by Maxie B. Boren
In his revelation to us, God
described the church of the Lord Jesus Christ in various ways. He obviously
did this that we might be able to understand the nature of the church and to
perceive its importance. We refer to these various descriptions as "pictures"
or "figures." God simply used things with which people were familiar in order
to convey great spiritual truths. In this article we want to very briefly
notice ten such Divinely given "figures" of the church. The church is
(1) As a family.
God is our Heavenly Father. "Of his own will begat he us with the word of
truth" (James 1:18). The apostle Paul, recognizing the greatness and goodness
of God in providing salvation for us in Christ, wrote, "For this cause I bow
my knees unto the Father. . . of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is
named" (Ephesians 3:14-15). People are begotten of God when they believe the
gospel, and they are born into his family when they obey the terms of pardon
revealed in the gospel. God had promised these, contingent upon their
willingness to sanctify themselves, "I will be to you a Father, and ye shall
be to me sons and daughters" (2 Corinthians 6:18). As his children, Christians
should most assuredly bear the image of the Father. Members of the church have
been called into fellowship with Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9), with the Father,
and with one another (See 1 John 1:3-4). Therefore, being brothers and sisters
in God's family is a close and wonderful relationship of kindred spirits.
(2) As the body of Christ.
In a beautiful context of scripture, Paul made a comparison between a physical
body, and the spiritual body of Christ. A physical body is composed of many
parts, but it is just one body. So also is the church. Composed of many
members, yet all of them functioning harmoniously together for the ongoing of
the body. Thus, the church must be united for God's design and purpose for it
to be realized. "God tempered the body together. . . that there should be no
schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for
another. . . now ye are the body of Christ, and severally members thereof" (1
Cor. 12:24-25, 27). God gave Christ "to be head over all things to the church,
which is his body" (Eph. 1:22-23). And Paul made it clear that there is only
"one body" (Eph. 4:4). As head, Christ is to have all the preeminence in the
church (Colossians 1:18).
(3) As a bride.
The church is married (spiritually speaking, of
course) to Christ. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth and said, "I espoused
you to one husband, that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ" (2
Cor. 11:2). In writing to the Ephesians, he compared the relationship of a
husband and his wife to that of Christ and his church.
"Husbands, love your wives,
even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it" (Eph. 5:25).
Therefore, the church should be a "glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle
or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (verse 27).
Note also Romans 7:4.
(4) As a kingdom.
The church is in subjection to Jesus Christ, who
is the king of his kingdom. Christ's kingdom is a spiritual kingdom. He said,
"my kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36), simply meaning that it was
never intended by God to be an earthly, temporal domain, as the one over which
Saul, David, and Solomon reigned. Christ's kingdom is a heavenly kingdom, and
thus, "our citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20). And yet, his
spiritual kingdom is very definitely is existence upon the earth, as it has
been since its establishment in 33 A.D. on the Jewish feast day called
Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2. Paul informed the Christians in Colossae
that God "delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into
the kingdom of the Son of his love" (Col. 1:13). The evangelist Philip went
down to Samaria and preached unto those people "concerning the kingdom of God
and the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 8:12). In about 96 A.D., the apostle John,
writing to the seven churches of Asia, expressed that Christ "loved us, and
loosed us from our sins by his blood; and he made us to be a kingdom"
(Revelation 1:5-6). The kingdom is not something yet to come. . . it has
already come! The church and the kingdom are one and the same thing. To a
member of the Lord's church is to be a citizen of his kingdom.
(5) As a flock.
Jesus Christ is the shepherd of the sheep, and Christians are depicted as
sheep. Thus, the church is dependent upon the love and care of the Shepherd.
The church heeds his voice, "and the sheep follow him" (John 10:4). The
apostle Peter admonished those who were serving as elders in the church to
"tend the flock of God which is among you" (1 Peter 5:2), "and when the chief
Shepherd shall be manifested, ye shall receive the crown of glory that fadeth
not away" (verse 4). As sheep having gone astray, Christians are a people "now
returned unto the Shepherd" (1 Peter 2:25).
(6) As a house.
The church is not a building made of brick, stone, or wood. It is a spiritual
house. The apostle Peter wrote to Christians, and said, "Ye also, as living
stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up
spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 2:5). Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus, and told them they were "built upon
the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the
chief corner stone; in whom each several building, fitly framed together, groweth into a holy temple in the Lord" (Eph. 2:20-21). To the church at
Corinth, Paul inquired, "Know ye not that ye are a temple of God, and that the
Spirit of God dwelleth in you" (1 Cor. 3:16)?
(7) As a vineyard.
There were many vineyards in Palestine,
where our Lord lived and taught during his personal ministry. He used that
with which the people of his day were so familiar to illustrate that there is
work to be done in service to God. Thus, the kingdom, or church, is compared
to a vineyard. Please read Matthew 20:1-16. Paul urged Christians to "be
steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as
ye know that labor is not vain in the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:58). In the context of
Matthew 21:28-41 Jesus employed the figure of the vineyard to give even more
insight into the nature of the kingdom.
(8) As a pearl.
Jesus said, "the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a merchant
seeking goodly pearls: and having found one pearl of great price, he went and
sold all that he had, and bought it" (Matt. 13:45-46). In giving this parable,
Jesus masterfully taught the incomparable value of the kingdom, and all that
is entailed in that word. Involved, in understanding this, is salvation from
sin and participation in all the spiritual blessings God has so graciously
provided in Christ. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ"
(Eph. 1:3). This , then, is the pearl of great price! No amount of earthly
wealth. . . in fact, the whole world. . . can be compared to the value of a
person's soul being saved! Jesus asked, "For what shall a man be profited, if
he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul" (Matt. 16:26)? People
who receive these teachings of Christ into their hearts with perceptive
understanding will make whatever sacrifices are necessary in order to possess
the kingdom and its blessings as a reality in this life. To be a member of the
Lord's church, dear reader, is the greatest blessing and joy a person can
(9) As an army.
Certainly the church is "at war" with the forces of evil. But the warfare is
not a carnal warfare, with planes, tanks, guns, and bombs. Paul wrote to
Christians, "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the
flesh (for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before
God to the casting down of strongholds); casting down imaginations, and every
high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God" (2 Cor. 10:3-4). He
urged Timothy to "suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus"
(2 Tim 2:3). And he wrote to the Ephesian Christians, exhorting them to "be
strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor
of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil" (Please
read the context of Eph. 6:10-17).
(10) As a candlestick.
In the second and third chapters of
Revelation, the Lord wrote through John, letters to the seven churches which
were located in what is now the westernmost part of the country of Turkey. And
in the symbolic language that introduces these letters, Jesus used
candlesticks to refer to those seven congregations. "The seven candlesticks
are seven churches" (Rev. 1:20). Jesus said to his disciples, "Ye are the
light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a
lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the stand; and it shineth to all
that are in the house. Even so let your light shine before men; that they may
see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matt.
5:14-16). Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, instructing them to be
"harmless and blameless, children of God without blemish in the midst of a
crooked and perverse generation, among whom ye are seen as lights in the
world, holding forth the word of life" (Phil. 2:15-16).
Friend, I conclude this brief
article, by suggesting to your mind that God used these "figures" in Holy Writ
to give you insight and understanding into the nature of the church, and what
it means to be a Christian. Please reflect upon these ten Divinely given
descriptions of the church prayerfully and carefully. I pray that in so doing
you will be able to see the undenominational nature of the church, and the
unique character of it. The church is God designed. The pattern for it is in
the New Testament. Those saved by the gospel are added to it. We all need to
gain as much knowledge of God's eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ
and which was made known through the church (see Eph. 3:8-11), as we possibly
Why did God reveal various
"pictures" or "figures" of the church to us?
Is the kingdom of the Lord
something altogether different than his church? Or are they the same thing?
When and where was the church
of Christ established? Where in the Bible can you read about its beginning?
Who is the head of the
church? How much authority does the head have? (On this latter question,
please read Matt. 28:18 and Eph. 1:20-23).
What kind of relationship
should be maintained among members of the church?
Do you think that when Christ
comes to receive his bride unto himself that he will be pleased if she is all
contaminated with sinful practices and polluted with false doctrines? How does
he want to receive her?
Do sheep heed voices other
than that of the shepherd?
How valuable is the kingdom
anyway? What does it mean to a person to be a member of Christ's church?
Is there work to be done by
Christians? If so, discuss the work and who is to do it.
In view of the "figure" of
the lighted candlestick, what should that tell us about our influence? Do you
think that worldliness in the church is destroying the influence of many
Christians? What can be done about it?