The Backbone of the Church
1 Corinthians 1:26-31.
Congregation in the Lord,
Let me start by raising a hypothetical question. In a hundred years when people look back to this period of church history in Australia, how will it be classified? Will it be classed as a dismal time? Or will people say ours was a time of real impact? Consider our situation. Here we sit in the modern church in Australia. And we have to admit that the golden age of the church seems to be well and truly gone. In the past bright students were encouraged to be ministers. Now the ministry is far from being a priority for such people. There was a time when the church had a role in directing the shape of society – now it is lumped together with a whole range of “special interest” groups. Even those who grew up in the church are losing interest - the number of people leaving the church increases at an alarming rate.
Of course that doesn’t mean we have given up. We still have our dreams:- visions, goals and direction setting are concepts which are often spoken about. And it is not as if we are sitting around doing nothing:- program after program is tried and tested. People are encouraged to be involved and make a difference. And always, still always, we pray fervently:- praying that the Lord will give us wisdom and direction as we seek to minister to the culture in which He has placed us.
Certainly there are events which are happening which get us excited. And yet it would also be fair to say that a sense of defeatism has been creeping into the church. The excited expectation of the past is just not as active today. And we sense that we shouldn’t feel defeated – we even ask God to forgive us for such thoughts. And we want to change. But we not always sure where to start. That’s why we are considering this passage today – because it does tell us where to start. We start by directing our attention onto the power of God.
The issue of God’s power at work is really the central message of this section. But Paul does not have the general power of God in mind – he has a specific focus.
“That power is like the working of His mighty strength which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead” (19b-20a).
We are talking here about “death-defeating” power.
• “Death-defeating” power enabled Jesus to be the victim of Satan’s mightiest weapon and yet walk away from the battle unharmed and untouchable.
• “Death-defeating” power signalled the beginning of a mass-exodus of people who were in the clutches of death, but who will now follow Jesus because He is just the first of many who would be raised from the dead.
• “Death-defeating” power proved that it was possible to rebuild a broken relationship with God. When God raised Jesus from the dead God was saying, “You do not belong in the grave. You belong before My throne”.
The fact that Jesus rose from the dead was not a simple matter. It took the combined work of our Triune God to make it happen – real power is at work here. Power being used by God in Christ to give a comprehensive answer to the sins of our past, our needs in the present, and our fears for the future. It is that power which is able to turn around the history of mankind – once the road was leading to eternal separation from God – now an eternal covenant becomes a real destination. It is power which can move us from the sphere of death to the throne of God. Power which enables us to follow Christ and walk in His footsteps. That power would be amazing enough, but its effects don’t stop there.
Paul goes on to say:
“That power … seated (Christ) at (God’s) right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age abut also in the age to come”. (20b-21)
Clearly, through His death and resurrection, Jesus is put into a position of staggering influence. But let’s be sure we understand these words correctly. Paul is addressing a context where all people, not just believers, were consciously aware of the presence of evil forces. Indeed such was the mindset of most people until the early 1800’s when science began to dispute such “nonsense”. The people of the early church knew “power” was in the hands of the dark forces. They really feared being influenced by demons and devils. When Paul speaks about the sitting of Christ far above such forces he is giving a perspective which reverses that fear. Christ has even these forces under control.
Such truths should make us very hesitant to say, “rule”, “authority”, “powers”, “dominion” and “title” applies to earthly structures, human rulers or oppressive people. The “under-lords” may try and work through structures, rulers and people, but they can’t be identified with such things. Yes Paul is talking about a battle. But the focus here is on the spiritual battle and the way the forces are placed in that battle. Sure the under-lords have “power” – which should make us think twice about messing around with the lords of darkness. But keep that power in perspective. They are under Jesus’ feet.
He may use them as a footstool. He may use them as paving to walk on. Christ doesn’t even think twice about them. Everything is under His feet.
Well not quite everything. Because as we turn our attention to verse 23 we discover a wonderful paradox. All scholars agree that this verse is the hardest in Ephesians to translate from the Greek – and the NIV is quite ambiguous at this point. But the thrust of this passage is clear enough. Christ has everything under Him, yet Christ also works the fullness of power in and through the church. Christ is the head of the church … He is also the backbone of the church. Such a truth has significant consequences. The same power which God used to raise Christ. The same power which seats Christ above all else. That same power is power which is given to the church as we minister on behalf of Christ.
We have been elevated to heights beyond imagination. The church is not Christ’s footstool. The power God has given to Christ is given to be used on behalf of the church. We are not under Christ. We compliment Christ. As a bride groom is incomplete without a bride; or you can’t think of a vine without its branches; as a shepherd is nothing without his sheep, Christ finds full expression in the church. That brings a new dimension to what can be done by God’s people doesn’t it. In the face of crime, poverty, human stupidity, racism, terrorism and various other “isms” which threaten to undo us, here is a real answer. A way to deal with the meaninglessness and evil which surrounds us. A path of hope. The power with which God used to raise Christ from the dead and the power which enables Christ to share God’s throne is same the power which is at work in the lives of believers. The question is, “Are we allowing that power to work in us and in the church?”
Paul forces us to think about this issue when he says in verse 19:-
“(God’s) incomparably great power (is) for us who believe”.
In other words the power of God is not a “out there, untouchable reality” – it’s a power which does something for us. It moves us from being “under the feet of Christ” to being “the compliment of Christ”. The question is, where are you? Are you under His feet? Or are you His compliment? You see, Christ is not power hungry – using power for power’s sake. Christ’s power has a purpose. The purpose of letting you know you can be part of the action.
Knowing Christ’s power means you can be a person who experiences hope. Hope which moves you from a past full of failures to a future full certainty of what God has in store for you. A hope that sees you who are in spiritual poverty become God’s child who will get a rich inheritance.
Knowing Christ’s power means you will experience the eyes of your heart being opened. For the first time you will see the world as it is, and realise you have been living your life on the basis of a lie. Satan says, “You won’t die when you disobey God”. Christ’s death means there is a different story to tell.
Knowing Christ’s power means you can experience what real power is all about. Not power based on worldly emptiness such as money, materialism, status, popularity and manipulation. But spiritual power that relies on God.
Do you know about that power working in your life? Well you can! God’s power not only raises Christ, it also raises us. We can have all that we are looking for. And it comes by trusting in Christ – developing a powerful relationship that makes us His compliment. It’s a wonderful place to be – the compliment of Christ. In fact it is the only place to be because when we become His compliment our whole mindset changes. Paul prays about this changed mindset in verse 17-18. He says:-
“I keep asking that God … may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know Him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints”.
How applicable this prayer is, even for us today. In a time when the role of the church is becoming fuzzy we need this sort of spiritual illumination and clarification. We need the spiritual discernment to see that, despite external circumstances, the fact still remains – the fullness of the power of Christ is in the church. And if that is the case we ought not to be side-tracked. We are those to whom the mystery of God’s will has been revealed. We are God’s inheritance. God calls us in Christ to be His own.
Why does He do that? Are we called to be a bunch of weaklings who are afraid to take on the culture in which we live? No. God has called us to “be in the world” and “in the world”. We not only survive – we thrive. After all, no matter what the church will have to face in the future, one truth still stands: we are God’s possession. It is an inheritance which will never change because God backs it with the power that He used to raise Christ and seat Christ at His right hand. That stops us from being fearful about the hesitations of the “what if” and makes us step out in wonder as we live in faith looking for what God is going to do next. And that means we who have been called ought not to sit down upon the wonderful measure which has been given to us. Instead we should be seeking to aspire after it more and more. Growing in the grace of God.
Such truths bring us back to the issues we raised at the beginning. Do we have to be defeatists? No. We can move from being those who have a defeatist attitude to those who can get excited, really excited about what Christ has done – and can do – and will do – through us.
Moving away from defeatism means we will still have our visions, goals and direction settings but they will be secondary to recognising that the power of Christ is not brought into the church by such a process. Rather the power of Christ has already filled the church.
Moving away from defeatism means we will still have our programs, we will still be busy for the Lord. But the programs will recognise that the power of Christ does not dwell in the programs. Rather the power of Christ dwells in the people who run the programs.
Moving away from defeatism means we will still seek to engage our culture, being people who seek to shape society. But we do so recognising that society is not primarily shaped by the power of what we do as a church. Rather society is shaped by Christ’s power working through us in the things we say.
We move away from defeatism by letting Christ work His power through us. Congregation let us never think we can only give an insignificant impact even when the numbers in the church are small. When God is at work, one is a majority. The fullness of Christ in the church means we can never be defeatists. God’s power to us in Christ won’t let us.