The Church is presented under a wide variety of metaphors. There are figures relative to God, such as the “house of God” (1Ti 3:15); then there are figures relative to Christ, such as the “epistle of Christ” (2Co 3:3). The clear implication is that the Church belongs to these divine persons and exists for their glory, something we would do well to remember every time we gather.
In this article, we are particularly concerned with the “body of Christ” in which every believer is a member (1Co 12:13,27), and “God’s building” in which every believer is a living stone (1Co 3:9; Eph 2:22; 1Pe 2:5). Both figures are used of the dispensational Church (every believer from Pentecost to the Rapture) and applied to the local church.
Members of the Body
The body of Christ was formed on the Day of Pentecost by the baptism in the Spirit (Act 2:2-4; 1Co 12:13). This was a once-for-all historic event, the blessing of which is reckoned to every believer at conversion. It accomplished two things. First, Christians (as a body) were vitally linked to Christ, the exalted Head in heaven. This truth is emphasised in Ephesians and Colossians. Second, Christians became vitally linked to one another (as members of the same body). This is the subject of 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12.
Colossians emphasises the Person of the Head and the provision of His headship. He is “the beginning” (origin) of a new creation and the source of the body’s spiritual life (1:18). He provides both salvation and sustenance for the body. Colossians 2:19 reads, “From whom [Christ as Head] the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God” (ESV). Thus, flowing down from Christ is a complete supply of spiritual food (nourishment), fellowship (knit together) and fruitfulness (growth). Such supply may reach us through the “joints and ligaments” of the ministry of the saints, but the ultimate source of provision and growth is the Head of the body, Christ.
Ephesians emphasises the privilege of the body, first, as the perfect complement of the One who fills all things (1:22-23) and, second, as those who are responsible to submit to His authority (5:23-24).
First Corinthians gives the practical application of the doctrine in the local context of Corinth. The assembly was body-like in character, and each believer an individual member of that body (12:27). This was much needed at Corinth. The unity of the assembly was being undermined because those who exercised “spectacular” gifts, such as tongues, were being exalted, whereas believers with “lesser” gifts were being undervalued. With divine wisdom, Paul superbly uses the illustration of a human body to reflect the spiritual body and show the value of every believer (v12). For the sake of space, four practical lessons are outlined below.
Discontent of the members (vv15-16). In a human body, the foot does not have the same function as the hand, but both are essential to the proper and effective functioning of the body as a whole. Likewise, every believer in a local assembly has an important role to play and is responsible to exercise that function.
Despising the members (vv21-22). In a human body, the head could not say to the feet, “I have no need of you,” for then the body would not be able to move from place to place at the direction of the head. Likewise, believers must never overestimate their own importance as if others were not needed. In reality, those that seem to be “more feeble” (weaker) are actually essential – like internal organs, unseen and unheralded, but vital!
Dignity of the members (vv23-24). In a human body, some parts are undignified and require to be carefully clothed. Other parts, such as the face, are much more presentable! So, in the assembly, some saints might be perceived as more comely, having a higher social standing or a more desirable gift. But God has “tempered” (blended) the body together in such a way that every saint should have equal honour.
Devotion of the members (vv25-26). As members of the same body, saints should have the “same care one for another.” There will be a mutual and anxious concern for every member of the assembly. When one suffers, so do the rest. When one member is blessed, all are joyful! Such an attitude would ensure that no member feels alienated or without value and prevent any rend in the fabric of the assembly.
The Lord Jesus was the first to use the figure of a building in relation to the Church (Mat 16:18). Like the body, the figure of a building is applied both to the dispensational Church in Ephesians 2 and the local church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 3. The building under construction is a spiritual and holy temple (Eph 2:21; 1Co 3:16) comprised of believers as living stones perfectly fitted and framed together. These same believers also function as a holy priesthood within the building, offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ (1Pe 2:5).
The foundation of the building comprises the “apostles and prophets,” with Jesus Christ Himself being the “chief corner stone” (Eph 2:20). As such, He is the first and most important stone of the foundation, bringing shape and character to the whole building. Christ is the Stone by which every other (living) stone is measured. Progressing from the corner stone are the two lines of the apostles and prophets who established the foundation of the early Church by their teaching and ministry (cf. 1Co 3:10-11).
The form of the building is that of a holy temple (naos). The Greek word refers to the inner sanctuary of the holy of holies rather than the temple’s outer precincts. The Church is therefore a “habitation of God through the Spirit” – a permanent and settled dwelling place of the living God. The implication of these words is sobering for it demands the utmost holiness in character and practice from those who form, and function in, the building. Let the final word rest with Paul: “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1Co 3:17). Let us seek to live lives of separation, keeping clear of the filthy things of the world that we might enjoy the intimate presence of our Father (2Co 6:16-18).
 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.