Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 26, 1964
NUMBER 46, PAGE 6,13

The Body Of Christ

L. A. Mott, Jr.

I introduce this study of the church with the following quotations:

"....and he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all." (Eph. 1:22, 23)

"And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have preeminence." (Col. 1:18)

"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church." (Col. 1:24)

The New Testament presents the church to us in a variety of ways. From one point of view, the church is a kingdom; from another, it is a temple; from still another, it is a family. It is also a flock, a people, and a body, depending upon the point of view or the thought being emphasized. One of the apostle Paul's favorite representations of the church is as a body. This concept of the church occurs in Rom. 12 and 1 Cor. 12, the latter passage containing an elaborate analogy between the human body and the Lord's spiritual body. But in the epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians, the emphasis given to this concept is unparalleled. Notice the three statements quoted above. The first of them tells us that the church is the body of Christ; the last two, that the body is the church. This additional point is made: Christ is the head of the church, his body.

Now then, we will agree that this means something. It is not just a "cute" way of speaking of the church, but it suggests a relationship and is full of significance.

I have been able to find three scriptural implications of this relationship. These implications are suggested in Eph. 5:22-30, but further information is given in other passages as well. Let us notice these three points:

1. Since the church is Christ's body and Christ is the head of the church, the church is subject to Christ.

"Wives, be in subjection unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, being himself the saviour of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives also be to their husbands in everything."

Paul bases the relationship of wife to husband and husband to wife upon the relationship of Christ to the church and the church to Christ. The husband is the head of the wife; Christ is the head of the church. The wife is to be subject to the husband; the church is to be subject to Christ.

Hupotasso (subject), says Vine (Exp. Diet.), is "primarily a military term" which means "to rank under." It is composed of the preposition hupo, under, and the verb tasso, to arrange. Thus, Thayer defines it: To arrange under, to subordinate; to subject, put in subjection; with the middle form, to subject one's self to obey; to submit to one's control; to yield to one's admonition or advice. Young (Anal. Conc.) defines it: To set or put in array under.

The word is used in Rom. 3:1,5; Tit. 3:1; and 1 Pet. 2:13 of the duty of Christians to be subject to the government. Rom. 13:1, 2 is particularly enlightening, for here the being in subjection to "the higher powers" is shown to be the antithesis of resisting the power. Compare, also, Jas. 4:7 where we are told to be subject to God, but to resist the devil. Being subject is evidently the opposite of resisting.

The word is also used of the duty of servants to be subject to their masters (Tit. 2:9; 1 Pet. 2:18) and the duty of wives to be subject to their husbands. (Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1,5) This last passage is especially helpful. Peter shows how holy women of old time were "in subjection to their own husbands" by using Sarah as an illustration. She "obeyed Abraham, calling him lord."

We are taught, then, from this relationship of the church as the body of Christ that the church is to be subject to Christ. This means that it is the duty of the church to subordinate itself under Christ; to obey him; instead of resisting him, to yield to him and his counsel, and to submit to his control. The church is to act only upon and according to direction from its head.

2. The second point, which I do not think it necessary to elaborate as much as the first and third, is that Christ is the savior of the body. This Paul asserts at Eph. 5:23. I leave this point with only the suggestion that Paul has given the interpretation of this concept in our text. Christ loved the church, gave himself up for it, cleansed it, sanctified it, and will finally present it to himself. (verses 25-27)

3. Christ, as head of the church, is the source of all the life and growth of the church.

"Even so ought husbands also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his own wife loveth himself: for no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as Christ also the church; because we are members of his body."

What a man does for his flesh, Christ is said to do for the church. The latter is, of course, in a spiritual sense. A man "nourisheth and cherisheth" his flesh. Christ, in a spiritual sense, does these things for his body, the church. The first of these words is ektrepho (nourisheth). The simple verb trepho means to nourish, support; to feed (Thayer). The strengthened form ektrepho is used in only two New Testament passages: Eph. 5:29, where Thayer defines it: To nourish up to maturity; then univ. to nourish; and Eph. 6:4, where fathers are told to "nurture" their children. Here Thayer defines it: To nurture, bring up. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines nourish: "To furnish or sustain with nutriment; to feed; foster; maintain; support."

The second word is thalpo (cherisheth) which has as its proper meaning to warm or keep warm. In its only two New Testament occurrences, Eph. 5:29 and 1 Thess. 2:7, it is used to mean to cherish with tender love, to foster with tender care (Thayer). Note the latter passage: "But we were gentle in the midst of you, as when a nurse cherisheth her own children." The word also occurs in the Septuagint at Dent. 22:6 with reference to a bird "sitting upon the young, or upon the eggs."

The Lutheran commentator Lenski writes: "Our physical being needs two things that are essential for existence, food and warmth, the one to nourish, the other to make reasonably comfortable." Paul tells us that a man will provide these things for his own flesh. Since he is one flesh with his wife, he will also provide them for her. But we are members of the body of Christ. Christ, as head of the body, cares for it and supplies its every spiritual need.

Two other passages, Eph. 4:16 and Col. 2:19, suggest similar ideas. Let us take the second one first.

....and not holding fast the Head, from whom all the body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increaseth with the increase of God."

First, let us note the words "from whom" — that is, from the Head. These words show that the Head is the source of the action indicated by the main verb of the verse. Omitting the clause which describes the body, we have: From Christ the body "increases with the increase of God." Christ is thus shown to be the source of the growth of the body.

The means by which Christ supplies to the body whatever is necessary for growth are indicated by the phrase "through the joints and bands." Through these, two things are accomplished: (1) The needs of the body are "supplied" — "having nourishment ministered" (KJV), and (2) the body is "knit together" so that it exists as a compact whole.

The word haphe (joints) means band, connection (Thayer). Lightfoot (Com. on Col.) suggests that the primary idea is "contact." Findlay (Pulpit Corn.) says the word "includes all points of contact and connection in the body."

Sundesmos (band), says Lightfoot, denotes "any of the connecting bands which strap the body together, such as muscles or tendons or ligaments properly so called."

It is clear that Paul has here somewhat of an extended comparison between the human body in its various features and the Lord's spiritual body, the church. It is also clear that the "joints and bands" to which he makes reference are parts (members) of the Lord's spiritual body, the church.

Summarizing the teaching of this verse, we have the following: Christ is the source of the body's needed sustenance which is dispensed by him through the "joints and bands," thus causing growth. The false teachers mentioned in the context are guilty of treason — "not holding fast the Head." It should be clear to us that since the Head is the source of all spiritual growth for the body, it is only by "holding fast the Head" that there is any possibility of spiritual growth. Without this close contact we shall have our spiritual growth stunted and remain always spiritual children, or, perhaps, die spiritually.

Let us now get Eph. 4:15,16 before us: "....but speaking truth in love, may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, malceth the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love."

Eph. 4:16 and Col. 2:19 are clearly parallel passages. Eph. 4:16 shows the same point as Col. 2:19 — that Christ is the source of the body's increase or growth; also, that the parts of the body are the means by which Christ supplies to the body whatever is necessary to growth. Notwithstanding these common ideas between the two passages, it is necessary to discuss Eph. 4 in this connection because this passage supplies information not found in the Colossian passage. That additional information is the explanation of the illustration Paul uses. What Paul says in figurative language in verses 15 and 16 he says in literal language in verses 7 through 13. In other words, verses 7-13 show how Christ supplies the spiritual sustenance to the body, and thus, how he is the source of the growth of the body.

Because this article is too long already, I shall quote only verse 11 and 12: "And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ."

It is important to study this passage in the American Standard Version. The King James does not show the change in the prepositions. It is "pros the perfecting of the saints," but "eis the work of ministering," and "eis the building up of the body of Christ."

The word katartismos (perfecting) means "a fitting or preparing fully" (Vine). With this one explanation, the relation between the various parts of verses 11 and 12 is clear: Christ gave the various ministers to the church (v.11). Thus, the church (or, the saints) is perfected, outfitted completely, for "the work of ministering," which produces "the building up of the body of Christ." It is thus that Christ is the source of all the spiritual life and growth of the church.

To conclude this third point, let us observe the practical lesson which is taught here — the duty, indeed, the absolute essentiality, of holding fast the head. Without this, the possibility of spiritual growth and development is non-existent.

Other important phases of this subject remain to be discussed. Perhaps I shall get to some of them in a future article or two.