The Importance of the Head
Study #7 Colossians 1:18
by Bob Burridge ©2021
If you do something stupid, and somebody says, “Have you lost your head?”, you don’t do a quick check to see if something’s missing above your shoulders. You understand that it means you’re acting as if you’ve lost your good judgment.
The head is the part of us we associate with thinking, remembering, and making decisions. God created the brain to make these mental abilities available to us in this physical world. Our heads house that brain. By means of the spinal cord, the rest of our body’s under its control. We might do without a hand or a tooth. But without a head, we’re not only disabled — we’re physically dead. Heads are important.
For that reason, we take good care of our heads. If you fall, or something is thrown at you, you instinctively put your hand or arm in the way of damage to keep your head from being hit. We know that if the sense receptors in our head are damaged, we won’t get all the information we need. We need our eyes, ears, sense of taste and smell to get information to our brains. If our brain is damaged, we might become paralyzed, unable to speak well or coordinate our limbs. We might even die.
So the head is a word often used to represent those who are in control, leaders among us, those we rely on to keep things working effectively.
God’s word says that husbands are to be heads of their homes in loving leadership. Business owners are to be caring and responsible employers. Civil governors are the heads of communities and nations. And Elders in the church are to act as overseers and shepherds of God’s people.
But these are all derived headships. Their authority to rule and direct comes from God who appoints them. They are never at liberty to do things their own way. They are responsible for seeing that things are done God’s way.
Above them is the ultimate Lord and King, Jesus Christ. Homes, businesses, communities and nations become chaotic if the human leaders fail to honor the ultimate headship of Jesus Christ. He reigns over all things in the universe he made, as we just saw in Colossians 1:16-17. The church can also become chaotic, and falter in her mission, if it doesn’t honor the one who has ultimate authority to rule its work and ways.
Paul dxplained the nature and work of Jesus Christ.
Colossians 1:18, “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.”
The church is called the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. We hear a lot about churches in the news and in our daily conversations. But “church” means different things to different people.
When the Bible speaks of the “church” it doesn’t mean something created by councils or denominations. It doesn’t mean a congregation created by the consent of people joined together as a religious organization.
The church is the gathering of those God calls together to be his spiritual family. We can’t tell which people are truly regenerated by his grace. But there is an outward community of all who say they believe God’s promises. This we often refer to as the visible church. The children of believing parents are also considered part of the visible church, as long as they appear to hold to this faith and submit to God’s ways as they grow up.
Within that community are those truly redeemed by the work of Jesus which we refer to as the invisible church. It’s “invisible” because we can’t tell with certainty who those true believers are. It’s made up of those who truly believe that Jesus Christ paid the penalty of sin in their place. They evidence that he’s changed their hearts by a desire to submit to his word and to live by his instructions. The New Testament refers to Jesus Christ as the head of that body, the church.
Like our bodies, the church is made up of many different parts. They all need to work together for it to be healthy.
1 Corinthians 12 tells about the need for the many different kinds of church members. It uses the human body, and all its different parts, to illustrate how each one is important.
The cells lining your stomach may not be noticed as much as your eye, but, if those stomach cells become inflamed or infected, the whole body suffers. As Christ’s body, we need to appreciate every member of the church; both those with more noticed skills, and those more quiet members of the body. Some quietly pray daily at home for us. Some simply greet visitors and make them feel welcome and appreciated. Some clean out the cupboards, mow the lawns, mop the floors, send cards on birthdays, or ask the little ones how school is going or how their team is doing. These may not be as visible as the Deacons or the Church Elders, But they are each vital to keep the body working as it should.
Romans 12 also reminds us that the parts of the body have different functions. The variety and diversity in its members is how God meets all the needs of his church.
The focus here in Colossians 1 is how the body relates to its head, Jesus Christ. As the head, he directs the growth and rules the life of the church. There are many things the Scriptures compare with the church’s relationship with Christ. She is a building squared on him as the Cornerstone, and a branch that draws from the vine. But what could be more intimate than to be the head of the body?
How amazing! The holy and perfect Creator describes his union with fallen creatures as his own body and that he is their head!
God instituted the most basic of all human relationships to illustrate this: Marriage was made to represent that special union of Christ as head of his church. The Bible even calls Jesus our bridegroom and the church is called his bride. Just as a man and a woman become one flesh in marriage (Genesis 2:24), Jesus becomes our head when he places us in his church.
In his instructions to wives and husbands in Ephesians 5:22-33 Paul explains the connection:
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
Far from making men dictators or tyrants in the home, the man’s leadership is one of self-sacrifice to care for and provide for his wife just as Jesus loves his church as its head and gave himself for her.
Putting these passages of Scripture together, we see how Jesus is the Head of his church. He gives his people life spiritually and eternally and sustains them with his covenant blessings. He assigns their various duties as members of the body, and enables them to do their jobs effectively. He coordinates their work so that the body behaves in harmony, no part jealous of the others. He cares for each member and provides for them as one would his own body.
But Jesus isn’t present physically. He doesn’t have an office in the church building. He doesn’t hold seminars, attend session meetings, or preach sermons to us. So — How does he exercise his headship of the church today?
There are three ways by which Jesus
carries out his headship in the church.
1. Jesus is the head of his church by means of his revealed word.
The Bible is his loving advice to His people. In that inspired and divinely preserved word, we can know what is right and true. We can find out how we are made right with God, even though we’ve sinned. In 2 Timothy 3:15 Paul reminded Timothy saying, “… from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
In his word we can learn how to live to please him day to day, in our private lives, in our homes, at school, at work, in the community, and in the church. There our Lord shows us where the dangers lie, he warns us about our weaknesses, he provides good counsel, and supplies us with absolute truth. He shows us how to worship him and how to organize our church government. As our loving head, he draws boundaries around out beliefs and practices. Just as a loving parent sets boundaries for their children to keep them safe and healthy.
How can we find good in the headship of Jesus Christ? We learn to love his word. We pay close attention to what our Lord tells us, and we accept his infallibly good advice.
2. Jesus is the head of his church by means of the Holy Spirit.
The word isn’t left to us merely as a reference book for scholars to examine and debate. It’s opened to each redeemed heart by the direct work of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Spirit illumines our minds and quickens our soul to love his word. Jesus said in John 16:13 “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth …”
You can give a nation a constitution, or an organization a set of standing rules. But neither of those can change the hearts of its citizens and members. But when the Spirit and the word grip the heart of God’s redeemed children, they transform undeserving rebels into members of Christ’s own body.
Every member of the church may consult Jesus as head by means of his word and Spirit. The prayerful study of the Bible, relying on the indwelling Holy Spirit equips the simplest of saints with eternal truth, and the infallible promises of our Omnipotent God.
3. Jesus is the head of his church by means of its officers.
God forbids against anarchy in the home, in society, and in the church. Rebellion against authority isn’t only bad for its oppressive effects. It’s also evil for its obscuring of God’s glory revealed in his established orders.
God appoints husbands to administer his word in homes by the power of the Holy Spirit. He appoints civil leaders to be heads of cities, states and nations, and calls them to govern according to his word in the power of his Spirit.
He also appoints those who lead in the church. They don’t lead by arbitrary power and authority. They’re to lead by administering his revealed word in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Bible explains God’s appointed authority structure for the church. Only two offices were established to continue through the gospel age:
– Elders were to continue the ancient office as teachers and shepherds of God’s people. They were given the responsibility to explain and apply God’s rules from Scripture in the power of the Holy Spirit. These were the pastors and teachers of Ephesians 11.
– Deacons were appointed to replace the work of the Levites in administering the daily affairs of the church
in providing for its material needs and ministering to its needy members.
The members are to show their submission to Jesus Christ, by honoring those he puts in charge. Hebrews 13:17 commands, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
But this structure was to be neither a hierarchy of powerful men, nor just an assembly of non-authoritative counselors or social workers. Paul admonished Timothy as a teaching elder (or pastor) saying, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. ” (2 Timothy 2:15) Church leaders are to administer God’s revealed word in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Sadly there is a modern drift in the ministry away from this biblical form. It’s infected even formerly conservative seminaries and denominations. Instead of teaching the basic tools for studying God’s word carefully, much of the modern seminary curriculum is taken up with classes in psychology, sociology, business administration, and marketing techniques.
Thanks to that movement, we have huge churches with massive budgets. They offer programs for every imagined need of every demographic group in the high income communities. But those communities are suffering with the greatest moral decline in modern times.
Christianity is reduced to entertainment, superficial studies, encounter groups, promises of miracles, fascination with foolish theories of the end times, and a feeling of success only as the world defines it.
There are so many poor structures invented by leaders uninformed by God’s word, that some doubt there even exists a biblical form for church order.
Chaos invites oppressive leaders to take advantage of poorly instructed followers. Instead of a stronger Kingdom of Christ in our world, the modern church has produced a growing unwillingness to live according to God’s ways, and a despair that there can ever be real inner peace and confidence in truth.
When the church fails to follow biblical structures and principles, Satan triumphs, and disaster looms.
We can only restore the proper headship of Jesus Christ by submitting to the leadership and ways our loving Lord has ordered for his church.
Today, headship is under attack
in almost every compartment of life.
It’s considered wicked for men to assume biblical leadership in the home. It’s looked down upon for civic leaders to speak openly about submission to God’s word. It’s seen as wrong to believe in real truth and standards for moral living. It’s thought of as oppression to promote biblical standards for society and our schools.
We live in an era of the self-proclaimed and self-defined expert. Those with power promote programs and laws that promise us everything for free, but they take away our liberty if we dare question their judgment and dare to think for ourselves. They reject God’s word as out-dated and archaic, and put in its place harsh standards that attack the ways of our Savior.
When Christ’s headship is rejected, it’s quickly replaced by the oppressive powers of fallen souls.
But when we honor the headship of Jesus Christ over his church, we learn to submit to the order he has put in place for every area of our lives. His benevolent headship becomes our example: both in our own leadership roles in the home, work-place, church, and community, and in our role as those under the rightful authority of others and the reign of God’s truth.
This submission assures us of the blessings of God’s covenant. We find that Jesus is actually available to guide us and care for us! We, as members of his body, discover an unimaginable joy in each doing his part in the body.
We discover that our Savior not only gives life to us and sustains our spiritual growth, he also coordinates our work, assigns us to productive duties, directs us in the use of our talents, enables us to what he calls us to do, informs us from his word as to what’s right and true, comforts us as his loved children, and grants a peace that passes understanding.
We need to look to his word to discover what pleases God. We should look to the Spirit with expectation and confidence, prayerfully counting on his direction and promises. And we should always work within the structure he has established for our homes, our church, and community
This is what makes us into a healthy body of believers thriving under the care of the loving headship of Jesus Christ. We learn to work together as brothers and sisters who care about one another in this spiritual family we call the church.
Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.