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God’s Word for You

Colossians 1:18 The head of the church

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, March 19, 2018

We will meditate on some verses from Colossians for the next two weeks as we approach Good Friday.

18 He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that in everything he might be supreme.

Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and Colossians are very similar books, but they have different perspectives. Look at the themes of these two books as I put them together. Ephesians is first:

The glorious Church, whose head is Christ.
The glorious Christ, who is head of the Church.

Although Paul will talk about the church here in Colossians, you see that his focus is primarily on Jesus Christ, especially as the head of the church. In fact, Paul’s point is not that Christ is the head of all mankind, or even of all creation. He is the creator, and he has supreme authority over all mankind, but he is not the head of those who have separated themselves from him. He has authority over them—authority to judge. But as to being the head: He is the head of the church.

“Church” in Greek is ekklesia (ἐκκλησία), a word that is used more than a hundred times in the New Testament, but only three times in the Gospels. The first of these is Matthew 16:18, where Jesus states that Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16) is the foundation of the church and of our faith. Everything we believe, confess, preach and share is based on that statement. The other two references to the church in the Gospels are both in Matthew 18:17, in which Jesus demonstrates the authority of the church. If someone is sinning openly and refuses to acknowledge his sin even to two witnesses, we are compelled to tell it to the church. And, Jesus says, “If he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” So Jesus demonstrated the church’s belief and authority with this word—and Paul tells us that Jesus is in fact the head of the church.

Without a head, your body would be useless and dead. The church would be useless and dead without Christ. Along the same lines, the stomach should not command the whole body; the head is in charge. The hands are not the whole body; the head is in charge. A body that does not listen to the head is out of control, and a church that does not listen to Christ is likewise out of control.

Paul describes Christ as “the beginning” and “the firstborn from the dead.” Jesus is the beginning of both things, both this world and the next. He is supreme here, in the created world, because he is the creator. He is supreme in the next world, in heaven, because he is the firstborn of the resurrected dead, and through him all have life.

“So that,” Paul goes on to say. Usually, figuring out what “so that” means is pretty important to understanding a passage. It might express the purpose of a thing, or the result of a thing, or even a contingency. But here, since it means all of these things, it isn’t so important that we say which of them must be correct. They’re all correct. The reason he did all this was to be supreme (although this was already true). The purpose was that he would remain supreme. And the result was the same. He is supreme. What does “supreme” mean? The word is proteuon (πρωτεύων), and since it’s a participle it has some of the qualities of a noun (Jesus has it) and some of the qualities of a verb (Jesus does it). The same word is used in the Greek translation of Esther: “he had elevated him above the others…” (Esther 5:11), and it’s used in the apocrypha for “the leading elephant” (2 Maccabees 13:15). Jesus is supreme, and Jesus has done the supreme thing: He made the sacrifice that carries all the rest of us to be together with him in heaven. His willingness to do it, to give his life as the ransom for us, makes him the object of our eternal love and worship. He deserves to be supreme, but he is also supreme in our hearts because he had mercy on us. Praise him forever and forevermore.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

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