As we gather on the first Sunday of 2019, many of you will have made resolutions for this new year. For most people, the essence of making a resolution is personal. What can make me feel better? What can make me look better? This is true whether the resolutions are about tangible items or intangible goals. But many resolutions have to do with health. And really health deals with both of the two questions I just mentioned – feeling better (physically, emotionally, spiritually) and looking better (to ourselves, in the eyes of others, etc.)
I can relate. I recently looked at my passport picture which was taken just four years ago. The picture on the left is from a little further back – just over seven years ago, shortly after we moved to Fairfax, and the one on the right was taken last week.
Although my change in appearance was not due to a new year’s resolution, I definitely feel better and look better. And it is more than the eye test. My blood work and other numbers reveal that I am much healthier now than I was then. That does not guarantee that I will be alive tomorrow, but being healthy usually allows us to accomplish far more than when we are not healthy.
Over the past few months, we took a high-definition look at the modern church (including our church) against the early church. (That sermon series, The Church in HD, can be found on the blog’s previous host: ffxbc.blogspot.com.) Looking in high-definition allowed us to see more clearly the areas where we need improvement. Around the same time, God provided this year’s theme for our church, and thus 2019 is The Year of the Body. Just as individuals need to be healthy to reach our personal goals, the church needs to be healthy to accomplish the goals God has for us. After all, the church is the Body of Christ. So, this year we will be reviewing the major systems of the human body and compare those systems to the necessary processes (systems) that can help to make the church healthy. The eleven major systems of the human body are (in the order of review for us): Reproductive, Respiratory, Skeletal, Circulatory, Muscular, Lymphatic/Immune, Nervous, Endocrine, Digestive, Exocrine, and Excretory.
Before we move into our passage for this week, let me share one other picture that will serve as a reminder for us in 2019. The picture is of a bucket filled with water. The phrase “the weakest link” is a common expression meaning that a chain is only as strong as the weakest of the links. The picture of the bucket represents something similar. The bucket can only hold water up the point of the shortest part. Anything more begins to spill out.
Our goal this year as a church should be to strengthen all parts of the bucket, but in doing so, we must make sure that the sides of the bucket are patched, repaired, or whatever else is needed to make the bucket not only stronger, but we must make the sides taller as well. How do we do this? Well, it all begins with Jesus.
Jesus Is the Image of God (Colossians 1.15)
Paul’s words in Colossians 1, beginning in verse 15 are almost certainly part of an early Christian hymn. Scholars have not found evidence if Paul wrote the words originally or if the lyrics were borrowed from the hymn for inclusion here. Ultimately, that does not matter. What does matter is that these words represent a very high view of God, and Jesus.
Specifically, this part of the passage says that Jesus is the image of God. Why is that important for a discussion related to healthy bodies and healthy churches? Because Jesus had a body. John 4 tells us that God is Spirit. But Jesus is God in the flesh. The people alive in the 1st Century saw God living in the flesh when they observed Jesus. And not just any flesh, but human flesh. And not as isolated, but among us. You may know this conceptually, but does it grip you? Of course we just celebrated Christmas – the birth of God as man. But God became man. And Jesus was the man. And thus, Jesus had a body and needed to keep it healthy just as you and I need to keep our bodies healthy.
But as God, He was interested in more than the human body, He was interested in developing a body of people who followed Him and would represent Him through their lives when He departed. Thus, the body of Jesus may not be physically present now, but the Body of Christ (i.e. the Church) is now the image of the invisible God. We are the ones who make God known today.
Michael Lucaszewski says it this way. “The church is the closest representation of Jesus we have on earth. Jesus is invisible and I have never been to heaven. But the church is the body of Christ, and I can see that. When local churches love and serve their community, worship wholeheartedly, and give generously, it’s a very real picture of Jesus.”
So, Jesus is the image of God, and the body of Christ now serves as the image of Jesus.
Jesus Is the Head of the Church (Colossians 1.16-20)
Beginning in verse 16, Paul clearly presents the Son as having authority. Notice the terms Paul used.
- 16a – Everything was created through Him
- 16b – Everything was created for Him
- 17a – Everything comes after Him
- 17b – Everything is held together in Him
- 18 – Everything is under Him
- 19 – The fullness of God is in Him
- 20 – Creation is reconciled through Him
And in verse 18, we have the term body referring the Church. Thus, the church is a part of everything that is under Him. Of course, our bodies are physiologically beneath our heads, but the Body of Christ should be figuratively under Jesus – as our head.
The term head is used intentionally here as Paul is referring to the church as a body. Why? Because Jesus came in the flesh. Paul has already made this clear in verse 15 – that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Something that is invisible, does not leave a shadow, so it is not that kind of image. Jesus was truly flesh and blood (see verse 22), and the idea of Jesus as the head, and the Church as His body reflects that truth perfectly.
The question is: are we truly the Body of Christ? I don’t mean should we be; I mean are we functioning as His body? Let’s take a few moments to review what we must consider for us to be functioning best.
If Jesus is the head, then we should be developing the mind of Christ (Phil 2.5). That means we should:
- make disciples – that is, generate new members of the Body of Christ (Reproductive System)
- teach others to trust and follow Jesus as the head of the Body of Christ (Respiratory System)
- develop leaders to better support the Body of Christ (Skeletal System)
- share with others the sacrifice Jesus made for the Body of Christ (Circulatory System)
- flex our muscles by serving others inside the Body of Christ (Muscular System)
- create processes to better protect the Body of Christ (Lymphatic/Immune System)
- show our care by responding to needs of others apart outside the Body of Christ (Nervous System)
- improve the communication within the Body of Christ (Endocrine System)
- focus on what we take into ourselves as the Body of Christ (Digestive System)
- consider how to best care for the facilities used by this Body of Christ (Exocrine System)
- evaluate and remove harmful or unnecessary components impacting this Body of Christ (Excretory System)
As we begin this year, I see two major problems with the ideas I just shared. First, we have a lot to consider. But we must begin somewhere. If you go to the doctor for a check-up, and you are told to “get healthy” that is too ambiguous to really help. Instead, the doctor might say, “Let’s start with your diet.” Now you have a focus. You still have to choose to do something but you have a starting point. That is what this year is…a starting point towards having a healthier church. And that leads to the second problem.
Second, to become healthy will take all of us. We do have a lot to consider, but what should we put aside? Like the human body everything mentioned above is important. Do we stop making disciples? Do we care for others who are part of His body? Do we stop teaching or serving? Of course not. Why? Because the Head, Jesus, said these aspects are important for the Church He wishes to build. Thus, we need everyone involved. We have reviewed 1 Corinthians 12 a few times over the past several months, and we need to keep the idea of all parts of the body working together fresh in our minds. As I mention a lot, our vision is to be a large church in a small town. Again, in this context “large” refers to the amount of influence we have. I believe that is what our Head, Jesus, wants from us – to influence Fairfax and beyond for His glory. But to do that will require this Body of Christ to be commited to following our leader – the head of the Church, and the head of this Church – Jesus.
Let me give you one more quote before we return to the idea of the bucket.
“I’m convinced that the influence a church has on its community will be determined in large part not by the personality of the pastor, the size of its building or how long the ministry has worked in the community. It will be determined instead by the percentage in the ministry of each member.” – Wayne Cordeiro
In other words, the impact of a church is based upon how active each member of the Body of Christ is. To remind us of that fact, it is likely that quote might surface a few more times during this series. For now, let’s consider the idea of a new year’s resolution once again.
I began this post with the thought that many (most?) resolutions have to do with people’s thoughts on feeling better, looking better, etc. But the idea of better is relative and depends upon our perspective. Of course, our perspective is how we think about things and we think with our brain. And our brain is in our head. Thus, it begins with the head.
And the head is Jesus! As the church – the Church – Jesus must be our perspective. With that in mind, have you ever considered the notion that Jesus might have a new year’s resolution? He might have one for you individually, but I am certain He has one for this, and every church.
For Fairfax Baptist Church, I am convinced His goal is for us to be healthier as a church body at the end of 2019 than we are at the beginning of it. That does not mean that we are not healthy in some areas, but it does suggest we need to improve in others. And even where we may be healthier, we should all be able to admit that we all have room to grow – individually and collectively – because we are not yet perfectly conformed to the image of Jesus.
So, let us not forget the bucket, but more importantly let us not forget the Head of all of our ministries, our systems, and everything that makes us a part of His Church.
The JOURNEY letter for today is: J – JESUS.
Jesus is the head – plain and simple. We are called to be His body. But it a choice we must make individually and collectively. However, nothing we decide will change the fact that He is the true Head of the Church. And thus, our first letter for the new year is J – for Jesus.
LEARN: In 2019, take time to discover how you best fit into the Body of Christ.
LIVE: In 2019, take time to be an active part of the Body of Christ – perhaps by trying new areas of service, but serving faithfully as He has gifted you.
LOVE: In 2019, take time to love others within the Body of Christ – even if they may be very different from you.
LEAD: In 2019, take time to lead others to find their place within the Body of Christ. It takes a fully healthy body to do all that our true Leader wants us to do.