Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 1:23a “Which is his. . .”
The Church (1:22) is “His” body–it belongs to Jesus. In this possessive pronoun, the Church finds its Lord, its beauty, its life, its Director.
As the Head of “His” body, Jesus is Lord of the Church. Jesus exerts absolute sovereignty over us. It is improper to call anyone else the Head of the Church. The Pope claims to be Head of the Church–No! The Sovereign of Britain is deemed by his subjects as Head of the Church–No!
The Church does not have one head on earth and another in heaven. A body with two heads is a monster, a freak. Christ alone is Head of the Church, and His only vicar, or viceregent, on earth is His Holy Spirit.
As the Head of “His” body, Jesus is the beauty of the Church. Believers never have to worry about being embarrassed by their Head. Jesus is our loveliest attraction. We must strive to reflect His beauty. May we never be a distraction, or diminish His lustre.
As the Head of “His” body, Jesus is the life-source of the Church. A body lives only as the head lives. This explains why a guillotine is extremely effective. Once beheaded, no life remains in the body. The headman’s sword ends a John the Baptist or a Paul; a bullet to the head ends a Lincoln or a Kennedy. Without Jesus, the Church would have no existence, but because He lives, the Church enjoys a life indestructible.
As the Head of “His” body, Jesus is Director of the Church. The head is the nerve-center of the body. Every body part is controlled by nerves and the nervous system. Every muscle receives life as a response to nervous energy and power. All nerves can ultimately be traced back to the head.
Each body part depends upon the head for direction. The Church must rely entirely upon Christ. “Lord Jesus, see for us, hear for us, pray for us, send down food for us. Teach us to look to You for everything.”
The Church adores Christ as her all in all. He is our Lord, our beauty, our life, our Director. In His grace and love, He has joined us to Himself in a bond so binding that the final result is best described as a. . .
Eph. 1:23b “. . .body,. . .”
Being royalty, Jesus has every right to have a group of loyal followers. “How could be a king if he had not a kingdom?” (Henry). His domain could have consisted of love-slaves who did nothing but stand before Him in praise all day long. He chose instead to treat His followers as His body, as a band of people extending His very life and work. The Church is Christ continued.
When Jesus wanted to demonstrate by His own example the meaning of service, and had to offer Himself as a sacrifice for the sin of the world, He needed a physical body. Thus He indwelt the secret parts of the virgin, and took on Himself human flesh. He still indwells this body in Heaven.
For His work on earth, Jesus spiritually indwells another body, His Church. He is made visible, tangible, and touchable in our flesh. We are hands to do His work, feet to run His errands, voices to speak His words.
I reverently say, Jesus is omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent. He did not choose to use us due to any insufficiency in Himself. He rather chose in His Providence to need us. He honored us by making us His helpers.
By the Father’s appointment, and by His own sovereign decision, Jesus holds the position of a head. He thus, by definition, needs a body. Every head needs a body. As a boy I saw an episode of a science fiction television series entitled “Way Out!” A man’s body organs ceased functioning, and his wife was able to spare only his brain and one eye, which she stored in a large fish bowl. She connected sensors to her husband’s brain in order to gauge his emotions. She had always disliked her cruel husband, and did everything she could to see his anger register on the monitors. She would blow smoke in his eye, and taunt him about spending his hard earned money on her own silly luxuries. The poor man could only float in his bowl and seethe. He was helpless, a mind without a body.
As a body with two heads is a freak, a head without a body is weak. A head cannot exist happily or productively without a body.
This is the relationship to which Christ has, by His own sovereign choice, stooped. He has elected to do His work on earth through us as “His body.” Through a body a head communicates with the outside world. Similarly, Christ our Head relates to the world through the Church His body.
Jesus wishes to think with our minds, see with our eyes, hear with our ears, talk with our tongues, walk with our feet. He wants to move with our joints, touch with our limbs, and love through our feelings. Jesus wants to conceive, plan, dream, imagine, and then fulfill these designs through us.
In a healthy situation, the head dictates, and the body responds. Something is seriously wrong when the brain determines one thing, and a body part does something else. Let me illustrate. My Grandfather Marshall could not bend his left index finger. Straight all the time, it provided only one advantage–it made an excellent “preaching finger.” Grandpa pointed it straight at his congregation. Some say this is why we Marshall preachers point a lot in our sermons. We learned the habit from watching Grandpa.
Grandpa lost the use of his finger when he was a boy. He was sent one day to cut wood for the cook-stove. Each piece had to be about an inch and a half long. He held the axe with his right hand, the wood with his left. He miscued and severed the finger from his hand. The finger was shoved back on and held in place while Grandpa was rushed to a country doctor, who sewed it in place. The finger stuck, but never worked again.
Many believers are like Grandpa’s finger–part of the body, but not responding well to signals from the head. Our responsibility is to represent Christ aright in this world. We must manifest His grace, His love, His hatred of sin, His compassion for the lost. The world must see Him in us.
This can happen only as believers understand and fulfill their role as members of His body. A head and a body refer more to an organism than to an organization. An organism is a living thing in which all its components parts are vitally knit together–same flesh, same blood, same constitution, same body fluids, same DNA–there is living cohesion.
“The body is not a bunch of loose parts somehow attached to each other” (Hughes), like pieces of a Marionette, or parts of a car engine. Our fingers are not glued on, our arms not tied on, our legs not buckled on.
“Body” bespeaks utmost intimacy and union. Anything not vitally interconnected is not a member of the body. Bro. W. D. Tucker, a delightful friend to me in my Mississippi pastorate, was one of the jolliest fellows I ever knew. When he drove his tractor in front of the parsonage on his way to his garden, we could hear him whistling above the engine noise. Bro. Tucker had a wooden leg which he attached below his knee every morning. He loved to play a trick on those who did not know about his attachment. He would take an ice pick in hand, pretend to be angry, and exclaim, “That makes me so mad I could ram this ice pick into someone.” He would then ram it into his wooden leg and laugh at the onlooker’s horrified reaction.
The only reason Bro. Tucker could ram an ice pick into his leg was because it was not a member, it was an attachment. The Church suffers from attachments–people who claim to be Christians, but do not live in vital union with Christ. They have never known Him as Lord.
My seminary friend Ronnie had a glass eye he could easily slip out of its socket. When leaving the table, he would sometimes say, “I have to go, but I want to keep an eye on you while I’m gone.” He would then put the glass eye on the table and walk away laughing.
Ronnie’s glass eye was an accessory, not a member. Church rolls bear the names of many who are accessories–people who completely dissociate themselves from the body. Many of these absentees never were members.
Unfortunately, we take this word “member” and apply it to those whose names we enroll in our churches and other organizations. I was a member of the St. Louis African Violet Society. I am a member of the Smithsonian Associates, a member of AAA, a member of East Side Baptist Church, but not in the sense I am a member of the body of Christ. I wish we could have maintained the word for the vital union we ought to have with Christ.
A living power unites us to Christ and to one another. The same fluids flow through each part. There is a vital connection. On the Damascus Road, Saul heard Jesus say, “Why persecutest thou me?” Saul had been hurting the body, and the Head said, “Ouch!”
The Church shares with her Head the same life, the same nature, the same vitality. The life emanating from the Head is found in every portion of the body. The body is a single unit, no part has independent existence. There is organic unity. We are thus enabled to live victorious lives. . .
Eph. 1:23c “. . .the fullness of him that filleth all in all.”
Since we share vital union with Christ, the same divine power which enlivens the Head also indwells the body. Supernatural energy flows from the Head to every member of the body.
Jesus fills “all in all,” all things in the whole creation (1:22) in all ways, but the Church is His “fullness.” His power upholds the Universe and directs history, but finds ultimate expression in the Church, His body. The Church is meant to be filled with the sheer majesty and awesome power of God. We are the vessels chosen to best display Christ’s glory.
There should be no spiritual lack among us. Take heart, poor, trembling believer. Power indwells you. God wants to manifest His fullness in you, to make you a living monument to show forth His own perfections.