In Matthew 6, Jesus directs our attention to the glory and beauty of his Father’s creation: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow… even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field” which lasts but a few days, “shall he not much more clothe [and glorify] you”? (v28–30). Solomon saw the glory of God in the plant and animal creation (eg 1 Kings 4:33; Prov 30:18–19, 24–31) and Paul saw Yahweh’s hand in the natural world: “the invisible things of [God] from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead” (Rom 1:19–20).

The unbelieving world is without excuse because God’s eternal power and existence is imprinted in the plants, animals and microscopic creatures that He has made. Yahweh’s organising hand is visible despite the fact that most people deny His existence. Armed with the eye of faith, the character and purpose of our God opens to our view. You ask, “how can the structure and function of living things reveal God’s character and purpose?

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul unveiled the analogy between the family of God and creation. The unity of Christ’s ecclesia is explained by showing how parts of the human body work and support each other. Modern science provides us with another analogy: the living cell is like a mature ecclesia. Let’s examine a living cell and see how the microscopic beauty of its structures and functions model the ‘body of Christ’.

The cell is the basic unit of life

The cell theory is now accepted as the core concept of biology (Mason, 1962) and dates from about 1840 when Schleiden and Schwann proposed that the single cell was the universal building block of all plants and animals. Older textbooks call cells “simple cells”, but nothing could be further from the truth. Although most cells are tiny parts of plants or animals and cannot be seen with the naked eye, their size belies their complexity and order (Figures 1 and 2).

14 - 2 figure

14 - 2 figure 2

Some cell facts:

  • cells are microscopic but a few cells can be seen with the naked eye: Acetabularia, a single celled water plant, is 2–5cm long and an ovum is as large as a full-stop (.)
  • the simplest single cell (a minute bacterium) contains at least 250 different proteins and 1000 of these cells in a line is barely 1mm Long
  • a typical animal or plant cell contains over 1000 different proteins, vast strands of DNA and over 100 different sugars, fats and other molecules
  • the human body contains 1013 (1 with 13 zeros!) cells; your 5 litres of blood contains 25 billion red cells and your brain has 100 billion nerve cells that make 1015 different connections (dwarfing the power of the most  powerful desktop computer), some nerve cells are 1m long
  • an average cell carries out 500 different chemical reactions each working day.

The huge number of functions in each cell is so miraculous that it could only be designed by an infinitely intelligent God. In fact, each cell is a world in itself and has all the parts needed to sustain life. Cells are not just blobs of jelly-like protoplasm; each cell is a miniature world comprising at least 15 different mini-organs (called organelles) that sustain life’s functions. But lest ‘cells’ get carried away with their own importance (as each brother or sister can) it also is God’s law of nature that no cell is an island, entire of itself. “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ” (1 Cor 12:12 nasb).

The nucleus

The nucleus is the cell’s control centre and contains all the information needed to carry out every function in the cell. The information is coded into the DNA that comprises the genes in the chromosomes in the nucleus. The nucleus in human cells contains at least 30 000 genes that tell our bodies how to make skin, muscles, nerves, blood, bones, kidneys, etc. The nucleus tells the body’s organs how to work in perfect harmony, how to grow and repair damaged parts and how to defeat diseases. The nucleus is the head of the cell as Jesus Christ is the head of the ecclesia: “Till we all come in the unity of the faith… unto a perfect man, unto the measure… of the fulness of Christ… fitly joined together… by that which every joint supplieth… unto the edifying [building up] of itself in love” (Eph 4:13,16; also Eph 1:22–23). Christ gives us perfect instructions, like the angel who told Cornelius to send for Peter, who “shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do” (Acts 10:6;11:14).

Our body’s organs are able to support each other because the complete instruction manual is written in the DNA of every cell. The structure of DNA is too small to see with an electron microscope. These instructions for life were written in the DNA by the angels when they made every plant and animal in Genesis 1:11–26. The information that God inscribed in the nucleus has been reproduced faithfully “after its kind” ever since – and will continue to be.

But why does every plant and animal cell nucleus contain all the information for every body structure and function? Because every brother and sister needs to know the whole Bible in order to know God, Christ and their place in the ecclesia.

The power of reproduction is held in the nucleus and the power to ‘reproduce’ men and women by faith for God’s kingdom is vested in Jesus Christ, and him alone (Rom 6:3–5; Col 3:3–4).

DNA is the pinnacle of Yahweh’s creative genius and is the subject of a later article.

The cell membrane

Every cell is enclosed in a membrane that has the ability to let some things enter the cell while blocking others. It also lets certain materials leave the cell while keeping other materials in; and it can even ‘pump’ water and salts in and out as needed. And the membrane can ‘change its mind’ on what enters and leaves depending on the cell’s needs. The membrane is selective and is like Yahweh’s law that helps us choose between “holy and unholy” people, practices and things (Lev 10:10;11:47). Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem to protect the Israelites from the world’s defiling influences. Cells, families and ecclesias all need selective membranes or ‘walls’.

Scientists see the membrane as the cell’s primary defence. The “word of God” is our primary defence and like the cell membrane, faith adapts to changing circumstances. Christ is our model; he “loved righteousness and hated wickedness” and he teaches us the difference between “unclean and clean”.

The cell membrane’s work is called homeostasis. Homeostasis means that the cell’s internal environment remains steadfast in the face of a constantly changing external environment. The membrane regulates what comes in and what leaves the cell for a single purpose: to keep the internal environment constant. Sometimes the membrane has to work hard to do this, other times it just regulates the traffic. As people striving to serve God, we must maintain a constant internal faith despite what the world throws at us, and the ecclesia has the same need. The nucleus controls the membrane just as Christ guides us. Jesus’ words in John 16:33 show the benefit of listening to God, “in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world”.

Mitochondria

Mitochondria are the cell’s powerhouses. They produce the energy that keeps the cell alive. They are like “the gospel of Christ… the power of God unto salvation” (Rom.1:16).

Mitochondria are tiny sausage shaped structures made of folded membranes. They contain all the enzymes needed to convert sugars and fats into carbon dioxide, water and energy. The ‘burning’ of sugars occurs in two stages: stage 1 (called glycolysis) has 10 steps, each with its own enzyme, does not use oxygen, and involves 27 different molecules. Fermentation of sugar by yeast is a variation on glycolysis and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide in bread making and brewing. Stage 2 is called the citric acid cycle and has eight steps, each with its own enzyme and involves 26 different molecules. Mitochondria harvest the energy in foods in the most efficient way possible and produce small packets of energy that can be stored or used as needed. Each mitochondrion contains its own DNA for making its 18 enzymes. This DNA is called “maternal DNA” because it is only inherited from your mother: truly, Eve is “the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20).

Chloroplasts

Chloroplasts are the photosynthesis factories where plant cells make sugars, fats and proteins from sunlight, carbon dioxide, water and minerals. Chloroplasts contain chlorophyll that captures light energy and makes its power available to other cells. They are like prophets who search the Scriptures, expound the gospel, and explain Yahweh’s will. Chloroplasts make high-energy food like glucose that is used by every living thing. Chloroplasts are like faithful men and women who receive the light of the Word and convert it into spiritual food for themselves, their family and the world. “The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple” (Psa 119:130). Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12) and tells us how to use his light. “Ye are the light of the world” (Matt 5:14).

Photosynthesis is the exact reverse of the breakdown of sugars in mitochondria. The two processes form a cycle in which each exactly balances the other and keeps the living and non-living world in equilibrium. Surely this alone is a testimony to design by our Heavenly Father.

Endoolasmic reticulum

The endoplasmic reticulum is the cell’s transport system – microscopic roads, railways and communication lines. Its most important function is carrying genetic templates from the DNA in the nucleus to the ribosomes where the templates are used to make thousands of different proteins. It’s like Paul, Peter, Barnabas and Philip, to name a few evangelists (Acts 21:8; Eph 4:11), who carried the gospel throughout the Roman world. Cells cannot function without a reliable transport system for information – and the Truth withers away when individuals and ecclesias do not preach the Truth (2 Tim 4:5). Endoplasmic reticulum also is like the gifted brothers and sisters who could speak and interpret foreign languages (1 Cor 12:10). The gospel is our strength as long as we spread its message.

Ribosomes

Ribosomes are the cell’s protein factories. Ribosomes look like tiny nodules attached to the endoplasmic reticulum. When the genetic information in the nucleus’ DNA is cut into smaller pieces (called messenger RNA) these templates move along the endoplasmic reticulum to the ribosomes. The ribosomes match the codes on the RNA to specific amino acids (there are 20 different amino acids). The ribosomes ‘stitch’ the amino acids into branched chains that become the thousands of different proteins the cell needs. The protein molecules make cell structures or enzymes that make other substances or control the cell’s functions. Ribosomes are the builders that use the bricks, timber and metals (like amino acids, sugars and fats) to build up the house of God. The word “edify” means to build. Ribosomes are like the ‘ministers’ – workers and servants – described in Romans 12:7.

Golgi bodies

Golgi bodies manufacture and modify proteins, sugars and fats so that they can be exported for other cells. They make hormones, neurotransmitters, antibodies and digestive enzymes. They package substances that are exported as needed. The Golgi bodies are like Israel’s leaders, prophets and apostles who wrote the books of the Bible: men like Moses, David, Isaiah, Luke, John, Paul, etc. Faithful brethren like John Thomas, Robert Roberts and the writers who have expounded and defended the Truth have packaged and exported the Truth for those “who have ears to hear”.

Antibodies

A special class of proteins made by cells are the antibodies that destroy invading viruses. Viruses are like the “grievous wolves [that] enter in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29). Viruses resemble the false teachers that Paul warned against because viruses are pieces of DNA (or RNA) that hijack cells by taking over the functions of the cell’s nucleus. Viruses stop the cell’s useful work and make the cell produce only virus particles. Most of the time, viruses kill the cell, but viruses like HIV permanently convert the cell to their way.

Viruses spread from cell to cell in just minutes and, like false doctrine, can infect the whole body. When Yahweh designed the cell, He gave certain cells the ability to make antibodies that target and destroy viruses. Amongst the spirit gifts was the power to heal (1 Cor 12:9) and show mercy (Rom 12:8). The outstanding feature of Jesus was his mercy in healing the sick and dying. He alone had the antidote to “the law of sin and death”. In the 1st Century, spirit gifted disciples had the power to heal; today, we have the healing power of the Word and the privilege to be merciful when help and forgiveness are needed.

How can we tolerate the idea that cells evolved these abilities when cells so obviously bear the imprint of Yahweh and His Son?

Centrioles

Cells grow by dividing. To prepare for cell division, each chromosome in the nucleus is duplicated. Each new cell needs its own complete nucleus and the centrioles separate duplicated chromosomes into two identical sets so that each new cell has a complete set of genes (DNA). They are like the faithful midwives in Egypt (Exod 1:19–20) who helped make Israel great. Other servants who resemble the centrioles were Leah and Rachel (Ruth 4:11) “which two did build the house of Israel”; Amram and Jochebed who raised Moses, Aaron and Miriam. The house of God needs modern mothers and fathers like these (Titus 2:1–5).

Contractile filaments

Long and short filaments of a protein called actin enable cells to move and change shape. When a cell is mostly made of actin it is a muscle cell. We would be helpless without them! And ecclesias would be paralysed without brothers and sisters “ministering” for Christ and their brethren (Rom 12:7); people like Aquila and Priscilla, Timothy, Dorcas and Luke. No ecclesia can function without doormen, servers and catering sisters, to name a few.

Vacuoles

Vacuoles are the cell’s storage units. They can capture and digest foods; store nutrients, water and chemical messengers (hormones and the chemical messengers in the brain); and collect and excrete waste materials. Vacuoles are like the storehouses Joseph designed for Pharaoh. Stored wealth from God protects us in time of need. We also need to collect the trash in our lives and throw it out. Cell functions reflect the mercy and judgment that God wants to see in our lives – in the correct balance, of course. And that Christ-like balance comes from reading and meditating on the Scriptures.

Apoptosis

Apoptosis is programmed cell death. You may wonder how this is useful to a cell? Well it is! In the first weeks of life, as an embryo grows arms and legs, the hands and feet first form as flat paddles at the end of the arms and legs. Fingers and toes form beautifully by causing the unwanted tissue between each finger and toe to die. This is called programmed cell death or apoptosis. Whenever any body part grows too large, or gets out of hand, apoptosis brings it under control. Without cell death we would lose our shape, character and function. Death is essential in our spiritual economy because the controlled death of our selfish desires, weaknesses and temptations makes eternal life possible. Jesus Christ “put away sin by the sacrifice [death] of himself” (Heb 9:26), and “that he died, he died unto sin once [for all]” (Romans 6:10).

Apoptosis is described thus: “All animal cells contain the seeds of their own destruction: in these cells inactive enzymes lie waiting for the signal to destroy the cell for the benefit of the body” (Alberts et al, 2004, p627). Cancer cells form tumours that ultimately displace useful cells and kill the entire animal or plant. Cancer cells grow wildly because they have lost the ability to die and there are just too many of them: this is what happens when sin runs wild: John calls it “lawlessness”; lawlessness is spiritual cancer. Death is God’s way of providing salvation from sin.

Conclusion

The living cell demonstrates the genius of Yahweh’s design. He has made cells for every purpose from brains to muscles and roses to bacteria. Each cell is a miniature world of balanced complexity where every function of life – involving thousands of different molecules and reactions – works for the good of the body. God has given us three bodies: Christ’s body by which he took away sin for us, our own body that enables us to serve God in “power, and of love, and a sound mind” and holiness; and Christ’s greater body, “the ecclesia of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15).

References

Alberts, B., Bray, D., Hopkin, K., Johnson, A.,  Lewis, J., Raff, M., Roberts, K., Walter, P. (2004).  Essential cell biology. NY: Garland Science.  Mason, SF (1962). A history of the sciences. NY:  Collier Books.