God is love. Our love for Him is a primary concern. Our relationship with the living God is awesome and important. But, it is very difficult. So God gave us a way to understand love. In His providential care and love, He did not place us alone in separate little pockets of the human population. He made us churches. We are a body, the body of Christ. What a great picture! Living as members of a living organism with Christ as Head is a complicated, beautiful picture. We can learn a lot about God and love for God from our life interactions with the other members, even Christ Himself.
Check out some of Paul’s letters, however, and you will soon see that the church down through the ages has had trouble with this picture. It, too, is difficult. Still, the Lord in His constant care, has given us another picture. The human body has intricate workings which can teach us amazing things about life in the Body of Christ. It is a picture of a picture—a double whammy! Patterns of the human body teach us about the church body which, in turn, points to the lovely name of our God. “For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations” (Psalm 100:5).
Created with 11 distinct systems, this human body is a marvel. God created Adam with a heating and cooling system, muscular system, circulatory system, skeletal system, nervous system, endocrine system, digestive system, immune system, lymphatic system, respiratory system, and excretory system.
The skin is like a waterproof poncho that keeps us all in place. As part of the heating and cooling system, it contains about two million sweat glands. To cool off, their tiny ducts can secrete almost two gallons of water in a day. Most of our hundreds of thousands of hairs come also with a muscle that contracts to make the hair “stand up” when we are cold. This helps keep us warm.
Getting under our skin, we find the muscles. The muscular system operates everything from our fingers and toes to our hearts and intestines. Combined contraction power of all the muscles would be enough to lift 25 tons. But, they don’t pull at once. God designed them to work in harmony and balance with each other to perform various tasks.
Muscles would be no good if not for the strength and stability offered by the skeletal system. Muscles can perform the simple tasks and feats of strength and agility by maneuvering different segments of the bone structure. Not to be outdone, the bones showcase an astonishing building material. Not only can a cubic inch of healthy bone withstand over 2000 pounds of pressure, it can also repair itself. Evolution or the hand of God?
Likewise, the muscles cannot move a single ounce without the instruction and guidance of the nervous system. With bulging biceps, the muscles get all the attention, but nothing is performed unless a sensory organ, by sight or touch, perhaps, sends a chemical signal to the brain which then commands the muscular movement. In the nervous system headquarters, the brain continues to astound computer manufacturers today. Billions of nerve cells (complete with protective casings) manage our decisions, reason, will, emotions, imagination, speech, sight, hearing, and even remember what fragrance the other one was wearing upon the occasion of your first kiss. You can still smell it! When you do, it recalls a flood of memories that were tucked away in long-term storage in the form of chemical signals.
Partially centered in this three-pound lump of nerve fibers, we find the activity of yet another system. Glands in the brain and elsewhere in the body regulate growth by means of hormones. The endocrine system is vitally important, but not alone. For example, fear (nervous system) can trigger the release of the hormone adrenaline (endocrine system) into the bloodstream (circulatory system) which then releases sugars (digestive system) that are stored for just an emergency. “The works of the Lord are great!” (Psalm 111:2). And what lessons for the church on how to love and work with each other!
After the rush of adrenaline, you may be hungry. The digestive system can take care of that. Not only did the Creator design this 30-foot system, He tells us in Genesis 1:29 what to put in it. Such food that we eat is broken down by an ever-present mixture of acids and enzymes in the mouth, stomach, and intestines. As muscles send it down, the food undergoes an exothermic reaction in the digestive tract. This means that from our daily bread, we obtain life-saving heat and nutrients for the muscular system and the rest of our body.
Not only do the muscular system and other body tissues have to be fed, they must be cleaned as well. Lymph nodes are placed in a patchwork of vessels all over the body. These filter out many of the foreign particles that wriggle past the skin. The lymphatic system also produces the white-blood cells which travel the circulatory system to stave off infectious intruders.
This same bloodstream which carries the white-blood cells is dependent on yet another system. The respiratory system provides each breath of fresh air which stocks the blood with precious oxygen and whisks away the carbon dioxide. The nervous system instructs the muscular system to breath in and out so the circulatory system can receive enough supply. “Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).
When the respiratory system hands the baton to the circulatory system, the blood takes off on a marathon. Its job is to pump oxygen-rich blood through to all the tissue along the supply route. The circulatory system is similar to the postal system except that it has far more “addresses” to reach. Likewise, the circulatory system is faster, more complex, and far more efficient. At each fork in the road where blood vessels meet, the angle of intersection is precisely set by God so that energy loss due to friction is minimized. Not only so, but this is the case thousands upon thousands of times in billions of bodies around this planet. “I will praise Thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are Thy works…if I should count them, they are more in number than the sand.” (Psalm 139: 16,18).
Within the church body, this marvellous balance can be offset by a lack of love. When all is not right in our hearts before God, the people of God encounter unnecessary work loads, stress, and obstacles. Similarly, when all is not right with the body that houses the actual, beating heart muscle, problems also arise in the midst of members. For example, the heart needs to pump blood through an additional mile of blood vessels for every two pounds of excess baggage—undue stress on the other members. How strikingly accurate is the picture!
God also graciously equipped the body to purify and protect. The excretory system serves as a waste removal facility. Working closely with the digestive and circulatory systems, the excretory system uses the specialized kidneys, bladder, and intestines to perform its thankless yet invaluable labors day in and day out. Maintenance and purification of the eleven systems is not enough. The immune system comes into play when there is a battle to be fought. Protector of the body, this fierce army will seek to destroy any bacteria or virus that got past the skin’s first line of defense. The immune system includes the spleen and thymus gland as well as its saliva, tears, and specialized fighter cells. With slick communication and open supply routes, it serves the role of protector against all antigens. Even a fetus or baby acquires fully-ranked armies from their mothers until he can develop his own active immunity.
It is amazing to see that even the immune system embraces teamwork and sharing. Yet such a sturdy defense also allows the body to go about its “simple” tasks like heartbeats (as many as two billion in a lifetime), eye blinking (a single teardrop is so potent that even when diluted in a half gallon of water, it can still destroy germs), and breathing. Like each breath of the respiratory system, let us pray for the breath of God to fill us with His love in our church-body life. “And the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into His nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). May the Lord be pleased to teach us about Himself and His love through these eleven complete systems so that we may grow in His love!
“But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”
—Ephesians 4: 15,16
* Author’s note: Most of the facts can be learned from a biology textbook, but this idea and some of the statistics were borrowed from an issue of Creation Illustrated. It is a relatively new magazine out of Weimar, CA and I strongly recommend it for your personal growth in the Reformed faith. ❖