The pages of scripture are replete with metaphor. God frequently speaks metaphorically to his people, using metaphor with and through the old covenant prophets. Jesus teaches in metaphor through parables. The apostle Paul writes with metaphor.
For those not familiar with metaphor, it is a figure of speech that is applied to something to suggest a resemblance or a representation. It is an implied comparison, calling out specific features of the thing to which it is applied. For example, some may recall the “iron curtain” of the Soviet Union. Or someone might be described as having “ice in her veins.”
Today, we will look at three metaphors as they apply to the relationships we have as believers, between ourselves, and with Jesus.
The Vine and Branches
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:5, ESV
Jesus is the trunk-root from which we, as branches, draw our life, our nutrients. A branch without its vine and roots is lifeless. And Jesus is not just any vine. In verse one of this same passage, he says he is “the true vine,” meaning there are false vines as well, degenerate, deceptive vines.
In contrast to the individualism promoted by the Enlightenment, we are connected to one another through the vine. We are a society that demands our autonomy, and that autonomy is destroying us. Jesus urges us to “remain” or “abide” in him. Stay in union with the vine.
Living Stones and the Cornerstone
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house. – 1 Peter 2:4-5a, ESV
In verse six of this chapter, Peter quotes God as saying, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” We are stones in a great building, and Jesus is the foundation and cornerstone of that building.
A stone by itself is just that. A stone. But crafted, cut, and properly placed, each stone contributes to a beautiful building, a spiritual house. The household of God is not a church building. It is you, the gathering of living stones, all aligned with the chief cornerstone. And as it is with the true vine, it is Jesus, the cornerstone, that binds us to one another.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. – Ephesians 2:19-22, ESV
The Body and The Head
And he is the head of the body, the church. – Colossians 1:18a, ESV
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. – 1 Corinthians 12:22, ESV
But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. – 1 Corinthians 12:18, ESV
We are all members of one great body with Jesus as the head of that body. We derive meaning, life, direction from that head. Without that direction, we would wander aimlessly and dangerously through life. When we are unified as the body under one head, there is healthy, proper growth.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. – Ephesians 4:15-16, ESV
Outside of Christ, we are individualized, lifeless, and aimless – without direction. In Christ, we become the household of God, a fruit-bearing vine, and a strong, unified body.