Posts Tagged 'body of Christ'

The Body of Christ

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1 Corinthians 12:12-31

The human body is the perfect metaphor for the Church of Jesus Christ. If we were to quickly scan this twelfth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we’d see that in the first half he wrote about the Holy Spirit and the various spiritual gifts He distributes among believers. In this second half, he writes, not about individual members of the Church but of the Church as a whole – a single unit. He doesn’t use the body metaphor to push some kind socialist agenda or the notion that our individuality vanishes when we become Christians. Rather, the human body is a living organism made up of many “parts” or “members.” Similarly, the Church is like a body, specifically the Body of Christ, because it also is a living organism, made up of many and diverse “members.” Not only that, man is the hands-down crowing creative achievement of God – the most wonderful and glorious of God’s creations. So is the Church. This fact is lost on most Christians, by the way. A recent survey gives some startling and sad information about church attendance in America.

Numbers from actual counts of people in Orthodox Christian churches (Catholic, mainline and evangelical) show that in 2004, 17.7% of the population attended a Christian church on any given weekend.

(http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/139575-7-startling-facts-an-up-close-look-at-church-attendance-in-america.html?p=1)

That’s just pathetic. Less than 20% of Americans actually attend services regularly. We have a real problem here.  This, despite the fact that a majority of Americans “claim” to be Christians!   Of course, attending church services in no way makes you a Christian. However, getting up on a Sunday morning, leaving your home, and going to a church service is a powerful witness to your neighbors.

There are tons of good reasons for regular church attendance, in addition to the fact that the New Testament urges Christians to. But that’s a subject for another post. For now, let’s consider the Church as the Body of Christ.

The Church is one Body

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12 NIV84)

Recall that up till now Paul had been discussing individuals within the church and the gifts the Spirit had given them. Now it’s as though he pulls back the camera lens to focus on the forest rather than on the trees. He refers to the “forest” of believers as a “body.”

The main point of this verse is that there is just one body – one unit – made up of many parts. Think about what that means. A body with two heads would be a monster. There can only be one Head of the Church, and that’s Christ. There may be many churches, but there is one Christ.

…so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:5 NIV84)

Individual members may have different gifts, but they are all brought into unity under Christ. Dods comments:

The same spiritual life exists in all Christians, derived from the same source, supplying the with similar energy, and prompting them to the same habits and aims.

Each member is united by one Spirit

For we were all baptized by none Spirit into one body… (1 Corinthians 12:13a NIV84)

Now, how does a person become part of the Body of Christ? This verse tells us. It’s not referring to being baptized in water, as some sacerdotal churches teach. Paul is referring to the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that makes us part of the Body of Christ. You can see that the Holy Spirit is an indispensable member of the Trinity! He’s often neglected, but thank God for what He does in us and for us. He lives through believers (gifts of the Spirit), enables believers to live God-glorifying lives (fruit of the Spirit), and He makes believers part of the Body of Christ.  You may become part of a local church by confession of faith, but you become part of the Church by an act of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. (John 6:63 NIV84)

The Body of Christ includes every member

…whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (1 Corinthians 12:13b NIV84)

In other words, all Christians share in the fellowship of Christ. Regardless of color, social status, location, sex, or gifts, all believers are “given the one Spirit to drink.” That’s Paul’s fancy, artistic way of saying all believers are able to have close communion with Christ through His Holy Spirit.

This is an amazing declaration, when we consider it. There are those members of the Church we think are closer to God because of their position within the Church. The pastor, for example. He must be closest of all to Christ. Sunday school teachers and elders must surely be closer to Christ than the average member. Not so, according to Paul. Regardless of the gift a member may possess – from the splashy, obvious gifts church leaders may exercise, to the almost unseen and always under appreciated gifts of the prayer warrior, all are able to be as close to Christ as the Holy Spirit makes possible.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13 NIV84)

There is no distinction between the worship leader and the sound man and the treasurer. All believers were once “far away” and we’ve all been “brought near by the blood of Christ,” not by our talents and gifts.

Each member has his own function

But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. (1 Corinthians 12:18 NIV84)

A foot can’t do the work of a eye. An ear can’t do the work of a hand. The liver does something the heart can’t do. There are many different Spiritual gifts and God has blessed His church with a diversity of gifts as He sees fit. God is the One who sovereignly distributes the gifts of the Spirit as it pleases Him.

And here’s why attending your local church is so very important. All believers – all members of Christ’s body – have been given spiritual gifts to be used in the church. You don’t use spiritual gifts in your office or your classroom. The gifts are specifically given to bless and minister to other members of the local church. If you are part of the majority of church “members” who do not attend church regularly then you are robbing the congregation of something God wants it to have.

You may not have a splashly spiritual gift, but don’t be discouraged! Be a part of the congregation and do what God has enabled you to do for the good of that congregation. And if you don’t know what your gift is, pray that God will show you. All believers have a spiritual gift – at least one! Find out what yours is, jump in and let the Spirit use you in your church. If you are a member of Christ’s Body, there is something you should be doing for Him. Find out what it is. A useless member is a betrayal of Christ’s character.

All members are interdependent

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 12:21 NIV84)

Here’s an admission that you will seldom hear from any of the majority of church members who lay out of services week after week: each member of the body needs the help of the others. Yes, as hard as it may be for you to admit, you Lone Ranger, self-made Christian you, you need the rest of us. In fact, you can’t survive without us.

When members of the church lose their sense of unity, they’re heading into rough waters. Those who may feel inferior may just wander out of the church never to be seen again. Those who feel superior to the rest of us may lose their sense of spiritual values and perspective and become hypocrites who talk all-day long about God while they have virtually nothing to do with Him or His church.

On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable… (1 Corinthians 12:22 NIV84)

The English “weaker” comes from the Greek “asthenes,” which means “sick,” “weak,” and “feeble.” We’re not sure which members Paul is referring to, but we can guess. Who is a weak church member? Is it one who occasionally has lapses in his faith? One who may not be as Biblically literate as you are? Or how about the ones who seem to be spiritually immature? Well, hold on to your hymnals! Paul says members like that are indispensable!

...and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. (1 Corinthians 12:23a NIV84)

The “less honorable” member is not the same one as the “weaker” member. Look at another translation:

And we carefully protect from the eyes of others those parts that should not be seen, while of course the parts that may be seen do not require this special care. (1 Corinthians 23b, 24a TLB)

What does Paul mean by this? Well, remember, he’s referencing the human body. Some parts of it we always keep covered for obvious reasons. And as we get older, we cover up even more! What Paul is getting at is this: The human body is built according to God’s design and so is the Church.

So God has put the body together in such a way that extra honor and care are given to those parts that might otherwise seem less important. (1 Corinthians 12:24b TLB)

Do you get it? Referring to the human body, everybody can see your face, but you keep your private parts covered up all the time. But that doesn’t mean your face is more important that your private parts. Or how about your heart?  Nobody sees it (if we can see your heart, you’re beyond help!), but you can’t live without it!  God has skillfully blended together all your bodily organs and parts so that there is complete harmony between all them all. And so it is with the members of His Church. All its members, from the one behind the pulpit that everybody sees, to the one who vacuums between the pews week after week, are vitally important to the survival of the Church.

There is no division in His Body in His sight

…so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. (1 Corinthians 12:25 NIV84)

We must treat each member of the Church the way God sees them. Here’s how He sees them:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 NIV84)

There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to one hope when you were called… (Ephesians 4:4 NIV84)

God sees all members of His Body, regardless of their gifts and talents, as indispensable. And that’s how we ought to see each other. We shouldn’t play favorites. The things that divide society have no place in God’s Church.

Each member should care for the other

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:26 NIV84)

There is no place for jealousy or envy or strife in the Church. Because God is One, His Church should reflect that oneness in unity. There should be no divisions in the Body of Christ.

This verse describes the what real care looks like. When we love each other in Christ, the Church (including your local church) will function like a human body.

The Church is an organism. It is not a club, or a society, or a guild, or an association, or even a fellowship. To view it as such is to lower its dignity.

And yet, like those groups, the local church does have a membership roll, and a chain of leadership. If you join a local church, you have certain obligations to that body of believers. As a Christian you possess certain spiritual gifts your local church needs. As a Christian you owe Christ your dedication, commitment, and service. You owe that to His Body – from the great invisible Body of Christ in which all believers from all time have been placed by the Holy Spirit, to the local church you joined by confession of faith and promised to be loyal to.

So, what will you be doing next Sunday?

 

PRIORITIES AND VALUES, Part 2

On Being the Body of Christ

To the casual onlooker, a church may appear to be some kind of social institution or a club made up of like-minded individuals. To an outsider looking in, a church may be a fancy, ornate building where funerals and weddings take place. To a person with a secular mindset, a church may simply be an association with a particular set of beliefs in common. However, Christians know better. With even the tiniest bit of Biblical insight, the Church is seen as a number of things:

  • the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:23);
  • the temple of the Lord (Ephesians 2:21, 22);
  • the household of God (Ephesians 2:18, 19);
  • the army of the Lord (Ephesians 6:10—13);
  • the assembly of the saints (Ephesians 2:19);
  • the workmanship of God (Ephesians 2:10);
  • the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22, 23).

The Church is truly a remarkable thing, founded, built, and maintained by Jesus Christ Himself for the benefit of His people. Of all the metaphors used to describe it, the most fitting one must be “body of Christ.” Understanding what this foundational truth really means is vital in understanding our mission as believers.

1. Redefined relationships

a. Family values, reordered: Matthew 12:46—50

This brief, interesting incident is found in all three Synoptics (Mark 3:31—35; Luke 8:19—21). The point of this story is to demonstrate a spiritual truth: one’s relationship with Christ takes priority over any earthly relationship. A relationship with Jesus Christ changes everything. Or at least it should.

Jesus was teaching a large crowd, probably inside a packed house, and for some reason not revealed to us, His family wanted to speak to him. In fact, it seems they were “butting in,” or interrupting His work. Clearly His family’s spiritual values weren’t yet in alignment with His. In his account of the same incident, Mark gives us this added piece of information:

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:20, 21)

When somebody tapped our Lord on His shoulder while He was teaching all those people, Jesus’ took advantage of the interruption to make a point about priorities:

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” (Matthew 12:48)

This statement can be difficult for modern American readers to grasp with their emphasis on familial relationships. What was Jesus getting at? In no way was He diminishing His family, but rather He was giving the priority to His Heavenly Father and to fulfilling the Father’s will. Jesus’ remarkable answer indicates that spiritual ties are far more important than the ties of blood. No earthly relationship should be allowed to take precedence over obedience to the will of God. At the same time, Jesus taught something very profound about the nature of His Church: it is the family of God.

b. Renunciation, Luke 14:26

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be disciple.”

This is a troublesome verse because of the word “hate,” which is so strong. But Jesus is not advocating the hatred of any anybody. In the context of this verse, this “hate” is not absolute but relative. The Jews viewed social customs as being very important, and if one broke from the accepted social customs of the day pertaining to things like family loyalty, such an action would have been interpreted by onlookers as “hatred.” Jesus could no more contravene the commandment to honor one’s father and mother any more than He could teach people to hate themselves, especially in light of His teaching to “love others as you love yourself!”

Jesus’ point here is a simple one. A believer’s choices in life—all of his choices—must be related to his commitment to Christ. No earthly relationship or tie should interfere with one’s service to the Lord.

c. Radical commitment, Luke 14:27—33

In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. (verse 33)

More strong words from Jesus. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is known for saying many strong words himself, among them:

When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.

Is serving the Lord really a death sentence? Are you supposed to really give up “everything” to be be a Christian? What Jesus is saying is simply this: Look before you leap! Just like the man who wanted to build a tower needed to either count the cost or become a laughing stock, so the person who thinks they want to become a Christian needs to realize that following Christ is no “bed of roses” and that following Him requires commitment and dedication.

2. Christians are interdependent, 1 Corinthians 12:12—27

The Church is a single unit; it is the Body, not bodies, of Christ and the same Spirit works in the entire Body. However, the Church, just like a physical body, is a unity which also contains differences.

a. Unity of the Body, vs. 12—13, 27

The human body is a living organism that has many members or parts (arms, legs, eyes, ears, lungs, etc.); each member is different, yet each member contributes something vital to the whole body. Paul concludes that the Body of Christ is like a physical body. The unity of its members, like the unity of a physical body, is vital.

Church members come from a variety places: different walks of life, social classes, ethnic groups, each with different talents and interests, and yet the same spiritual life is present in them all. This spiritual life has the same source, provides the same energy, prompting them to fulfill the will of God both in their individual lives and in the corporate life of the Church.

b. Diversity in the Body, vs. 14—17

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. (vs. 14)

Pastor, teacher, caretaker, pianist, evangelist, deacon, member—each has a role to fill in the Church, just like each part of a physical body has a role to fulfill. If a role is neglected, the whole body will suffer. The caretaker should not be upset that they are not a Sunday School teacher. The secretary shouldn’t fret because they are not an elder. The evangelist is not suited to function as the pastor. No, every member has a role to fulfill in the Church and the Church is better off for that!

c. Placement within the Body, vs. 18—26

But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.

This is the highest possible appeal for unity: all parts of the body are the result of God’s sovereign activity. God created the human body completely and perfectly. God created the spiritual body as it is and bestowed upon each member a particular function as it pleased Him.

Without all the members—or the parts—of the human body, it would be a shapeless lump of flesh. Yes, the lump would have a sort of unity, but no variety of functions. It is the existence and the interaction of all the parts of the body that give it meaning and purpose. Thus Paul makes his point:

As it is, there are many parts, but one body. (vs. 20)

3. Assume responsibility for one another, Galatians 6:1—10

In the closing verses of the previous chapter, Paul contrasted with works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. Paul’s conclusion: Christians are supposed to be living Spirit-led lives.

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16, 25)

In chapter 6, Paul is going to help us understand what it means to “keep in step with the Spirit.” It begins with care and concern with other members of the Body of Christ.

a. Restore the fallen, vs. 1

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.

Here is a good way to keep in step with the Spirit because it reveals the true character and spiritual maturity of a believer. This is the clearest evidence that one is living by the Spirit: the presence of agape love manifesting itself with concern for one who has lost his way.

Paul’s hypothetical situation is a simple one. The one “caught in a sin” does not mean that a person’s sin was discovered by somebody else, rather Paul has the idea that a believer is “caught unaware” by sin in himself. Technically speaking, this should never happen if a Christian is living by the Spirit as described in chapter 5, but human beings are weak and if a spiritual failure takes place in a believer, a more mature believer—one who is living by the Spirit—has a responsibility to help the damaged believer repair that damage. This restoration probably won’t be quick; it will more than likely be a process, which will further demonstrate the maturity of the one walking in step with the Spirit.

b. Interdependence and independence, vs. 2—5

…each one should carry his own load. (vs. 5)

While it is true that as members of the Body of Christ we function in relation to one another, always ready to offer a helping hand—spiritual or otherwise—to a brother or sister in need, the fact is according to verse 5 the duty of every Christian is to carry his own load. That is, we are to strive to not be a burden to the Church. There is no contradiction between verses 2 and 5:

Carry each other’s burdens… (vs 2)

Verse 2 is referring to burdens much too heavy for one to bear by himself. The Greek word bare means “heavy burdens.” The word in verse 5 translated “load” is phortion, a word that is best rendered “pack.” In other words, each Christian has his pack to carry—he has his own work to do, so let him take pride in how he does it.

c. Sowing and reaping, vs. 6—10

Here is the famous group of verses which teach what many refer to as the “law of reciprocity,” that is, you reap what you sow. But the context reveals much more.

Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor. (vs. 6)

Christian love is to be manifested in caring for those who have fallen into sin, but it is also to be manifested in a more extensive way through fellowship. So the mature believer, having been taught the Gospel from other his teachers, had an obligation to share with them “all good things.” This is generally taken to mean material and financial support.

For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. (Romans 15:27)

With verse 7, it appears as though Paul is changing his topic. We have this impression because of the way verses 7 to 10 are generally taught: as a unity unto themselves. However, if they are read in connection to what Paul had just wrote, the real meaning becomes obvious:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (vs. 7, 8)

Some believers may fail to support their teachers adequately, and perhaps they thought such negligence was not all that important and went unnoticed by God. Paul in very strong language informs them that this most certainly not the case! “Don’t think you can outwit God by being cheap with your teachers,” Paul in essence said. If you think short-changing those who have taught you the Gospel was no big deal, you are deceiving yourself.

God has written an unalterable Law of the Universe that has been proved to be true a million different ways from the beginning of time. The nature of the harvest is determined by the planting. This is a tremendous spiritual principle Paul has given us. It applies to every area of life, although what occasioned it was the idea of making sure you paid those who taught you God’s Word!

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (vs. 9, 10)

Paul ends this section of the chapter on a very upbeat note. No believer should neglect doing good because doing good is really sowing the kinds of seeds that result in great blessings. However, it may take a while between the sowing and the reaping. It may require great patience before the blessing is realized. But the word of encouragement is positive: if you sow good seed, you will be blessed. There is, however, a proviso: if we do not give up. Believers cannot simply give up doing good. We must be consistent in our acts of kindness, compassion, and in manifesting God’s love to others, even if the promised blessings are slow in coming. The harvest will come, but not necessarily in our time. Solomon’s words are worth remembering:

…a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot… (Ecclesiastes 3:2)

Our primary concern is as it should be: with other believers.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

GOD’S GREATEST CREATION, Part 1

Introduction

It seems that religion in its purest sense has always been a part of man’s life. While the Bible, made up of some of most ancient writings in the world, gives no proof of an organized religious life in the ancient world, it does seem to indicate that the earliest form of “organized worship” of God occurred in the family, in which all members participated. The father acted as priest and leader in the simple worship of God as seen in the life of Adam and Noah, for example.

This same kind of simple religious life continued during the time of the Patriarchs. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the sons of Jacob all acted as the heads of their families, both in the practical sense and in the religious sense.

It wasn’t until the organization of Israel under Moses that religion became “institutionalized.” Josephus is credited with coming up with the term that best describes the kind of religion Moses instituted: theocracy. From the time of Moses to the divided kingdom, then to the Southern Kingdom, then to Israel’s post-exilic history from Ezra to Malachi, Israel’s religion was a theocracy; it included all things political, social, and sacred. God was the Supreme Ruler of Israel, while the priests, kings, and prophets were seen as the executors of God’s will. The bond that joined all Israel together was the Law (the Word of God), the Temple, and worship in the Temple.

One time the word “church” is used of Israel (Acts 7:38), but it is not used in a technical sense of an organized congregation. There is no Scriptural term used of God’s people in the Old Testament in a collective sense. There is no “church” in the Old Testament. Israel is not the Church and the Church is not Israel.

1. What the Church is not

A. The church is not an new and improved form of Judaism

There certainly is a connection between true believers of all ages, but Christianity is a completely new system of belief; it is new wine poured into new wineskins.  Jesus hinted at this in the Gospels:

I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. (John 10:16)

Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:17)

Jesus, Himself a Jew and faithful to Judaism, spoke in the future tense when He spoke of building His church:

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of death will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:18)

The apostle Paul taught that not only is the Church something new in the plan of God, it is a “mystery” that had been kept hidden until it was revealed to God’s “holy apostles and prophets,” Ephesians 3.

B. The Church is not the “Kingdom”

The term “kingdom of heaven” is used 33 times in the Gospel of Matthew, but nowhere else in the Bible. The more common term seen in the New Testament is “kingdom of God.” However, neither term refers to the Church.

Generally speaking, the “kingdom of heaven” and “the kingdom of God” are used interchangeably, having reference to either the Millennial Kingdom and the reign of Jesus Christ as Messiah in the future or the mixed condition of Christianity today (see the parables of Matthew 13)

A good way to define the “kingdom of heaven” and the “kingdom of God” is that while they are much, much larger than the Church; that they do not refer specifically to the Church,  the Church is the visible part of the kingdoms of heaven and God today.

C. The Church is not a denomination

You may search high and low, but you will not find Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, or Lutherans mentioned in the Bible. Denominations are an invention of man, not of God. That is not to say that denominations are a bad idea, but there is no such thing as “the true church” in the sense that one denomination gets it right and all the rest are wrong.  No single denomination and no single local church has a corner on God’s truth.

2. What the Church is

The best way to define the Church might be considering the words used to describe it in the Bible.

A. Words describing the Church

The New Testament Greek word for “church” is ecclesia, which means “an assembly or called-out ones.” Within the New Testament, the word ecclesia is used to describe three groups of “called-out ones”:

  • All Christians in a particular location, Acts 11:22; 13:1

  • A local congregation, 1 Corinthians 14:19, 35; Romans 16:5

  • All Christians, all over the world, Ephesians 5:32

Our English word “church” is derived from the Greek word kuriake, meaning “that which belongs to the Lord.” So then, taking ecclesia and kuriake as our starting point, the Church is a group of people called out from the world by God that professes faith in and love for Jesus Christ and aligns itself with His teachings.  This called-out group does not belong to a pastor or a board o r an earthly organization; it is the precious possession of God.

B. Words describing Christians

Brothers (and sisters). The Church is a “spiritual brotherhood” or a fellowship of like-minded people in which all divisions that separate people from one another have been eliminated.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

Believers. Christians are often called “believers” because their defining doctrine is in an unwavering belief in Jesus Christ.

Saints. Christians are frequently referred to as “saints,” which means literally “consecrated” or “holy ones.” This simply means Christians are separated from the rest of the world because they are dedicated to God.

The elect. Christians are also known as “the elect” or “the chosen,” because God has chosen them for an important ministry and a glorious future.

Disciples. Literally, Christians are “learners” because they are under spiritual instruction and training by Christ-inspired instructors.

Christians. So named because our religion is centered around the Person of Christ.

Those of the Way. In the very early days of the Church, Christians were often known as “people of the Way,” Acts 9:2, because they lived according to a special, different way of life.

3. Illustrations of the Church

A. The Body of Christ

This might be the most common description of the Church; a favorite of Paul’s. Our Lord left the Earth 2,000 years ago, but His is still here; His presence is manifested through the Church—His Body.

When Jesus lived His natural life on the Earth, He lived as an individual; He had an individual body. Now He lives on the Earth through the Church, made up of individuals who have the risen Christ dwelling within them in the Person of the Holy Spirit.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

Christ is the vine, but the vine is incomplete without its branches; the branches are dead if they are not attached to the vine. If Christ is to be known to people in the world around us, it must be through those who bear His Name and share His life.

This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. (1 John 4:17)

As Jesus was anointed at the Jordan, so the Church was anointed on the Day of Pentecost. Jesus, after His anointing, went about preaching, healing, saving, and so on; so the Church carries on that task today.

As the Body of Christ, the Church is not merely an organization (although it is that); it is an organism. The Church of Jesus Christ is a living, growing thing; it is the sum total of all its related parts, in which the relationship of each part involves a relationship to the whole. The human body is one unit, made up of millions of living cells. The Body of Christ is One, yet made up millions of born again souls.

B. The Temple of God

…you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house (or Temple) to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5)

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? (1 Corinthians 6:19)

A temple is traditionally a place where God localizes Himself. As God dwelt in the Tabernacle and the Temple, so He now lives, by the Holy Spirit, in the Church (Ephesians 2:21—22; 1 Corinthians 3:16—17). In this “spiritual temple,” Christians work as priests, they offer up spiritual sacrifices—including prayer, praise and good works.

C. The Bride of Christ

This illustrative term is used of both Old and New Testaments saints. This pictures Christ’s close, intimate communion and fellowship with His people.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

MATURING IN THE FAITH, Part 5

The Supremacy of Christ

Colossians 1:15—29

The latter portion of Colossians 1 presents the most significant teachings about Jesus Christ in the New Testament. These verses form the foundation of Paul’s contention with the Gnostic element at Colosse. These false teachers claimed to have superior, secret, and mysterious knowledge of God and of spiritual things, but according to Paul, everything that can be known about God is revealed in Jesus Christ, therefore no secret or mystical knowledge is needed.

1. Our image of God, 1:15—18

Part of becoming a mature Christian is having a Biblical Christology. In other words, mature believers think correctly about Jesus Christ. There is a lot wrong information floating around about Jesus and what He did, both in Paul’s day and ours. To help the Colossians think correctly about Jesus, Paul makes three very profound statements concerning Christ.

A. In relation to His deity, verse 15

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

There are two thoughts here. First, Christ is “the image of the invisible God.” How do you take a picture of something that cannot be seen? What does the invisible man look like? Nobody knows because he’s invisible! So what does Paul mean by that statement? In interpreting that statement, we must understand that Paul is not teaching that Christ is the image of God in the material or physical sense. Paul is also not teaching that Christ’s image of God is limited to His pre-incarnate state nor is it limited Christ’s glorified state after His Incarnation. Christ never became the image of God, He always has been the image of God.

The word for “image” is the Greek word eikon, which expresses two main ideas. One is “likeness.” So Christ is the exact likeness of God, like an image in a mirror is an exact likeness of the one looking into it. The other idea behind eikon is that of manifestation. That is, Christ is the image of God in the sense that the nature, character, and being of God are perfectly revealed in Christ. This thought is expressed in John 1:18—

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

This is a very deep concept, but it formed an integral part of Paul’s thinking about Jesus.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

The second thought concerning Christ’s deity is that He is “the firstborn over all creation.” “Firstborn” is not the best way to translate prototokos because Paul is certainly not teaching that Christ was born or that He became. The main idea behind prototokos is “only begotten” and should be understood the way the Jewish mind understood it. Prototokos really means “uncreated.” He is out in front of all creation or we might say He is beyond all creation. Christ, in other words, does not belong to creation, but to eternity. This concept is seen in the first chapter of John’s Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1—3)

B. In relation to all creation, verses 16, 17

Paul goes on to establish the ground for Christ’s dominion over all things. Christ is the Source, the Agent, the End, and the Sustainer of all creation. Three prepositional phases are given to explain Christ the Creator: All things came to be—

→ in (or by) Him, verse 16a (creation occurred within the sphere of His person)
→ through (or by) Him, verse 16b (He was the force behind what was created)
→ for Him, verse 16c (all things exist for His good pleasure)

Furthermore, Christ “is before all things”, not “was before all things.” He is “before” in position, power, and time. Because He is the Creator, not part of creation, He holds it all together and all things exist because of His will.

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:3a)

The scope of these verses is staggering. If nothing exists apart from the will of Christ, then all things, even evil powers, continue to persist only because He allows them to until the day comes when He shall deliver the Kingdom to the Father:

When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:28)

C. In relation to the Church, verse 18

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.

Paul’s final affirmation concerning Christ’s supremacy relates to the Church. Christ, by right of His position in creation, has control and authority over the new creation, the body of Christ. To be “the head” of the Church is to be its Sovereign; its Leader and its Chief. It is HE who governs and guides it. In the Greek, “he” is emphatic, meaning that Christ alone, Christ and not other, is the head of the Church.

“Church,” ekklesia, means “assembly” or “congregation” and has in mind all redeemed people of God. Lost in Paul’s Christology is the use the “body” metaphor, which suggests three things:

→ the Church is a living organism, not an organization, composed of members joined vitally to one another;
→ the Church is the means by which Christ carries out His purposes and performs His work on earth;
→ the union that exists between Christ and His people is intimate and real. Redeemed saints in union with Christ and each other constitute a single living unit, incomplete without the other.

So, a mature Christian thinks rightly about Jesus Christ.

2. Our reconciliation, 1:20—23

Our maturity is also indicated by our understanding of precisely what Christ did for us. In Jesus Christ, Deity is pleased to dwell. In addition, God has made peace with all created things through the sacrifice of Christ. Here is God’s grand plan of salvation in two verses.

→ It is God who saves, verse 19
→ He saves creation through Jesus Christ, verse 20
→ He saves creation through the sacrificial death of Christ on the Cross, verse 20
→ God did this because it pleased Him, verse 19

To be “reconciled to God” means to be “at peace with God.” Somehow, through the shed blood of Christ on the Cross, peace was and is made between God and human beings. But the power of Christ’s blood is not limited to the salvation of all who call upon Him to be saved, the efficacy of Christ’s shed blood extends to all He created!

…whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (verse 20)

Since the sin of the first Adam effectively destroyed the perfection of Christ’s creation, only an act of the Second Adam could undo what happened. In relation to human beings, there is no “universal salvation.” As great as the work of Christ was, it is of no effect on a human being until he accepts it by faith.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation (verses 21, 22)

Prior to confessing Christ as Savior, the Colossians and all sinners had been “alienated from God” and His enemies. The word “alienated” (apellotriomenous) means “transferred to another owner”—in other words, an unregenerate sinner is estranged from God and hostile toward Him. Only by sacrificing His physical body could Christ end the estrangement and hostility between man and God. Paul stressed Christ’s “physical body” probably in defiance of the warped Gnostic teaching about how evil the body was. The value of Christ’s body is evidenced by what its sacrifice gained: the salvation of humanity!

The result of Christ’s reconciling work is the presentation of the Colossians (and all believers) to God, absolutely holy, without blemish, and free from accusation. Is all of this in the future tense? Or is some of Christ’s reconciling work realized in the present? Scholars are divided, but F.F. Bruce presents a balanced view of verse 22:

The sentence of justification passed upon the believer here and now anticipates the pronouncement of the judgment day; the holiness which is progressively wrought in his life by the Spirit of God here and now is to issue in perfection of glory on the day of Christ’s [Second Coming].

3. Our hope of glory, 1:24—29

No believer can be considered mature if they have a wrong view of their sufferings. Paul, for his part, demonstrated his maturity by rejoicing, not because of the suffering he had endured, but IN the suffering because of the good that was being produced on account of it. One time, not so long ago, Paul, then known as Saul, had inflicted horrible suffering on others, but now he welcomes it in order to win the lost to Christ. What a remarkable change!

A. Understanding suffering, verse 24

Verse 24 is admittedly controversial.

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

The first part of that verse we have already explained. What does Paul mean by the second part? In Scripture, there are two types of suffering: ministerial suffering and mediatorial suffering. Christ’s suffering—what He endured in the flesh in order to secure our salvation—was mediatorial suffering; that is, He suffered in our place. He was punished for our sins. No human being can do that for another; only Christ could have suffered on our behalf. Christ also experienced ministerial suffering. For example, He was mocked and ridiculed for His teachings. He told His followers that they would experience the same kind of suffering He did; they would suffer on account of Him. This is what Paul had in his mind as he wrote to the Colossians from prison. In fact, Paul had been given a special promise of suffering:

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15, 16)

Paul’s suffering could in no way result in anybody’s salvation, but his suffering was part of his ministry to the lost and to the Body of Christ. Paul identified himself with Christ so much so that he viewed his sufferings as part of His service to Christ. That is a mature view of suffering.

B. Understanding the mystery, verses 25—27

Paul had been called and charged with a mission to perform. He was made a minister of the Gospel (verse 23) and that ministry to the Church involved a revelation of a mystery.

I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. (verses 25, 26)

Paul was the Church’s servant and his job was to preach the Word to the believers. That Word, Paul says, was a “mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations.” A lot of people stop reading there and wrongfully conclude the Word of God is a mystery—that it hides secrets and mysterious codes. However, reading on, we discover that for the Lord’s people there is NO mystery surrounding the Word of God! All has been revealed to the Christian.

There is no question about it; a mature believer has an understanding of God’s Word. This, of course, does not mean that when one becomes a Christian they, at the same time, become a Bible scholar! Christians are obligated to study the Scriptures and be faithful in listening good Bible teaching.  But at the same time, we understand this:

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. (John 16:13a)

The Spirit of truth has come! He resides in all believers, therefore all believers may be guided into a understanding of the the truth. Mature believer come to depend on the Holy Spirit leading them into an appreciation and understanding of the Bible. Even more than that, the Holy Spirit can give you a greater desire for the truth of God’s Word.

C. Growing God’s purposes, verses 28, 29

We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

God wants us to be complete in Him, and He has given the Church the Holy Spirit and preachers, like Paul, to make that happen. This reminds us of what Paul taught the Ephesians:

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. (Ephesians 4:11—13)

So then, believers grow into maturity through the ministry of the Word of God to them. This involves preaching and teaching, but also “admonishing.” Sometimes believers need to be corrected in their ideas. Paul was so convinced of the importance of his ministry in this regard, that he “strenuously contended” to perform it. He “agonized” and “fought” for the souls of those in his charge. But he did so, not in his own power, but the power of Christ in Him.

The mature believer, then, is one who has a correct understanding of the Person and work of Christ, an understanding of suffering and a desire to know and understand the Word of God.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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