The Bible describes Jesus as the vine and his followers as the branches.
“I am the vine, ye are the branches.”— Joh 12:5
The Bible also describes Jesus as the head and the church as his body.
“And he is the head of the body, the church.”— Col 1:18
Salvation is in Christ, so it makes sense that both illustrations talk about being in Christ. However, do the vine and the body of Christ describe the same relationship with Christ? Are they both talking about the relationship the church today has with Christ?
Let’s compare the verses about being a branch and being a body member in the Bible
The Lord Jesus requires the branches to bear fruit, otherwise, they will be cut off from him.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.”— Joh 15:1-2
The book of John also explains that the fruits are good works coming from obeying the Lord’s commandments.
“Abide in me…As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine…If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.”— John 15:4-10
When the branches don’t bear good works/good fruits, they will not be in Christ. The book of John also mentioned what it means to be cut off:
“If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”— John 15:6
However, to be a member of the body is quite different. Though bad branches are cut off so that the good branches can grow better. But if a weak member of the body gets cut off, the body will not be complete.
“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.”— 1 Cor 12:21
If someone hurts his left foot, he would not want to cut it off. Instead, he will move the body weight to the right foot. The left foot will have cared as if it is more honored. In the body of Christ, some members are weaker; some are stronger. Instead of cutting off the weaker members, they are cared for by the stronger ones.
“God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.” — 1 Cor 12:24-25
“We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.”— Rom 15:1
A branch can bear its own fruit and not bear the burden of the bad branches cut off. But the members of the body bear each other’s burden. All members of the body have to share the same glory and the same suffering.
“And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”— 1 Cor 12:26-27
If the left foot hurts, the right foot will suffer, too. Because the right foot has to bear more burden; when the left foot recovers, both of them have less burden and are faster. The stronger members will take the burdens of the weaker ones, but when all members are strong, their ministry work will be much more effective, and the encouragement between the members will be much more edifying.
A branch could be cut off by not bearing fruit, but the member can’t be separated from the body, whether strong or weak. For this reason, the illustrations of the vine and the body of Christ describe two different relationships with Christ.
In the book of John, Jesus used the illustration of the vine to teach the relationship under his covenant with Israel, while the mystery of the body of Christ had not been revealed yet. God created the two different relationships, but only the body of Christ is for the church today. When the church can’t rightly divide the two relationships and try to apply the wrong one, it will lead to confusion.
“Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”— 2 Tim 3:7