The Body of Christ: A Reality

Watchman Nee

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

And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that fills all in all. (Eph. 1:22,23)
From whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in due measure of each several part, makes the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love. (Eph. 4:16)
Subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ. (Eph. 5:21)
Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints" (Eph. 6:10-18)

In this chapter we shall look into a few more matters related to the body of Christ. These matters are 1) the covering of the body, 2) the restraint of the body, and 3) the supply of the body.


The Covering of the Body

As we have seen, the church is the body of Christ and every Christian is a member of that body. The body of Christ not only supplies but also protects its members. The body protection to each member is especially seen in spiritual warfare. Such protection is of utmost importance. One reason why a child of God is attacked by the devil is because he is too individualistic and thus he lacks the protection of the body. How very foolish and dangerous for anyone to expose himself in the days of spiritual conflict. Because such a person is not under the covering of the body Satan is given opportunity to attack.

We should understand that spiritual warfare belongs to the church, not to an individual. The Epistle to the Ephesians is a letter which deals with the body of Christ. In its first chapter this letter speaks of how God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places so that we may know the power of His Son's resurrection. In the same chapter it also shows us how the Lord Jesus is the head of the church and how God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places so that we may know the power of His Son's resurrection. In the same chapter it also shows us how the Lord Jesus is the Head of the church and how the church is the body of Christ - the vessel which contains Christ. How exceedingly rich is the church because she is filled with Christ who fills all in all. In the second chapter Paul tells us the origin of the body of Christ. Although the church is so rich, she should not forget her former state. She is in possession of such a rich position because of the salvation of God in redeeming her from her fallen condition. The third chapter deals with the mystery of God which reveals how both the Gentiles and the Jews are being brought together to form one new man in Christ. Chapter 4 unveils how God will build up the body of Christ and cause it to increase gradually in stature. And chapter 5 emphasizes the need for us to accept the restraint of the body since the church is the body of Christ. And finally, chapter 6 mentions the armor of the body: "Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand" (Eph. 6:11). Please notice that it is "you" plural and not "you" singular who are to put on the whole armor of God. This one special armor is for this one entire body. True, each member has his peculiar feature. But only by putting all these peculiar features together can there be the whole armor of God that then makes the body fit for spiritual warfare.

In view of this fact, let us not forget that this spiritual armor is given to the church and not to anyone individually. You as an individual cannot cope with Satan. It requires the church to deal with the enemy. What you as an individual cannot see and safeguard, other members see and guard against. Satan is not afraid of your personal prayer, but he trembles indeed when a few pray together. Some members of the body are given faith in large proportion which then can serve as a shield for your protection. Some others have the word of God is a special measure, and this can stand as the sword of the Holy Spirit. When one or several of them wield the sword - that is, when he or they use the word of God - this serves to help you. We must realize that spiritual warfare is preeminently a joint battle. It is not something that you are to get into singlehandedly. If you go to the fight alone, you draw the attention of Satan to yourself for his assault.

Whoever has not seen the body thinks he is competent for anything and that he himself is everything. Such a person is very easily defeated. A single tree may quite readily be severed from the soil, but a whole forest of trees cannot so easily be swept away by the wind. Satan looks for such solitary and uncovered persons to attack. He assaults the independent and the isolated. But whoever is under the covering of the body of Christ is protected, for the body has this specific function: to serve as a protective covering.

As his special target of attack Satan cannot pick on one who has the covering of the body. But the person who is not under this covering is liable to fall should he ever be attacked. This has been demonstrated many times over by the experience of numerous Christians. For example, there once was a brother who suffered ill-health. Yet this was due to the fact that he was an isolated, independent believer before the Lord. For since he did not have the covering of the body of Christ, he was attacked by Satan for his self-confidence and self-reliance. Let us realize that self-exposure is most dangerous, that self-confidence and self-reliance are extremely perilous. If worldly warfare needs protective covering, how much more is covering required in spiritual warfare! A good brother who tries to act alone creates his own snare!

Many spiritual failures and defeats can be attributed to no other reason than our being single- handed without the covering of the body. We by ourselves are each of us but one member of the body, and consequently we cannot live without the protection of other brothers and sisters. Even Moses' hands needed the support of Aaron and Hur (see Ex. 17:12). If even Moses needed the support of other members, what about us?

The gates of Hades cannot prevail against the church. This very thing the Lord Jesus Himself promised and declared (see Mt. 16:18). Yet our Lord has never promised God's children that they could be independent or leave the church. Spiritual warfare is not a personal affair, it is a body task. And hence, in order to obtain the needed protection, we must go to the brethren. Let us never think of ourselves as individually competent and "go it alone" - for such will only mean self-inflicted suffering.

Yet how can anyone depend on the brethren if his natural life has not been dealt with? It is obvious that the person whose natural life remains untouched can neither trust God nor trust the brethren. No self-dependent, self-conceited person is able to walk together with the brethren. So God looks for people who know the inadequacy of themselves and who consequently seek protection among the brethren. The vessel which God needs is a whole body composed of those who recognize that they are but individual members who are in need of the help of the body. If anyone among the brothers and sisters is never joined to others and always acts according to his own will, that one is bound to fall.

Is there not even one brother or sister with whom you could consult? Is there truly no one with whom you could pray? Let me say that if ever you miss the body you lose your covering and are thereby exposed to great danger. Do not be so careless, for even in earthly war there is the need for covering. In earthly warfare, not seeking for cover when covering is needed is against every sound rule of good strategy and constitutes a dangerous flirtation with death. How very true this is in spiritual warfare as well. If every you lose protection but do not incur any danger, rest assured that this is only because of God's special mercy and not an evidence that you are well-versed in sound spiritual strategy.


The Restraint of the Body

Since we are but members of the body of Christ we should never think of ourselves as being everything. Being individual members, we ought to accept the restraint of the body. If in the church you are a hand, you must not only be happy to be a hand but also be glad to receive the restraints which come from other members. Do not let the hand move independently. Each part of the body is under the restraint of the body; none can take individualistic liberty. Suppose, for instance, that you now need to take a trip. Even if one member in your physical body is too lazy to move, it must nonetheless go with your body. It is inconceivable that your body could go away and leave that particular member at home. In just such a manner are we to be the members of the body of Christ. We must be joined in one with other brothers and sisters.

The work of the cross, besides bringing us into the body, has its sphere of operation within the body as well. If we are merely members to each other as those in a congregation are, we may not need the cross; but if we are joined together to be one body, we must have the cross. For the cross will take you and me away, it will take away our natural life, our individual movement, our inflated self. The cross is a must among Christians, it is a must in the church. Wether we like it or not, we must communicate with our brothers and sisters because we are all in the same body. Being in the body, we have to accept restraint. We cannot afford to be free-handed. Now if we do not wish to be a member of the body, we may indeed seek for our personal satisfaction alone. But if we want to be a member, we cannot look only for our own fulfillment. If you or I should encounter a troublesome brother, we really need the cross in such a situation. For the cross will test us, the cross will drain out all our offscourings, it will clear away all our uncleanness. In short, we must be restrained by the body. Such restraint makes impossible our freewheeling. It reminds us of the need of the cross. Unless we allow the cross to do a deep enough work in our lives we are not able to be fitly joined to our brothers and sisters.

Because each Christian is a member of the body of Christ he must accept its restraint and must learn to bear the cross. Some members are highly individualistic; such strong individualism needs to be broken. Some are quite offensively peculiar, and such peculiarity must also be broken. No Christian in the church can boast of his toughness and peculiarity. In the church, whatever is sharp, piercing, and protruding must be rubbed smooth.

In spiritual things how we need to depend on other members and in so doing to know the restraint of the body. Some members are given by God the gift of performing miracles; some receive grace to preach the gospel; and others are divinely equipped to be teachers. If you are chosen to preach the gospel, preach it with glad and willing heart, and be humble enough to receive the Bible teaching from those who are gifted to teach. If you have the gift of a teacher, do not therefore consider yourself as able in all other things. You should respect and receive the gift and work of others. In this, too, we need to learn restraint. What we cannot do, we should let others do; and we should learn to accept the work of other people as if it is our own. In spiritual work, no one can do everything freely.

Allow me to inquire of you, Have you asked God to show you what your measure is before Him? You should act according to the measure which God has apportioned to you. This is what you can do, and you must not stretch yourself beyond it. Find out your own measure and stay within that measure. If you accept the limitation of such measure you will not be tempted with greediness or some other ambition. In this regard, let us take note of what Paul said to the Corinthian believers: "According to the measure of the limit which God apportioned to us as a measure, [we] reach even to you. For we stretch not ourselves overmuch, as though we did not reach you...but having hope that, as your faith grows, we shall be magnified in you according to our limit to further abundance, so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you, and not to glory in another's province in regard of things ready to our hand" (2 Cor. 10:13-16 mg.). To go beyond one's measure is to step on another's province. Going beyond one's measure is kicking and ousting others. Let us be aware of this, that our consecration should cause us to obey the body with humility as much as to obey Christ. "Neither do I exercise myself in great matters," declared King David, "or in things to wonderful for me" (Psa. 131:1). Those things which are too great and too wonderful are matters which stretch a person beyond his measure. If all members of the body of Christ will keep to this rule - not daring to venture forth into areas which are too great and too wonderful for them - all will be able to work in due measure of each several part, thus manifesting the functions of each member. Otherwise, some in the church will monopolize and some will draw back; with the result that the church will suffer loss. In view of this, let all believers return to their places in the body and accept its restraint so that the church may not incur any harm.


The Supply of the Body

The body possesses an inherent principle, which is fellowship. The fellowship of the body means not just receiving but also supplying. Should you only regard yourself as one on the receiving end of things and reckon yourself as fairly good if you receive with quietness and in an orderly manner, you lack an understanding of the meaning of supply of the body. You also will become a weight to the body, an ailment and a burden to it.

Keep in mind that fellowship is the life of the church, that fellowship is an inherent principle of the body. Every part of our physical body is involved in a constant flow of life. Whenever a part is cut off from the body's system of communication, that part dies. But when a part is sick, all other parts of the body rush to help and to protect it. Now just as the laws of the physical body is, so is the law of the spiritual body. The rule of church life, therefore, is the principle of mutual supplying. And whenever a member violates this rule, he brings death to the body and he himself becomes a weight upon it.

"What is it then, brethren? When you come together, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done to edify" (1 Cor. 14:26). So Paul instructed the Corinthian believers. Some people come to a church meeting as if they were tourists or spectators. Coming in such a manner will doubtless bring death to the meeting. Many times death is felt in church meetings, a death which has been brought in by such visitors as these. Let this not be so. Let there be a mutual supplying of one another in all the meetings, not only in times of the breaking of bread but also in the hours of the ministry of the word of God.

Like the physical body, all the member parts of the spiritual body of Christ are incessantly communicating with each other: no part can stop at where it is. If any part should cease communicating, it stops the flow of the life of God and brings in death to the body. No member can stop communicating or fellowshiping without doing damage to the church, neither can any member be useful without the need of the supply of the church. Some believers, upon being provoked, tend to retreat to a place all by themselves. They assume that as long as they seek to be spiritual, everything will be all right. Well, you just try to grow spiritually by this method and see what will happen. It will not bear positive fruit, for life must constantly flow. Never imagine we can be spiritual by setting ourselves aside in isolation. And keep well in mind that the vessel which God ultimately seeks after is the body, not the individual. Whoever is isolated or separated from the church is not able to continue long.

On the day that the Lord Jesus sat down by the well of Jacob in Samaria He was hungry and thirsty. But the Samaritan woman was more thirsty than the Lord. So He offered living water to her that she might be satisfied. When the disciples came back with the food, He was no longer hungry (see Jn. 4:5-34). From this episode in the life of our Lord we learn this spiritual lesson, that whoever serves others in order that they may not be thirsty shall himself be satisfied: that the one who learns to bear another's burden shall find his own burden easier to bear. In spiritual work, there is no possibility of retirement: "My Father works even until now," declared the Lord Jesus, "and I work" (Jn. 5:17). The Christians should therefore render the supply of life in their daily walk and work as well as in the meetings of the church.

May God open our eyes to see the body of Christ so that we may receive the covering and the restraint of the body as well as bring supply to others. May He cause us to see that everyone of us has a part to play in the meetings of the church. To utter the word "body" only with our lips is totally inadequate; the concept of "the body" must be in our hearts and manifested in our daily walk. For the body of Christ is not merely a teaching, it is an actual life to be lived. If you think you can live without the restraint, the protection, and the supply of the church, it is quite evident you have not received the revelation of the body of Christ. After you have received the life of God you will invariably feel dry if you live by your natural life. Similarly, after you have received the revelation concerning the body of Christ you will sense inadequacy if you live independently in your own self.

Without revelation on a given teaching, you will have to hold on tightly to the teaching lest you forget it. But once you have the revelation about it, it becomes quite natural to your life so that you have no further need to exercise yourself in trying to remember it. Take the example from the physical realm: your eyes wink without any need of remembrance and your eyes close and open automatically without mental recall. The same is true in the spiritual realm - for example, with respect to the body of Christ. With revelation given concerning the body, you sense in yourself the need to experience the body. You do not need to memorize it as a concept or a teaching or an extern al law and try to put it into practice. That which is done according to external law is Jewish in nature. And what is done through remembering a law is not life. If our interior realm has been touched by the Lord and our inner eyes have been opened to perceive what the body of Christ is, we will just naturally live in its reality.

Hence what is important here is the need for revelation. God wants to recover the life of the body, not the teaching of the body. The body of Christ is a life which needs to be experienced. We must enter into the reality of it. And if we live in the reality of the body of Christ we will know how concrete it is. We will not only understand its principles but we will also live out its life.




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