Grace was given to me… to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery (Eph. 3:9).
The Bible’s teaching about the church isn’t easy to grasp. The church is a “mystery.” It is only with the help of the Holy Spirit that we can really begin to understand it at all. But God wants us to know who we are, and so He teaches us through pictures, analogies, and images.
False Pictures of the Church
Before we go to God’s pictures of the church, I want to point out some of the false pictures that some have of the church today. As we get rid of the distortions, we’ll be ready to receive the truth. Tom Nelson, who serves as a pastor in the Free Church, has identified four distorted images. 
The church as a gas station—where you fill up your spiritual gas tank when you’re running low
The church as a movie theater—a place that offers entertainment
The church as a drug store—where you can fill the prescription that will deal with your pain.
The church as a big box retailer—the place that offers the best products in a clean and safe environment for you and your family
You won’t find any of these pictures in the Bible. All of them are distortions. They have one thing in common—they’re all about me. Fill me up! Entertain me! Take away my pain! Give me the programs I am looking for, for me and my family. It’s pure consumerism that, unsurprisingly, is the pervasive mindset in our culture. Let’s move away from these self-centered ways of thinking about church.
God’s Picture: The Body of Christ
And [God] put all things under [Christ’s} feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (Eph. 1:22-23).
The Bible uses this wonderful picture of the church as the body of Christ in two distinct ways. It’s important not to confuse them. In 1 Corinthians 12, the whole body (including the head) works together. But in Ephesians 1 we have a different picture: Christ is the Head and we are the body. There’s no such thing in the New Testament as a Christ-less church.
When you grasp that we are the body of Christ, you come to see the church in a whole new light. The gas station, movie theater, drug store, and big box retailer are means to an end. They’re not inherently valuable in themselves. But the church is not a means to an end; it is an end in itself. Local congregations gathered by God are of supreme value. The Father has exalted Christ as head over all things for the church!
Five Lessons from this Analogy
1. Christ is the head of the church.
The church belongs to Christ, not because we’ve decided to make Him the head, but because He is the head and He’s decided to make us the body. The body serves at the direction of the head. Our calling is to be responsive to Him.
2. Every member of the body needs to be connected to the Head.
John Stott speaks about the “grotesque anomaly, [of] an un-churched Christian.”  We must be careful not to press any analogy too far. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ. The thief on the cross arrived in heaven without ever being part of a local church, but that’s an anomaly.
The film 127 Hours tells the story of Aron Ralston, an adventurer from Indiana who got trapped in a canyon in Utah. Nobody knew where Aron was, and he waited 127 hours with his dying arm trapped behind an unmovable rock. In the end there was only one solution. With a dull knife, Aron cut off his own arm. It was the only way to survive. Aaron can get along without his right arm, but he would surely be glad if there was a way for him to get it back. That’s how it is with the church.
Have you committed yourself as a member of a local church? If not, why do you stay detached? If you’re an amputated Christian, a Christian disconnected from the body, you’ve been a “lone ranger” for far too long. I’m praying that through the Scriptures you will hear the Holy Spirit saying to you, “The church is where you belong, and I am placing you here to do my will.”
3. Every member of the body must be responsive to the Head.
There is a story in the New Testament about a man who had a shriveled hand. The hand was connected to the body, but it wasn’t doing anything useful. It had lost the capacity to function. There was a breakdown between the commands of the brain and the function of this limb. Christ said to this man, “Stretch out your hand.” I’ve always found this fascinating because it’s the one thing that this man could not do. But, the Scripture simply says, “He stretched it out and his hand was completely restored” (Mk. 3:5).
Maybe you’ve come to think of yourself as someone who is unable to function and who has nothing to contribute. But when you’re connected to Jesus Christ, you draw life from Him. You are able to fulfill the work that He has for you to do.
4. Every member of the body will suffer with the Head.
You cannot be a pastor, a missionary, or a faithful member of the body of Christ without suffering wounds. The body of Christ will always have scars.
Think about the incarnation and the physical body of Christ. He was born in the manger. What happened to His body? The same body in which He fulfilled all obedience was lacerated, pierced, and broken. It was the body in which He suffered. The world inflicted pain on the body of Jesus. In over 2000 years of history, the world has always hated the church, which is the body of Christ. It always has and it always will. Don’t expect the world to love you. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (Jn. 15:18).
If you devote your life to serving Christ, you will have scars and wounds to show for it. Paul says, “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus” (2 Cor. 4:10). We all want to be part of a healthy body, but the body of which Christ is the head is also a despised body, a suffering body in this world.
5. Every member of the body will be glorified with the Head.
One day the scarred body of the church, the body that has so often been feeble, weak, despised and hated by the world, will be taken up into the presence of God. That scarred body will become like His glorious body! The head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now. And the body known by its scars, will be known by its glory.
Through the power of Jesus Christ, you can say, “I am so glad that I am part of the body of Christ.”