born baby. The child is perfect; but it can grow and develop, and mature. The same is true of the Christian Church. From the Ascension of Christ to his Second Coming, the body of Christ has been growing and developing; and there is a day coming when she will be complete and perfect. So I must learn to think of myself, humble, unworthy, insignificant Christian as I am, as someone who is essential and vital to the “fulness” of the mystical body of Christ. What an idea! To the extent to which we grasp this idea we shall receive strength not to sin. A member of this mystical body continuing in sin? Impossible! There is no way which leads so directly to holiness and sanctification as the understanding of this truth of the Church as the body of Christ. We are a part of “his fulness," of his mystical completeness as the One given to the Church by God to be its Head.

III. The Conclusions

In view of the fact that the Church is the body of Christ, and that he is the Head, we are entitled to say that what is true of him is true of us. We are now “in Christ”; he is the Head of the body of which we are the parts. Whatever the Head does the whole body does also. So we have been “crucified with Christ.” When he was crucified I was crucified. In that sense I am as dead as he was. I am “dead to sin," I am “dead to the law.” I have finished with both. But, St. Paul emphasizes is that I am also risen with him. Even as the power of God raised Christ from the dead, he also raised me with him.

All this follows inevitably from the truth concerning the Church as the Body of Christ. In the second chapter of Ephesians the Apostle actually tells us that we are already “seated in the heavenly places” with the Lord Jesus Christ because of our mystical union with him. Because he is the Head, and we are the body, what is true of him is true of us. Do you believe this? Are you living in the holy consciousness of it? Is this to you the most exhilarating thought you have ever met? It is true. This is not mere theory, it is fact. We are already “in Christ” in all these respects. We have finished with the law that condemns. We have finished with the death that finally leads to perdition. We are in Christ, risen with him, and seated in the heavenly places with him.

That brings us to a final thought. Many Christians often have difficulty with regard to the exact relationship of the Lord’s working in us and the necessity of our obedience. This metaphor of the Church as the body of Christ, should save us from confusion and enable us to see the relationship between his working and our working. Paul’s statement in the second chapter of his Epistle to the Philippians states it clearly: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do his good pleasure” (v. 13). Paul issues a specific command telling us that we must work “with fear and trembling because it is God who works in us.”

How can we reconcile the two statements? Think of a muscle in a man’s arm. There is life and power, supplied by the nerve that goes to it. The muscle cannot do anything in and of itself; but it is alive because it is receiving energy from the brain. In its normal state it is relaxed and flabby. The more we exercise the muscle, the greater will be the energy and the power supplied to it. These two things work together at the same time. We must not say that it is all from the brain, or that it is all in the muscle. The brain acts through the developed muscle.

Let us never forget that “the energy of the strength of God’s power” is in us because of our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ who is the Head of the body, of which we are parts. The energy is there, and I must use it, and I shall then find that there is infinitely more energy available. May God, by the Holy Spirit so enlighten “the eyes of our understanding” that we may know that we are members of his body!