A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com
Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 2/22/1998
The first chapter of Ephesians is something like a three-stage rocket. Just when you've ridden its powerful booster to heights of spiritual blessing and invigorating doctrine beyond anything you ever thought possible, just when you think you've gone as high as mortal man can go and you expect to begin coasting back to earth, just then the next stage kicks in and its thrusters plaster you to your seat with g-forces as you rocket to even giddier altitudes. And just when you think that's all you can take, the third stage cuts in and the exhiliration continues. Certainly that is the experience I have had as I prepare these messages on the final verses.
Last week we saw some tremendous truths: that it was as our representative that Christ died and rose and ascended and was exalted and has triumphed. Because he died I have died and there is no condemnation; because he rose I shall rise and there is eternal life; because he ascended I have ascended, I inhabit the heavenlies and am in the presence of God through the mediation of my redeemer and king; and because all things have been put under his feet, I have conquered and I have victory in him.
Today, as if all that were not enough, we discover that our relationship with Christ which is the reason for these blessings and the ground of this hope is not just legal and official (as our Representative) but it is also organic and intimate (as our Head). So today we will look at Jesus Christ as the Head of the Church. Next week we will look at the Church as his Body.I. THE MEANING OF THE METAPHOR
The metaphor of Christ as the Head and the Church as his Body is one of a series of metaphors with overlapping significance describing the relationship between Christ and the Church. Put all together they give us some inkling of the nature of this all-encompassing relationship.Church as Temple
First, the CHURCH is described as a TEMPLE, with CHRIST as its CORNERSTONE (Eph. 2:20, 1 Pet. 2:4-5). Even this least organic of the metaphors pictures Christ and the Church as each a part of the other, as tied together. The cornerstone is indispensable, foundational, most important. It is the focal point of the whole, not only the main support but the one from whom everything else is plotted and measured.Church as Bride
Second, the CHURCH is described as a BRIDE, and CHRIST as the BRIDEGROOM (Eph. 5:23-27). Here is a more intimate union, for husband and wife are not just contiguous and mortared but are metaphorically described as one flesh. This portrays the relationship as one of caring, sacrifice, leadership, and commitment on he part of Christ, of caring, acceptance, submission, and commitment on the part of the Church. The Church as Temple is the object of support, design, and definition by the Cornerstone. As Bride she is the object of love, caring, leadership, and support by the Groom.Church as Branches
Third, the CHURCH is described as the BRANCHES, and CHRIST as the VINE (Jn. 15:1-5). This is an even more intimate union. Now the same life flows through both; now the union is pictured as literally organic. Christ is the sole source of life, nourishment, and support. These things flow from him in measure as the union is full and unbroken.Church as Body
Finally, in this passage, the CHURCH is described as a BODY, and CHRIST as its HEAD. This metaphor should be seen as part of the complex of figures which includes the others. This union is the most intimate of all; as organic as that of Vine and Branches but as personal as that of Groom and Bride. The Head is most obviously and particularly the source of direction and guidance for the Body. But this is also an image of the strongest identity. Pain and pleasure may be felt in the members, but they register consciously only in the head, as Paul discovered on the Damascus Road ("Why are you persecuting ME?" (Acts 9:4).
What does it mean to be joined to Jesus Christ in this way? As Head he is obviously the Ruler, but much more. He supports and defines you the way a cornerstone does a building. He identifies with you and feels for you the way the brain does for the members of its body. He cares for you and cherishes you as a man does for his own body or a good husband his wife. He nourishes you with his own life as a vine does its branches. Therefore, for you to be cut off from him would be like an amputation. He will do all that omnipotence can do to keep you in the faith.II. THE RECIPROCITY OF THE RELATIONSHIP
This is a relationship which is definitely asymmetrical. Christ initiates it and sustains it; he contributes infinitely more to it than we do. But though it is not symmetrical it is nonetheless reciprocal. What happens to the body affects the head, just as what happen in the head affects the body. Specifically, if the Head has been killed, raised, exalted, and seated, then so has its Body. Why were all things put under his feet? So the Church would have a Head who is head of all! Christ is in one sense the Head of the whole created world (1:10). But of all Creation, only the Church is called his Body. Why? Because only the Church is joined to him, only the Church will reign with him, only the Church has a personal relationship with him. So if I am in the heavenlies seated and reigning because Christ is my Representative, how much more because he is my Head? Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ!III. INCREASING THE INTIMACY
Such are the benefits and blessings that flow form this union that we should have as our highest priority anything that would nurture, build, cement, or promote our relationship with Christ. To be without Christ is to be like a chicken with its head cut off. Physical activity can actually continue for some time: the bird runs around, its limbs jerk, but there is no purpose to its movements and no lasting life in its members. But what if you are connected to the Head but the connections are rather loose? That is to have what we might call spiritual cerebral palsy. The nerve impulses from the brain get scrambled on their way to the muscles. As a result there is no power; movements are not as purposeless as those of the decapitated chicken, but the purposes of the brain are carried out inefficiently amd ineffectively. What a horribly accurate description of much of the Church today!
OK, what are the nerves, sinews, and other tissues that bind us to our Head? If we want to avoid spiritual palsy we'd better keep them in good health! They are Scripture read and preached, Prayer, Baptism and Communion, Public Worship, and the Fellowhsip of the Saints. If a finger is cut off from the other fingers in the hand, it is a pretty good bet it is not connected to the Head either.
The ultimate cause of spiritual cerebral palsy for believers actually connected to the Head is simple neglect of these things. And surely one of the major causes of such neglect is an insufficient awareness of what it means to have Christ as our HEAD, of what it means to have CHRIST as our head. When we understand and believe and apply these truths, we will lead lives of victory, of useful service, and of rejoicing. Because then the power that works within us will be the very same which is according to the working of the strength of his might which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and might and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this world but in the one to come.
Here endeth the lesson. Dr. Donald T. Williams