Jan 11, 2013

Introducing the Church

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.

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 and Javert. 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.

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'd be apt to think that the Bishop was the chief protagonist. Yet, he actually sets the stage for the entrance of the Jean Valjean, the main character of the story.

Ephesians 1 reminds me of Les Misérables, in a way. 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 introduce the church to us: "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. Such mysteries move us forward in our prayerful study of Ephesians as we move on next week to chapter 2.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: 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?

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 want 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. Amen.

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