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Our First Glimpse of the Church and Why It Matters

April 19, 2018 • Life for Leaders

That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his 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 1:19-23

 

One of my favorite novels is Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo. I was inspired to read this lengthy book (over 1200 pages) by the musical, which I first saw onstage in 1991. The musical begins with a scene of convicts doing hard labor. After they sing their anguished cry, “Look down,” we are introduced to the main characters of the story: Jean Valjean, a poor and struggling parolee, and Javert, the cold and harsh police inspector. A few minutes later, Valjean encounters the Bishop of Digne, whose grace transforms Valjean’s life, though the Bishop’s part in the musical is very small.

A crowd of people with their arms raised in worship.The novel begins quite differently. We are not introduced to Valjean or Javert at the beginning. Rather, for seventy pages we read about the Bishop and his exemplary Christian life. If you were unfamiliar with the musical version of Les Misérables, when you started reading the novel, you might think that the Bishop was the chief protagonist. Yet he actually sets the stage for the entrance of Jean Valjean, the main character of the story.

Ephesians 1 reminds me of Les Misérables. To be sure, the main protagonists are introduced right away: “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2). Yet, more than any other book of the Bible, Ephesians is about the church. The word “church” appears in this letter with more frequency than it does in any other biblical book. Even when the word “church” is not used, Ephesians continually speaks to and about the community of God’s people in Christ. It is a book about the church.

The last few words of Ephesians 1 give us our first glimpse of the church: “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” (1:22-23). The church is identified as Christ’s “body” and as “the fullness.” We’ll learn more about these words and their significance later in Ephesians (especially chapters 3 and 4).

At the end of chapter 1, we sense that the church plays an essential role in God’s work in the cosmos. He has made Christ head over all things “for the church” (1:22). The church is Christ’s body, the physical representation of Christ on earth. And the church is, in some way, the vehicle and container for all that God is doing in the universe.

As we move through Ephesians, we’ll learn much more about the church, its identity and role. For now, we have been introduced to the church and sense its centrality to the story of Ephesians. We wonder what it means for the church to be Christ’s body and how it will be filled with everything.

Even now we begin to understand how central the church is to God’s plans for the world. We realize that, no matter how many mixed feelings we might have about the church as we experience it today, the church as the body of Christ is not something to be ignored or dismissed. Whatever God wants to do in and through us, God sees us as essential parts of his church. We will only be all that God envisions for us when we are active members of the body of Christ.

Something to Think About:

When you hear the word “church,” what thoughts, feelings, or images come to mind? Are they positive? Negative? Neutral?

Why do you think Paul introduces the church as Christ’s body?

In what ways is church an essential element of your discipleship?

Something to Do:

The next time you’re in a group of gathered believers, like in a Sunday morning worship service, reflect on the fact that the church is Christ’s body. What might this really mean for real people gathered in real community? What difference might this make in your church?

Prayer:

Gracious God, as we come to the end of Ephesians 1, we’re struck by the introduction of the church. We have so many different thoughts and feelings about the church. It’s easy for us to define “church” in light of our own experiences. Yet, we really need to know how you define “church” so that we might bring our thoughts and feelings in line with yours.

As we move forward in Ephesians, help us to understand the church as you see it. Show us how the church functions in your plan for the cosmos, and how we are to function in the church. May we contribute to your work of renewing your church, for your purposes and glory. Amen.

 

Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
The Church and the High Calling of Our Daily Work

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