THE BODY OF CHRIST
Mr. S. Delves.
Cradley Heath. July 9,1975.
“Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” 1 Corinthians 12.27.
In chapters twelve, thirteen and fourteen, the Apostle is dealing with the matter of spiritual gifts. The thirteenth chapter is more in the nature of a parenthesis. By spiritual gifts I mean, of course, such gifts as were of a spiritual nature and character as the Apostle enumerates in the context of this word. And it may not be amiss, without spending much time on the point, to take some consideration of this matter of super natural spiritual gifts.
I will put it to you like this. The Holy Spirit was poured out with abundant power and remarkable effect at the time of Pentecost, and by that means the Gospel dispensation was inaugurated; the Lord Jesus having personally laid the foundations of it in His life and death and resurrection and ascension into heaven. It was established by the powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit at that time, and remarkable phenomena attended that event, and upon some subsequent occasions. So these extraordinary spiritual gifts came into evidence and exercise. And I believe that the purpose of that was to confirm the dispensation of the Gospel as to its real divine nature and character.
Now it has been the way of God in establishing dispensations to accompany the establishing of them with supernatural signs. You take the establishing of the legal dispensation. We know it was accompanied by most awesome signs of the holiness and power and glory of God; but those signs did not continue. It was not necessary for the continuation of the legal dispensation that there should be a continuation of those awesome signs and manifestations that attended its first establishing. So I feel with regard to the dispensation of the Gospel, it was established not by such signs as the law was established, because it was such an entirely different dispensation in the spirit of it. There was no terror in it, but it was with such evident signs that it was a divine establishment. I feel that, just as the solemn accompaniments of the giving of the law were not continued, so these Pentecostal gifts were not continued, but they did linger for some while, and the church of God at Corinth seems to have been especially enriched with these gifts.
It is very noticeable even during the New Testament period that these gifts shewed evident signs of gradual waning, the Epistle to the Corinthians, of course, being among the earlier epistles of the New Testament. I have noticed this with much care and consideration, that if you go to the last messages to the churches, they were direct messages from the Lord Jesus Christ; in the Revelation there is no mention of spiritual gifts whatever.
Now, another thing, the spiritual gifts which appear so largely in the Corinthian church were by no means an unmixed blessing to that church. Although they were spiritual gifts so far as that went, they did not make that church a spiritual church, no more as regards the prevailing spirit of that church; in fact, it was just otherwise, for the Apostle in writing to this church says to them very faithfully, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is , among you envying and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and Â• walk as men?” (1 Cor. 3.1-3). So, although there may be a great show of their gifts, they were carnal in their spirit, for their spiritual gifts did not spiritualize them. Furthermore, the exercise of spiritual gifts caused a good deal of division and one would think some degree of pride and jealousy. There were some spiritual gifts that were thought a great deal of, and it is very evident that those that possessed them thought a good deal of themselves, because they possessed them, and those that did not possess them were somewhat jealous because they did not possess them. It would seem that some members of the church had no spiritual gifts or had them only in a very small degree, and these were considered feeble members of the body. So there was some disorder in regard to the
exercise of these gifts, it did not conduce to a solemn, reverential, gracious worship of God.
The Apostle was led by the Holy Spirit to deal with these matters in the church of God at Corinth, to show them the place these gifts should have, how they should be exercised, and, above all, that they
should seek more to walk in the spirit of love than in the exercise of these spiritual gifts.
Now, in dealing with this matter of spiritual gifts, the Apostle introduces the subject of the body of Christ, and every member in that body has his own place to fill, his own usefulness to fill in the body of Christ. And so I will come at once to the text, and may the
Lord help me to say a few things instructive and profitable and nourishing to us.
“Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” I feel it helpful to speak orderly upon the Word of God. I think it is well if we are able to do that. I will therefore speak first of the body of Christ, and then of the nature of the members of that body in particular, and then of the responsibility of members in particular to the Head of the body and to each other as members in that body.
The body of Christ may be considered in two ways. There is first the personal human body of Christ, that body of which He Himself said prophetically in the Psalms, “Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God; Yea thy law is within my heart” (Psalm 40.7,8). “But a body hast thou prepared me” (Heb. 10.5). God prepared a body, supernatural in its conception but perfectly natural in its birth. He prepared a body for Jesus Christ to come into this world withal – a real body. All that pertains to humanity pertains to the body of Jesus Christ. It is a great mystery that the eternal Son of God could ever appear in this world in a body at all like our own with those two natures, infinitely distinct one from the other, the divine and the human could co-exist in one Person; that Jesus Christ could be as truly God as though He were not Man and as truly Man as though He were not God, and yet be both God and Man, the Eternal Son of God in a body – a human body. In that body He lived in this world, travelled, taught, healed, comforted; and in that body He suffered and died. That body was laid in the grave; in that body He rose again the third day, ascended into heaven, and in that very body He is even now at the right hand of the throne of God, Jesus Christ, real Man, real God.
I have heard that line of that hymn disparaged, but never by anyone who has felt the solemnity and wonder of this:
“A Man there is, a real Man,
With wounds still gaping wide,
From which rich streams of blood once ran,
In hands, and feet, and side.”
I see nothing at all crude about the idea that there are still wounds in that body; not bleeding wounds, but wounds that once bled. I feel there can be no question, that if doubting Thomas had persevered in his unjustifiable requirement to put his hand into the print of the nails and into the wounds in His side before he could believe that it really was Jesus, he would have found them to be real wounds. One does not want to indulge in anything of a fanciful and imaginative nature, but would you think it altogether fanciful if I say these very wounds are resplendent with glory in heaven, and in that body He will come again the second time without sin unto salvation – that very body unchanged. Well, that is the human body of Christ.
But then Christ has another body, the church. We usually speak of this body of Christ as the mystical body or, if you like, the spiritual body. That really is the import of this word, not the physical body of Christ but the mystical body of Christ. That mystical body of Christ is a body composed of those chosen, redeemed, called and united to Jesus Christ; and this similitude (if it is right to speak of it as such) is very instructive because spiritual things are very difficult to give expression to – they are so solemn and of so mysterious a nature that it is difficult for us to perceive them if they were not expressed in some sort of similitude. Now we are very familiar with the significance of the term body. We know
that our bodies are composed of various members; we know they each have their use; we know they are all necessary to the perfection of the body. We know that our members need to be nourished with suitable food. We know that when they are nourished they are strengthened and rendered capable of performing what pertains to our members to perform. We know that there is a mysterious life that animates our whole frame, and every member of our body. We know that it is that life that preserves our bodies and when that life departs our bodies decay. Now all this has a spiritual similitude. The mystical body of Christ is comparable to that. Every believer as a member of that body has his place to fill, and each needs to be nourished with spiritual food, even that most blessed food of all, the Saviour’s broken body and precious blood. We know that the Holy Spirit is that divine, holy and wonderful life that pervades the whole mystical body of Christ and every member of that mystical body. We know that if it were not for the Holy Spirit the members could not live a spiritual life. The Holy Spirit must quicken, enliven and continually maintain that spiritual life in the body of Christ, but the body of Christ is not yet complete; it is in continual process towards that completeness.
When I was pondering over this, a word from the 139th Psalm occurred to me which struck me very remarkably. I have never really seen it in this way before. It reads thus “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139.14-16). Now this is a very remarkable passage. I have no doubt that primarily the Psalmist has in mind the wonderful formation of his own body but I am sure that beneath that we can see the body of Christ in these words. “Thine eyes did see my substance yet being unperfect, and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.” You see, all the members of the mystical body of Christ were written in His book, every one of them in the Lamb’s Book of Life. “And Mine they were”, all in the womb of the covenant before even they were born into this world or born again by the Holy Spirit – they were all in the womb of the covenant, “And in thy book all my members were written.” Thou didst see my substance, the substance of my mystical body in thy eternal foreknowledge and foreview and forepurpose. Thou didst see the substance of my body, and every member of my body was written in thy book, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. That is, while as yet not one of them was born they were written in “thy book”, they were in the covenant, and they were in the knowledge and sight of God.
Now in continuance every member of Christ’s body is being formed or, as this word puts it, fashioned. God foresaw all the
members of Christ’s mystical body, their names were written in his book while as yet there was none of them in existence at all, but in continuance they were fashioned, that is, they were first born into natural life, quickened into spiritual life, renewed, sanctified and changed, not perfectly in their life, but were being fashioned into the likeness and image of God’s dear Son, and there you have the mystical body of Christ; “The body of Christ, and members in particular.”
Now I want to speak a little on this point, “members in particular.”
I raise the question – how do we, how does anyone, become members in particular, in an individual way of the body of Christ? Well, in the working of this wonderful fashioning of the members there is first the new birth. I feel quite comfortable in saying that every member of Christ’s mystical body is united to Jesus Christ as a member from the moment of his new birth. For, my friends, what is the new birth? The new birth is that marvellous operation of the Holy Spirit through the Word and truth of the Gospel whereby a new life is brought forth in the soul – a life that no individual was born with – but is born again with. I have often said, the root of all spiritual things is in that word of Jesus Christ to Nicodemus, “Ye must be born again” (John 3.7). That is the very root of all; the first spring in the soul of spiritual life. But the life that is brought forth in fhe soul by the Holy Spirit is the life of Jesus Christ. There would be no spiritual life apart from Jesus Christ, you know- none whatever. All is death apart from Jesus Christ. In every way and in every one, when that new life is brought forth it is by the life of Jesus Christ beginning to be made manifest. As the Apostle said, ‘in my mortal flesh’ – an immortal life manifest in my mortal flesh. Now, there is the union with Jesus Christ in that life. To make it a little more clear, if it is necessary, a babe is in union with its parents from its very birth. It does not grow to a certain degree of life and understanding and perception and then become united to its parents. It comes to know of its parents and that it is a child of its parents later, but it is united to its parents in its very birth. It is the parents’ life in the child – so, my friends, when a child of God is born again it has as much of the life of Jesus Christ in the soul as the babe has the life of its parents in the body. There is a union formed in that way.
Then you see, other principles come into operation. There comes i time when the newborn child of God comes to believe in Jesus Christ. I won’t go at length into that, but every newborn child of God will be by the Holy Spirit’s gracious work convinced of sin, the teaching of Jesus Christ, the revealing ‘of His precious Name and truth and atoning blood in the Gospel. The Holy Spirit will bring forth faith in Jesus Christ, and that is a further degree in the membership of His body. The newborn soul has become a believer. Faith is the saving principle. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” It does not say, “Love the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” Then you have hope. Now we are said to be
saved by hope in the 8th of Romans, but not in the same way that we are saved by faith. We are saved by hope; we are saved from sinking or being overcome with despair through temptations and trials and difficulties and all such conditions as tend to produce despondency in the mind. Hope is the anchor of the soul that enters into that which is within the veil, and the anchor does not preserve the ship from being tossed with the wind and waves but it preserves the ship from making shipwreck, and so we are saved by hope from despair. But LOVE, oh! LOVE is the uniting principle, and we know it is so in natural life. What unites husband and wife but love one to another; without that love the union is an empty thing and, as so often happens, it is a bondage, it is a burden, but love is the uniting principle. This is sweet, because this is something that can be felt.
Now I would like to put it in this way. The love of Jesus Christ is flowing forth from the infinite fulness of Himself, infinite, unbounded love. And His love flows forth from His heart to every member of His body, every one of them, to the weakest as well as the strongest, and when there is spiritual life in the soul love springs up in the heart. There can be no spiritual love without spiritual life. There can be no spiritual life without spiritual love. Oh! it is like a little spring. You take it in this way – a natural spring. Imagine for a few moments a deep and full river flowing on towards the sea, and a little spring here and there sets a little stream flowing, and after a while the little stream reaches the river, and as soon as it reaches the river and flows into it, it unites- it is one. Now in the heart of a child of God there is a little spring of love, but it will sooner or later reach Jesus Christ – it is bound to – and when it reaches Jesus Christ and the love of Jesus Christ, it just unites with it – love flows into love, the little pure stream of our love flows into the deep rushing river of His love. You see, after that there is no separating.
Well, I have put before you as simply as I can the way in which the members of the mystical body of Christ are brought into that union with Jesus Christ. Each in continuance is being fashioned, and will be, until the body of Christ is complete, as the Apostle says writing to the Ephesians, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4.13).
Now, I want to speak in particular with regard to a few spiritual and very blessed ordinances that symbolize this union with Jesus Christ, and membership of His body.
I might have said that in some sense every individual church is a body of Christ in miniature. For it is the will and appointment of Jesus Christ that those who are brought into this spiritual union with Him in life and love should be united together in that particular locality where their lot is to dwell, that they should walk together and manifest each to the other the spiritual affections and principles that are exhorted upon them in the Scripture. For it is not possible that there can be a personal walking together with every member of the mystical body of Christ because they are scattered the world over. So it is as though the Lord will say, “Well, you cannot all be
brought into personal, visible contact with each other, so I will have you join together where your lot is to dwell and walk together one with another in the truth and spirit of the Gospel, and so be my body in that place.”
There are two Gospel ordinances that enter into this very beautifully, and the first is baptism. Baptism is a setting forth of the deep and overwhelming sufferings of Jesus Christ and His resurrection from them, and it is the appointed way in which members in particular of the body of Christ should be joined one to another and their baptism symbolizes their membership of the body of Christ. Now here you have it. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit,” that is, into that one Spirit of love. Now by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body – one Spirit, one Holy Spirit of God who quickens, teaches, leads, guides, sanctifies. Or, if you will, by one spirit of faith and love, for there is “One Lord, one faith, one baptism,” (Eph. 4.5) – one faith to believe in Him, and one baptism to profess that faith. “By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body,” that is, externally. So, you see, there is an inward union with Jesus Christ as a spiritual member in particular of His mystical body, and an outward union with the body of Jesus Christ by baptism. I feel sure the Apostle has the baptism of the Corinthians in mind. In his ministry at Corinth you get it summed up like this, “and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized” (Acts 18.8). They heard the Word; it was a means of spiritual life in their souls and they were baptized into one body at Corinth, the church of God there.
I feel these things need to be clearly understood. There is no salvation in baptism, but baptism is appointed for saved souls; and it is the appointed way for their being joined together one with another as members in particular.
I refer you to another very instructive and very solemn Scripture. The Apostle writing of the Lord’s Supper to the Corinthians (and you know there was some disorder at Corinth with regard to the administration of the Lord’s Supper) puts it thus, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10.16). That communion is spiritual and sacred and sweet between the soul and Jesus Christ. Then the Apostle goes on to say, “For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread” (1 Cor. 10.17). So, you see, in the Lord’s Supper you have exactly the same; members of the body of Christ, partaking in the sacred symbols of broken bread and wine of the precious body and blood of Jesus Christ. Now the Apostle says, “We are all partakers of that one bread”, and of that one body, the body of Christ.
The last consideration of the text is the spiritual way in which members of the body of Christ should walk together in forbearance and unity and humility and sympathy and love, which I must leave to your personal meditation and may the Lord bless you in it.