Name above all names
Jesus: Head of the Church
Are you relying on your natural abilities and self effort, or are you truly empowered by Jesus, asks Anne Le Tissier?
Have you ever been invited to tea with the Queen or to have dinner with the Prime Minister? Maybe you’ve attended a royal garden party, or have been introduced to our most eminent politician at some auspicious occasion? Perhaps they have even come to your bedside should you happen to have been in hospital during one of their official visits.
Living in England, we recognise the Queen as the head of the country, albeit with many of her responsibilities legally delegated to ‘her’ government. Consequently, we also recognise the Prime Minister as the active head, implementing laws and directing the course of social welfare, healthcare, education, justice, finance, and so on.
He (or she) is the head - the leader - and we are his (or her) people. A few of us may call ourselves acquaintances, friends, or even family of our head, but the majority of us have limited, if any, communication with them at all. We live and work under their direction, but without any meaningful relationship.
Such a scenario was never God’s intention when he made Jesus, “the head of the church” (Ephesians 5:23). Although we are obliged to obey his commands and follow his direction, his role as head of the church is imbued with so much more than simply officiating as ‘leader’ of a company of believers. Rather, we who make up his Church have become united to him. And therein lies a wonderful truth; the essence of what this role implies.
“God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills everything in every way” (Ephesians 1:22-23).
When we speak of “the Church”, we might imply a religious establishment, an organisation, or a building where believers meet. But when we consider Jesus as the head of the Church, it is essential we appreciate what it actually is. The Church is not a lifeless institution or simply a group of adherents to a religious faith; it is a living organism. It is a body; moreover, it is Christ’s own body. And we all know that a body cannot survive unless it remains connected to its life-giving head.
The head contains and protects the brain; that which sustains the effective working of vital body systems and co-ordinates all activities; the source of wisdom and knowledge, the centre of communication, perception and guidance.
Jesus is God’s gift to the Church. As head, he both leads and energises his body; individuals like you and me who obey his commands and, together, manifest him to the world as he delegates his divine authority and fills us with himself. He isn’t just the CEO - he is the life-source flowing through the limbs and torso.
In first century Israel, Jesus took on human flesh. He had his own body through which he could make God known to the world: his divine power, his God-given authority over evil, his obedient lifestyle to his Father’s ways and will, his character, and of course, his love; which perfectly reflected God’s love for mankind.
Today, we are his ‘flesh and blood’, and he wants to fill his body, the Church, as he filled his own human body. Indeed, as Christ’s Church, we are supposed to be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19).
It is from our ‘head’ that we, his body, receive God’s direction, are equipped with his capability, are enabled to grow, resourced for his purposes, and filled with abundant, eternal life. And, as each of us are a part of his body, we depend on one another to receive Christ in full, enabling us to fulfil his purposes.
We cannot do it in isolation; nor can we do it in a limited ‘holy huddle’. We need everyone because “the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body . . . If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged 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. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don't need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don't need you!’” (1 Corinthians 12:14-21).
It is only as we each do our part, especially chosen for us in advance by God (Ephesians 2:10), that Christ’s body will function properly, energised and directed by the head. Consequently, we must remain obedient to and dependent on Jesus, the head, as our source of life, power, direction, movement, perception, co-ordination, unity, health and consequently, growth.
Is this our understanding of Jesus? Is this how we relate to the head of the church? Or do we just acknowledge him as our ruler - an impersonal authority whose ways and will we merely expect to be administered through ‘church leaders’?
Take it further
Don’t be a headless chicken!
Read Colossians 2:6-19
The familiar expression, “running around like a headless chicken” describes a very busy person doing lots of things, but without doing anything effectively. It developed from the fact that it isn’t unusual to see freshly decapitated chickens flopping around for a few moments, even running for a few seconds, wildly flapping their wings; this being the result of adrenaline in the muscle tissues giving the birds convulsions and the appearance of being alive!
In Colossians 2, Paul warns us not to be deceived and cut off from the reality of Christ by hollow philosophy, human traditions and mere adherence to religious observance (verses 8 and 16). He recognises individuals exhibiting false humility, whose minds are puffed up with idle notions concerning their perceived spirituality (verse 18), and writes that they have “lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow” (verse 19).
In other words, it is possible to lose connection with our head, Jesus, and yet maintain the appearance of still being alive - of still being connected to our spiritual source of life. Our natural capabilities and endless hours of self-effort can, for a time, mask the reality that we are no longer being empowered by Jesus.
So let’s consider the following:
• Have I lost connection with the head?
• Am I ‘running around like a headless chicken’, wearing myself out to get everything done, but without doing anything effectively?
• Have I become sidetracked with ‘idle notions’ concerning my spiritual experiences?
• Have I been led astray, or am I trying to worship and serve God by rules only taught by men?
• Jesus quoted Isaiah to his religious contemporaries, saying: “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men” (Matthew 15:8-9). Is this how he would describe the body that we play our part in today?
Jesus wasn’t so much concerned with our form of religion as with our human nature. And he still longs to see us transformed and renewed as we maintain our connection with him.
As individuals, each with a role in being part of his body, we are all accountable to maintaining our own connection to the head so that his body - the church - will continue to be infused with the power, character and purpose of God.
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness . . . For in Christ all the fulness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fulness in Christ, who is the Head over every power and authority” (Colossians 2:6-7,9).
Do everything in love
“ . . . speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:15-16).
Growth, as well as every other activity, depends on a healthy connection to our life-source. The body - the Church - is utterly dependent on Jesus for growth. Each part of the body needs to grow in harmony with itself, in order to grow in a healthy way.
• Do I recognise I am part of this ‘living organism’ or am I isolating myself; trying to ‘grow’ on my own?
• Am I more concerned about my own individual needs and preferences for spiritual growth or am I concerned for the whole - for the growth of each member and consequently the whole body?
Indeed, if we seek the good of everyone else through loving words and actions, the resultant environment is sure to attract numerical growth as well. “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).