The Body and the Head

October 9, 2011

Interesting word “instead”!  It is a transition word that cannot stand by itself because the question is begged to be asked “Instead of what?”   The past couple of weeks we have been parked here in Ephesians 4 and today our focus begins with Ephesians 4:15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.
 Most of us have heard the admonition to speak the truth in love, often it comes right after we have acted like a jerk.   Or probably have spoken like a Jerk.  Whatever the words were that came out of our mouth they may have been truthful but apparently they weren’t considered to have been loving and there is always someone there to remind us to “speak the truth in love.”  And that is great advice, it is akin to “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” although I’m not sure why you are trying to catch flies. 
 And if the truth was known most of us could probably benefit from that advice, the bible abounds with advice about how we speak and being careful of the words we use.  Solomon reminds us in Proverbs 12:18 Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing. Or as my Daddy use to tell me  “Keep your words sweet, you never know when you may have to eat them.”
And in most cases it’s just a matter of stopping to think before we speak.  It might be the truth but is hurtful?  Why are you saying it?  Is it necessary?  And don’t just flippantly say “But it was true.”  That is only half the equation and in most courses 50% is a failing grade. 
And then there are other times that we are so mushy and loving that we never speak what is true because we are afraid of hurting someone’s feelings.  And that isn’t useful either. 
If you are speaking love without the truth you might as well be working for Hallmark for all the impact it will have.  We are told that the Rabbis were so concerned with this concept that they went so far as to decree “All brides are beautiful on their wedding day.”  That way people could speak in love about how beautiful the bride was and regardless of how she really looked they would be speaking the truth. 
Because really what is the solution when you are in this situation  (Video clip from Seinfeld Ugly baby).  So to absolve you of that difficulty I have decreed that “All babies are beautiful”.
And taken in isolation these words would mean simply what we often use them to mean, they are great advice and more of us would benefit from putting that advice into practice.   If Paul had simply written Ephesians 4:15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.  Then it would mean no more and no less than “Speak the truth in love.”  But those words cannot be read in isolation because they are preceded by that pesky word “Instead”. 
It is a great verse but we often take it out of context.  In this case that’s not a bad thing and I’ve met a lot of Christians through the years that really need to take that sentiment to heart, but it wasn’t what Paul was trying to convey to the early church. 
And you are thinking, “What does it matter?” or “what does it mean?”  and those are great questions, they go back to that question that I said we all ask or should ask every time we hear a sermon and the question every preacher should ask as he writes a sermon.  “So what?”  What is the take away? What is the message for today?
So to find the truth of this passage we need to answer the question “Instead of what?”  And we do that by simply reading the verse before this verse.  Ephesians 4:14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.
Instead of being immature like children, instead of being tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. Instead of being influenced by people trying to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.  Instead of those things we will Ephesians 4:15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.  A couple of things to remember.  This letter was not written to an individual.  There are letters like that in the bible, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon those letters were addressed and written to a person.  This letter was addressed and written to a church.  There are things that we can and should apply to our personal lives but it was first written to a collective group of Christ followers. Like us.  So it was advice to the church. 
The past two weeks I spoke first on Ephesians 4:11-12 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.  And I spoke about how Christ gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers as gifts to the church.  And the purpose of that gift was to equip God’s people to do God’s work.  And part of equipping you is helping you mend the brokenness in your life.
Last week we looked at what that work was:  Ephesians 4:13-14 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. . . And I told you that the work of God’s people was to be God’s people.  As Christ followers our primary responsibility is to be like the Christ we follow, and that happens as we grow and mature in our Christian faith. 
So week one was kind of my responsibility as your pastor, Christ’s gift to you, week two was kind of your responsibility as followers of Christ and week three is our collective responsibility as a church. 
So as a church we have a responsibility to speak the truth in love.  And that truth is God’s truth.  It is the message of repentance and the message of forgiveness.  It is the message of grace and the message of judgement.  It is the message of heaven and the message of hell. And sometimes churches are good at one side of that coin or the other.  They do a really good job of the repentance, judgement, hell side of the message.  They feel compelled to preach the truth.  But they aren’t so good at the forgiveness, grace, heaven side.  Or there are churches that flip that coin over and they want to tell you all about the forgiveness and grace of God and how heaven will be a wonderful place, but they forget about repentance, judgement and hell. 
And 50% still isn’t a passing grade.  But the world is looking for both sides of the coin, they want to hear the truth but they want to hear it spoken in love.  People don’t want to hear you say “Have you heard the good news?  You are going to hell!”  200 years ago  Adam Clarke wrote “Scolding and abuse from the pulpit or press, in matters of religion, are truly monstrous.”
Case in point.  On Thursday while the world was mourning the passing of Steve Jobs, the response from Westboro Baptist Church was the news that they would picket his funeral. Why?  Because by their account “He had a huge platform; gave God no glory and taught sin.”    Now by all accounts Jobs had been raised Lutheran and converted to Buddhism later in life.  Didn’t profess to be a Christ Follower and that has its own consequences.  There was a pressing need in Jobs’ life to meet Jesus.  But as far as we know he didn’t.  So while he will have to deal with the consequences of that decision, he had no moral obligation to give glory to a God he did not serve.  However, the followers of Westboro Baptist Church profess to following Christ, therefore they are to be like Christ, to demonstrate Christ Likeness  and part of their obligation is recognize an follow the teaching of Ephesians 4:15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.
So were they speaking the truth?  Probably, for all people can say and write about Steve Jobs and he was certainly a culture changer, nobody has indicated that he gave Glory to God.  Were they speaking the truth in love.  Nope, not at all.  These are people who picket the funerals of American soldiers because they disagree with American policy and who host the website godhatesfags.com I’m kind of thinking they are going to have a lot to answer for. 
On the other hand churches that claim there is no hell, and that God loves everyone and therefore everyone will go to heaven may be speaking in love but they aren’t speaking the truth. And they are going to held account for that.  Jesus’ brother James wrote in James 3:1 Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.
And 50% still isn’t a passing grade.
And it all goes back to our responsibility in the second part of Ephesians 4:15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.
There are two thoughts there.  The first is that we are to be more and more like Christ.   To teach as he taught and to love as he loved.  And we can’t cherry pick, you know only focus on the parts of Jesus’ teaching that we like.  We can’t pull out the lovey dovey things that Jesus taught and forget the warnings he gave about judgment and the harsh condemnation he made of sinful behaviour.
Nor can we simply teach the parts about Judgement and condemnation and forget all he taught about grace and forgiveness and love.  Nope they go together and to separate them is to change the meaning of what Jesus was saying.
And we can’t say that we follow Christ and not follow him.  Would Jesus picket the funeral of Steve Jobs?  I think not.
The second part of that verse tells us that Jesus is the head of his body, the church.   Paul goes on to expand on that thought in the next verse Ephesians 4:16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.   And I could preach an entire sermon on what it means to be the body of Christ.  Oh right I have. 
Almost a year ago I spoke on being a part of the body, and I’m sure that there are some here who remember that.  You are probably thinking “Oh yeah that was on January 2.”  And you probably remember the main points that were 1) We have something in common, 2) We are all different, 3) We Need To Be Heading In the Same Direction  4) When One Part Of The Body Hurts, The Whole Body Hurts. 
So I don’t need to go there again.  At least not today.  But what does it mean and what are the implications of Christ being the head of the body?
1) He is the Head of the Body  That should be pretty self-explanatory.  I saw a lady shopping the other day who only had one leg; she got out of the car she was driving and using crutches went into the store and did her shopping, she had challenges but she was able to function without the leg she is missing.  A friend of mine in New Brunswick only has one arm, he lost his other arm in a fishing accident 40 years ago.  And sometimes you will see Stan mowing his lawn or riding his bike, he has some challenges but he is able function without the arm he is missing.
In extreme cases you will hear of someone living with an artificial heart or having a kidney transplant or even a lung or heart transplant.   
But missing your head, not so much.  Sometimes we will ask  “do you even have a brain?” in which case perhaps you need to go back to the first part of this message.  But the truth is that the body cannot function without a head.   So what happens when the head is separated from the body? 
You ever wonder where the term “capital punishment” came from?  No?  Too bad.   You see the term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally meaning “regarding the head”.   And so a capital crime was originally a crime that was punished by removing the head from the body.  And while it offends our modern sensibilities when done properly it was a much more humane method of punishment than hanging, the gas chamber or the electric chair.  Just saying. 
We know that the body cannot function without the head.
In the same way the church can’t function without Christ.   And by that I mean Christ in his proper place, as head.  When a church denies the deity of Christ, when a church refuses to acknowledge the virgin birth, the death and the physical resurrection of Christ they have removed him from headship and they are no longer a part of his body.  They aren’t really a church they are just a group of people who meet on Sunday.  And you can connect the dots on that yourself.
You say  “that’s a little harsh Denn.”  Yes it is and I’m so glad it wasn’t my idea it’s very clear in the scriptures.  Time and time again the concept is taught that Christ is the head of the church and the church is the body of Christ and they can’t be separated. 
And if you thought that was harsh listen to this: A few years ago we saw a whole angel cult going on listen to what the bible says about that:  Colossians 2:18-19 Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud, and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it.
Interesting “those who worship angels are not connected to Christ, the head of the body.”
Here is the second thing we know about the head:  The Head Gives the Body Direction the body cannot move the way it was created to move without direction from the head.  Oh there can be spastic movement without the head but it is without purpose and without direction.
When I was about six my dad was in the forces and we lived in Germany.  Now instead of living in the Canadian married quarters we lived in what was known as the economy.  That meant that we lived in a German village, in our case we lived in a village called Herzfeldt and rented from a local family.  And that family raised chickens, and from those chickens they got eggs, and sometimes I would wander down and watch them sort eggs, because when you were six in 1966 you were allowed to wander.  And one day when I was down with the chickens I discovered they also used their chickens for meat.  And at a very impressionable age I saw several chickens have their heads removed, and yes the phrase “run around like a chicken with its had cut off” is grounded in truth.  An interesting experience for a six year old.  But even though the chickens were moving they weren’t moving with purpose or direction.
The church should get its direction from Jesus, his message should be our message and his purpose should be our purpose.  And what is that?  Luke 19:10 Jesus said “For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”   Sounds like he came to help depopulate hell.  If Christ came to extend God’s grace to a world that needs it kind of sounds like that is what we are supposed to do. 
And his church may seek to do that in different ways but that really has to be the bottom line, not what is the church doing but why is the church doing it?  And so the question has to be: is the church as concerned about the lost as Jesus was?  And does that dictate our direction?
Because if the body isn’t taking direction from the head then it is getting its direction from the wrong source.  And it is only when the body of Christ takes its direction from Jesus that it will ever be all that it’s supposed to be and will accomplish all that it’s supposed to accomplish.  Earlier in Ephesians Paul had written   Ephesians 1:22 God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church.   Why is Christ the head over all things?  For the benefit of the church. 
Ephesians 4:16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. The Head Makes the Whole Body Work Together  The last point referred to the body as a whole, in the case of this analogy the Church as a whole but verse 16 breaks that down to tell us that the head makes the whole body work together.    The only way the body is healthy is when all the parts are working together properly.  If I want to walk across the stage I don’t even think about it but the brain is calling upon all kinds of body parts to make it happen.  My feet are being picked up and put down, my legs are moving in a forward direction, my arms are moving, my eyes are seeing, my inner ear is keeping everything upright and balanced.    And that is done in the brain.  The brain makes all of those things happen, and makes them happen in the right order. 
When we as Christ Followers allow our lives to be controlled by Christ listen to what happens Ephesians 4:16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. If you are a Christ follower than the Christ who you say you follow has a special work for you to do.  And when you do it, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. 
Conversely when each part doesn’t do its own special work, the other parts don’t grow and the whole body is not healthy and growing and full of love. 
Try walking with a sore foot, or with tired legs or blurry eyes or when you are suffering from vertigo.  Doesn’t go nearly as smoothly does it?
So what are the take aways?  Well even though it’s out of context it certainly wouldn’t hurt us individually to speak the truth in love.  As a church we have an obligation to present the truth of God, the entire truth from grace to judgment with love.   As a church we must take our direction from Jesus and finally as part of the body we need to find our place and fill it.