There is something not right when someone fails to trace things back to their Creator and they act as if they just popped into existence. As if they created themselves. There is something right and beautiful when a concert master performs Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major at Carnegie Hall and afterward, amidst the roaring applause and shouts of Encore, the concert master looks up at the balcony because he just wants to see the nod of approval from his violin teacher. How much more beautiful when the concert master thanks his parents because without them, there would be no violin, no violin lessons, no pushing from the parents to practice so that the young violinist could blossom into a soloist at Carnegie Hall. This is beautiful because he is recognizing that he didn’t get to where he did and he didn’t achieve what he did completely on his own, but his success is the product of many people pushing him and sacrificing in the background.
If you trace the line back further, who gave the violinist the musical talent in the first place? Okay, it’s genes from the parents. But where did the parent’s genes come from? If you trace it back all the way, who will you find? You will find Jesus. That’s the point. Jesus is first place in all creation.
When you see Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or the sculpture of David by Michelangelo, you are supposed to be in awe of the artistic genius of the creator. Same thing when it comes to this universe. When you look at a sunset at Laguna Beach or El Capitan in Yosemite or a molecule or a star several hundred light years away, you are supposed to get overwhelmed by a deep sense of awe and wonder for the Person behind everything we can see and touch and perceive with our senses. The person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is not only the firstborn over all creation at present, but He is also firstborn from the dead in the future. He is superior over everything in creation right at this moment and He’s going to continue to be first place in the new creation, the new heaven and new earth. I hope you are starting to see a trend.
Working our way back through v18 in reverse, Jesus is first place in everything, Jesus is firstborn or first place in the old creation as well as the new creation. Next we have–Jesus is the beginning. Jesus is literally the FIRST. In Revelation, it says, Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. At the very beginning, Jesus was there. He was there beforehand, before time. And at the curtain call of this universe, Jesus will be there waiting for us.
Finally, we’ve arrived at the beginning of v18, the famous phrase, Jesus is the “head of the body.” This verse has got to be one of the most misinterpreted verses in Scripture. I’m afraid that I’ve been guilty of misinterpreting it myself for many years. In the past, I stressed the interconnectedness between the head and the body. The head and the body are connected. They form one whole. You can’t have one without the other. You can’t have a bodyless head, nor can you have a headless body. The head and the body are two sides of the same coin. This is true, sort of.
Although it is true that the head and the body are interconnected, this is NOT Paul’s point here. The word “head” means superior, or leader, it means Jesus is the top dog, he has a preeminent status. Are you following Paul’s logic? Let’s put the pieces of v18 together. Jesus is head or first place in the church, Jesus is THE beginning, or literally THE first, next, Jesus is first among the creation as well as the new creation, and finally, Jesus is first place in everything.
How do we know that Jesus is not equal to church? Simple. Because Jesus existed before church. Jesus and church are not two sides of the same coin because Jesus existed an infinite time before church was ever created. So when we say, Jesus is the head of the church, we ought to do the translation mentally, this means, Jesus is not equal to church, Jesus is first, Jesus always has to be first at the church. Jesus always has to be the sole reason we are gathered in the first place to form a church. This is what it means for Jesus to be the head of the church.
This is going to sound weird coming from a pastor, but church is not really that important. Hear me on this. Church is very, very important, but compared to Jesus, church is not really important. It’s like winning the gold vs. the silver. A silver medal will get you a few handshakes and a certificate for a dinner, but a gold medal will get you a multi-million dollar contract with Wheaties and your face on the cover of their cereal boxes and a sponsorship with Nike. Gold is what people remember. Jesus is the gold medal and church is like the silver medal in terms of relative importance.
Along those lines, I’m not practicing false humility, nor am I paying lip service when I say, Jesus is the Head Pastor of Hill Community Church. He’s the Lead Pastor, the Head Pastor, He’s the Chief Shepherd and I work for Him. I’m just a servant, an undershepherd. This is just how things are.
The head and body parts are connected but there is a separation in terms of priority. There is the head and then there is the rest of the body. My index finger might think it calls the shots, but my head ought to overrule it. I say ought to overrule it because sadly, there was one time when my finger did rule over my head. When I was a missionary in Japan. I was in a crowded train and on one of the inner walls of the train, there was this big red button and some Japanese characters written underneath it in big bold characters. I couldn’t read it, but most people could probably figure out, red means stop. Don’t touch it. But for some reason, at that moment, I was like Gollum and that button was like the Ring. My brain was telling me, don’t touch it, but my finger was telling me, touch it, touch, come on, nothing bad will happen. I couldn’t resist. My finger won the battle and I touched it. As soon as I touched it, a siren went off, the train stopped and the conductor came to where I was standing. All eyes were on me. And I just said, sorry, me no speak Japanese!
Normally, the finger does not overrule the brain. My head should be in charge. How do I know this? If I get a paper cut, I can still function. If I get a stomach ache, I might be uncomfortable but I can still get through the day. If I break a leg, it’s a pain because I have to wear a cast and use crutches but I can still get from Point A to Point B. But if I get hit in the head and I am knocked out with a concussion, that’s it. The rest of my body can be perfectly healthy, but if my head is damaged, I’m out of commission.
Brothers and sisters, we are just body parts. I’m just part of the body. I’m not the Head. Jesus is the Head. Maybe I’m the little pinky. I hope I’m not the pinky toe because then this means I’m always living in darkness due to the sock and shoes and I’m constantly itchy because I’m covered with foot fungus. I hope the Lord put me somewhere else in the body. Maybe I can graduate and be the arm or the leg, but none of us are the Head. Only Jesus.
Both Jesus and the church, both are important, but where you place the accent makes all the difference. If I emphasize church over Christ or church as equal to Christ, weird things begin to happen. Because I am the pastor, I can easily begin to be puffed up. Look at me. Look at how great I am. Look at my church. Look at how many people attend. Then I write some books. Look at how many people read my books and look up to me. This church is so important. Church is equal to your relationship with Christ. You leave this church, you are leaving Jesus. You see how things get out of whack very quickly depending on what you accent.
Like Mary and Martha. When Martha was serving and getting the meal ready, she was upset at her sister Mary who was just lounging around at the feet of Jesus. What Martha was doing was commendable. She was selflessly working hard. But her priorities were off. She placed the accent on serving Jesus more than she did enjoying His presence. And so Jesus tells Martha in Luke 10:41-42, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Where you place the accent is critical. Jesus being first place means that the accent needs to be on Christ always. Place the accent on anything else and you distort the gospel and risk losing Christ, you risk forfeiting your salvation, eternity, you risk losing everything.
This is a warning that good things are often the biggest enemies of the best. Jesus is clearly the best. Church is a good thing. Ministry is a good thing. Evangelism and disciple making and church planting and missions and social work, these are good things. But if any of these takes first place, then you’ve lost everything. Christ has to be first in everything.