And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
What do many people think of the Christian church today? They think it is filled with hypocrites, people who preach one thing and practice another. Of course, there is too much truth in this. In the U.K. the church seems irrelevant with fewer and fewer attending worship, church buildings closing weekly to be taken over as warehouses, garages and even mosques. The largest professing Christian church has had awful sex scandals exposed amongst its leadership. In Kenya the church seems to be growing, yet there is much formality on the one hand, and a great emphasis on entertainment on the other hand. Despite all this, the Bible clearly tells us that the church is at the very centre of all God does in the entire creation! God neither acts for the sake of great powers like the United States or China, nor simply for the poor and down-trodden of the world. It is not the G8 or G20, the World Bank or IMF, or the UN that rules the world. It is the church that God specially loves, that Christ gave Himself for, and that will be prepared to be with Him in glory (Ephesians 5:25-27). So how important it is to know what the church is, and whether you are really a part of it!
1. CHRIST RULES OVER ALL THINGS (1:22a)
Paul has been expressing his prayer for the Ephesian Christians to know the three things of greatest importance for their Christian lives (1:18-19). The third prayer concerns the power that is at work in believers, the power that is nothing less than the resurrection-exaltation power that put Christ in the highest place in the universe, at God’s own right hand, for ever. But it is not a place of privilege and authority without doing anything. God has “put all things under His feet” – “put” is the same word translated “submit” (5:21,22,24). A victorious king puts his feet on the neck of his defeated foe to show their total submission (see Joshua 10:24). So Christ has been exalted to make every enemy submit, and the last enemy will be death, but it will also finally submit. Read Psalm 110:1 and 1 Corinthians 15:24-26. No one and nothing will be able to successfully resist Christ so as to come out from under His rule. He will ultimately and totally triumph! How foolish to fight against Christ. Yes, He died in weakness, but He is now in the place of glory and power, and one day He will return in all His divine power and every knee shall bow before Him (Philippians 2:9-11).
2. CHRIST RULES FOR THE SAKE OF HIS CHURCH (1:22b)
(1) “and (God) gave Him” – The emphasis in the words, “and gave Him as head” is on the “Him”, that is, ‘Him it is that God gave’, the One He so highly exalted. It seems paradoxical that One who has everything under His feet is ‘given’, but He is the Father’s gracious gift.
(2) “as head over all things” – The Father gave Him as “head over all things”. Do not think here of head and body relationships as these have to do with created things (see also Colossians 2:10). “Head” means rule, for Christ an absolute rule, for He is ruler over “all things”. This must include evil and as well as good powers. There is so much talk today of evil spirits, of so-called generational curses, as if these things are independent of Christ. How false this is!
(3) “for the church” – The further thought here is that all this power is exercised to the advantage of, or to the benefit of the church. Ask an athlete why he is doing certain things and not doing others. You will always get the reply, ‘so that I can win the race’. If you could ask God, ‘Why are you doing this?’ He would always reply, ‘For my beloved church’. This is the answer to all the following questions we might ask. Why did you choose Abraham and take him from Ur to bring him to Canaan? Why did you get the brothers to sell Joseph into slavery in Egypt and to get put in prison there? Why was Saul of Tarsus a witness of the stoning of the first Christian Martyr, Stephen? Why was there persecution at the time of Stephen’s death? Why was Paul in prison in Rome when he might have been free to preach everywhere? And especially, why did Christ come from heaven to suffer and die on a Roman cross? In all that God does He has the benefit of the church in view, and this is how “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28). Even Job’s sufferings were for good. Our own trials are for good (Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-4).
(4) What is this church? It is certainly not a building; it is not an organization like Trinity Baptist Church; nor is it all who call themselves Christians as opposed say to Muslims, so 75% of Kenyans. The church is made up of a special kind of people, “saints”, those who are holy in the sense that they have been set apart from sin to God; they are “faithful in Christ Jesus” (remember 1:1). Such was the local church in Ephesus to whom Paul was writing. Here the church is not confined to one local church, but refers to all believers, at all times, in all places, what is often called the ‘universal’ church (as in 3:10, 21, 5:23ff.). The church is all those who submit to Christ (5:24), who are loved by Christ (5:25), in order to be made holy (5:27). See a woman who joyfully does whatever a certain man wants, whose needs are all met by that man, and who presents herself beautifully before him, and I will show you a wife. Does this describe your relationship to Christ? Then you are part of the church. The church is the heavenly gathering around the throne of Christ in which believers now participate.
3. BECAUSE THE CHURCH IS VERY PRECIOUS TO CHRIST (1:23)
(1) The church is nothing less than “His body” (also 4:4,12,16, 5:23,30). How precious is your body to you? It is obviously so precious that you clean it, feed it, protect it, in order to keep it. Christ has indissolubly bound the church to Himself. So what happens to the body reflects upon Him. Therefore He must save those for whom He died; He must keep them and raise them up on the last day. They must be with Him in glory, or He will be ‘body-less’! This is why He exercises His infinite power in their interest. Like it or not, the entire universe is subject to Him because the church is His body.
(2) The church is further described as “the fullness of Him”, that is of Christ. Christ fills the church. There are a number of different possible interpretations, but the one I think best fits the context is that Christ Himself is the fullness of the church. This is because the emphasis is laid upon what Christ is to the church. As the glory cloud filled the tabernacle in the wilderness (Exodus 40:34-35), so Christ who is the glory of God fills the church by His Spirit. Where does Christ delight to be and to manifest His glory? Amongst His people. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). More amazingly, this One “fills all in all”. He completely fills everything, in every respect and in every way. But He fills the church in a special way He does not fill all other things. Think about it as the difference between a loving husband making known his presence at home, and a major-general on a parade ground. Christ’s glory is not simply His power and His wisdom, but as used in grace for our eternal salvation.
Are you someone who professes to be saved? Then I ask you, how interested are you in Christ’s church? God’s people under the old covenant would groan if away from God’s manifested presence in Jerusalem. If Christ manifests His glorious presence when the local church gathers for worship you should groan if ever you are prevented from being together with them. Is the church then, as we have defined it, the very centre of your life, so that you fit everything else around it? This may demand a radical reordering of your life, but you must do whatever it takes. Is your failure here the reason why you are spiritually weak and not progressing as you ought? If I have a very special function and I invite you as a chief guest and you give some very lame excuse, will that not tell me something about the way you consider me? If your Saviour delights to be with His people, with you whom He has redeemed at such tremendous cost, do you not delight, as your chief joy, to be with Him? This teaching clearly shows that we should not emphasize the private over the corporate in worship and service. If anything, the corporate is more important.