THE CHURCH IN THE EPISTLES
BY KEVIN J. CONNER
Having pursued the concept, birth and development of the Church in the Gospel, and the Acts, we come now to consider the revelation of the Church as in the Epistles, especially the Pauline Epistles.
As already noted, we have “first the blade” (The Church in the Gospel), “then the ear” (The Church in Acts), and then ”the full corn in the ear” (The Church in the Epistles (Mark 4:28).
It is especially to Paul that the revelation of the Church as the “great mystery” is given, the mystery Body of Christ.
A. The Mystery Body of Christ
There are many mysteries in the Word of God, as previously listed, but the distinctive mystery, relative to the Church is “The Mystery Body of Christ”. The word “Church” has been used but twice in the Gospels. The word “Church” or “Churches” is used many times in the Acts, where the Church is coming into manifestation and operation. However, when it comes to the Epistles, especially Paul’s writings, we see the revelation of THE MYSTERY, even THE CHURCH as the BODY OF CHRIST!
The expression “The Body” is not used in the Gospel nor the Acts as it pertains to the Church.
But it is a most frequent expression in the Pauline Epistles. The word “Mystery” has been defined as “That which can only be known to the initiated”. Its distinct and unique revelation is given to Paul concerning Christ and His Church. We note this again in Ephesians 3:1-9.
1. Paul states that it was by revelation God made known to him “the mystery”. Verse 3 (Ephesians 1:9; I Corinthians 2:8-10).
2. He speaks of the Mystery of Christ. Verse 4.
3. This Mystery was not made known to the sons of men in other, or Old Testament, times as it is now revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. Verse 5.
4. The Mystery is defined as the Jews and Gentiles being brought into “one body”. Verse 6.
5. Paul desired that all men might see what is the fellowship of “The Mystery” which from the beginning of the world was hid in God and hid from generations and ages. Colossians 1:25-27; Ephesians 3:9.
6. The purpose of the Mystery is declared in Ephesians 3:9, 10, 21. To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the many sided wisdom of God.
Thus the Scriptures reveal that the Church was a Mystery hidden from previous generations. It was revealed to the apostles and prophets by the Spirit, after the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
The Old Testament saints did not see the Church, and many times did not understand their own utterances until it was revealed to them that their prophecies were partially for their own generation but were also for another generation. II Peter 1:19-21; I Peter 1:9-12; Matthew 13:10-17.
For this reason the prophets would love to have heard and witnessed that which took place under the ministry of Christ and the apostles, as well as that which takes place in the New Testament Church Age.
The Church is God’s eternal purpose in Christ even before the world began (II Timothy 1:9, 10; Ephesians 1:9-11; 3:11; I Corinthians 2:7). The Godhead planned the whole thing in the counsels of eternity (Romans 8:29-30). The Church age is the age to which all others pointed and upon which the future ages proceed (Ephesians 3:5, 9). Creation itself made way for redemption. We are in the end of the ages (Colossians 1:26; I Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 9:26).
Thus Paul is clear on the fact that this mystery was kept secret since the world began. “According to the revelation (Greek ‘Apokalupsis’, as Revelation 1:1), which was kept secret (silent) since the world began, but now is made manifest (disclosed) and by the Scriptures of the prophets made known, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith.” This revelation which can only be known to the initiated was kept secret, but the time came when it was manifested, revealed, disclosed, uncovered and unveiled to the New Testament apostles and prophets, especially to the apostle Paul.
And when it was uncovered, it was seen to have been in the Scriptures of the prophets and shadowed until the appointed time. This is why Paul and other New Testament writers continually appeal to and quote the Old Testament prophets and apply their writings to the Church.
The “time element” as to why this mystery could not be revealed was that this mystery centered in the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, and thus the mystery could not be seen nor could anyone be initiated into it, until after the finished work of Calvary and the glorification of the Son of God. In other words, it could not be revealed until after His death, burial, resurrection, ascension and glorification followed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:27, 44-46; Acts 3:19-21).
It was distinctly the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit to initiate one into the mystery of the Church, the Body of Christ. The Spirit revealed to the prophets that they spoke to another age, the Church age.
What Actually is “The Mystery”?
The actual mystery is a twofold truth as seen here. That is, the Gentiles coming into blessing in Christ, and the Jew and Gentile coming together in one Body. Ephesians 3:6; Colossians 1:24-27. The Body is THE CHURCH that He said He would build. We consider this in more detail here. The former has been dealt with under “The New Ethnic”.
1. The Gentiles coming into blessing in Christ The Gentiles were called to be fellow-heirs, of the same body, and partakers in Christ by the Gospel (Ephesians 3:1-6).
Many Old Testament Scriptures speak of the Gentiles coming into blessing. The prophet Isaiah is especially the Evangelist-Prophet who speaks of Gentile blessing through Christ. Paul was chosen to be the apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13; Isaiah 42:1-16; 49:6-12, 22; 54:3; 60: 1-5, 11, 16; 66:19; Malachi 1:11). Read also Jeremiah 16:19; Luke 2:32; 1:32-33; Galatians 3:8, 14-16; 1saiah 11:1O; Colossians 1:24-27.
This blessing would only come through Christ, the Saviour of the world (Matthew 12:18-21; John 12:20-24; Galatians 3:14; Romans 9, 11:11; Romans 15). God chose Israel as a nation to bring forth the Saviour who would bless all the nations.
In the Acts we see the Gentiles coming into blessing in Christ. The Great Commission was that the Gospel go to every creature, everywhere, in all nations, both Jew and Gentile (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15-20; Acts 1:8).
In the Gospel odd Gentiles received blessing, but it remained for the fulness of blessing to come on the Gentiles after Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 15:21-28; Luke 7:1-10; John 4; Luke 4:24-28; 17:16). These Gentiles reached over by faith into the new dispensation and were blessed.
Under the Old Testament, Gentiles could come into Israel by circumcision (Genesis 17). But it was not until THE SEED of Abraham, Christ, came that the Gentiles could come into the fulness of the New Covenant blessing. At the cross the “middle wall of partition” was broken down (Ephesians 2:12-22; Acts 9:15; 13:4248; 14:2-5, 27; 18:6; 21:11-25; 22:21; 26: 17-23; 28:28).
Under the Old Covenant God chose one nation. Under the New Covenant, God chooses out of every nation those who constitute His Church (I Kings 8:3843; Psalms 138; Psalms 102:13-22; 22:17; 98:1-14; 66:14; 67:1-7; 86:9; 72:17; Isaiah 19:25; Zechariah 2:8-12; Psalms 2:8; 65: 1-2; Isaiah 40:5; 55:4-5; Acts 15:3-21; Psalms 117:1-2; Isaiah 11:10-11; Psalms 105:6, 43).
These Scriptures should be read and considered for they speak of the Gentiles coming into blessing IN THIS AGE, not in another future age. The prophets saw the Gentiles coming into blessing. Many believers place these Scriptures in A COMING AGE instead of realizing that it began in Acts and is still in fulfillments in our day.
2. Jews and Gentile in the same Body
It is around this chief truth that the problems arise in the Book of Acts, as well as in the world today. Not only were the Gentiles to come into blessing in Christ, but JEW AND GENTILE were to be made members of the SAME BODY, The mystery Body of Christ!
The Acts surround two major apostles, Peter and Paul. Also these two apostles involved the two ethnic divisions, Jew and Gentile, or Circumcision and Uncircumcision.
There is progression in the going forth of the Gospel in Acts. Acts 1-7 chapters. Jerusalem and Judea. Ministry to the Jews. Acts 8. Ministry to the Samaritan, then to the Ethiopian. Acts 10-11. Ministry to the Gentiles under Peter.
Thus Shem, Ham and Japheth come into blessing in the tents of Shem (Genesis 9:24-27).
Acts 1-12 involves Peter’s ministry; Acts 13-28 involves Paul’s ministry.
In Acts 10-11 the Lord sends Peter to the Gentiles to open the door of faith to the Gentiles. In Acts 11 the Jewish brethren contend with Peter for going down to the Gentiles, but when Peter relates what God had done then the contention is settled.
In Acts 15 we have the problem of the Gentiles and the Judaizing teachers. The legalizers desire to bring the Gentiles under the Law of Moses while the Jews did not want to be as Gentiles. They all see that God is visiting the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His Name. However, there was great danger of having two distinct Churches; the Jewish Church, composed of Jewish believers in Christ, holding the Mosaic Law–The Church of the Circumcision; and the Gentile Church, composed of the Gentile believers in Christ–The Church of the Uncircumcision. What was God’s answer to the problem?
This answer is given by revelation to Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. He was chosen in Acts 9, preparatory to the visit of Peter in Acts 10-11 to the Gentiles. The Mystery is revealed to Paul that the Gentiles with the Jews were to be ONE BODY–not two difference ethnic bodies (Ephesians 3:1-9).
At the cross the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile was broken down (Ephesians 2:11 -21). To erect this wall would be to nullify the work of the cross. God was making of Jew and Gentile ONE NEW MAN (Ephesians 2:15; Colossians 3:9-11). The NEW MAN is neither Jew nor Gentile. The “Old Man” is nationalistic, either Jew or Gentile. But the old man was nailed to the cross in death and judgment. The new man is Christ Jesus, the Last Adam, in His redeemed.
In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile (Galatians 3:28).
It is the New Creature alone that God accepts (II Corinthians 5:16, 17).
This constitutes the new Israel of God (Galatians 6: 16). The new man is neither a Jewish man nor a Gentile man. It is the BODY OF CHRIST. The union, by spiritual birth, of all believers, out of all nations, who are in Christ. This is THE CHURCH. The Body of Christ, therefore, is not national, international, denominational nor undenominational–it is a spiritual body, a new ethnic division, as already seen. The “key” verse to this is found in I Corinthians 12:13. “By one Spirit are we all baptized into ONE BODY whether we be Jews or Gentiles, bond or free . . .”
It is the Holy Spirit who settles the issue in the Book of Acts concerning the Body of Christ. There cannot be two separate or distinct Churches. There cannot be a Gentile and a Jewish. There is ONE CHURCH, the ONE BODY of Christ. How this revelation would, could and should settle the “nationalistic” spirit on the “mission field” in so many places if it was received.
In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit baptized the Jews into the mystery Body of Christ. In Acts 10 the same Holy Spirit baptized the Gentiles into the same mystery Body. Thus, washed in the same blood (Acts 20:28, the blood of God NOT Jewish blood!), baptized into the same Name, and baptized in the same Holy Spirit, Jew and Gentile are in the same Body, the mystery Body of Christ.
Note Paul’s emphasis on the Body of Christ in these passages of Scripture:
* The Church is the Body of Christ, the mystery unveiled (Ephesians 3:1-12).
* Christ is the Head of the Body, which is the Church (Colossians 1:18, 24).
* The Church is His Body, the fulness of Him who filleth all in all (Ephesians 1:22, 23; Colossians 3:15).
* There is one body (Ephesians 4:4).
* There is one bread, one body (I Corinthians 10:17)
* There is one body but many members. The natural body typifies the spiritual body, the Church (I Corinthians 12:13-27).
* Christ is the Saviour of the body, His Church (Ephesians 5:23-32).
* There are many members but one body (Romans 12:1-6).
* There is the communion of the body of Christ (l Corinthians 10:16, 17; 11:24-29).
* Jew and Gentile are dead to the Law by the Body of Christ (Romans 7:4).
* Jesus spake of the new Temple as the temple of His body (John 2: 12-22).
The Spirit and The Word
It is important to understand the related ministries of the Spirit and the Word relative to the Church. The Church is to be built by the Word of the Lord as well as by the Spirit of the Lord. The Spirit and the Word work together. The Book of Acts clearly shows the connection between the Spirit and the Word. This was to be so in relation to the Church, the Body of Christ.
1. Jesus, the Word, gave commandments by the Spirit to the apostles (Acts 1:2).
2. Jesus was THE WORD made flesh by THE SPIRIT (John l:14-18; Matthew 3:15-21).
3. The apostles would preach the word after the Spirit had come on them (Acts 1:8).
4. The disciples spoke in tongues (words) as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:14).
5. In the Last Days people would prophesy the word as the Spirit was outpoured on them (Joel 2:23-32; Acts 2:17, 18).
6. Peter spoke the word with boldness by the Spirit to the Sanhedrin about healing of the lame man (Acts 4:8).
7. The believers spoke the word with boldness after being filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31).
8. The Spirit fell on the Gentiles as they heard the Word (Acts 10:44).
9. The disciples at Ephesus spoke with tongues when filled with the Spirit (Acts 19:6).
10. A Word of Wisdom and a Word of Knowledge is given by the Spirit (I Corinthians 12:8).
11. When the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide into the Word of truth (John 16:13; 17; 17).
12. The Spirit moved and God spoke the Word in creation (Genesis 1:1-5).
D. The Holy Spirit and The Body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:13).
The importance of the Holy Spirit in relation to the Body of Christ must be recognized. It is the Holy Spirit who forms and fashions the Body of Christ and its various members.
In Acts I, Christ, the Head and Builder of the Church returns to the Father God. In Him is all the Fulness of the Godhead bodily. In Him are all ministries, gifts, graces, spiritual fruit and the power of the Lord. This Fulness is to be manifested in the Church, His Body.
In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit descends from heaven to form the Church, the Body of Christ. It is by the Spirit that all the ministries, gifts, grace, power and fulness of the risen Head is to flow down to and through the Body. It is the same Spirit in the same Body, the spiritual Body of Christ.
Types which illustrate the relationship of “The Spirit” and “The Body” are considered in brief here. It is James who says, “The body without the spirit is dead” (James 2:26). Though referring to the natural physical human body, the truth is also applicable to the spiritual Body, the Church.
1. The First Adam
a. The Body (Genesis 1:26, 27; 2:7; Romans 5:14).
God’s masterpiece was the creation of man. Man’s body was formed out of the dust of the earth. Man was made in the triune image of God. God fashioned, formed, placed and set every member of Adam’s body as it pleased Him. The human body has about 40 million members in it, all working harmoniously together to make a united body. The body of man is God’s masterpiece in creation. His body was formed to be inhabited. When formed, Adam’s body was as yet lifeless. Not one member could function or operate as God ordained until made alive. The body was complete, but lifeless.
b. The Spirit (Zechariah 12:1; Proverbs 20:27; James 2:26; Numbers 16:27).
The body without the spirit is dead. So God formed the spirit of man within him when he made the body. The spirit of man is the candle or lamp of the Lord. This lamp must be lighted. Light is life. God thus breathed into man the breath of life (lives) and man became a living soul (I Thessalonians 5:23). So the members of the body became alive, active and functioning. The same was true for the bride of Adam. This is all typical of Christ and His bride.
The Body of Christ
David in Psalm 139 speaks of the formation of the human body in the mother’s womb. The language is also applicable to the Church as the Body of Christ. My substance was not hid from Thee (Acts 15:18; Matthew 13:10-13). God knows all. The body was curiously wrought in the lower parts of earth (Exodus 35:32). Made in secret in the mother’s womb (Romans 16:25; Matthew 13:34, 35). God saw all my substance as yet unperfect. In His book all the members were written when as yet there was none of them (Hebrews 12:23). These were fashioned continually (Acts 2:46; 13:42; 14:22). Thus the human body is fearfully and wonderfully made. How much more is this applicable to the Body of Christ, His Church? Paul takes the natural body to be symbolic of the spiritual body. God sees every member of the Body of Christ before their existence, and He fashions and forms them to the image of His Son (Ephesians 1:1-11; Romans 8:28-32). The curious power of the Lord is seen in redemption.
b. The Spirit
I Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 4:12; Ecclesiastes 12:1; James 2:26. Man is a triune being; spirit, soul and body. The Word of God is the only thing that distinguishes between the triune parts of man. However, the body without the spirit is dead, lifeless. Death is the exit of the spirit from the body. The body returns to dust and the spirit to God who gave it. So the Body of Christ without the Holy Spirit is dead. It is the Spirit who causes every member to live, move, function and operate in their place in the body. The moment a baby is conceived, the spirit is there to give and maintain life.
3. The Tabernacle of Moses
a. The Tabernacle (Exodus 25-40)
The Tabernacle was built by the wisdom of God after the Divine pattern. It took approximately 9 months to complete. It was curiously made as to its vessels, curtains, structure. It is typical of the true Tabernacle, the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:14-18).
b. The Shekinah Glory
The Tabernacle was built for one purpose, this being, to house the Shekinah Glory of God. Without the Glory, the Tabernacle was incomplete. The Spirit of God in Shekinah Glory filled the Tabernacle, then the function of the sanctuary began to operate.
4. The Temple of Solomon
a. The Temple
II Chronicles 3-7 gives the account of the building of the Temple. It also was built after the Divine pattern, given by the Spirit to David. It was made by the wisdom and ability of God. The stones were quarried, fashioned, overlaid and then brought together noiselessly into one Temple as the work of God. It again pointed to the true Temple, Jesus Christ (John 2:18-22).
b. The Glory of God
It was built for one purpose, to house the Glory of God. The presence and name of God dwelt there. His glory and His voice were there, without this Glory the Temple was incomplete. Ministry in the Temple could only continue under the Glory of God. Without it, all became a mere lifeless form, even as in the Tabernacle of Moses.
5. The Nation of Israel (Ezekiel 37)
a. The Body
The valley of dry bones teaches the same truth. The WORD of the Lord had to go forth first, this brought the bones and the body together. Bone came to his bone, and member to member. All found their proper place in the body. Flesh, sinews and skin came on them. All were ready to function. It can be used to symbolize the coming together of the Body of Christ. They had been a lifeless, scattered and divided body of people. The Word brought all together. But they were still lifeless.
b. The Spirit
Note vs 8, 14. “But there was no breath in them.” The Spirit of the Lord must move now. The whole House of Israel had come together, bone to his bone and member to his member, but still lacked life, the spirit of life. Then the Spirit entered into them and they stood up an exceeding great army. All this can become symbolical of the Church, as the army of the Lord, empowered by the power of the Spirit and the Word (Zechariah 4:6).
6. The Last Adam
Jesus Christ is the Last Adam, the begotten Son of God. We see the same revelation manifested in His life also.
a. The Body (Hebrews 10:5, 10; Colossians 1:22; Matthew 1:20-23).
This body was prepared for the Son of God in the virgin Mary. It was a body prepared to do the will of God. Incorruptible seed, and a perfect body was prepared for the Last Adam. The body of Jesus was curiously wrought by the Spirit over 9 months in the virgin’s womb (Luke 1:35; Isaiah 7:14). Every member in this body was sinless, sickless, perfect, deathless and immortal. The Divine life of the blood of God was in the body of Jesus. The WORD was made flesh (John 1:14-18; I Corinthians 15:46, 47).
b. The Spirit (Luke 1:35).
The Holy Spirit was involved in the formation of the body of Jesus by the overshadowing of Mary, planting within her the seed of the WORD. He formed this sinless body for the incarnation (John 1:14-18). The body was prepared of God. Then later on at Jordan, the Holy Spirit filled this Tabernacle, this Temple with Himself (Matthew 4:16, 17; John 3:33, 34). He was the dwelling place of God, the habitation of His name, His presence, His words, His glory (John 1:14-18; 2:18-22). As Tabernacle and Temple were built according to the pattern by the wisdom and Spirit of God, so was Jesus Christ.
The begotten Word by the Spirit was after 30 years then the anointed Word by the Spirit.
7. The Church, the Body of Christ
a. The Body
Ephesians 4:4; I Corinthians 12:13; Hebrews 10:5; Ephesians 1:22, 23; Colossians 1:18,24; James 2:26. The Church now is the spiritual body of Christ. What God did in the physical and natural body of Jesus, He desires to do in the spiritual Body, the Church. Every member will ultimately be sinless, sickless, deathless, immortal and incorruptible. They will be bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh. All will be according to the Divine pattern (I John 4:17). The Church is now God’s Temple, his habitation. ‘I The believer individually end believers corporately are the Temple of God (I Corinthians 6:19. 20; 11 Corinthians 6:16- 18; II Peter 1:13, 14; 11 Corinthians 5:1; Ephesians 2:20-22). The Church is to tee indwell by the Spirit. The Church Age is the “age of the Body in formation. The Head is firstborn, the Body follows.
b. The Spirit
Thus as each member is “born again”, the Spirit enters them and they become a mystical member of this Body of Christ. Thus the 12, the 70, the 120, the 3000, the 5000 and multitudes were added to the Church unto this day (Acts 1:8; 2:14; 1 Corinthians 12:13; John 21-23; Luke 3:16). We see the two aspects of the Spirit’s work in the members of the Body. Christ breathed on His disciples and they were “born of the Spirit”. Then at Pentecost there was the rushing wind and they were “baptized with the Holy Spirit”. This was individually and corporately. Christ was the Baptizer (John 1:32, 33).
They were personally baptized into the Spirit, and then corporately baptized into the Body by the Holy Spirit. Many members baptized into one Body. Thus through the Book of Acts (Acts 2, Acts 8, Acts 10-11, etc.) believers were born again and baptized into the Spirit and into the Body of Christ. They became living and active members of the Body. It was an immersion into the body of Christ.
Thus we have the importance of the Holy Spirit in relation to the Body (I Corinthians 12). It is a spiritual body. The Gifts, Fruit, Ministries, Operations and Functions of the Body of Christ are by the power of the Spirit. Without the Spirit all is lifeless, inactive, inoperative–dead indeed!
There are many, many lessons which can be learned from the natural human body which may be applied in principle to the Body of Christ. We conclude this chapter with some of these lessons.
* In the human body, every member is active, operative, and each contributes towards the welfare of the body. Every member and cell has a function to carry out, also to live on out, as God gives them.
* Every member is set in the Body as it pleases God.
* Every member recognizes the other member.
* Every member works with and for the other, not usurping authority over another.
* Every member is subject to the head, or the nerve center. None rebel.
* Every member is connected to the other by the blood-life stream. I John 1:7.
* Every member is connected by the breath of life. James 2:26; Genesis 2:7.
* Every member functions at the direction of the head. l Corinthians 12:27.
* Every member is interdependent on the other. I Corinthians 10:17.
* Every member functions in their God-given place.
* Every member has a unique God-given place.
* Every member knows it is not the whole body.
* Every member has a gift within it to make it a functioning member. i.e. The ear is a member, having the “gift” of hearing, otherwise it is deaf. The eye is a member but has the “gift” of sight, otherwise there is blindness. It is the “gift” in the member that makes it a useful and functioning member.
* Every member works in the unity of the body also, to make it a harmonious body.
The human body is God’s masterpiece in creation (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:7; Psalms 139:13-17). With its untold millions (perhaps 30-50 million) cells, etc., its marvelous nervous system of communication, the blood, the skin, the arms and hands, the legs and feet, the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, brains, head, eyes, ears, the protective structure of the bones (at least 246 bones in the body, 63 in the head, 24 in the sides, 16 in the wrist, 14 in the joints, 108 in the hands and feet), etc., and the wonder of all these working together in marvelous harmony and unity in the one body of man–all is indeed the marvel of the Divine creation.
If God did this in the old creation man, what shall He do in the new creation Man–The Body of Christ? He desires to relive His life in the Church which is His body. There are millions of unseen members in the natural body, as well as the seen. Yet all work together in harmony for a whole and healthy body. The unseen and invisible members and cells maintain the seen and visible in active health and life.
There are no “independent” members in the body. Every joint supplies (Ephesians 4:16).
All these lessons are evidently applicable to the members of the Body of Christ.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS TAKEN FROM THE CHURCH IN THE NEW TESTAMENT AND PUBLISHED BY BT PUBLISHING, 1982, PAGES 71-78. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.