THE HEAD OF THE BODY, THE CHURCH (series: Lessons on Colossians)
by John Lowe
Lesson IIB1: THE HEAD OF THE BODY, THE CHURCH (Colossians 1:18a)
• Letters inside brackets a, correspond to “Special Notes” following each verse.
• NIV Bible is used throughout unless noted otherwise.
Colossians 1:18a (NIV)
1:18a And he is the head of the body, the church;
Much controversy has prevailed as to what constitutes the Church; and the worldlier the Church became, the more confused the definition, the more bitter the controversy. The New Testament idea of the Church is easily comprehended. It is the whole body of the faithful in Christ Jesus, who are redeemed and regenerated by His grace—the aggregate multitudes of those in heaven and on earth who love, adore, and serve the Son of God as their Redeemer and Lord.
As the Head of the Church—
1. Christ inspires it with spiritual life and activity.
2. He impresses and molds its character.
3. He prescribes and enforces its laws.
4. He governs and controls its destinies.
5. He is the center of its unity.
1:18a And he is the head of the body, the church;
Paul now begins to give the relationship between Christ and the Church. Christ stands out as the Supreme head—the one supreme Guardian, the one Savior, the one Governor, the All-in-All . . . Christ and none other! “The Church” in verse 18 does not refer to the local assembly, but to the redeemed body of faithful sons of God—those who have salvation through His precious blood. In the previous verses, Paul has shown Jesus Christ to be the Head of the Church: he is the image of God, and is therefore divine. He is supreme in the universe—He created it, and it continues to exist because of His power. He created all things, he supports all things, and without Him, all things would become nonexistent. One so highly exalted is plainly capable of being the Head of the Church, which is composed of the saints of God. He is the God and Savior of all believers. He is their Protector, the object of their worship and the One who blesses the believer. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above”—from God (James 1:17a).
We see here that both the Church and the universe are under one divine administration. He who is King of kings and Lord of lords—King of the earth and all creation—is the Head of the true Church. He has a right to be: He holds that position through the merit of His shed blood⸻ “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). The measure of Christ’s love is stated in the declaration that He “GAVE HIMSELF FOR” the church. The husband is to love his wife in the same bountiful fashion, even to the point of sacrificing himself for her well-being.
Paul certainly sees the Church as a kind of larger incarnation of Christ. Just
as once Christ appeared in a body of flesh, so now He dwells in the church and uses its members to manifest Himself to men, and to do His work in the world. We can guess that it was in the context of the early Christian communion service that this name for the Church was born. There, the one loaf which all shared, was named Christ’s Body (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). What could be more natural than that the partakers should come to be called His Body? Perhaps the best illustration of the concept lies in the question of the glorified Christ to Paul the persecutor, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4).
If we raise the objection that Paul was persecuting Christ’s followers, we unwittingly make the point, for we highlight the closeness of the relationship between Christ and His followers; to injure His followers is to injure Christ Himself. Together, Christ and His people make up one personality, one body. (Had not Jesus himself prepared the way for all this by saying where two or three were gathered together in His name, there was He in their midst, and by insisting that to befriend one of His helpless brethren was to befriend Himself?) In any case, Paul saw the Church as a social organism, indwelt by Christ through the Holy Spirit, and called to continue His work in the world.
The Church is the body of Christ, that is, the organism through which He acts and which shares all His experiences. But humanly speaking the body is the servant of the head and is powerless without it. If so Jesus Christ is the guiding spirit of the Church; it is at His bidding that the Church must live and move. Without Him, the Church cannot think the truth, cannot act correctly, and cannot decide its direction. There are two things combined here. There is the idea of privilege. It is the privilege of the Church to be the instrument through which Christ works. There is the idea of warning. If a man neglects or abuses his body, he can make it unfit to be the servant of the great purposes of his mind; so by undisciplined and careless living, the Church can make herself unfit to be the instrument of Christ, who is her head.
Paul had used the doctrine before (in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12) to show that, while the Church is made up of a great many different people, with widely differing interests and talents, it yet forms one organism ⸺a body in which all the various members ought to work harmoniously together. But here in Colossians, as in Ephesians, he takes the further step of calling Christ the Body’s “Head.” Why “head”? Is the primary idea that of control (since the head may be said to control the body)? Or is it supremacy (since the head may be said to rule the body)? Perhaps the latter is likelier.