WE BEING THE MANY BRANCHES OF THE VINE AND THE MANY MEMBERS OF THE BODY
Third, in John 15 the Lord said, “I am the vine; you are the branches” (v. 5a). The branches are not branches if they do not have an absolutely subjective experience of the vine. The branches and the vine are one and cannot be divided. The life in the vine is the life in the branches, the nature of the vine is the nature of the branches, and the substance of the vine is the substance of the branches. There is no difference at all between the vine and the branches. Strictly speaking, all the branches are parts of the vine.
Then how are the branches produced? Each one of them grows out of the tree. When a small sprout first comes out of the ground, there is no branch. After a certain period of growth, the branches appear one after another. By this we see what the church is. The church is composed of the branches growing out of Christ. The church is the aggregate of all the branches of Christ. Every one of us who believes in Him is a branch of Christ because it is He who comes into us to grow in us. Therefore, we are all members of His Body, and when all these members are put together, they are the Body.
Consider my body. You cannot say that my fingers or my arms are not my body. In reality, my body is made up of my four limbs and all the other parts. When the limbs and all the other parts—all possessing the same life—are put together, that is a body. We must know the church to this extent. What is the church? The church is formed by all the members of Christ being joined together in the life of Christ as the Spirit. Thus, our experience of Christ is absolutely subjective. Without such an experience, we are not His members, and we are not the church. However, praise the Lord, today when I sit among you, I do feel that among us and in us there is a flow of life just like the blood circulating in all the parts of our entire body. This flow of life is the Spirit, and the Spirit is Christ. It is this life, this Spirit, and this Christ that makes us the church.
WE BEING THE ONE BRIDE
I would say again that even though the Gospel of John does not have the term church, it mentions the grains, the brothers, and the branches. Do these not signify the church? You might say, “This is not so clear because the grains, the brothers, and the branches are all individual. You cannot say they are the church.” But, in addition you can look into John 3:28 and 29 where John the Baptist said to his disciples, “I said, I am not the Christ….He who has the bride is the bridegroom.” The Bridegroom is Christ. Then who is the bride? The bride is the church. This is corporate, not individual. This is one bride in totality.
The first bride in the universe was Eve. How was Eve produced? When I attended Sunday school as a child, I heard the teacher say that God made man with the dust of the ground. I thought that God made two persons, one male and one female. This impression stayed with me until the time I was saved. When I began to read the Bible, I wanted to find where it was recorded that God made a man and a woman with the dust of the ground. I did not find this. So I wondered how the woman was made. Putting aside all the traditional impressions, I carefully read Genesis 1 and 2 again. Then I discovered that God created only a man; He did not create the woman. After the man was created, God brought all the created animals and birds to him, and the man gave them names. However, he did not find anyone who was like him. Only then did I become clear that God did not create two persons; rather, He created only a man, because we are told that Adam could not find a companion. Then I saw that God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep, and while Adam was sleeping, God took out a rib from his side and made a woman out of it. The Hebrew word for made actually means built. God took a rib from the man and built it into a woman. Therefore, we need to know that Eve was not created; she was built.
Strictly speaking, Adam was created, and Eve was built. With what material was she built? She was built with a part of Adam. Therefore, we can say that Eve came out of Adam; she was bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh. Because Eve was a part of Adam, the two could be one flesh. In God’s building, Eve came out of Adam. Under God’s joining, Eve returned unto Adam. She was the first bride.
This first bride is a type of the church. The church is the bride of Christ. Strictly speaking, this bride is not created but built. With what material is she built? She is built with the material that came out of Christ’s side. When Christ was asleep on the cross, His side was opened, and there came out not only blood for redemption but also water for imparting life. This water is the eternal life, which is typified by the rib of Adam. The rib could not be broken because the eternal life can never be destroyed by death. This eternal life is the material for the building up of the church. Therefore, we must have eternal life in us. Without eternal life, we do not have the material for the building of the church.
Consider this: Before you were saved, perhaps your parents were already in the church, and they told you how lovely and sweet the church is. You were not interested because within you there was no material for the church. Then one day you were attracted by the Lord and moved by the Spirit, so you said to the Lord, “O Lord, I’m a sinner. I believe in You. O Lord Jesus!” How wonderful! Once you repented and called on the name of the Lord in this way, you began to feel that the church was so good and so lovely. In the past you criticized your parents for always going to the meetings; now you also are constantly going to the meetings. Not only do you go to the evening meetings, but you also go to the morning watches. I tell you, if there were no church on earth today, I would not want to live. I have a family and a great number of children and grandchildren, and I love them all, but it is difficult to be with them all for five minutes. However, when I come to the church meeting, I feel so good even after five and a half hours have gone by. Within me there is the love for the church. If you say I am a “church addict,” I will confess that I am. We have all became addicted to the church, and we are all “church addicts.”
Not only so, if you did not draw near to the Lord, if you did not call on the Lord for a week, and if you did not pray to Him for two weeks, then your love for the church would grow cold. But, if you call, “O Lord!”, you will love the church. If you pray to the Lord in the morning, you cannot help but come to the church meetings at night. If you are not willing to come to the meetings, it is a sure sign that you are far from the Lord. This is a fixed principle.
You need to know that how much the church is in you depends on how much you love the church. I can truly testify that I am reluctant to spend even one dollar for myself, but I am quite happy to spend ten dollars for the church. Sometimes my friends and relatives laugh at me and tell me that I am a fool. They say, “You don’t want to buy this, and you try to save on that, but when it comes to the church, you don’t care how much you spend. What is the matter with you?” I am not a fool. I am here enjoying the sweetness of the church.
The church is not something organized, nor is it something produced by handshakes. In America, I observed that after finishing the sermon, the pastor goes quickly to the door of the chapel to shake hands respectfully with the people and invite them to come again the next week. Nevertheless, for some pastors, the more they shake hands, the less people come. In the past I received letters from one or two friends, advising me that, as a servant of God, I should not have such a serious look on my face and that I should shake hands with people. However, I have to say that it is not my face that attracts people; it is Christ who attracts them. The expression on my face cannot attract you, but Christ can. The church is neither organized nor man-made. Rather, the church comes out of the enjoyment of Christ. The enjoyers of Christ will not leave, no matter what you do to them. This is what makes us different from Christianity. At the Lord’s table, we are neither an organization nor a religious group; rather, we are those who have enjoyed Christ inwardly. His water of life has flowed into us from His pierced side, and with that rib in us we are being built into today’s bride. We are not Americans, Chinese, Germans, or Japanese, but the flowing Christ is flowing into us. Hence, we all have the same kind of material, the same one rib, with which God is building a universal woman, who is the bride, the church.
Here you can see that not only are there the many grains, the many brothers, and the many branches, but there is also the one bride built with the one rib. Therefore, in the Gospel of John, there is the church, which is produced out of our subjective experience of Christ.
(The Subjective Truths in the Holy Scriptures, Chapter 3, by Witness Lee)