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The Glorious Body of Christ II: The Preeminent Head - Col. 1:18

The best and most important thing about the Church is that Jesus Christ is the head of the Church. Since this is true, then when you get into a conversation about the Church, you should quickly find yourself talking about how wonderful Jesus is. But sadly, when many people think about the Church, they don’t think first and foremost about Jesus. Often center stage is taken by famous Christians, scandalous sins, or hot cultural topics. The Church has taken on something of a life of its own apart from Jesus, and that’s a problem!

But Colossians 1:18 reminds us that the best and most important thing about the Church is that Jesus Christ is her head. God’s Word refocuses our hearts on Jesus so that we can call attention to Jesus, because what our friends and neighbors need is for the Church to show them Jesus.

So what does it mean and why is it good for us that Jesus is the head of the Church? This metaphor of headship calls to mind ideas of knowing, originating, representing, and leading, and the Bible speaks of Jesus as the head in many of these ways. In Col. 1:15-18, the focus is especially on Christ as the head in terms of source and origin – He is the firstborn, the creator of all things, the beginning, the firstborn of the dead – and this role of creator and originator is what causes Him to be recognized as preeminent, the one who deserves the honor of being first.

In particular, Colossians 1:18 also ties Christ’s headship specifically to the Church. Jesus is the head of all creation, but in a special way, He is the head of the Church. Borrowing again from R.B. Kuiper, he highlights three aspects of Christ’s headship of the Church: Jesus is the Church’s federal or covenant head, her organic head, and her ruling head.1 That is, Jesus represents the Church before God, He gives life to the Church, and He is in charge of the Church.

Covenant headship means that what happens to the head happens to the body. Romans 5 says that just like our old representative Adam got us all into the mess of sin and death by his disobedience, our new head Jesus won life and righteousness for us by His obedience. Because Jesus is our representative head, His righteousness is imputed or credited to us, so that God counts us righteous in Him!

Organic headship describes headship as a living connection along the lines of the relationship between head and body, or root and branch. Ephesians 5 talks about how marriage is a picture of this headship relationship, and that since Christ our head nourishes and cherishes His Body, so a husband, a family head, ought to nourish and cherish his wife and family. A head is a life-giver, and Jesus is the head who gives life to the Church.

Ruling headship has to do with leadership and authority, which we also see in Ephesians 5, as well as 1 Cor. 11. Jesus rules the Church, because He bought us with His blood and won us as His prize in the battle with sin and death. His authority instructs and directs and guides the Church; we don’t get to decide what a Church is or does, or how we worship, or who belongs, or what rules govern the life of the Church. Our head decides all of that for us, and we’re called to submit to Jesus’ headship. Jesus is in charge of the Church.

Christ’s headship of the Church means that Jesus represents us, He gives us life, and He’s in charge. These are the wonderful blessings of having Christ as our head, and incidentally, these are great things to remind our neighbors about in conversation when the attention drifts away from Christ. Ultimate responsibility for and representation of the Church lies with Jesus, so even when the Church screws things up, Jesus our head will fix it! And He’ll fix us, too, so that the more we depend on and learn from the Head, the more spotless and Christlike we’ll become.

And so our role as the body of Christ is to hold fast to the Head (Col. 2:18), to receive nourishment from the Head by feeding on His Word and sharing in His Supper, to know that we are cherished by the Head through His promises, His protection, and His provision, and to obey the direction of our Head by following His rules and submitting to what He says in His Word. This is how we honor our Head; this is how the body of Christ shows the world that Christ Jesus has preeminence in everything in the Church.

1 Kuiper, R.B., The Glorious Body of Christ, (London: Banner of Truth, 1967), 91-96 passim.

Posted on Thursday, January 23, 2020 by CJ Bowen