Ephesians 1::22-23, “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”
Usually, in the spring, around the time of Pentecost, I do a series of sermons on the church. In the past three years I have preached Church 101, Church As…, and 7 Churches. This year I planned to do the same; my intent was to focus on the teachings about church in the book of Ephesians. My head, heart, and (I believe) God took me in a different direction and I am currently preaching a series on our identity “in Christ” as described in Ephesians. The series is called Identity Theft.
Despite going a different direction for my current sermon series, I don’t want to ignore or neglect the beautiful teachings about the church that Paul offers us in Ephesians. So, over in the next several posts I’m going to share my thoughts on church specific texts written in the book. You’ll notice a theme in the posts, even if just through their titles. The church is his (Jesus). It is his body, his bride, his household, his proclamation, and his glorifier. The church is a wonderful gift to us who are apart of it, but it ultimately exists to fulfill the purposes of Jesus and to bring him worship.
The first church-centered passage that can’t be ignored is Ephesians 1:22-23.
This passage declares that The church is Jesus’ body. The implications of this are vast. In this same book, Ephesians, Paul offers the body as an analogy to describe what has taken place between Jews and Gentiles in Christ. He says in Ephesians 2:15-16, “His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” Jesus’ body, the church, brings together groups that were once alienated from each other. This applies to Jew and Gentile, but extends further – slave and free, male and female, rich and poor, etc. (see Galatians 5:28). Just as a finger and an eye are part of the same body, so in Jesus we are united by being part of the same church. As Paul declares elsewhere, “so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5).
The profundity of the body imagery Paul uses for the church expands beyond unity. The body imagery shows us that every Christian is important to the church. In a post called Multiple Sclerosis and The Church, I covered this topic pretty extensively. In it, I wrote:
“In middle of a discourse on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:1-30 Paul uses the body as a metaphor for church. The context of the passage is important for understanding it. The church in Corinth, whom Paul is writing to, had placed far too great an emphasis on the spiritual gift called tongues. Everyone in the church wanted this spiritual gift while the other gifts were seen as unimportant and the people who possessed them were being looked down on. With this in mind, Paul says in verse 12, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” He continues in verses 18-20, “But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” His point is clear: Just as a body needs all of its parts to function normally, so too a church needs all of its gifts to function healthily.”[bra_blockquote align=’right’] If you have ever questioned whether your presence at, or involvement in, church is important, the answer is a resounding Yes! You are as important to church as a hand is to the body.[/bra_blockquote]By using “body” as a description for the church, Paul makes clear that every Christian is important to the health and vitality of the church. If you have ever questioned whether your presence at, or involvement in, church is important, the answer is a resounding Yes! You are as important to church as a hand is to the body.
HANDS AND FEET
There is a final aspect of the church being Jesus’ body that can’t be ignored. While it is far less explicit taen the two points made above, it is no less important. The church being Jesus’ body means that it has the job of continue the work of Jesus. In many Christian circles this is described as being the hands and feet of Jesus. Stephen J. Cole, writing on the book of Acts, states:
“Luke’s words about his gospel, that it contained what Jesus began to do and teach, have the strong implication that His work is not done. He was taken up into heaven, but His work on earth did not cease. Rather, His body, the church, continues to do and teach what Jesus began. Jesus was God in human flesh, dwelling among us, showing us what the Father is like (John 1:14; 14:9-10). While Jesus was totally unique, perfect in all of His ways, we are given the daunting task of representing Jesus Christ to the world as His body. Ray Stedman makes the point that whether in the Gospels or in Acts, God uses incarnation—His life manifested through human life—as His strategy to change the world. The book of Acts, he says is the record “of men and women possessed by Jesus Christ and manifesting His life every day. Anytime you find a Christianity that is not doing this, it is a false Christianity” (Acts 1-12, Birth of the Body [Vision House], p. 14).”1[bra_blockquote align=”]The church should be the spitting image of Jesus. It should do his work, teach his truth, and offer his hope.[/bra_blockquote]The church (and each church) should be the spitting image of Jesus. It should do his work, teach his truth, and offer his hope.
This final point is strengthened by the words that surround the body imagery in Ephesians 1:22-23. Paul says that Jesus is the head of this body. This teaches us that Jesus is the Lord of the church – the one to be followed – and that Jesus is united with the church. Thus, the church should be driven by obedience to Jesus and should find its identity in him. For the church to veer from the ways of Jesus is wrong; for the church (or a church) to expect Jesus to follow it, is wrong. The church is Jesus’ body, he is the church’s head.
Furthermore, Paul declares that the church is “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” The language allows for this phrase to be understood in at least two ways: 1) The church is the fulness of Jesus on earth. If this interpretation is taken, it simply strengthens the idea of the church being the body of Jesus and having the responsibility to be the hands and feet (not to mention the heart and mind) of Jesus on earth. 2) The church finds it’s fulness in the presence and power of Jesus.
Both of these interpretations are valid given the language Paul uses. Both are valid given other texts in the book of Ephesians. Supporting option 1 is Ephesians 4:11-13, which says, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Italics added). Supporting option 2 is Ephesians 3:16-19, which says, ” I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Italics added). Given that both options seem to be supported, it seems safe to declare that the church is the fuLlness (representation) of Jesus on earth and must find it’s fullness (strength, peace, love, etc.) from Jesus.
The church is Jesus’ body – a unified people all doing their part to represent Jesus as Jesus fills them.[bra_border_divider top=’40’ bottom=’40’]
Just a little addition: 1 John 4:12 may give some insight into the idea of being the fulness of Jesus. It says, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” When people look at the church, they should see the love of God.