Day 9: Jesus is the Head of the Church
Yesus vahanse sabhave hisa vey (Sinhala)
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. – Ephesians 4:15
Advent means “arrival” or “coming.” The season of Advent invites us to recall the first coming of Jesus, a baby born in that tucked-away little town of Bethlehem. And through the chain of events launched by this first coming – birth, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, Pentecost – the church was birthed. But Advent also points forward, urging us to ready ourselves for the second coming, the return of the divine bridegroom to wed his church-bride.
Between the bookends of these two advents – one characterised by meekness and vulnerability, the other by majesty and victory – the Lord’s presence is manifested in a form very different from both his first and second comings. Jesus is with us today neither as baby nor as bridegroom but as the head of his body, the church (Ephesians 4:15). We reflect today on two questions: What kind of head do we have? What kind of body must we be?
“Head” may conjure up a mental picture of a powerful head of state or business magnate, an authority figure who commands (and often demands!) unquestioning obedience and respect, someone remote and far removed from those at the bottom of the hierarchy. In most South Asian cultures—whether in the political, business, social, or domestic sphere—people lower down in the pecking order are accustomed to scurrying around to serve the needs and wants of those at the “top.”
But Paul’s use of “head” can only be understood in relation to “body.” When he writes that Jesus is “head of his body,” Paul is not thinking of a national or corporate entity but a human body, not an organisation but an organism, where the head has a living and life-giving connection with every cell. Connection, rather than command or control, is key. As head, Jesus is inseparably and intimately connected to and involved in the life, well-being, and growth of His body, a body which both manifests His presence on earth and will one day be His beautiful bride.
As he picks up the head-body metaphor in Ephesians 5, Paul’s focus is not Christ’s lordship but His Saviour-hood and His servanthood: “Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour” (5:23). Having sacrificially saved this body, Jesus now lovingly serves it. The head’s powers are not exercised over the body so much as for its benefit as he “feeds and cares for” it (5:29). In a nutshell, this head does not seek to “boss” but to bless his body!
C.S. Lewis writes, “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.” As head, Jesus equips and empowers His body with gifts and graces so that the infant church may be built up and become a mature body (4:11–13). He is the enabler of its growth, within a structure that is not top-down but relational, not ruling over so much as raising it up so that the whole body may reach the maturity of “the whole measure of the fullness” of Christ himself, the glorious radiance that befits his bride (5:27).
Given that we have a head who saves, serves, suffers with and sanctifies us, what kind of body must we be? In contrast to the insistence of the legendary Peter Pan, “I won’t grow up, I will never even try,” will we cooperate with our head’s growth plans for us, resolving to “no longer be infants” but “grow to become in every respect the mature body of him” (4:14–15)?
An African proverb offers these words of wisdom: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” The human body cannot grow independently of either its head or other body parts; neither can the church. While remaining deeply and intimately connected to its head, “the whole body” must also be “joined and held together” to promote the body’s growth (4:16). This kind of growth takes time, effort, and sacrifice. It entails uncomfortable truth-telling and inconvenient loving (4:15).
The season of Advent is often viewed as a time of preparation for our Christmas celebrations. But during Advent and beyond, the body of Christ is preparing for a wedding celebration! When the marriage of the Lamb dawns, will we, His bride, have made ourselves ready (Revelation 19:7)? Marriage is for the mature. And, given that the benchmark for measuring maturity is Christlikeness (4:13), we still have a lot of growing—and growing up!—to do.
Tanya Ferdinandusz is the author of Marriage Matters, a Bible Study leader, and a freelance writer and editor (editing for Langham Partnership and Asia Theological Association). She is presently working as the New Testament Language Editor for the South Asia Study Bible project.