What Is the Church? (Ephesians 1:22b-23)

and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.

Continuing the theme of the authority of Christ, Paul goes on to make an interesting statement. Jesus, as the head of all creation, is given to the church. And this is no small gift – we’re talking about the Commander-in-Chief of the entire universe! Paul emphasizes Jesus’ position of ultimate power as being the gift that is given.

What exactly is the church? The original Greek word literally means “a congregation of individuals who have been called out.” It refers to people, to all those who have put their trust in Christ. Paul wrote long before there were church buildings of any kind, or before the church became an institution. In the Biblical sense, the word always refers to people, to the congregation of believers.

Paul goes on to give some more details about the church. When he writes that it’s the body of Christ, he’s referring to its nature, that is, its inborn or inherent quality. The word “body” means “a large number of people closely united into one society, or family; a social, ethical, mystical body.” In other words, the church is a spiritual organism that has its life in Christ. It’s not simply a group of people or an organization, but it’s a community that has its existence, power, and purpose in Jesus. It is Christ’s “hands and feet” to do His work on earth.

The word “fullness” means “something that is, or has been, filled.” It could refer to a ship that has been packed with merchandise. The idea here is that the church has been filled with God Himself. Remember that Christ, as the ultimate authority, has been given to the church. Therefore, He Himself fills the church with His presence, life, power, gifts, energy, and grace. Paul then goes further to clarify that Christ actually fills everything (all in all).

When we look at the present state of the church, with all its imperfections, it’s possible to doubt the truth of Paul’s words in these verses. But we must remember that he’s talking about the church as a whole, and when we look back at history, we see that the church has indeed changed the world. A small group of insignificant people from some obscure province in the Roman Empire grew to impact the furthest reaches of our globe. That would have never happened without the fullness of God within them.

Do individual Christians and churches fail? Of course. Even Paul warns elsewhere about that possibility. But the failure of some doesn’t take away from the truth of these words. The church is involved in a spiritual war, and all warfare has casualties. Jesus said in Mathew 16, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” He has give His fullness to the church to ensure the victory.

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