The church is a body. Here on 2thesource in the last few days we’ve seen this metaphor played out in places like 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. Here are two examples from Paul’s letter to the Colossians:
And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
A summary of a few points from these texts:
- Jesus Christ is our head.
- He was raised from death, making a way for us to be raised from death and sin.
- The church is filled with living people, not people dead in sin.
- Christ has the first place, and holds the highest rank in the group (preeminent).
- Just as our bodies are led by our heads, the church is led and directed by Jesus.
- People driven by sensuality and sensationalism will attempt to infiltrate and influence the church.
- These wolves will not hold fast to Jesus, but will attempt to win others away to themselves.
- There will be those within our ranks who insist on religion over Christ.
- We must resist them and demand that Christ remain supreme.
- In Christ alone we are nourished and united to function as a healthy body.
- We are to work hard, but realize that the growth that occurs in us is from God and for God.
It would take many more words than I’m prepared to type in this one blog to examine in detail the context of these Colossians passages, particularly the first one. Colossians 1:15-23 is one of the preeminent descriptions of the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ (alongside John 1:1-14, Philippians 2:5-11, and Hebrews 1:2-4) in all of the New Testament. Paul was writing to an immature church in Colossae. They were not willingly being pulled aside to false doctrine, but they were exhibiting a lack of discernment as false teachers were poisoning the well. Paul’s strategy from the outset of the epistle should inform our methodology. He prays for the Colossians (1:9-14) and then unleashes a long, descriptive, emphatic sketch of Christ’s supremacy (1:15-23).
Do we do this in our churches? Do we emphasize the person, work, character, supremacy, sufficiency, preeminence, and reality of Jesus Christ?
I’m reminded of a methodological debate that I’ve heard addressed in a number of books and talks over the last few years. It is the old tug of war between being an “inward focused” or an “outward focused” church. The thought, from a leadership standpoint within the church, is that we need to work hard to shift the focus of our people from themselves (inward) to the lost (outward). The goal is to get our eyes off of ourselves and onto the mission. Reggie McNeal’s book Missional Renaissance is an example of a text that emphasizes this point.
I feel like I understand the end-game here. We need to engage the mission of God. But I don’t think being “outward” focused is the biblical strategy. I think if we take our cue from places like Colossians 1, we will be emphasizing an “upward” focus, a focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ. If Jesus is our focus, and we are connected to him as our head, we will become a healthy body (inward) and engage his mission (outward). Jesus must be the point, he must be recognized and continually emphasized as the head of the body. If he isn’t, what is it that we are winning people to? A headless body is not a body you want to join.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
1 Corinthians 15:3-5