1:15-23 It is because I have heard of your faith in Jesus Christ, and your love to all God's consecrated people, that I never cease to give thanks for you, as I remember you in my prayers. It is the aim of my prayers that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit which brings you new revelation, as you come to know him more and more fully. It is the aim of my prayers that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what hope his calling has brought to you, what wealth of glory there is in our inheritance among the saints,. what surpassing greatness there is in his power to us who believe with a belief which was wrought by the might of his strength, that power which wrought in Christ to raise him from among the dead, and to set him at God's right hand in the heavenly places, above every rule and authority and power and lordship. above every dignity which is held in honour, not only in this age, but also in the age to come. God subjected all things to him, and he gave him as head above all to the Church, which is his body, the Church which is his complement on earth, the Church which belongs to him who is filling all things in all places.
The supremely important part, the second great step in Paul's argument, lies at the very end of this passage; but there are certain things we must note in the verses which go before.
Here there is set out before us in a perfect summary the characteristics of a true Church. Paul has heard of their faith in Christ and their love to all God's consecrated people. The two things which must characterize any true Church are loyalty to Christ and love to men.
There is a loyalty to Christ which does not issue in love to men. The monks and the hermits had a loyalty to Christ which made them abandon the ordinary activities of life in order to live alone in the desert places. The heresy hunters of the Spanish Inquisition and of many another age had a loyalty to Christ which made them persecute those who thought differently from them. Before Jesus came the Pharisees had a loyalty to God which made them contemptuous of those whom they thought less loyal than themselves.
The true Christian loves Christ and loves his fellow men. More than that, he knows that he cannot show his love to Christ in any other way than by showing his love to his fellow men. However orthodox a Church is, however pure its theology, and however noble its worship and its liturgy, it is not a true Church in the real sense of the term unless it is characterized by love for its fellow men. There are Churches which seldom make any public pronouncement which is not based on censorious criticism. They may be orthodox, but they are not Christian. The true Church is marked by a double love--love for Christ and love for men.
F. W. Boreham quotes a passage from Robert Buchanan's Shadow of the Sword, in which Buchanan describes the Chapel of Hate. "It stood on a bleak and barren moor in Brittany a hundred years ago. It was in ruins; the walls were black and stained with the slime of centuries; around the crumbling altar nettles and rank weeds grew breast high; whilst black mists, charged with rain, brooded night and day about the gloomy scene. Over the doorway of the chapel, but half-obliterated, was its name. It was dedicated to Our Lady of Hate. 'Hither,' says Buchanan, 'in hours of passion and pain, came men and women to cry curses on their enemies--the maiden on her false lover, the lover on his false mistress, the husband on his false wife--praying, one and all, that Our Lady of Hate might hearken, and that the hated one might die within the year.'" And then the novelist adds: "So bright and so deep had the gentle Christian light shone within their minds!"
A chapel of hate is a grim conception; and yet--are we always so very far away from it? We hate the liberals or the radicals; we hate the fundamentalists or the obscurantists; we hate the man whose theology is different from our own; we hate the Roman Catholic or the Protestant as the case may be. We make pronouncements which are characterized, not by Christian charity, but by a kind of condemning bitterness. We would do well to remember every now and then that love of Christ and love of our fellow men cannot exist without each other. Our tragedy is that it is so often true, as Swift once said: "We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another."
In this passage we see what Paul asks for a Church which he loves and which is doing well.
(i) He prays for the Spirit of Wisdom. The word he uses for wisdom is sophia ( Greek #4678 ), and we have already seen that sophia ( Greek #4678 ) is the wisdom of the deep things of God. He prays that the Church may be led deeper and deeper into the knowledge of the eternal truths. If ever that is to happen, certain things are necessary.
(a) It is necessary that we should have a thinking people. Boswell tells us that Goldsmith once said: "As I take my shoes from the shoemaker, and my coat from the tailor, so I take my religion from the priest." There are many who are like that; and yet religion is nothing unless it is a personal discovery. As Plato had it long ago: "The unexamined life is the life not worth living," and the unexamined religion is the religion not worth having. It is an obligation for a thinking man to think his way to God.
(b) It is necessary that we should have a teaching ministry. William Chillingworth said: "The Bible, and the Bible only, is the religion of Protestants." That is true; but so often we would not think so. The exposition of scripture from the pulpit is a first necessity of religious wakening.
(c) It is necessary that we should have a readjusted sense of proportion. It is one of the strange facts of Church life that in Church courts, such as sessions and presbyteries, and even General Assemblies, a score of hours might be given to the discussion of mundane problems of administration for every one given to the discussion of the eternal verities of God.
(ii) Paul prays for a fuller revelation and a fuller knowledge of God. For the Christian growth in knowledge and in grace is essential. Any man who follows a profession knows that he dare not stop studying. No doctor thinks that he has finished learning when he leaves the classrooms of his university. He knows that week by week, and almost day by day, new techniques and treatments are being discovered; and if he wishes to continue to be of service to those in illness and in pain, he must keep up with them. It is so with the Christian. The Christian life could be described as getting to know God better every day. A friendship which does not grow closer with the years tends to vanish with the years. And it is so with us and God.
(iii) He prays for a new realization of the Christian hope. It is almost a characteristic of the age in which we live that it is an age of despair. Thomas Hardy wrote in Tess: "Sometimes I think that the worlds are like apples on our stubbard tree. Some of them splendid and some of them blighted." Then comes the question: "On which kind do we live--a splendid one or a blighted one?" And Tess' answer is: "A blighted one." Between the wars Sir Philip Gibbs wrote: "If I smell poison gas in Edgeware Road, I am not going to put on a gas mask or go to a gas-proof room. I am going out to take a good sniff of it, for I shall know that the game is up." H. G. Wells once wrote grimly: "Man, who began in a cave behind a windbreak, will end in the disease-soaked ruins of a slum." On every side the voice of the pessimist sounds; it was never more necessary to sound the trumpet-call of Christian hope. If the Christian message is true, the world is on the way not to dissolution but to consummation.
(iv) He prays for a new realization of the power of God. For Paul the supreme proof of that power was the resurrection. It proved that God's purpose cannot be stopped by any action of men. In a world which looks chaotic, it is well to realize that God is still in control.
(v) Paul finishes by speaking of the conquest of Christ in a sphere which does not mean so much to us today. As the King James Version has it, God has raised Jesus Christ "far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named." In Paul's day men strongly believed both in demons and in angels; and these words which Paul uses are the titles of different grades of angels. He is saying that there is not a being in heaven or on earth to whom Jesus Christ is not superior. In essence Paul's prayer is that men should realize the greatness of the Saviour God has given to them.
We come to the last two verses of this chapter, and in them Paul has one of the most adventurous and most uplifting thoughts that any man has ever had. He calls the Church by its greatest title--the body of Christ.
In order to understand what Paul means, let us go back to the basic thought of his letter. As it stands, this world is a complete disunity. There is disunity between Jew and Gentile, between Greek and barbarian; there is disunity between different men within the same nation; there is disunity within every man, for in every man the good strives with the evil; there is disunity between man and the beasts; and, above all, there is disunity between man and God. It was Paul's thesis that Jesus died to bring all the discordant elements in this universe into one, to wipe out the separations, to reconcile man to man and to reconcile man to God. Jesus Christ was above all things God's instrument of reconciliation.
It was to bring all things and all men into one family that Christ died. But, clearly, that unity does not as yet exist. Let us take a human analogy. Suppose a great doctor discovers a cure for cancer. Once that cure is found it is there. But before it can become available for everyone, it must be taken out to the world. Doctors and surgeons must know about it and be trained to use it. The cure is there but one man cannot take it out to all the world; a corps of doctors must be the agents whereby it arrives at all the world's sufferers. That precisely is what the Church is to Jesus Christ. It is in Jesus that all men and all nations can become one; but before that can happen they must know about Jesus Christ. And it is the task of the Church to bring that about.
Christ is the head; the Church is the body. The head must have a body through which it can work. The Church is quite literally hands to do Christ's work, feet to run upon his errands, a voice to speak his words.
In the very last phrase of the chapter Paul has two tremendous thoughts. The Church, he says, is the complement of Christ. Just as the ideas of the mind cannot become effective without the work of the body, the tremendous glory which Christ brought to this world cannot be made effective without the work of the Church. Paul goes on to say that Jesus is bit by bit filling all things in all places; and that filling is being worked out by the Church. This is one of the most tremendous thoughts in all Christianity. It means nothing less than that God's plan for one world is in the hands of the Church.
An illustration which is old and hackneyed perfectly sums up this great truth. There is a legend which tells how Jesus went back to heaven after his time on earth. Even in heaven he bore upon him the marks of the Cross. The angels were talking to him and Gabriel said: "Master, you must have suffered terribly for men down there." "I did," said Jesus. "And," said Gabriel, "do they all know about how you loved them and what you did for them?" "O no," said Jesus, "not yet. Just now only a few people in Palestine know." "What have you done," said Gabriel, "to let everyone know about it?" Jesus said: "I have asked Peter and James and John and a few others to make it the business of their lives to tell others about me, and the others still others, and yet others, until the farthest man on the widest circle knows what I have done." Gabriel looked very doubtful, for he knew well what poor stuff men were made of. "Yes," he said, "but what if Peter and James and John grow tired? What if the people who come after them forget? What if away down in the twentieth century people just don't tell others about you? Haven't you made any other plans?" And Jesus answered: "I haven't made any other plans. I'm counting on them." To say that the Church is the Body means that Jesus is counting on us.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)