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Jesus and the Church

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When Saul of Tarsus persecuted the church in the 1st century, he encountered an unexpected adversary. As he traveled to Damascus to persecute those belonging to the Way, he was confronted by the risen Lord Jesus.

When Jesus addressed Saul, he asked him a revealing question. He said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul was perplexed. Who exactly was this person who claimed to be persecuted by him? Jesus told him, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” What a strange thing to say. How could Jesus claim that Saul was persecuting him? After all, Jesus and Saul had never met. Saul, later referred to by his Greek name, Paul, would soon find the answer to this question. He discovered that Jesus is so intimately bound up with his church that to persecute the church is to persecute Christ himself.

In Colossians 1:16-18, Paul, writing about Jesus, said,

“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.”

What an astonishing statement! All things were made through Jesus, and all things were made for Jesus. Moreover, he is the head of the church, which is his body. We who have been saved by Jesus, belong to his body, and now live for his glory.

This profound passage in Colossians pushes back against our tendency toward a man-centered view of the church, which primarily focuses on how one benefits from attending and joining a church. Those who hold this perspective will likely only get involved as much as they believe the church adds value to their life. A man-centered view of the church focuses on questions such as: Does the church have what I’m looking for? Does the church meet my needs? How does the church make me feel? Does the church help me with my journey? Sadly, an inordinate focus on these questions misses the glory of Christ in the church.

On the other hand, when we have a Christ-centered view of the church, we are motivated to engage with the church to glorify God in Jesus Christ. We have this view when by God’s grace, we apply the glorious truth of the gospel to our hearts. We remember that Christ humbled himself and suffered for our sake. We are confident that he has made atonement for all our sins. We rejoice that he has transferred us from the domain of darkness into his glorious kingdom. We are grateful that he has adopted us into his family, and now we know God as our father, Christ as our elder brother, and one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

We look forward to our future with him in a better country and a heavenly city. When these truths permeate our hearts and minds, we will joyfully engage with the church. Of course, even when we hold this view, we know that we will benefit greatly by fully engaging in the church. Yet, even when we don’t feel those benefits, we remain faithful to the church out of love and devotion to Christ because he is intimately bound up with his church.

I wonder, how do you view the church? Do you engage with the body knowing that Jesus is bound up with the church, and we glorify him through our love and devotion to his church? Do you value and cherish gathering on the Lord’s Day to worship Jesus? Do you seek opportunities to serve and encourage your brothers and sisters in Christ? Do you desire to use the gifts God has given you to build up and strengthen the church? If not, ask for his help. He desires to help you love and serve his church.

I pray that Jesus will help us to see the church the way he does. I also pray that he will help us to see the connection between loving him and devotion to his body.