Weekly Bible Study
Tuesday 25th August 2020
Topic: Metaphors for the Church.
Text: Matt. 16:18, John 15:5
To help us understand the nature of the church, the scripture uses a wide range of metaphors and images to describe to us what the church is like.
1. Family Images. Paul views the church as a family when he tells Timothy to act as if all the church members were members of a larger family. (1 Tim. 5:1–2) God is our heavenly Father (Eph. 3:14), and we are his sons and daughters. ( 2 Cor. 6:18) We are therefore brothers and sisters with each other in God’s family. (Matt. 12:49–50, 1 John 3:14–18). A somewhat different family metaphor is seen when Paul refers to the church as the bride of Christ. He says that the relationship between a husband and his wife describes that of Christ and the church. (Eph. 5:32)
2. In another metaphor, the Scripture compares the church to Branches on a Vine (John 15:5), an olive tree (Rom. 11:17–24) and a field of crops (1 Cor. 3:6–9)
3. A Building (1 Cor. 3:9) The church is also viewed as a new temple not built with literal stones but built with Christian people who are “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5) built up on the “cornerstone” who is Christ Jesus. (1 Peter 2:4–8) Yet, the church is not only a new temple for the worship of God; it is also a new group of priests, a “holy priesthood” that can offer “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God.” (1 Pet. 2:5) The Church is also viewed as God’s house, (Heb. 3:6) with Jesus Christ himself as the “builder” of the house (Heb. 3:3). The church is also pictured as “the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” (1 Tim. 3:15).
4. A Harvest. In Matt. 13:1–30, Jesus used the parables of the sower and that of the wheat and tares to describe the Jesus. Also, in John 4:35, the Church is the field that is ripe for the harvest.
5. Another familiar metaphor for the church is “the body of Christ.” (1 Cor. 12:12–27). We should recognize that Paul in fact uses two different metaphors of the human body when he speaks of the church as the body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 12, the whole body is taken as a metaphor for the church because Paul speaks of the “ear” and the “eye” and the “sense of smell.” As part of the body of Christ. (1 Cor. 12:16–17)
In this metaphor, Christ is not viewed as the head joined to the body, because the individual members are themselves the individual parts of the head. Christ is in this metaphor the Lord who is “outside” of that body that represents the church and the one whom the church serves and worships. But in Ephesians 1:22–23; 4:15–16, Colossians 2:19, Paul uses a different body metaphor to refer to the church. In these passages Paul says that Christ is the head and the church is like the rest of the body, as distinguished from the head.
We should therefore not confuse these two metaphors in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4, but keep them distinct. The wide range of metaphors used for the church in the New Testament should remind us not to focus exclusively on any one. For example, while it is true that the church is the body of Christ, we must remember that this is only one metaphor among many. If we focus exclusively on that metaphor, we will likely forget that Christ is our Lord reigning in heaven as well as the one who dwells among us. Each of the metaphors used for the church can help us to appreciate the richness of the privilege God has given us by incorporating us into the church.
The fact that the church is like a family should increase our love and fellowship with one another. The thought that the church is like the bride of Christ should stimulate us to strive for greater purity and holiness, and also greater love for Christ and submission to him. The image of the church as branches in a vine should cause us to rest in him more fully. The idea of an agricultural crop should encourage us to continue growing in the Christian life and obtaining for ourselves and others the proper spiritual nutrients to grow. The picture of the church as God’s new temple should increase our awareness of God’s very presence dwelling in our midst as we meet.
The concept of the church as a priesthood should help us to see more clearly the delight God has in the sacrifices of praise and good deeds that we offer to him. (Heb. 13:15–16). The metaphor of the church as the body of Christ should increase our interdependence on one another and our appreciation of the diversity of gifts within the body.
The Relationship Between the Church and the Kingdom of God.
The differences between The Church and the Kingdom of God have been summarized well by a theologian called George Ladd. He said, “the Kingdom is primarily the dynamic reign or kingly rule of God and derivatively, the sphere in which the rule is experienced. In biblical idiom, the Kingdom is not identified with its subjects. They are the people of God’s rule who enter it, live under it, and are governed by it. The church is the community of the Kingdom but never the Kingdom itself. Jesus’ disciples belong to the Kingdom as the Kingdom belongs to them; but they are not the Kingdom. The Kingdom is the rule of God; the church is a society of men.”
Ladd summarized five specific aspects of the relationship between the kingdom and the church.
(1) The church is not the kingdom (for Jesus and the early Christians preached that the kingdom of God was near, not that the church was near, and preached the good news of the kingdom, not the good news of the church: Acts 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31).
(2) The kingdom creates the church (for as people enter into God’s kingdom they become joined to the human fellowship of the church).
(3) The church witnesses to the kingdom (for Jesus said, “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world.” (Matt. 24:14).
(4) The church is the instrument of the kingdom. The Holy Spirit, manifesting the power of the kingdom works through the disciples to heal the sick and cast out demons as he did in the ministry of Jesus. (Matt. 10:8, Luke 10:17)
(5) The church is the custodian of the kingdom. The church has been given the keys of the kingdom of heaven. ( Matt. 16:19)
Though, there is a close connection between the kingdom of God and the church, the two are not the same. As the church proclaims the good news of the kingdom, people will come into the church and begin to experience the blessings of God’s rule in their lives.
The kingdom manifests itself through the church, and thereby the future reign of God breaks into the present (it is “already” here: Matt. 12:28; Rom. 14:17; and “not yet” here fully. (Matt. 25:34; 1 Cor. 6:9–10) Therefore those who believe in Christ will begin to experience something of what God’s final kingdom reign will be like. They will know some measure of victory over sin, (Rom. 6:14; 14:17) over demonic opposition, (Luke 10:17) and over diseases. (Luke 10:9). They will live in the power of the Holy Spirit, (Matt. 12:28; Rom. 8:4–17; 14:17) who is the dynamic power of the coming kingdom. Eventually Jesus will return and his kingdom reign will extend over all creation. (1 Cor. 15:24–28).