8. Three Cardinal Principles on Living in the Body of Christ

The Body of Christ: A Reality

Watchman Nee
Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Rom. 12:4 π 1 Cor. 12:26 π Col. 1:24

We have been shown clearly in the previous chapters that in the body of Christ there are many members - and yet all these members are one, with each having its particular office or function; for God has not made all members the same but has made every member differently. This fact Paul has made plain in Romans 12: "For even as we have many members in one body, [yet] all the members have not the same office [function]." ( Rom. 12:4; top ) But how, then, can all these members with their various functions be fitly framed and knit together as one body? This is the question for our present consideration here. In answering this question, we must first realize that there are three cardinal principles which are indispensable to our living in the body of Christ - the first which governs the relationship between me and the Head; the second of which governs the relationship between me and the body; and the third, my place as a member.

My Relation to the Head (Christ) - Subjection

The meaning of my Christian consecration has to do with my desire to be obedient to the Lord. I do not want to be free, nor will I be rebellious to authority. The first principle on living in the body of Christ is to be in subjection to the authority of the Head, since the very existence of the body with its varied functions and activities depend on authority. Whenever authority loses its ground in us, the body is immediately paralyzed. Whichever part of the body is disobedient, that part experiences paralysis. It is only a paralyzed body which is not subject to the command of the head. Where life is, there is authority. It is inconceivable to reject authority and still receive life.

All who are full of life have been obedient to authority. How, for example, can my physical hand have life and yet resist the control of my head? My hand is living because it is manageable by my head. The very meaning of living for my hand signifies that my head is able to direct and use it. The same is true in the relationship between any member of the body of Christ and the Head. The very first principle for each member who lives in the body of Christ, therefore, is to obey the Lord who is the head. If you and I have not been dealt with until such time as we become obedient persons, then what we know about the body is merely doctrinal in nature, not a matter of life.

What a blessed thing it is to have God deal with our natural life, causing us to be in subjection to Christ the Head! We ought to seek for obedience daily. Not only should we look for opportunities by which to advance spiritually that we may be holy and righteous, we should also seek before God every opportunity to obey that we may likewise learn obedience.

My Relationship to the Body (Church) - Fellowship

Our relationship to the Head is subjection, while our relationship to the body is fellowship. Among God's children, fellowship is not only a fact but also a necessity. The life of the body of Christ relies on fellowship, for without it the body will die. What is fellowship? For me to receive help from other members - that is fellowship. For example, in the body of Christ, perhaps I am a mouth, and I can therefore speak forth. But I need the fellowship of that member who may be ears in order that I may also hear; I need the fellowship of him who may be eyes so that I may see; I require the fellowship of the one who may be hands in the body in order that I may take hold of things; and I also require the fellowship of the member who supplies feet to the body in order that I may walk. And hence it is by means of fellowship that I can receive the distinctive functions of other members and thus make all that they have mine.

Some Christians do not understand the principle of fellowship. They wish to seek the Lord by themselves and to pray by themselves. They themselves do all things. They want to be not only a mouth but also ears, to be hands as well as feet. Not so with those who know God, because they know they need fellowship. In fellowship they acknowledge that they themselves are limited and insufficient. Through fellowship they gladly receive as their own what the others have.

What is true of fellowship in the realm of teaching can be most real in fact. For can any of us honestly say that he has actually prayed three hundred sixty-five days in the year or that he has carefully read the Bible every day of the year? Experience tells us that due to physical weakness or some other cause we cannot avoid having a day or two in the year wherein we are unable to pray and read the Bible as we should. Is it because of such deficiency that I must therefore be defeated? that I must fall to the ground? No, not at all. For most surprisingly, within a given week, say on Monday of that week, I may feel rather near to God, and from Tuesday to Friday I continue to feel all right, but that on Saturday I neither pray nor read the Bible as I should - due probably to fatigue: yet I do not necessarily fall on Saturday, nor need I be worse than Friday; for strangely enough, a power seems to sustain me and bring me through the day. Now what is the cause for such support? Is it not due to the supply of the life of the body?

Many of God's children can testify to this kind of experience. And this happens not just once or twice, but numerous times. According to our own condition we are extremely weak, but god carries us through. How? By means of the mutual supply of the body of Christ. Unknown to others, some member in the body is praying, asking God to give grace to all His children. And hence life flows from another member to us, thus enabling us to stand. The life of the body is able to flow into us and carry us through.

My Place As a Member - Service

If we have now seen that the life of the body is communicative and mutually supplying, we should likewise begin to realize before God that we should not be simply those who consume life but even more so be those who supply life. If there are too few members to supply life in the body of Christ while at the same time there are too many member who wait to receive the life supply, the strength of the body will be exhausted. Accordingly, we ourselves need to pray for other people. God will use our prayer to supply life to other members. Whenever they have need, life will flow into them.

"And whether one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it." ( 1 Cor. 12:26; top ) It does not say here that if one member suffers, all the members ought to suffer with it; nor does it say if one member is honored, all the members ought to rejoice with it. The word of God does not say whether we ought to or not. On the contrary, God's word declares quite plainly that if one member suffers, all the other members do in fact suffer with it - and that if one member is honored, all the other members do in actual fact rejoice with it. This statement will therefore explain why frequently you and I may experience odd sensations. Often we do not understand why on a given occasion we feel so heavy and yet after two days the heaviness disappears. May I say that is due to no other reason that the relationship which exists in the body of Christ among the various members.

Such a phenomenon can be illustrated by an occurrence which took place during the time of the great Welsh Revival. In one remote area a sister was praying one day with two or three other Christians. Oddly, on that day she felt the sweeping power of the Holy Spirit upon her. She had never had such an experience before. Such a condition continued on for four to five months, during which period she found it quite easy to touch God without the slightest effort - as though heaven itself had drawn very close to her. And this went on until one day, as she read the paper, she was shown by God that she had been wonderfully supplied by the Revival. This is exactly what the Scripture means by saying that if one member is honored all the other members rejoice with it. Let us realize this very thing, that the body of Christ is a living entity: it is an organic life. Said Paul:

"I...fill up on my part that which is lacking in the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body's sake which is the church." ( Col. 1:24; top ) Because we are in the one body, we can therefore fill up that which is lacking in the other members.

Hence this is not just a matter of suffering and rejoicing, it is a matter of life. Some people are able to supply life to the church; other people are able to receive life through the church. We must have this life flow in both directions. On the one side, we receive the supply of the body through fellowship; on the other side, we as members of the body supply life to others. Let us not apprehend the body merely as a teaching or a way of explanation. Let us see that the body of Christ is an absolute reality and that all the children of God being members one of another is likewise an irrefutable fact. And in view of these certainties, we should gladly receive help from others as well as earnestly seek to help other brothers and sisters.

7. The Covering, Restraint, and Supply of the Body of Christ
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