16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
This verse has great similarities to Ephesians 2:20ff. The difference is that the imagery has changed from the church being like a building to the church resembling a body. In the building imagery Jesus is described as the cornerstone in the body imagery he is the head. That provides a clear picture for us. He is the one who is in charge and directs the body as he wants it. Nothing in the body is independent of him, just as no part of a body is independent of the head.
It may seem a little confusing that Paul would use two illustrations for the church is such a short space in the one letter. We might well ask, why not just stick with the one? The answer is that the relationship of Christ to his church is so rich and multifaceted that it requires a multitude of illustrations to help us understand. Each adds a little to our understanding but none of them tell the full story. We can only contemplate what the Lord reveals and live in the light of it. Then the things we learn from the Word, applied to the experiences of life, will give us a deeper knowledge of this relationship.
We have our unity as the people of God in Christ. The body illustration shows that we are all totally dependent on the Lord Jesus, but we also need one another. Also, this makes clear, like so many other teachings of the Bible, that we are not working to create unity, we already have it in Jesus. Our task is to be careful not to harm the Christ created unity.
There are two ways mentioned here of how we can encourage the unity of God’s people. If it is a unity in Christ, then we enhance it by keeping our focus on him. We can do that as individuals and we can promote it by encouraging others to focus, not on unity, but on the Lord Jesus. The second way to promote the unity is shown where we are told, in the last few words, that the unity (and growth) come “as each part does its work.” In the church there are various gifts and the Lord’s intention is that we use them for his glory and the benefit of others. As we use those gifts, with a focus on Jesus the church functions as a unified body. A body part which is not functioning makes the whole body sick. A body part that functions without regard to the head and the functioning of all the body will likewise cause sickness because it is more like a tumour than a body part.
The goal is that the body, the church, “grows and builds itself up in love.” Growth is numerical growth which is vitally important, and it is also growth in maturity. That is why Paul writes “builds itself up in love” because the level of love Christians are showing to one another is the clearest gauge of how well Jesus is known and how much his saving work is appreciated.
Prayer: Loving Father, help us to keep growing together. Forgive us for the many ways we can hinder that growth and please keep directing our attention to our head, Jesus. Strengthen us to love as you first loved us. In Jesus name. Amen.
A song to listen to: No Other Name
Living Church – Creek Road