The Body of Christ: A Reality

Watchman Nee

6. Obeying the Law of the body of Christ

They therefore that were scattered abroad went about preaching the word. And Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and proclaimed unto them the Christ. And the multitudes gave heed with one accord unto the things that were spoken by Philip, when they heard, and saw the signs which he did. For from many of these that had unclean spirits, they came out, crying with a loud voice: and many that were palsied, and that were lame, were healed. And there was much joy in that city. (Acts 8:4-8)
But when they believed Philip preaching good tidings concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. (Acts 8:12)
Now when the apostles that were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the world of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit: for as yet it was fallen upon none of them: only they had been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:14-17)
Lay hands hastily on no man, neither be partaker of other men's sins: keep yourself pure. (1 Tim. 5:22)
Neglect not the gift that is in you, which was given you by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. (1 Tim. 4:14)
For which cause I put you in remembrance that you stir up the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. (2 Tim. 1:6)
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall raise him up; and if he has committed sins, it shall be forgiven him. Confess therefore your sins one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed. The supplication of a righteous man avails much in its working. (Jas. 5:14-16)
And as he journeyed, it came to pass that he drew near to Damascus: and suddenly there shone round about him a light out of heaven: and he fell upon the earth, and heard a voice saying to him, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? And he said, Who are You, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom you are persecuting: but rise and enter into the city, and it shall be told you what you must do... But the Lord said unto him [Ananias], Go your way: for he is My chosen vessel, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake. And Ananias departed, and entered into the house; and laying his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, who appeared unto you in the which you came, has sent me, that you may receive your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 9:3-17)
And if your brother sin against you, go, show him his fault between you and him alone: if he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he hear you not, take with you one or two more, that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church: and if he refuses to hear the church also, let him be unto you as the Gentile and the publican. (Mt. 18:15-17)

If we wish to live the life of the body of Christ, we must first receive the revelation of the body of Christ. Without such revelation we will never cease to move individualistically. Some people deem the seeing of the body of Christ as not a surprising thing at all, but let us realize that we cannot speak empty words. For if anyone has really apprehended the body of Christ he must readily acknowledge that it has its own inherent law according to which he must live continually. Anyone who has seen Christ will not trust in his good deeds for salvation. By the same token, a person who says he has seen the body of Christ and yet continually acts independently by not holding fast the Head has never received the revelation of the body. For had he truly received such revelation, he would be bound to change. He would seek out fellowship and would learn submission.


The Authority of Life

No member has any authority, for authority rests only in the Head. It is a serious mistake for a member to claim he has such authority in himself. A member does not possess direct authority; he has only the authority delegated to him by the Head. And this authority is not something positional, it is wholly of life. Such authority does not come through "appointment" but by "being": If a member is not an eye, the body has no way to appoint him as its eye. If he is not a hand, the body cannot make him a hand through appointment. He has the authority of holding or of seeing only because he can hold or see. And as he functions along that line, people receive help.

It is a serious blunder if, in a church, authority becomes a matter of position and not of life - if a person is appointed because of his social position and not because of his spirituality. The word of God plainly shows us that authority is in life, not in position or background. Authority in a person is established in living, not in ordination. In his personal and corporate life he has experienced dealings in practical matters and has learned what other people have yet to learn. In the body of Christ, all authorities are out of life.

Although in a local assembly God has His appointment, even so, such appointment is not according to position, but according to life. When life and appointment agree, you must submit; otherwise, life will cease and you will be dislocated from the body - thus signifying that you do not hold fast the Head. If something is wrong between you and another member, you cannot say you have a normal relationship with the Head. If you have wronged another member of the body, you subsequently may not forget any teaching and you may even continue to carry on a work of ministry as usual, but you lose the word of life. Some brethren may have believed in the Lord for three years now. Yet how much real progress have they made? What is most pitiful is that though their courtesy and knowledge may have appeared to have increased, the life of the body of Christ in them has not increased.

Hence in the church we need to learn how to submit to one another. If members do not mutually submit, the life mentioned in Romans 8 will not be able to be manifested. On the contrary, brethren will feel as though air were leaking out of them - they can hardly go on. But to those who have discerned the body of Christ, they consider submission to be a most joyful thing.

In Acts 8 we have a case which illustrates the law of the body. When the church at Jerusalem suffered its first great persecution, all the brethren with the exception of the apostles were scattered abroad. Those who were scattered went about preaching the word of God. Now Philip was not an apostle, for his ministry in Jerusalem lay in serving the tables. Yet there was much life in him. And he went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed Christ to the people there. Signs were performed by him, and unclean spirits were cast out from many of them, and many who were palsied and lame were healed. The entire city was filled with the sound of the gospel. And the Bible account notes that "there was much joy in the city" (Acts 8:8) - thus indicating that there were multitudes who believed.

Being so mightily used by the Lord, Philip, had he wished to, could have proudly declared that though in Jerusalem it was Peter who saved souls, in Samaria the one who saved souls was Philip himself. He could have regarded himself as a great man in history. Yet after Philip had preached the gospel in Samaria, the experience of those who were saved turned out to be different from the experience of those who had been saved in Jerusalem - because in Samaria the Holy Spirit had not fallen on any of them. These Samaritans had truly believed and they had been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, but the Holy Spirit had not fallen on any of them. Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard about this, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. And after their arrival, they prayed for the new converts that they might receive the Holy Spirit. The apostles laid their hands on them, and thus they received the Holy Spirit.

What is the meaning of the incident of the laying on of hands? The book of Leviticus tells us that during the offering of a sacrifice hands of the one doing the offering were laid on the head of the animal sacrifice. What does this laying hands on the sacrifice represent? Only the bullocks which had hands laid on them could be offered up; the rest of the bullocks in the world could not be offered. Why? Simply this, that the lying of hands on the bullock joins the one who lays hands and the bullock into one. The bullock becomes the offerer. In offering up the bullock, the offerer actually offers up himself. As the bullock is accepted, so too is he accepted. And hence, the basic meaning of the laying on of hands is union.

The New Testament also mentions the laying on of hands a number of times. One place is found in 1 Timothy: "Lay hands hastily on no man, neither be partaker of other men's sins: keep yourself pure" (1 Tim. 5:22). Since the laying on of hands is a being joined together of other men's sins if he is not careful in doing so. Laying on of hands means union, which in turn means fellowship. In the Old Testament times, at the commissioning of kings and priests, hands were laid on their heads as well as oil was poured on their heads. Consequently, the laying on of hands means, firstly, the bringing of men under the anointing of the head, and secondly, the bringing of them into the fellowship of the body.

Today, in the church, the apostles are the representative members of the body of Christ. They also represent the authority of Christ. As the apostles laid hands on the believers in Samaria they recognized the latter as now being in the body. As soon as these believers entered the body, the Holy Spirit descended upon them. Suppose the saved in Samaria had received the Holy Spirit before the arrival of the apostles; then Philip might have been led to think that if the apostles knew how to work in Jerusalem, he also would know how to work in Samaria - with the consequence that the saved in Samaria would have had no connection with the saved in Jerusalem. And thus, to say that Jerusalem has Peter and Samaria has Philip would have been to destroy the principle of the body. For if such had been the case, the work which God had done in Jerusalem and the work which He had done in Samaria would have been two separate works, not one undifferentiated work in two places. For this reason, this incident in Samaria was important in that it caused the believers in Samaria to see that unless they had submitted to the one body of Christ there would have been no anointing. They had to wait until the apostles had come from Jerusalem and had laid their hands on them. For only then did the Holy Spirit fall upon them.

How we need to see that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the one body. And if so, then it is basically wrong to seek the Holy Spirit for the sake of one's own self. Why is it that some people are deceived? Why, for example, are some believers the recipients of evil spirits? It is because of their individualism - because of their not apprehending the body. The kind of vessel which the Lord looks for today is a corporate one, not an individual one. Individual work and individual fruit can never fully satisfy the Lord's heart, neither will they ever attain to God's ultimate aim. The principle of the laying on of hands must be in every work. In such laying on of hands is the recognition of union. In the laying on of hands is the acknowledgment of fellowship. In the laying on of hands is the confession of one body.

"Wherefore leaving the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us press on to perfection; not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the teaching of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment" (Heb. 6:1,2). Here we find six matters which constitute the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, and these six can be divided into three groups of two each: namely, that the first group includes two actions; the second, two external testimonies; and the third, two teachings concerning the future. Repentance from dead works and faith towards God are two actions; baptism and the laying on of hands represent two external testimonies; and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment form two teachings with respect to the future. It is interesting that we today do not neglect five of these six, but the one concerning the laying on of hands we do overlook. Even though the4 Bible does not have an explicit command about the laying on of hands, we cannot deny the fact that people who were saved during the apostolic days received the laying on of hands immediately after they were baptized. Baptism is unto Christ, the laying on of hands is unto the body. In the laying on of hands, a believer testifies as to his relationship with the body as well as to his relationship with Christ. It speaks of the fact that he is to submit to the authority of the head and not to act independently, that he is to deny individualism in work as well as in living.

"Where one member suffers," says Paul, "all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it" (1 Cor. 12:26). With the laying on of hands, a believer is giving testimony to his having been delivered from individualism and his having become a member of the body of Christ. When a person receives the laying on of hands, he does so for the sake of desiring to stand in proper place in the body.


Imparting Gift Through the Laying On of Hands

"I put you in remembrance," said Paul to Timothy, "that you stir up the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands" (2 Tim. 1:6). What is meant here is that the gift young Timothy received when he had experienced the laying on of hands must be stirred up and revived. Moreover, elsewhere Paul said this to Timothy: "Neglect not the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy, with the laying on of hands of the presbytery" (1 Tim. 4:14). In the instance referred to here, the apostle plus the eldership had imparted a gift to Timothy by prophecy. The one who gives a gift is of course the divine Anointing. When Paul and the elders laid hands on Timothy and prayed, God gave to one of them a prophetic prayer which predicted what kind of person Timothy would be in the future. And this prayer regulated the giving of the gift. When one who has had deep experience with the Lord lays his hands on people, the content of his prayer shall become the characteristic of the person who receives the laying on of hands. For here the authority of the Head is transmitted through a representative member, and thus a proper gift is granted to the one who receives the laying on of hands.

All who have had the laying on of hands should see that thereafter they have become a part of the body: thereafter they will not seek spirituality for their personal profit but for the good of the body. From now on, whether the Lord uses them or uses somebody else makes no difference. They will not be jealous when another member is being used. Oh how many works are done on an individual basis, oh how much seeking is for personal spiritual profit! May God deliver us from all these even as He has delivered us from sin.


Pray With Anointing

"Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord" (Jas. 5:14). This verse should be read together with a passage in 1 Corinthians 11: "He that eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment unto himself, if he does not discern the body. For this cause many among you are weak and sickly, and not a few sleep" (1 Cor. 11:29,30). There are many reasons for sickness: some are due to the violation of natural physiological laws, but some are due to the violation of the law of the body of Christ. If a Christian does not discern the body, he will be subject to weakness and sickness. For sickness of this kind, he must ask the elders to come. These elders are appointed by God in the local assembly. They are representative members. They represent the body of Christ in the locality. They will come and anoint the sick with oil.

"...the precious oil upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard; that came down upon the skirt of his garments" (Psa. 133:2). In the olden days of the priesthood the oil was poured on Aaron the high priest's head and it then flowed from his head to the skirt of his garments. The Oil of God is upon the head of Christ, for the Holy Spirit is given to the Son. And thus Christians receive the anointing under the headship of Christ their High Priest. Why must this sick person ask the elders to come and anoint him with oil? When a person is sick, you may readily recognize what his sickness is by knowing the medicine which the doctor has prescribed or given him. Here in James the apostle has told us what God has prescribed for the one who is sick. He is to ask the elders to come and anoint him with oil. Anointing with oil is what is prescribed for this person's sickness? So why then this prescription? It is simply because he has lost the anointing. Had he stood in the proper place as a member should have, he would not have lost the anointing and would not have therefore fallen sick. But because he does not discern the body, therefore he is sick. Under such a circumstance, what will the elders do? They will bring the sick one back under the Head and cause him to return to the body. If the believer lives in the body, he will not lose the anointing; but if he walks out of the body, he will either be sick or become dead. Do let us understand from this that it is well if we really discern the life of the body and live therein.

The sickness mentioned in James 5 is thus a special kind of sickness. How do we know his sickness is a special one and not a general one? Because in the following verse the apostle writes this: "And the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he has committed sins, it shall be forgiven him" (Jas. 5:15). What sin has he committed? Here his sin must have been the leaving of the body of Christ. Had the sin he committed been of a personal nature, all he would have needed to have done was to have trusted the precious Blood, and if necessary to have confessed it to any other people involved and had it dealt with. And he then would have been forgiven. He would not need to ask the elders to come and anoint him with oil in order to receive such forgiveness. The anointing with oil by the elders cannot get rid of sin: it is the Blood that washes sin away. Nevertheless, what is written here is that "if he has committed sins, it shall be forgiven him"; and this forgiveness comes through the prayer of the elders. Hence this sin is different from the ordinary kind. This is the sin of disharmony with the body. Such kind of sin will not be forgiven even if he himself prays to God. He needs the brethren, he needs the elders to come and pray for him. Only then will he be forgiven. He needs the help of others.

The next verse is very special: "Confess therefore your sins one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed. The supplication of a righteous man avails much in its working" (Jas. 5:16). Why does it mention here to "confess therefore your sins one to another"? Simply because there is something wrong in the body of Christ and there is therefore the need to confess sins one to another. The sick one must confess his sins to the elders, and vice versa. This shows us that when one member is wrong, the entire body is responsible. In the body of Christ, if one member is sick, then the elders of the entire church have their responsibility. Perhaps the elders do not show enough love or care. They need to confess this sin. The sick person, of course, must also confess his sin - the sin of being independent and of being out of touch with the body.

They must not only confess one to another, but also "pray one for another": the elders will again pray for the sick, and the sick will pray for the elders. This sufficiently shows the need for love and humility in the church. When a person falls away from the body, he is not only sick physically but also sick spiritually. For whenever he is out of touch with the body, he is out from under the anointing. How important it is for him to see the need of returning to the anointing and to the body.


The Revelation Paul Received at Repentance

Acts 9 shows us that at the time of Paul's repentance the revelation he received contained two aspects. As he traveled on the road to Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly shone on him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him: "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" The Lord is saying, "Why are you persecuting Me?": He does not say, "Why do you persecute those who believe in Me?" And so Paul asked, "Who are You, Lord?" To which the Lord answered: "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting." (Acts 9:3-5). Here the Lord demonstrated to Paul that all who believe in Him are one with Him. Such was the first aspect of God's revelation to Paul; namely, the intimate, indivisible oneness between the Head and the body. Paul was the first one in the Bible who saw the testimony of the body of Christ. No one can touch the member without at the same time touching the Head. For this reason, let us never think we can sin against our brother without concomitantly sinning against Christ. Let us ever be reminded that whoever touches even the smallest member of the body touches the very Head of the body. He who is hurt is the member; but he who feels it is the Head.

Paul was a man greatly used by God. Yet on the road to Damascus, the Lord said to him: "Rise, and enter into the city and it shall be told to you what you must do" (Acts 9:6). What the Lord meant by this was: I will not tell you what you are to do, but somebody else will do so. The Lord used someone else to tell Paul. This is a revelation of the body, and this second aspect of God's revelation to Paul is equally as great as the first aspect. On the first day of Paul's salvation, the Lord revealed to him the law or principle of the body. Though Paul is to be a vessel mightily used by the Lord, the Lord nevertheless uses other people to help him. Hence let us never think we do not need to depend on others as though we are to get everything directly from God alone. True, this is not meant to teach us to follow other people blindly, but it does admonish us not to entertain such a loft attitude wherein we believe we by ourselves may receive the word of the Lord and solve all problems singlehandedly.

Note what happened to Paul: "And Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he saw nothing; and they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and did neither eat nor drink" (Acts 9:8-9). Paul had already entered the city, but for three days no one came to tell him what he should do. What if he had grown impatient? After three days, though, Ananias came. Who was this Ananias? Before this incident, we have never seen or heard of his name; and even afterwards, we shall hear no more of him. He was not a man of fame, yet the Lord apprehended him with authority and used him to help one of the greatest apostles. The understanding of a great apostle was opened to him not by himself but by a little known brother. When Ananias beheld Saul (soon to become Paul), he laid his hands on him and said: "Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, who appeared unto you in the way which you came, has sent me, that you may receive your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 9:17). His laying hands on Paul and saying "Brother Saul" was for the purpose of showing to Paul the body. And for Paul to be filled with the Holy Spirit is to bring him under the anointing.

Many times the leading of the Holy Spirit in us is to bring us to receive another's leading and to accept help from others. If we do not accept another's help, we will miss out on much the Lord has for us. Some Christians decide everything by their own personal feeling. Where, then, is the body? Such believers live entirely in the individual realm; they do not see or experience the body.

Brethren ought to recall their past and take inventory as to how many actions of theirs were in the realm of the body. We each must see this: that I am a member, that I am restricted by the body, that I will receive help from other members in the church. May God show each of us the body now. Yet just what kind of a man is he who perceives the body? He is a person who seeks for fellowship, who fears that he himself may be wrong, and who dare not work independently. Such is the person who has discerned the body.


The Judgment of the Brethren

The following words from Matthew 18 are rather marvelous: "And if your brother sin against you, go show him his fault between you and him alone: if he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if doesn't hear you, take with you one or two more, that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established" (Mt. 18:15,16). What is said here is not whether you yourself feel any wrong or not; but rather that if two or three brothers say you are wrong, you must be wrong. The emphasis is on whether anything is wrong, not whether you feel something is wrong.

Suppose, for example, that a brother declares to you: "You have sinned against me in a certain matter," but that you are not aware of anything being wrong. So you go to pray. After praying, you still are not conscious of any wrong. And thus you tell your brother as follows: "Though you say I have sinned against you, I do not feel I have wronged you. I have prayed, and still I have no sense of having wronged you. I did not pray carelessly. I really prayed earnestly about it. I am not conscious of any wrong. It is not that I refuse to acknowledge a wrong; on the contrary, I am anxious to confess any sin. Nevertheless, I do not see anything wrong here." Your brother will then go and tell some other brothers. After hearing the matter, they all come to you and say you are wrong. Being a humble person, you would not at all refuse to confess a sin, yet you cannot in this instance confess, since you see no wrong. So you will go pray again, but still there is no change in your inner sentiment about the matter. Nonetheless, the Lord says that if your brothers all say you are wrong, you must be wrong whether you feel you have been wrong or not.

Another verse in Matthew 18 makes the issue even clearer. It tells us the reason why I must be wrong when I do not feel so and yet the brethren say I am wrong: "For where two or three are gathered together unto My name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mt. 18:20 Darby). Some people take this verse to be a promise. This is not accurate. The Lord does not give this verse to serve as a basis for asking His presence. What this Scripture verse says is that where two or three are gathered unto the name of the Lord, there will He be in the midst of them. To be gathered together to the name of the Lord signifies the abandoning of individualism (that is, that nothing is now according to one's self) and the standing on the ground of the body of Christ. Since Christ is in all of them, there He is in the midst of them. Where two or three deny themselves and stand for Christ, the Lord will manifest Himself. True harmony expresses the body. If we are found standing on the ground of the body of Christ, the Lord's authority is present. With Christ in their midst, they can represent the body. And hence, when other brothers see the fault which you yourself fail to see, you should listen to the two or three rather than to yourself. This is not meant to suggest that you blindly listen to the word of others. Only if the two or three really deny themselves and are gathered to the name of the Lord is it wise for you to accept the judgment of others rather than trust in your own judgment.

In the church there are four classes of people who represent the body: 1) the apostles; 2) the elders; 3) an individual believer specially sent by the Lord, such as in the case of Ananias being specifically sent to speak to Paul; and 4) two or three believers who deny themselves and gather themselves and gather themselves to the name of the Lord. These four classes of people of people represent the body. In the event you are wrong about something, the Lord may specially send to you a single believer to tell you wherein you are wrong. If you do not listen to a single believer, the latter will tell it to two or three others; and these two or three believers will then speak to you. If you will still not listen, you next will need the help of the elders. You cannot afford to act independently.

In many unsolved matters you need to seek out the elders and the apostles, because they are especially chosen by the Lord to represent the body. The apostles and the elders should be notified concerning any important affairs so that they may help you in unclear situations. We must not neglect the body nor those who represent it, else we shall not be able to live out the life of the church. May the Lord give us not only the revelation of the body so that we may have the testimony of the body but also grace to submit to those who represent it.

As soon as a person receives salvation he should be brought immediately into the fellowship of the body of Christ. May the Lord enable us to obey the body as well as to obey the Lord. May He deliver us from individual, independent action and cause us to live out fully the life of the body of Christ.




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