Last night I watched a video called "Life's Greatest Miracle." Did you ever imagine that we would one day be able to see inside a woman's body and witness conception taking place? It was fascinating to even glimpse the miracle of life getting started. I was particularly struck by the very deep ways along which the body functions, how the chemical codes are used by cells to signal processes to begin or to end. It was so much deeper an understanding of the body than what we had in 1966. Remember the old movie "Fantastic Voyage" about the people in a submarine, who were shrunk down to the size of a cell and shot into the bloodstream of a human being? Apart from it being fantasy, the movie was so limited in how the body was portrayed. It was rather like they were traveling on a subway train and the organs were stations in a vast city. I guess the only way we could perceive the body back then was as a biological New York City.
But actually, your body is infinitely more wonderful and complex than any city. Of course, there are the observable functions of the organs, which we readily learn about at school -- the heart pumps the blood, the pancreas secretes insulin. We still tend to relate to them as functions within a city -- the garbage collectors, the water utility, and so forth. But beneath these observable functions, in ever-deepening layers of complexity, are the underpinnings of the bodily functions -- the relationships between the cells. These relationships are harder to define, but they are the key to understanding what makes a body a body.
A living body is more than just an association of cells who have put aside self-interests to work co-operatively for their survival. For one thing, all the cells identify with the body as a whole. There are complex chemical codes identifying each individual cell in its role, but overall the body knows who are its own. For another thing, all the cells live and work for the common good of the body. The cells of the liver, for example, are not waiting for an opportunity to promote their organ or function above the interests and functions of the other cells and organs.
We take this truth as self-evident, but it is a really deep thing to understand. You could say they are not independent or self-seeking because within a body there is no threat, no ambition, and no competition for resources. There is a distribution according to the need, but the head is not dictating every last move over subservient and oppressed cells. All the cells are working in harmony, and the autonomic nervous system acts as a coordinator. There is no need for oppression when all the parts are willing and surrendered to the head.
A very important feature of the body is that there is a life force that propels all the parts. There is no rebellion that can be tolerated because it would surely lead to death. Once we thought of cancer cells as essentially hostile, as if staging a revolt, but scientists now know that it begins with simple independent action. To put it in human terms, when cells do not come under the pre-ordained plan for their function, but instead independently decide how and when to respond, they are essentially changed in their nature. They are called mutant cells. They roam around, no longer serving the body. In human terms we could say they propagate a self-life, serving their own interests. Some cells (triggered by something known only to their mutant selves) become malignant and rebellious (meaning, unable to be controlled by the body), and actively turn against the body, persuading other cells to do the same.
Between the normal cells, there is no vying for position or honor. Each cell is content to belong to the system or function of which it is a part -- the heart cells don't break off on a whim to float through the bloodstream and join in the eye in its task of seeing. The cells of the muscles are content to work in co-ordination with other muscle tissue cells, under the direction of the nerve impulses, having a simple existence of contracting and returning to normal under the command of the nerve impulses.
Imagine the disorder in the body if cells could come and go as they pleased, or could choose sometimes to respond and other times to hold back. Imagine what would happen if jealousy existed and cells took to saying, "I am part of the brain and infinitely superior to you tendons in the foot"?
Could a body function in that kind of dysfunction? Multiple Sclerosis sufferers will clearly tell you the answer is no. But even they know that their body is their own, despite its rebellion from the Creator's order. Could a collection of cells not even bearing the same chemical code, not working together for the common good, and not occupying the one location even be considered a body?
Paul likened the church to a human body in his letter to the Corinthians.1 The Body of Christ is not a mystical 2 body, but a corporate corporeal 3 body. You can see why he had to write about the integrity of the human body as the way to understand the Body of Christ, for the entire letter refers to the division that was disintegrating the church.4
So what is the Body of Christ like? If our understanding of the human body is correct, there would have to be relationships that cause the members to function as one body. The members would all work together in coordination with the head, not taking thought for themselves as they go about their daily works.5 These are not just independent good deeds, but is their actual work of service in His Body.6 Their calling, as it says in Ephesians 4:1, is their actual employment or occupation in the Body -- the good work they are to be occupied with until Christ's return.7 The talents are the natural gifts of each member, empowered by faith and grace, employed to build up the Body in love -- a growth that comes from God.8
Just as the human body cannot exist without all of its systems (lymphatic, circulatory, digestive) continually functioning, so the Body of Christ cannot exist without apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers.9 Take teaching, for example. All the members of the Body teach in the capacity in which they are able. Some teach academics to children and others teach the Word to disciples. It is going on all the time, just as the members of your body are at work all the time. The Word is taught every day when they all gather together, morning and evening, to hear God speaking through each member as they are inspired by the Holy Spirit.10 There is the teaching of the anointing,11 which takes place in all the different places of the Body. It is as simple and as constant as one brother teaching another our Father's heart within His statutes as they work together on a job. And new disciples and children are always being raised up to their greatest potential to take on responsibility.
And there is the ministry of the apostles, bringing into obedience all the members of the body through faith.12 Without concentric faith and mutual submission to one another out of fear of Messiah,13 the body would be destroyed by the mutant cells who would go about their independent course. Left unchecked by the Body's immune system, they who say in effect, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," would denominate themselves into camps of mutual hostility and estrangement. Just as cancer cells take over by making healthy cells mutant, so would the believers be led astray into rebellion.14
Apostles and apostolic workers travel throughout the Body, bringing the Word and speaking the faith needed to obey the commands of Messiah, dealing with what would cause disease and ill health. Apostles give direction for the members of the Body because they are compelled by the love of Messiah, not lording it over those who are subject to them, but being as a nursing mother, treating with gentleness all those who err.
The gospel is preached as a witness by the corporate life of the Body,15 which today is just like the Body of Christ was when the Holy Spirit first came in power.16 This corporate Body is a marvel, a miracle of the Spirit enabling them who were once being led by ungodly lusts, to live a godly life together in the glory Messiah prayed for in John 17:23. Of course, the Body speaks the truth of the gospel of the kingdom17 to itself as well as to those outside, so that they who belong to the Body would not hold any of the world's goods and harden their heart when they saw their brother in need.18 Paul wrote about the division that comes when there is neglect in taking care of the needs of our brothers.19 Messiah taught His own disciples that they would not be able to follow Him unless they gave up all of their possessions.20 Those who live in the Body of Christ hear that exact same gospel daily so that they could pick up the cross every day and follow Him.21
Shepherds are those wonderful men with the heart of King David who lay down their lives for the sheep. In the Body of Christ, the shepherds live with His sheep, not living as hirelings who flee when the wolf comes. They protect the people in their care from being taken advantage of, so that they can be released to give all that they have to show hospitality to strangers, and to pour out their gifts on other people, not just on their own families.
Shepherds stand in the gate to protect the people from danger. They make sure all the sheep are fed, as the Savior commanded those who love Him to do.22 Shepherds who obey Him tend to His sheep, making sure that their wounds are bound up and the fat sheep don't take more than their portion.23 Shepherds work amongst the flock, taking the load. They are the shepherds because they love more than others are yet able to love. They lay down their lives for the sheep,24 staying up later than anyone else, praying for the people in their care, fixing the furnace late at night, giving away their own shoes if need be. Their love causes others to become shepherds, too, just as the activity of the cells prompts the production of more cells of their own kind. Shepherds show the sheep the heart of our Father by how they don't react to the circumstances. All apostles are shepherds, and evangelists and prophets are always shepherds because this is a basic bodily function.
And the members of the Body exhort one another daily (Hebrews 3:13 is a command) so that no root of bitterness can spring up, leading to mutant cells.25 And the prophetic word is spoken daily just as Paul said he wished all would prophesy, speaking of that which comforts and edifies.26 This spoken Word gives the members the vision they need to continue building and to not cast off restraint and not lose heart.27 They speak of the faith of Abraham, whose seed they are because of their faith in Messiah.28 They speak of the prophets and the vision for Israel. Every day the Body is fed and nourished by the prophetic spoken Word.29
A member of the Body is only able to flourish in an environment of forgiveness, thanksgiving and praise. Scientists have been working hard to define how this also works in the human body, because they see now that chemicals flood the body according to the attitude of the person. This could be likened to the happy heart of a disciple while working with his brothers and sisters to meet the needs of his brothers and sisters. This fills the Body with encouragement. But more than just this, there is the thankfulness for being in salvation, where the daily difficult circumstances faced together by the Body lead to the common salvation of our souls, and praise is offered up every day in the worship and works of service.
All these things are the fundamental aspects of being a body, the means by which the Body is the Body and not an association. As its members go about their functions -- cleaning, cooking, landscaping, tilling the land, taking care of the animals, making clothes, buying groceries, building houses, repairing cars, taking out the trash, baking bread, typing letters, making soap, teaching children -- it is all within the context and location of the Body.
Just as the human body teaches us, a cell will entirely work for the well-being of the whole body, the common good. And all the cells are in co-ordination, taking their command from the head, right down to the "least" cell (if any cell could even be described thus). Indeed, every member is needed. In the human body, there are no superfluous and unnecessary organs, even if doctors can not explain them. How much more so in the Body of Christ when each member was bought at a great cost by Messiah so that he could live for Him who died for him, so that he could lay down his life for his brothers.30 For there are no "lone rangers" in the Body of Christ, but every part does his share effectively to cause the growth of the Body for the building up of itself in love.31
It really is a wonder.