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The Church Is Described By Many Figures[an error occurred while processing this directive]
by Maxie B. Boren
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In his revelation to us, God described the church of the Lord Jesus Christ in various ways. He obviously did this that we might be able to understand the nature of the church and to perceive its importance. We refer to these various descriptions as "pictures" or "figures." God simply used things with which people were familiar in order to convey great spiritual truths. In this article we want to very briefly notice ten such Divinely given "figures" of the church. The church is described -
(1) As a family. God is our Heavenly Father. "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth" (James 1:18). The apostle Paul, recognizing the greatness and goodness of God in providing salvation for us in Christ, wrote, "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father. . . of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named" (Ephesians 3:14-15). People are begotten of God when they believe the gospel, and they are born into his family when they obey the terms of pardon revealed in the gospel. God had promised these, contingent upon their willingness to sanctify themselves, "I will be to you a Father, and ye shall be to me sons and daughters" (2 Corinthians 6:18). As his children, Christians should most assuredly bear the image of the Father. Members of the church have been called into fellowship with Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9), with the Father, and with one another (See 1 John 1:3-4). Therefore, being brothers and sisters in God's family is a close and wonderful relationship of kindred spirits.
(2) As the body of Christ. In a beautiful context of scripture, Paul made a comparison between a physical body, and the spiritual body of Christ. A physical body is composed of many parts, but it is just one body. So also is the church. Composed of many members, yet all of them functioning harmoniously together for the ongoing of the body. Thus, the church must be united for God's design and purpose for it to be realized. "God tempered the body together. . . that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. . . now ye are the body of Christ, and severally members thereof" (1 Cor. 12:24-25, 27). God gave Christ "to be head over all things to the church, which is his body" (Eph. 1:22-23). And Paul made it clear that there is only "one body" (Eph. 4:4). As head, Christ is to have all the preeminence in the church (Colossians 1:18).
(3) As a bride. The church is married (spiritually speaking, of course) to Christ. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth and said, "I espoused you to one husband, that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ" (2 Cor. 11:2). In writing to the Ephesians, he compared the relationship of a husband and his wife to that of Christ and his church. "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it" (Eph. 5:25). Therefore, the church should be a "glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (verse 27). Note also Romans 7:4.
(4) As a kingdom. The church is in subjection to Jesus Christ, who is the king of his kingdom. Christ's kingdom is a spiritual kingdom. He said, "my kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36), simply meaning that it was never intended by God to be an earthly, temporal domain, as the one over which Saul, David, and Solomon reigned. Christ's kingdom is a heavenly kingdom, and thus, "our citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20). And yet, his spiritual kingdom is very definitely is existence upon the earth, as it has been since its establishment in 33 A.D. on the Jewish feast day called Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2. Paul informed the Christians in Colossae that God "delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love" (Col. 1:13). The evangelist Philip went down to Samaria and preached unto those people "concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 8:12). In about 96 A.D., the apostle John, writing to the seven churches of Asia, expressed that Christ "loved us, and loosed us from our sins by his blood; and he made us to be a kingdom" (Revelation 1:5-6). The kingdom is not something yet to come. . . it has already come! The church and the kingdom are one and the same thing. To a member of the Lord's church is to be a citizen of his kingdom.
(5) As a flock. Jesus Christ is the shepherd of the sheep, and Christians are depicted as sheep. Thus, the church is dependent upon the love and care of the Shepherd. The church heeds his voice, "and the sheep follow him" (John 10:4). The apostle Peter admonished those who were serving as elders in the church to "tend the flock of God which is among you" (1 Peter 5:2), "and when the chief Shepherd shall be manifested, ye shall receive the crown of glory that fadeth not away" (verse 4). As sheep having gone astray, Christians are a people "now returned unto the Shepherd" (1 Peter 2:25).
(6) As a house. The church is not a building made of brick, stone, or wood. It is a spiritual house. The apostle Peter wrote to Christians, and said, "Ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 2:5). Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus, and told them they were "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner stone; in whom each several building, fitly framed together, groweth into a holy temple in the Lord" (Eph. 2:20-21). To the church at Corinth, Paul inquired, "Know ye not that ye are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you" (1 Cor. 3:16)?
(7) As a vineyard. There were many vineyards in Palestine, where our Lord lived and taught during his personal ministry. He used that with which the people of his day were so familiar to illustrate that there is work to be done in service to God. Thus, the kingdom, or church, is compared to a vineyard. Please read Matthew 20:1-16. Paul urged Christians to "be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that labor is not vain in the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:58). In the context of Matthew 21:28-41 Jesus employed the figure of the vineyard to give even more insight into the nature of the kingdom.
(8) As a pearl. Jesus said, "the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a merchant seeking goodly pearls: and having found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it" (Matt. 13:45-46). In giving this parable, Jesus masterfully taught the incomparable value of the kingdom, and all that is entailed in that word. Involved, in understanding this, is salvation from sin and participation in all the spiritual blessings God has so graciously provided in Christ. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3). This , then, is the pearl of great price! No amount of earthly wealth. . . in fact, the whole world. . . can be compared to the value of a person's soul being saved! Jesus asked, "For what shall a man be profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul" (Matt. 16:26)? People who receive these teachings of Christ into their hearts with perceptive understanding will make whatever sacrifices are necessary in order to possess the kingdom and its blessings as a reality in this life. To be a member of the Lord's church, dear reader, is the greatest blessing and joy a person can experience!
(9) As an army. Certainly the church is "at war" with the forces of evil. But the warfare is not a carnal warfare, with planes, tanks, guns, and bombs. Paul wrote to Christians, "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh (for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds); casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God" (2 Cor. 10:3-4). He urged Timothy to "suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus" (2 Tim 2:3). And he wrote to the Ephesian Christians, exhorting them to "be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil" (Please read the context of Eph. 6:10-17).
(10) As a candlestick. In the second and third chapters of Revelation, the Lord wrote through John, letters to the seven churches which were located in what is now the westernmost part of the country of Turkey. And in the symbolic language that introduces these letters, Jesus used candlesticks to refer to those seven congregations. "The seven candlesticks are seven churches" (Rev. 1:20). Jesus said to his disciples, "Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the stand; and it shineth to all that are in the house. Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:14-16). Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, instructing them to be "harmless and blameless, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom ye are seen as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life" (Phil. 2:15-16).
Friend, I conclude this brief article, by suggesting to your mind that God used these "figures" in Holy Writ to give you insight and understanding into the nature of the church, and what it means to be a Christian. Please reflect upon these ten Divinely given descriptions of the church prayerfully and carefully. I pray that in so doing you will be able to see the undenominational nature of the church, and the unique character of it. The church is God designed. The pattern for it is in the New Testament. Those saved by the gospel are added to it. We all need to gain as much knowledge of God's eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ and which was made known through the church (see Eph. 3:8-11), as we possibly can.
Why did God reveal various "pictures" or "figures" of the church to us?
Is the kingdom of the Lord something altogether different than his church? Or are they the same thing?
When and where was the church of Christ established? Where in the Bible can you read about its beginning?
Who is the head of the church? How much authority does the head have? (On this latter question, please read Matt. 28:18 and Eph. 1:20-23).
What kind of relationship should be maintained among members of the church?
Do you think that when Christ comes to receive his bride unto himself that he will be pleased if she is all contaminated with sinful practices and polluted with false doctrines? How does he want to receive her?
Do sheep heed voices other than that of the shepherd?
How valuable is the kingdom anyway? What does it mean to a person to be a member of Christ's church?
Is there work to be done by Christians? If so, discuss the work and who is to do it.
In view of the "figure" of the lighted candlestick, what should that tell us about our influence? Do you think that worldliness in the church is destroying the influence of many Christians? What can be done about it?
Note: This material is copyrighted (1981) by Star Bible Publications, Inc., P.O. Box 821220, Fort Worth, TX 76182 and is used with the express permission of Mr. Alvin Jennings, owner
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