‘And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all’, Eph. 1. 22, 23 NKJV.
The Hebrew word qahal is usually translated ‘congregation’ in the KJV and ‘assembly’ in the NKJV. In the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament from which New Testament writers often quoted), it is sometimes rendered sunagoge (brought together) and sometimes ekklesia (called out).
Between them, these two words convey the basic idea behind the word ‘church’. In the general sense, ‘church’ refers to any group of people who have been called away from wherever they were, to come together for a specific purpose. The word itself does not necessarily carry any religious connotations, e.g., see the word ‘assembly’, Acts 19. 32.
In the Septuagint, Israel is called a church, Deut. 31. 30, and Stephen uses the term of Israel in Acts chapter 7 verse 38.
In the early chapters of the book of Acts, the word ‘church’ describes the Jews who identified themselves with Jesus the Messiah, Acts 2. 47; 8. 3. Later, individual congregations, whether Jewish, Gentile, or mixed, are called ‘churches’, Acts 9. 31; 16. 5.
But in the ministry of the apostle Paul, the word is used in a very special sense. The Lord Jesus revealed mysteries to Paul, that is, truths which had hitherto been kept secret by God. One such mystery concerns ‘the church which is His body’.
The church which is Christ’s body consists of Jews, who have been called out of Judaism, and Gentiles, who have been called out of the world, who, together, form one brand new entity in Christ. Membership in this body comes through faith in the gospel, Eph. 1. 13.
That Gentiles could be saved was no secret in the Old Testament. But the idea that Jews and Gentiles could be on equal terms was entirely new, and was one of the mysteries Paul revealed in Ephesians chapter 3 verses 1 to 11. So too was the idea that this new creation was designated ‘His body’. Paul teaches that Christ is the head and the church is His body, Col. 1. 18. It is a unique relationship.
Ephesians chapter 1 describes many of the blessings and privileges which belong to members of this church. Paul prays particularly that we would understand the hope of God’s calling, the riches of His inheritance, and the greatness of His power, all of which are ours in Christ, 1. 18, 19.
The idea is that because the body is joined to the head, it shares its life with the head. Christ, our Head, is in heaven, and so Paul emphasizes the heavenly, spiritual blessings which belong to us. This is quite different to Old Testament Israel who were promised earthly, material blessings.
The climax of Ephesians chapter 1 concerns the headship of the Lord Jesus Christ over all things, both now and in the future, 1. 21. And in Christ’s exaltation, the church has a very special place. He is ‘head over all things to the church’, v. 22. Under Christ’s headship, the church will reign with Him and share in His glory.
One of the most astounding truths Paul reveals is that the church is ‘the fullness’ of Christ, 1. 23. We must tread carefully, for Christ is perfect and complete in Himself, and needs nothing, yet there is a sense in which the church completes Christ. Perhaps this can be best understood by saying that the church brings out Christ’s glory in a way that would not be visible otherwise.
There is an analogy of this in creation. Everything God made was perfect, yet God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone’, Gen. 2. 18. Man is completed by woman who brings out man’s glory, 1 Cor. 11. 7.
In Ephesians chapter 5 verses 23 to 32, Paul explains further the profound mystery of Christ and the church, ‘For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Saviour of the body’, Eph. 5. 23.
As the body of Christ, the church enjoys unique privileges, and with privileges come responsibilities. Let us endeavour to submit to Christ our Head and bring glory to Him in all things.