How Can the Bible Relate to Us Today?

What Does “The Church Is the Body of Christ” Mean? [Ephesians 1: 22-23]

The Stave Church at Lom, Norway

Ephesians 1: 22-23: Ephesians Study – Part 8

How often do church buildings – and the churches’ members themselves – become a fortress to guard against those on the “outside”?  And how often do people on the outside look at these formidable castle walls we call churches, feeling left out of whatever mysterious activities that go on within?  Is this what God intended for the church to be?

In our study of Ephesians, we recognize that when Paul speaks of “the church” he is referring to the universal church – that group of people from all over the world who are Christ’s followers through their faith in him – rather than the groups and the local church buildings one sees on the street corner or occupying a city block. 

“And God placed all things under [Christ’s] 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.”  [Ephesians 1: 22-23.  NIV]

God placed all of creation under the oversight and ownership of Christ.  That’s what it means when the writers of the New Testament refer to the Lord Jesus Christ or the Lord Jesus.  “Lord” means one who has command over people and things, i.e. “all things under his feet.” 

The church – the “universal church” as defined above – is described in two ways in relation to Jesus the Christ.  The Bible refers to the church as the “Bride of Christ” to show the relationship between the church and Christ as well as the permanent commitment and radiant love they have for each other. 

However, there is another term that describes the church in the Bible, and that is used here: “his body.”  The church as the embodiment of Christ physically represents Christ to others on this earth.  Jesus Christ himself is no longer walking about and ministering on this earth, but the church is now doing that for him through the power of the Holy Spirit.  The people of the church, then, are what non-believers see as representing Christ. 

This all sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?  And in some ways, perhaps idealistic.  As the stresses of the pandemic with its impact on a person’s or family’s relationships, income, school, work, staying safe – and in the United States, the impact of the drawn-out election – increasingly dominates our well-being, people appear to be a bit more impatient with others, focused more on self, and try to cope with the mental health effects of the stress: the depression, the anxiety, the anger.  In the midst of this, Christ’s followers are expected to behave like Jesus Christ – loving, caring, understanding, kindly direct at times in correcting – as they represent him to others.

Do you think I’m overstating the matter?  What else does Paul say in the passage above?  “. . . the church, which is [Christ’s] body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”  It does rather lay it out there in no uncertain terms, doesn’t it?  We as individual members of Christ’s body have the fullness of Christ living within us with all that the statement implies.  Later in Ephesians, Paul states:

“. . . that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”  [Ephesians 3: 19.  NIV]

In this first chapter of Ephesians we have been studying starting with verse 15, Paul entreats God in his prayer for believers that:  (1) we should have wisdom and revelation to know God better; (2) we should know the hope (a guaranteed expectation) to which God has called you; (3) we understand we are God’s rich inheritance as believers; (4) the wild and crazy power that can’t be measured or compared to anything else in our work for him through our faith (key words, “power,” “working,” “might,” and “strength”); (5) all of creation has been placed under the feet of Christ, who is the head of everything; (6) the universal church, of which we are a part of as believers, is the fullness of Christ who fills everything in every way. 

I want to leave you with some thoughts about what it means that Christ is “the head over everything for the church . . . .”  Some people get upset about anyone being their boss.  They just don’t like someone telling them what to do.  During this COVID-19 pandemic, the issue of social distancing and wearing masks is framed in some people’s minds as someone is telling them what to do, and they should have freedom not to do such a thing if they don’t want to.  Government, being guided by science, is trying to bring the COVID-19 under control for the benefit of the population as a whole.  However, some people just don’t want anyone telling them what to do, even if it is for the benefit of others.  No one is their head, their guide.

When some individuals see this reference to Christ, they tend to act in much the same way.  They don’t like the thought of Christ being their boss, as it were.  When the Bible speaks of “Lord Jesus” or “Lord Jesus Christ as in verse 2 of this chapter, that’s what “Lord” means.  It means “Boss.”  Now then, when Jesus Christ is referred to as the head over everything, that means he’s the boss, but it also means something else. 

Your body has a head.  And the head does indeed govern everything about your body, even the heart beat and each breath you take, although thankfully you don’t have to think about it (Okay, heart, beat now.  Beat now.  Beat now.  Oh, I forgot.  Quick!  Beat now!  Maybe two quick ones to make up for the one I missed!).  Overall, then, the head is the thinking, caring part of your body.  Everything it does is to support and guide the body for the entire body’s benefit, including the head’s benefit!  It does control, but it controls for the greater good and health of the body – unless, of course, there is a mental illness involved, or a physical or mental disability.  If you have questions or concerns about this last statement, please see a licensed psychologist or a licensed therapist to help you. Christ being the head or the boss over everything is not a bad thing as he cares for the well-being of all things, including the church.

Have you been in a church or seen a church that did not have Christ as it’s head?  I have.  There is strife, bickering, fighting over so many things.  There is a lack of love and caring for one another in a church in which Christ is not the head.  I have been the pastor after major church splits that occurred because Christ was not the head of those churches.  Perhaps you have experienced this yourself.  It’s terribly sad – and churches in this condition may not have experienced the fullness of God’s love for them and others as exhibited on the cross.  Or they have and forgot their love and devotion to God.  The Christ, through the Apostle John in the book of Revelation, stated it this way in his correction to the church at Ephesus:

“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.  Remember the height from which you have fallen!  Repent and do the things you did at first.”  [Revelation 2: 4-5a.  NIV]

And to the church at Laodicea [“lay-Od-ih-SEE-ah”], Christ said,

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit (literally, “spew”) you out of my mouth.  You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.  But you do not realize you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”  [Revelation 3: 15-17.  NIV]

Let this time of so many personal and cultural adjustments be a time of comprehending what it means to be a part of Christ’s universal church – his bride and his body – with Christ as its head.  And may you, the reader, understand in some measure the truths that God has presented through the writings of Paul in this first chapter of the book of Ephesians.

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