I love words, and I love to see words put to effective, creative use. Just this morning, as I was reading the gospel of Mark, I was struck anew by Jesus’s ability to paint pictures with words. “Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed…” So often he spoke in parables, word pictures, as a means of describing truth. In fact, he used parables so often that Mark could say, “He did not speak to them without a parable.” This is exaggeration, obviously, but exaggeration meant to make a point. Jesus loved words and loved to use them as a medium to present and display truth.
In our family devotions, we have been reading about some of the creative, artistic ways God describes his people, the church. He uses word pictures to help us understand who he is, who we are, and how we are to relate both to him and to one another. There are several metaphors that appear throughout the New Testament. At times the church is referred to as branches, at times as a body, and at other times as a building. Together they show that we are connected first to Christ and, through him, to every other Christian.
In John 15:5 we read, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, and the Father is the vinedresser who carefully tends the whole plant (John 15:1). The branches receive nourishment from the vine, and the vine produces fruit through the branches. Jesus enables us to live a life that draws its strength from him and, in that way, produce the best fruit.
In 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 (as well as Romans 12:4-5 and Ephesians 4:15-16) we encounter the metaphor of the body. This picture describes the various parts of a human body, each with its own role, each interdependent, each playing a crucial role in the functioning of the whole. We, the church, are the various parts of the body and Christ is the head, the chief of direction and coordination. A well-functioning body is one in which every part is present and healthy and carrying out the function for which it was designed. In an interesting use of anthropomorphism, we also learn that in a healthy body, each part is content to play its own role without envy of the others. The ear is content to be an ear instead of an eye, and the foot does not compare itself with the hand.
In Ephesians 2:18–22 we encounter a third picture, the picture of a building—a temple, to be exact. In this picture there is a cornerstone, a foundation, and bricks or other building components. Christ is the cornerstone, the first and most important stone to be laid. Through their teaching, the New Testament apostles and prophets serve as the foundation that supports the structure. The rest of the building is the church, each member a part of this temple displaying the glory of God.
In her book Praying Together, Megan Hill provides a concise summary of the three pictures:
In the plant image, Christ is the central vine and his people are the branches, dependent on him for nourishment and growth. In the building, we are the parts of the structure resting on the teaching of the apostles and prophets as our foundation and leaning into Christ as the cornerstone who holds us all together. Finally, in the image of the church as a body, we are diverse and interdependent parts that are “to grow up in every way into him [Christ] who is the head” (Eph. 4:15).
As Christians, we draw our spiritual life, purpose, meaning, direction—our everything—from Christ, and all to the display of his glory. Joined together in him, God’s building will withstand every storm, his body will endure every trial, his branches will bear fruit forever. He will receive the glory.