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The Bible, the Spirit of Prophecy, and the Church

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    The Symbols

    In order more fully to impress the hearts of His people, God has given many symbols, or figures, to set forth the work of the church. They set forth also the relation the church sustains to Him, the living Head, and they illustrate also the relationship He sustains to the members of His body. Some of these symbols are being listed as follows:BSPC 148.4

    1. The Church as an Army (Illustrative of Aggressive Warfare)

    Every believer in Jesus, every member of the church of God, is a soldier of Christ. It is God’s purpose that he be a “good soldier.” (2 Timothy 2:3, 4.) Paul refers to Epaphroditus and Archippus as fellow soldiers in the conflict with the evil one. (Philippians 2:25; Philemon 2.) Christ our blessed Lord is the “captain” (Hebrews 2:10); He is the “leader and commander to the people” (Isaiah 55:4). Every soldier of the cross enlists under the command of our mighty General, and he is provided with full equipment for both defense and offense in the warfare against unrighteousness. Heaven’s provision is the “whole armor of God,” and this is complete equipment for the contest.BSPC 148.5

    The accoutrements of the Roman soldier consisted of the following: the girdle or belt, the breastplate, the helmet, the shield, the sword, the shoes, including the leather shields for the legs, and the lance or spear. In the listing he gives in Ephesians 6 Paul mentions all these items of equipment except that of the spear. Here were items for the comfort and convenience of the warrior, such as shoes, leggings, the breastplate, and the girdle; there were parts of the equipment for defense, such as the helmet and the shield; there were also two important weapons for aggressive action, the sword and the spear. In Paul’s mention of the soldier’s armor he compares the various items to gospel truths, such as salvation, truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and the word of God. He refers also to prayer, urging the Christian soldier to pray always, “with all perseverance.” Might this be an indication of the use of the spear or the lance? The sword was for hand-to-hand conflict; the spear, which was thrown, for long-range service. Might this not indicate that while he was engaged with the enemy at close quarters, using the sword of the Spirit, he at the same time threw out the spear of importunate prayer in his earnest plea for divine help and victory? Yes, the “armor of God” is complete. It is the “armor of light” (Romans 13:12); it is the “armor of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 6:7).BSPC 149.1

    “The church of Christ may be fitly compared to an army. The life of every soldier is one of toil, hardship, and danger. On every hand are vigilant foes, led on by the prince of the powers of darkness, who never slumbers and never deserts his post....BSPC 149.2

    “All who enter the army are not to be generals, captains, sergeants, or even corporals. All have not the care and responsibility of leaders. There is hard work of other kinds to be done. Some must dig trenches and build fortifications; some are to stand as sentinels, some to carry messages. While there are but few officers, it requires many soldiers to form the rank and file of the army; yet its success depends upon the fidelity of every soldier.”—Testimonies for the Church 5:394, 395.BSPC 149.3

    Christ, our mighty Captain, is the one who leads in this conflict, and He is a leader who never fails. The ultimate will be that the church will overcome “by the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 12:11.) Our Leader is invincible. He is the “captain of the Lord’s host.” (Joshua 5:15.) The marginal reading of verse 14 gives the word “prince,” and this is the same word used in the book of Daniel where reference is made to “Michael your prince.” (Daniel 10:21.) Here, then, is Michael, the Archangel (Jude 9), with a drawn sword in His hands, leading the hosts of God forward to triumphant victory.BSPC 149.4

    2. The Church as a Flock (Illustrative of Implicit Obedience)

    This is one of the most beautiful symbols by which the church of Christ is known. The Lord speaks of His people as a flock, and encourages them with the words: “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32.BSPC 150.1

    The shepherds are “to feed the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2); they are “to feed the church of God” (Acts 20:28). Jesus says they are to “feed my sheep” (John 21:16); and also to “feed my lambs” (verse 15). All are to be provided for. The food is not to be placed so high in the rack that the lambs of the flock cannot reach it. All true shepherds will be “ensamples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3); and day by day will be on the alert, so that they may adequately and proficiently “take heed ... to all the flock” of God (Acts 20:28).BSPC 150.2

    “Christ, the great example for all ministers, likens Himself to a shepherd. ‘I am the good shepherd,’ He declares; ‘the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.’ ‘I am the good shepherd, and know MY sheep, and am known of Mine. As the Father knows Me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down My life for the sheep.’ As an earthly shepherd knows his sheep, so does the divine Shepherd know His flock that are scattered throughout the world. ‘Ye My flock, the flock of My pasture, are men, and I am your God, says the Lord God.’”—Gospel Workers, 181.BSPC 150.3

    Our Savior and Lord, thank God, is the good shepherd. The psalmist centuries ago declared in that much-beloved song of praise, “The Lord is’ my shepherd; I shall not want.” Psalm 23:1. This is a wonderful truth. The Lord is not merely our shepherd; He is my shepherd. Not long ago in one of our church schools the teacher asked one of the little boys to recite the first verse of this psalm. He had evidently heard it many times, but his simple recitation expressed a remarkable truth. He said, “The Lord is my shepherd; that’s all I want.” Yes, Christ is a faithful shepherd; He not only cares for the sheep but loves the sheep.BSPC 150.4

    Jesus, our blessed Lord, is not only the “good shepherd” (John 10:11) but also the “chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4). He is also that “great shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20), and still further, the “Shepherd and Bishop of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25). The word “shepherd” has a deep meaning for all ministers and church elders, for after all, they are the under shepherds. The Greek word rendered “shepherd” is also rendered “pastor” in both the Old and the New Testament. In Jeremiah 3:15 the Lord promises, “I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.” This is the same word rendered “shepherd” in other places. The same thing is true in the New Testament, for when we read in Ephesians 4:11 of “pastors and teachers,” we may know that the word “pastors” is the same word that is rendered “shepherd” when reference is made to Jesus as the good shepherd. What a privilege to be a minister or an elder of the church of God, and yet what a solemn responsibility! How we need to keep close to the “chief Shepherd,” to learn of Him, and ever seek to be faithful shepherds of God’s church.BSPC 150.5

    3. The Church as a Temple (Illustrative of Perfect Organization)

    This figure of the church brings us several important lessons concerning our church relationships. It is referred to by Paul in his letter to the church at Ephesus:BSPC 151.1

    “In whom all the building fitly framed together grown unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom you also are built together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:21, 22.BSPC 151.2

    All the members of the church are “lively stones” (1 Peter 2:5), “Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20). This cornerstone was foreshadowed by Isaiah in the days of Israel when he mentioned:BSPC 151.3

    “Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believes shall not make haste!” Isaiah 28:16.BSPC 151.4

    This is applied to Christ the Lord by the apostle Peter (1 Peter 2:6), and it is evident from the use he makes of this scripture that he knew who was the rock on which the church was built. Peter never thought of himself in this connection; he knew it was Christ his Lord.BSPC 151.5

    Many lessons concerning the organization of the church and the perfecting of Christian character are seen in the hewing and the shaping of the stones, in the process of polishing, and in all the work necessary for preparing them for their place in the temple of God.BSPC 151.6

    “His church is to be a temple built after the divine similitude, and the angelic architect has brought his golden measuring rod from heaven, that every stone may be hewed and squared by the divine measurement, and polished to shine as an emblem of heaven, radiating in all directions the bright, clear beams of the Sun of Righteousness.”—Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 17.BSPC 152.1

    4. The Church as a Fine (Illustrative of Intimate Fellowship)

    This is another familiar figure, and very well known, not only to the members of the early church, but also to the Israelites of ancient days. In the days of Isaiah, Jehovah declared:BSPC 152.2

    “The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant.” Isaiah 5:7.BSPC 152.3

    Jeremiah also records the Lord as saying to His people, “Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed.” Jeremiah 2:21. From Ezekiel also came the word:BSPC 152.4

    “It was planted in a good soil by great waters, that it might bring forth branches, and that it might bear fruit, that it might be a goodly vine.” Ezekiel 17:8.BSPC 152.5

    Then after all the years of tender care and faithful husbandry, the Lord laments through Hosea:BSPC 152.6

    “Israel is an empty vine, he brings forth fruit unto himself.” Hosea 10:1.BSPC 152.7

    When the Savior was here among men He gave to His people one of the most comforting and helpful, lessons of this intimate fellowship He sustains with them:BSPC 152.8

    “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.” John 15:1BSPC 152.9

    “I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.” Verse 5.BSPC 152.10

    “Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; so shall you be my disciples.” Verse 8.BSPC 152.11

    How we all need to learn the lesson of abiding in Christ. It is not trying to be good; it is not our efforts to do the will of God. What is called for is abiding in Him. This means a restful, quiet yielding to His will, a willingness to let Him mold and fashion us according to the divine pattern. Christ Jesus is the vine stock; we are the branches. May we learn restfully to abide in Him. But such an experience will not be all resting; it will mean also vigilance and earnest labor for God. We must learn to be active in His service and yet be restful in spirit. We need to learn how to “rest in the Lord” and how to work for God at the same time. He desires that we grow in usefulness in His work. He wishes us to bear fruit, to “bring forth more fruit” (verse 2), to grow in experience that we bring “forth much fruit” (verse 5), and also that our fruit might remain (verse 16).BSPC 152.12

    “It was when Christ was about to take leave of His disciples that He gave them the beautiful emblem of His relation to believers. He had been presenting before them the close union with Himself by which they could maintain spiritual life when His visible presence was withdrawn. To impress it upon their minds He gave them the vine as its most striking and appropriate symbol.”—Testimonies for the Church 5:229, 230.BSPC 153.1

    Today the Lord is looking for much fruit from the branches of the vine. May we not disappoint Him, but may we so labor that by and by we may hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”BSPC 153.2

    5. The Church Is His Body (Illustrative of Sympathetic Union)

    This figure appears many times, and it is one of the most freely used New Testament symbols. We read:BSPC 153.3

    “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” Romans 12:4, 5. This body of Christ is His church, and of this Christ our Lord is the head.BSPC 153.4

    “And he is the head of the body, the church.” Colossians 1:18.BSPC 153.5

    “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that fills all in all.” Ephesians 1:22, 23.BSPC 153.6

    The tender, affectionate relationship that should exist among all the members of the church is beautifully illustrated by the relation that each part of the human body sustains to the whole.BSPC 153.7

    “For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now bath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it bath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary.” 1 Corinthians 12:14-22.BSPC 153.8

    “By a comparison of the church with the human body, the apostle aptly illustrated the close and harmonious relationship that should exist among all members of the church of Christ.”—The Acts of the Apostles, 317.BSPC 154.1

    There are several other symbols used to illustrate various aspects of the relationship of Christ to His people, and the following might be studied with profit:BSPC 154.2

    A garden 1 Corinthians 3:8, 9 The Acts of the Apostles, 275
    A fortress Psalm 48:1, 12 The Acts of the Apostles, 11
    A vineyard Luke 20:9-18 Christ’s Object Lessons, 296, 297
    A woman 2 Corinthians 11:2; Jeremiah 3:14 The Great Controversy, 381
    A city on a hill Matthew 5:14 The Acts of the Apostles, 12
    A candlestick Revelation 1:20 The Acts of the Apostles, 585
    A fountain of life Ezekiel 47:8-12 The Acts of the Apostles, 13
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