Christ the Head of the Church

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Colossians 1:18
Colossians 2:6-8

If you are a Christian, then Jesus Christ is your head. His will is your rule. His word is your law.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Colossians 1:15-20, niv

In this one magnificent paragraph from Colossians 1, the apostle Paul makes a number of astounding statements about Jesus Christ, climaxing in the assertion that all the fullness of the deity dwelt in Christ. Here is a claim that takes your breath away: the entire being of God lived in Jesus Christ. Christ brought the glory of God to earth and revealed it to people like you and me for all time.

If that is true then it is impossible to overstate the greatness of Christ. Paul’s twin themes throughout the book of Colossians are, first, the supremacy and, second, the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ. Christ is supreme. He is King of kings and Lord of lords. He rules over all, greater in his person and higher in his position than all other beings in the universe. All things were created through him and for him and in him all things hold together. Christ is also all-sufficient. One of the problems in the Colossian church was that the believers there were being disturbed by false teachers who said faith in Christ wasn’t enough; there were other powers that had to be dealt with, more knowledge which had to be acquired. Not so, thunders the apostle, for everything anyone could possibly need is to be found in Jesus Christ and in him alone. Christ is all-sufficient; Christ is supreme.

In one of his sermons, the great C.H. Spurgeon compares expressing the greatness of Jesus Christ with trying to calculate the volume of all the rivers on earth.

I would like to see you . . . calculating the cubicle contents of the Amazon . . . estimating the quantity of fluid in the Ganges, the Indus and the Orinoco; but when you have done so, and summed up all the rivers of this earth . . . you are not at the beginning of that arithmetic which can sum up the fullness of Christ, for in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. His merit, his power, his love, his grace surpass all knowledge, and consequently all estimate. Limits are not to be found, neither shore nor bottom are discoverable.

CHRIST THE HEAD

Christians find it impossible to speak highly enough of the supremacy and all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ. Words fail us when we attempt to adequately describe his person and position. But among the things Paul mentions here in Colossians 1, there is one that seems at first to be a little less great than all the others. After stating that Christ is the image of the invisible God, the supreme ruler, creator and sustainer of the universe, Paul adds a line about Christ’s relationship with the church. “He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead so that in everything he might have the supremacy” (v. 19).

That seems like a bit of a comedown. If someone is the Lord of the whole creation, what difference does it make to also be the head of the church? And remember too that at the time Paul was writing, at least, the church wasn’t much of a body to be the head of – a few thousand people at best, scattered throughout the cities of the eastern Mediterranean, comprising mostly slaves, lower class, and other unimportant folk; very few of the rich or great of the world. It seems rather unimpressive, to say the least, to be called the head of a little band of nobodies whom all the better sort of people viewed with distaste.

But that’s a false impression. To be the head of the church is actually among the greatest of Christ Jesus’ titles. In New Testament thought, the church marks a new beginning in the working out of God’s purpose for the world. The church really is a “new world order,” to use a phrase that’s been thrown around lately. God’s plan is for the church to be a new and different kind of people, a new beginning for the whole human race, a community of the Spirit, made up of those who have been transformed and born anew through faith in Jesus Christ. God’s plan is for the church to grow until it includes his whole people drawn from every possible place and background, living under the headship of Christ.

One of the meanings of the biblical term head is “origin” or “source.” Christ is the church’s head in the sense that the church takes its life from him. It originates in Christ. He is, as Paul says, “the beginning.” The church is like a river: just a trickle at first, but then growing stronger and swelling until it’s a flood which will finally fill the whole earth. Jesus Christ is the source of that river. He is the fountain of life from whom the church springs. That’s one of the truths implied by Christ’s headship over the church.

Headship in the biblical sense also implies authority. To say that Christ is the head of the church means that Christ rules the church the way that the head governs the body. If Jesus Christ is the head of the church, then the church belongs to him. That’s such a simple truth, but it’s one we so often forget. The church doesn’t belong to the Pope or to the bishops or to the ministers or even to the people who are its members. The church belongs to Jesus Christ. He cares for it. He preserves, protects, and defends it (as the American president swears to do for our Constitution). And he rules over it. A simple Latin sequence which was often sung by Christians during the Middle Ages went like this:

Christus vincit (“Christ has conquered”); Christus regnat (“Christ reigns”); Christus imperat (“Christ commands”).

Each of those verbs is based on the one preceding. Because Christ has conquered – sin, death, hell, Satan, evil – therefore he reigns. Because Christ reigns, therefore he commands. He is the imperator, the Emperor, the “one who commands” – and whose commands are always right and good. To govern the church is Christ’s right as the head of the body of all those who profess to believe in, belong to, and obey him.

Does Christ reign in your church? Is his will your rule, his word your law? Are his commands met with willing obedience in your life? And just as a reminder, Christ’s most important commands are simple, straightforward and easy to remember. He commands us to love God, to love one another, and to teach people from all nations to become his followers.

THE BODY OF CHRIST

So this is a little, at least, of what it means to say that Christ is the head of the church. But now let’s think for just a moment about what that church is. It is, as Paul says here and elsewhere, “the body.”

[God] has put all things under [Christ’s] feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

(Ephesians 1:23-24)

The church is “the body of Christ” (one of the New Testament’s favorite images to describe it). This is a very instructive image. To call the church a body is first of all to define it as something that is alive. The church is not a building; it’s not a denomination or a tradition; it’s not an organization. The church is an organism, a living thing. Nor does the church’s life consist of meetings or programs or paper work. The church consists of people, people who have joined up, who have made the decision to become followers of Jesus Christ. They are the body of Christ.

To call the church the body of Christ is also to describe it as a unity of diverse parts, just as the body is made up of different elements but all are united in one body, so every Christian, every real believer, is united with Christ the head. We must each hold fast to him (c.f. Col. 2:19). Through the head, we’re also united with each other. Though we are all different, having different gifts, different backgrounds, different jobs, still in him we are one. We belong to each other because we belong to Christ. I’m told there are presently more than 23,000 Christian denominations world-wide. But these divisions are only on the surface of the real church. Underneath there is unity, as all those who love the Lord Jesus, who are living from him and for him, are joined together into one universal body under one head.

And finally, calling the church Christ’s body reminds us that it is intended to be the instrument of his will. The body cannot live without the head, but the head also cannot function without the body. Think of it! We are Jesus’ hands and feet and mouth in the world today. He speaks through us. He loves and serves through us. What an amazing privilege! What a tremendous responsibility!

THE FIRSTBORN FROM THE DEAD

One last point. Christ’s headship over the church is not merely an honorary position. He earned this place through his death and resurrection. “He is the beginning,” writes Paul, “the firstborn from the dead so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” Jesus is, to use a modern term similar to the ancient word Paul wrote, the “prototype” of the resurrection. My home is in the state of Michigan, which is dominated by the automobile industry centered in Detroit, our largest city. Each year in January there is a huge auto show in Detroit in which new models from all the automakers are displayed. But what always attracts the most interest at the show are the “concept cars.” These are prototypes of vehicles far ahead of their time that give a hint of what the automotive future might be like. Jesus Christ is the ultimate prototype. In his resurrection, the power of God has inaugurated the new creation and reveals to all what the future is going to be. The result is that in all things Christ is pre-eminent. Christ is number one; number one in the old creation, number one in the new creation.

If Jesus Christ is supreme, all-sufficient and pre-eminent, then he must have no rivals. To be supreme means to be the highest. It’s an absolute. You can’t be more or less supreme; you either are supreme or you aren’t. Only one thing can be number one in your life, one person only. No ties are allowed.

The ancient world was perfectly willing to admit Jesus to its temples full of deities. People were ready to welcome him as one more among all the other spiritual powers in the universe. What they choked on was the New Testament’s insistence that Jesus is pre-eminent: not one among many but the one over all. Christ is supreme. That’s not in doubt, it’s not up for a vote. Throughout all the universe, in the invisible as well as the visible world, he is acknowledged as Lord already. It is only here among the human race that some refuse to give him first place. Do you?