2. The Consciousness of the Body of Christ

The Body of Christ: A Reality

Watchman Nee
Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
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Rom. 12:3-5 π 1 Jn. 3:14

For I say, through the grace that was given me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but so to think soberly, according as God has dealt to each man a measure of faith. For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same office: so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another. ( Rom. 12:3-5; top )

In the previous chapter we came to understand a little how consciousness reveals life. Here we will continue further so that we may understand what the consciousness of the body of Christ exactly is.

Love the Brethren

Let us first approach it from the standpoint of love. One thing is quite marvelous when we contemplate this verse: "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren." ( 1 Jn. 3:14; top ) All who have passed out of death into life love one another. All who have become members of the same spiritual body love one another. Such love comes from life and it flows spontaneously. Could a person be considered a child of God if, after answering affirmatively in a church meeting that he is a Christian and after being reminded that as a Christian he ought to love other Christians, he then says, "I will start to love other Christians tomorrow if you say so"? Oh let us see that everyone who is truly born from above and has the life of God spontaneously loves all who are members together with him in the body of Christ. Whether he is reminded or not, he has a consciousness of loving the brethren. He unquestionably needs many times to be reminded of loving the brethren. Yet this reminder does not add anything to him which is not already within him, it instead merely stirs up into more fervency what is already present in him. If the love of God is present in a person, the love of the brethren is there. And if God's love is absent, brotherly love is not there. It is that simple. Nothing can be created or manufactured. When a believer meets another person who belongs to God he strangely but quite naturally loves him because he has that inner consciousness within him which must express itself in love towards that other person.

Once a son was born to a brother in Christ. He was asked, "Now that you have become a father, do you love your son?" His answer was: "A week before I was to be a father, I kept thinking how I should love my son. But as soon as my son was born - the moment I saw him - my heart quite naturally when out to him and I simply loved him." We see here how human love springs from a consciousness inside, it is not taught from outside. Likewise, all the children of God who are bought with the blood of the Lamb and receive God's life and are baptized into the body of Christ cannot help but be moved from within to love one another as members of the same body.

Oftentimes when you meet an individual who is truly of the Lord, your heart goes out to him as soon as you learn he is a Christian, regardless whether he comes from abroad or is a native citizen, whether he is highly civilized or uncultured, or regardless of what race or profession he may be. Love is an inner consciousness. If you are in the same spiritual body, you naturally have this kind of consciousness.

No Division

One who has seen the body of Christ and who thus possesses the consciousness of the body feels unbearable inside when he does anything which may cause division or separate God's children. For he loves all who belong to God and cannot divide His children. Love is natural to the body of Christ, whereas division is most unnatural. It is just as in the case with our two hands: no matter for how many reasons one hand may be raised against the other hand, there is no way to sever their relationship: division is simply impossible.

Perhaps a person is proud of himself for being one who has left a sect and thus deems himself to be a person who knows the body of Christ. As a matter of fact, however, leaving a denomination is not necessarily the same as, or an indication of, seeing the body of Christ. It is quite true that whoever discerns the body is delivered from denominationalism. But who can claim he has apprehended the body of Christ simply because he has left a denomination? Outwardly many have left a denomination, yet they simply set up another kind for themselves elsewhere. Their leaving the denomination merely demonstrates their own latent feeling of superiority; they fail to comprehend that all the members of the body are their brothers and sisters and therefore all are loving. For this reason, let us realize that all sectarian spirit, divisive attitude, outward action, or inward thought which separate God's children are the unfailing signs of not knowing the body of Christ.

The body of Christ will deliver us from sect and sectarianism; it will also save us from self and individualism. How sad that the life principle of many is not the body but the individual self. We may discover this principle of individualism in many areas. For example, in a prayer meeting someone can only pray by himself, since he cannot pray with other people. His physical body may kneel together with others, yet his consciousness is circumscribed by his own self. When he prays, he wishes other people to listen to him; but when others pray, he will not listen to them. He has no inner response to another's prayer, and he is unable to offer up an amen. His consciousness is disconnected from the consciousness of other people. Hence he prays his prayers and lets the others pray their prayers. There appears to be no relationship between his prayers and those of the others. When he comes to the meeting he seems to do so only for the sake of uttering whatever words are pent up within him, and thereafter feels that his job is done. He does not care what prayer burden or consciousness others present may have. This is the rule of individualism, not the principle of the body. In point of fact he has not seen the body, and thus he cannot cooperate with other people before God.

Sometimes three or five, even ten or twenty brethren at a meeting will all speak only whatever concerns themselves, without showing any interest in the affairs of the others or listening to the others? thoughts. Or, as the case might be, as you or others sit with such a person as has been described, he may talk with animation for an hour or two about his own business; but when you or the others talk, he does not pay the slightest attention - for if you ask him afterwards, he evidences the fact that he hardly seems to have heard anything. In small things such as these, you can tell if a person has truly discerned the body of Christ.

The plague of individualism can grow from simply expressing one person's individualism to that of several people. You may notice in the church that three or five, perhaps even eight or nine persons will sometimes form a small circle. Only these few are of one mind and love one another. They do not fit in with the other brothers and sisters. This indicates that they too have not perceived the body of Christ. The church is one, it cannot be severed. If a person has really known the body, he cannot endorse any kind of individualism. He cannot form a party or any small circle.

If you have genuinely experienced the body of Christ you will be conscious of something wrong whenever you begin to show your individualism, and obviously you dare not take any action. Or else, when you or several others should make a wrong move, this body consciousness will cause you to be aware of being disconnected from the other children of God, thus preventing you from proceeding further. There is something in you which restrains, speaks, reproves, warns, or hinders. This consciousness of life can deliver all of us from any taint of division.

Deliver From Independent Work

If we have body consciousness we will comprehend immediately that the body is one. Thus, in spiritual work, it cannot be individualistic in its scope. In order to participate rightly in the Lord's work, it is imperative that we deal with this matter of independent labor. In the thinking of some people, a person must lay his own hand on things or else that person will consider those things to be good for nothing. Whatever is done by him is deemed as having spiritual value; what is not done by him has no value at all. When he preaches and nobody is saved, he feels depressed. When he preaches and people are saved, he shows pleasant surprise. This is because he looks at the work as his own personal labor. But the moment God's children perceive the oneness of the body, they immediately comprehend the oneness of the work. The instant they see that the body is one, they are delivered from their individual endeavor since they now see the work of the body. This does not imply that a person can no longer labor as an individual. It simply means that he can no longer consider work as belonging solely to himself. Whether the work is done by him or not is no problem anymore, so long as it is done by someone.

As Christians, we should admire and seek for spiritual things, but we ought not have any emulative pretensions nor any trace of jealousy. Our attitude individually towards spiritual work should be: What I can do I hope others can also do; and what I cannot do I wish someone else can do; I would like to do more as well as I would expect other people to do more. How I need to realize that I can only be a single vessel in the work; I cannot monopolize it. I dare not consider the work and its result as altogether mine. If I insist that everything must be done by me, I have not apprehended the body. The moment I apprehend the body, immediately I realize that both my labor and that of others mean gain to the head as well as to the body. And let all glory be to the Lord and all blessing be to the church.

The Lord distributes His work to all, and everyone has his share. We must not think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. We should be faithful to the portion which the Lord has given each of us; but we should also respect the portion He gives to others. Many young people possess a kind of competitive attitude in which they are always comparing what they have with that which others do not have and what they do not have with that which others have. Actually, such comparison is absurd. How can we add a chair to a table? Are they one or two? A table plus a chair equals a table and a chair. If we are asked which is better, the hand or the eye, we can only answer that the hand and the eye are both good. He who has seen the body recognizes the functions of all the members. He looks at himself as only one among many members. He will not project himself to a distinctive position in order to compare himself favorably with others or even to occupy another's place.

As soon as a Christian inwardly discerns the body of Christ he has no way or justification to be either proud or jealous. Since the body is one, it makes no difference whether the work is done by him or by others. Whether by him or by other people, all glory goes to the Lord and all blessings flow to the church. If anyone sees the body of Christ, there will naturally be within him this consciousness: that the body is one, and therefore the work is one.

See the Need for Fellowship

He who sees the body of Christ most spontaneously sees not only the stupidity of independent action but the need for fellowship as well. Fellowship is not an external exercise in social intercourse; it is the spontaneous demand of body life. What is erroneously but commonly assumed to be fellowship by God's children is a visiting of homes of some brothers and sisters at times of leisure and chit-chatting with them a while. In actuality, fellowship means realizing the total inadequacy of my own self. I am desirous of doing all things with the other members of the body. Although for doing many things I am not able to gather all the brothers and sisters in the church, I still can do them with two or three brothers and/or sisters according to the principle of the body.

Oftentimes we need to learn fellowship in prayer, to learn fellowship in difficulties, to learn fellowship in seeking God's will, to learn fellowship concerning our future, and to learn fellowship regarding God's word. What fellowship means is that, knowing that I am inadequate in the matter of prayer, I seek out two or three others to pray with me. I by myself am incompetent in solving difficulties, hence I ask two or three brethren to deal with the situations together with me. Alone I am unable to know God's will, therefore I solicit the help of two or three others. I in myself am rather confused as to my future, consequently I request two or three brothers and sisters to fellowship and decide with me what my future should be. I cannot understand God's word alone, so now I study the word of God with two or three brothers and sisters who have spiritual discernment to help me (and not just ask those to help me who are affectionate towards me). I am inadequate, and hence I need the help of other brethren.

The body of Christ is a life, and there is therefore also a consciousness involved. You yourself will become conscious or aware of the fact that without fellowship you cannot live.

Learn to Be a Member

If a person has body consciousness he at once recognizes his place in the body; that is to day, he sees himself as being one of its members. Each member has his distinctive usefulness. A member of a physical body is different from a body cell. Lacking a cell does not matter much, but the lack of a member in a body is unthinkable. Of course, a cell has its use, but please note that the Bible in its use of the analogy of the human body says that we are members of the body of Christ, not cells. How pitiful that the conditions of many Christians are like those of cells in the human body instead of members. Such a person seems to have no specific use in the body of Christ, neither does he fulfill his part. In any given church meeting his presence does not appear to add anything to the body of Christ, and his absence does not give the appearance to the body that it is lacking in anything. He has not discharged his function in the body because he has never seen the body. When he is with brothers and sisters he never knows his ministry, neither does he even realize what he should do. Were he to perceive the body he could not help but see himself as a member. Were he to perceive the body, he would know that it will suffer loss if he does not supply life to it.

No one can be passive in a meeting. Each person is a member of the body, and consequently no one can come to a meeting as a passive spectator. As we gather together we pray because we realize we are mutual members of the body of Christ. Whether uttered or unuttered, we nonetheless pray, for we want to supply life to the body.

Some Christians are life-supplying members. When they attend a meeting, even if they do not open their mouths, their very presence lifts the meeting; for they are there supplying life, they are there swallowing up death. Once anyone discerns the body of Christ, he cannot fail to recognize himself as a member of the body.

Because we are members of the body of Christ and members each in its part, we must seek how to help the body in gaining life and strength. In any gathering, even if we do not open our mouths, we may pray silently. Even though we may not speak, we can still look to God. This is body consciousness. If we have seen the body, we cannot say we are a person of no consequence. We will rather say: I am a member of the body, and hence I have a duty to perform. I have a word which I should speak, I have a prayer which I should utter. When I come to the meeting I must do whatever God wants me to do. I cannot afford to be a spectator. Such things as these are what we will say or do if we truly apprehend the body. And as we all function, the life of the entire gathering will swallow up all death. Many meetings fail to exhibit such power to overcome death for there are too many spectators.

Submit to Authority

If you really see the body of Christ you are conscious of the loveliness of God's children, of the error of division, of the need for fellowship, and of the responsibility in you as a member of the body of Christ. All these facets of awareness are because of body consciousness. Moreover, as you are aware that you are in the body, you must become equally aware that you are under the authority of the Head. For whoever knows the life of the body of Christ and is conscious of being a body member will invariable sense the authority of the Head, who is Christ Jesus the Lord.

We must not only submit to the direct authority of the Head, we need also to submit to the indirect authority of the Head. My physical hand is under the direct authority of the head of my body, but when my arm moves, my hand moves together with my arm - for my hand submits to the head through the arm. Consequently, whoever sees the body of Christ sees also the authority which God has set in the body of Christ for him to submit to.

Sometimes when you are told by someone in the church to do a certain thing, you do not sense it is the Lord's will for you after you have prayed about it. And so you do not do it, and you feel happy. You know it is right for you to listen to the Lord's word rather than to man's word. On the other hand, is there an instance when you become aware that if you do not listen to your brother or sister you come into conflict with the Lord? Is there one time, or even a number of times, wherein you have the sense that one or more of the brethren who know the Lord have been placed by Him in the position of representing His authority and that if you enter into controversy with them you are in controversy with the Lord? If you truly perceive the authority of the Head, you will also perceive that one or more members of the body are ahead of you, and that to them you must learn to submit. Hence you recognize not only the Head but also those whom God has set in the body to represent the Head. If you are at odds with them, you will also be at odds with God.

If our eyes have been opened by the Lord to recognize the body, we will also recognize authority. When we behold the human body, why is it that all parts work so harmoniously as to reveal the fact that the entire body is one? This is because there is authority in the body. If there is no authority the entire body will be thrown into confusion. Suppose, for example, that the stomach is hungry for food, but that the mouth refuses to eat; what will happen to that man? The entire body will suffer if but one of its parts refuses to obey its authority. Or again, take the example of cancer, which we know is a most serious disease. How does cancer arise in the body? It is due to a few cells which develop themselves independently and not according to the law of the body. The body does not require them to develop in such a way, yet they insist on growing abnormally. They absorb many useful nutrients by which to supply their own growth. They only mind their own development: they do not care if the body does not need such growth: they do not obey the authority of the body but act independently on their own. Now the larger they grow, the more damage the body incurs. With the result that a few insubordinate cells may cause death to the entire body.

It is clear from the above observations that authority is the law of the human body, and insubordination to it is symptomatic of disease in the body. Equally true will this be in the spiritual body of Christ. If a person does not know what authority is, how can he say he knows the body of Christ? Let us see that the one who knows the body can discern - even when only three or five people are assembled together - who among those assembled is his authority; because there is manifested in their midst the authority of the Head to which he needs to submit. How natural and how beautiful it is in the human body for the fingers to submit to the wrist, the wrist to the arm, the arm to the shoulder, and so on. And this same beauty can be displayed in the body of Christ.

Certain Christians are so careless in action as well as in speech that they will not listen to anyone. They seem to regard themselves as being the greatest to such an extent that they fail to recognize anyone to whom they could submit. This proves that such believers have never known the restraint of the body nor have ever submitted to the authority of the Head. May God have mercy on such members. If we have genuinely been dealt with by the Lord and if our flesh has received such dealings as to have had the backbone of the natural life broken, we will immediately acknowledge how neither our hands nor our mouth have unlimited freedom - since all are under the control of the body - and how we cannot fail to submit ourselves to the authority which God has set in the body of Christ.

May we not remain merely in the realm of teaching on this matter, but be truly led of God to know and to experience the body of Christ. May this body consciousness in its many facets always follow us so that we have no way to do anything according to our own will, or to live carelessly through our days. Thus shall we receive rich supply through this body, and we will be able to manifest the testimony of the Lord.

1. Life and Consciousness π 3. Hold Fast the Head
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