What does it mean that Jesus is the head of the church?

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What does it mean that Jesus is the head of the church? This concept of Jesus being over the church is mentioned numerous times in the New Testament, both implicitly and explicitly. In Colossians 1, Paul calls Jesus the head of the body, the beginning, and the first born from the dead, with the end result of him being preeminent in all things (Col 1:18). Jesus is the head, becoming the center of all things concerning God and his church. Paul mentions Christ’s headship in Ephesians 5 as well; and he compares Christ’s headship over the church to a husbands relationship to his wife, telling us that Christ’s headship is one of nourishment and sanctification toward his church; similarly, husbands should care for and nourish their own wives (Eph 5:23-29). But what is Paul trying to convey here?

When Paul speaks of headship, he is talking primarily about representation.

Biblically, what we must understand is that God deals with people by way of representatives. Whatever happens to that representative happens to those under him. This principle goes throughout the entire history of the scriptures.

For instance, when God created Adam, he gave him certain responsibilities. Adam was to cultivate the garden that God had given him, and to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28). To Adam alone was given this responsibility — and Eve was given as a helper to assist him in accomplishing his God-given tasks. Also, God prohibited Adam from certain things. He was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:17). If he were to eat of it, he would surely die. Of course, we find that Adam and his wife did eat of the tree. But it’s interesting just how God punishes Adam and Eve for their disobedience. First, God holds Adam alone responsible, not Eve (Gen 3:9-10). Second, because of Adam’s failure, God punishes all of humanity, not just the pair. Paul later picks up on this concept, and tells us that we are sinful because of one man’s sin (Rom 5:12). What this indicates is that Adam was a God-ordained representative for all humanity. If he would have been obedient, we would have all benefitted. But because he chose to disobey, we all fell into sin.

From Adam and on, the principle of headship as representation can be traced from Old Testament to New. God chose Noah as the head of a new humanity (Gen 6-9), Abraham as the head of a new nation Israel (Gen 12-22), Moses as the head of the Mosaic Economy (Exod 19-20), and David as God’s eternal kingly dynasty (2 Sam 7). What is especially interesting when reading about the institution of the Mosaic Law, we find that the people of Israel waited at the bottom of Mount Sinai as Moses went and spoke before God on their behalf (Exod 19:1-3). And God interacted with the people of Israel through Moses alone. In that sense, Israel went in Moses into God’s presence. Paul picks up on this in 1 Corinthians 10, telling us that Israel was baptized into Moses in the Red Sea (1 Cor 10:2). What an interesting way to articulate the concept!

And when we arrive at the New Testament, we find out that all of these representative heads were merely pointing to the true cosmic representative, Christ. Matthew describes Christ becoming the true Moses who teaches God’s people from the mountain (Mt 5-7). Matthew also presents Christ as the true Israel, God’s true righteous servant (Mt 2:13-4). Paul calls Christ the last Adam, making him the head of a new humanity (1 Cor 15:22). He also calls Christ the true seed of Abraham who blesses the nations through his life and death (Gal 3:16). And, Luke presents Jesus as the true Davidic king whose kingdom will last forever (Lk 1:32-33). In this way, Jesus is the ultimate head who realizes all of God’s redemptive purposes. He realizes Adam’s mission, Israel’s purpose, and David’s kingship. In this way, Jesus is the fountain of all things.

So when we call Christ our head, what we mean is that he represents us before God. This is why Paul can say of himself: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). If we are in Christ, this means that the death that Jesus died to sin, we also died. It means that the life he now has is our life (Col 3:1). It means that his reign is our reign (1 Cor 3:21). If Christ is your head, you are hidden in him, seated at the right hand of God, clothed in his righteousness, dead to sin, and alive to God (Rom 6, Col 3:1-4).

Christ is our representative. This is what headship means. In Christ, what happens to Jesus happens to you! This is why Paul tells us that Christ’s headship means that he is preeminent in all things (Col 1:18). It is what Paul means when he tells us that our chosenness is in Jesus (Eph 1:3-10). We have been chosen in Christ before the ages began. And the result is that Christ is our representative, and all things are be summed up in Him alone (Eph 1:10).

**For further discussion on this, you can read a post on how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament here

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Why I’m a Complementarian Part 3: Christ and the Church

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So far in this series, I have considered what biblical evidence there is for the position of complementarianism. This position posits that the Bible supports a view of marriage in which male and female have differing roles. The husband is the loving leader, while the wife is willingly submissive. You can view my first post here, and the second here.

While we briefly looked at Ephesians 5 in the first post, I want to go back to the passage. Because this passage is so central to the concept of complementarity among male and females. And I want to consider that Paul here is telling men and women to operate in marriage the way that Christ and the church relate to one another. Christ is the head of the church, and the church is his body (Eph 5:23).

What many egalitarians say is that in Ephesians 5, Paul was giving commands within a certain hierarchical historical context. He wasn’t necessarily advocating male headship, but simply trying his best to exhort the church while in that historical setting. Beside the obvious (to me at least) exegetical troubles with that stance, I want to consider here that Paul was actually challenging the common norm of his day.

During this time period, women were seen as belonging to their husbands. And while the wife had responsibility to do her husband’s bidding, the husband had no real responsibility other than to order his wife around. This is of course abusive. And if this is what Paul were advocating, that would be a legitimate concern. But this is in no way what Paul is saying.

In fact, most of the verses in chapter 5 (vv. 25-31) concern the responsibility of the husband! The wife is considered in only 3 verses! What I want us to consider here is that while the male is the leader in the relationship, Paul is giving both of them responsibilities before Christ. In fact, arguably, the husband has more responsibility and weight on his shoulders, and is therefore more accountable for his actions.

I think we have all heard that the wife is to submit as she would to Christ. Perhaps we’ve bee reminded of this all too often! Nevertheless, this is the wife’s calling. And it certainly is a tall order. The woman is called to willingly (not by way of coercion) submit to and respect her husband as if Christ himself were her husband. That is intimidating.

But what about the husband? Yes, the wife is to submit to her head as she would Christ; but the husband is called to lovingly lead and provide as Christ has provided for the church. The responsibility goes two ways, you see. While the church submits and finds saving nourishment in Christ, Christ as the head, provides for, leads, and causes his body to flourish. The husband’s role is much more than simply “giving orders”. He is to nourish his wife as Christ has savingly nourished us. This means that as the leader of the marriage, the initiative he takes in their relationship can never be taken without his consideration of her needs. Everything that the husband does in the marriage necessarily must be for her betterment (Eph 5:26).

And this means that he is to care for her more than he cares for himself. In fact, Paul says that every husband must care for his wife as he cares for his own body (Eph 5:28). No reasonable person mistreats or abuses their own body — rather, they nourish it and care for it! Likewise, because husband and wife become “one flesh” in marriage, the husband is responsible for his wife’s welfare. Just as Christ died to take responsibility for his body, the church, and is now in the process of sanctifying her (Eph 5:25-26), so the husband does everything in the interest of caring for and maturing his wife.

This is not a dictatorship. This is a reflection of Christ’s loving and renewing care for his own bride. And I would argue that as hard as it may be for a wife to support, submit, and respect her husband’s leadership, it is equally hard for the husband to take responsibility for the betterment of his wife. And if any husband is harsh in his leadership toward his wife, or if he doesn’t recognize her needs, then he simply isn’t fulfilling his responsibility before Christ.

Indeed, Christ took our sins on himself, washed us clean, and even still nourishes us by his Spirit, enabling us to be what he so desires us to be. In every step, he is enabling, loving, and having grace toward us. He knows our every need, our every fear, and he leads us with care and tenderness, desiring only our betterment. This is what a husband is called to!

Tim Keller on the Mystery of Marriage

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“This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:32). This was how Paul ended his section on marriage from Ephesians 5. And after telling wives to submit to their husbands, and husbands to lovingly lead their wives, he says that marriage is a mystery — and that the mystery of marriage revolves around the gospel. 

What does he mean by this?

Tim Keller, prolific author and theologian says in his book Meaning of Marriage:

“What is the secret of marriage? Paul [says], ‘I am talking about Christ and the church’, referring to what he said earlier in verse 25, ‘Husbands love you wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…’. In short, the secret is not simply the fact of marriage per se. It is the message that what husbands should do for their wives is what Jesus did to bring us into union with himself. And what was that?

Jesus gave himself up for us. Jesus the Son, though equal with the Father, gave up his glory and took on our human nature (Philippians 2:5ff). But further, he willingly went to the cross and paid the penalty for our sins, removing our guilt and condemnation, so that we could be in unity with him and take on his nature…Jesus’ sacrificial service to us has brought us into deep union with him and he with us. And that, Paul says, is the key not only to understanding marriage but to living it. That is why he is able tie the original statement about marriage in Genesis 2 to Jesus and the church. As one commentator put it, ‘Paul saw that when God designed the original marriage, He already had Christ and the church in mind. This is one of God’s great purposes in marriage: to picture the relationship between Christ and His redeemed people forever!’…

This is the secret — that the gospel of Jesus and marriage explain one another. That when God invented marriage, he already had the saving work of Jesus in mind.” (pp 45-47, emphasis his)

Why I’m a Complementarian Part 1: The Biblical Narrative

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I’m doing a series on why I am complementarian. My first post will offer proof from the biblical narrative.

For those who do not know what “complementarian” means, it is the thought that biblically, men and women are created to complement one another in marriage. They have differing roles that fit and function well together. The man was created as the leader of the relationship, while the woman was created as the support and bolster of the relationship.

Some Christians espouse “egalitarianism” which supposes that male and female were created with equality, and therefore no one is the leader or supporter, and either can operate within those roles.

Common arguments for egalitarianism include the citation of Genesis 1:27, which says that all mankind was created in God’s image, both male and female. The thought is that we therefore should be equal. Others cite Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.

My common response here is that I don’t argue about equality in regard to value and worth. No intelligent Christian will say that men somehow have a better standing before God than women. Rather, men have a different role than women. What Paul is saying in Galatians 3 is that in Christ, slave and free, male and female, Jew and Greek…all have equal worth and value before God. All are justified by Christ in his sight, no matter who you are. The same with Genesis 1:27; both men and women are made in God’s image — but this doesn’t mean that they must therefore function the same

If we are to logically look at it: just because both Jew and Gentile are equal in Christ, this does not mean they lose their ethnic distinction. So likewise, although men and women are both equally righteous in Christ, they still have differing roles. And, those roles have important purposes!

Now, let’s go on to the biblical narrative for evidence toward complementarity among men and women. It is so easy to look at the narrative of creation from Genesis 1:26-27, and assume a lot about gender roles. Both are made in the image of God yes; but, we must not miss the context of the next chapters. Genesis 2 gives a rehashing of the same creation account, but with more detail.

And Genesis 2:15 tells us that God created Adam first, and gave him a command to work the garden and be fruitful and multiply. This command was given to Adam, not Eve. Eve was not created until Genesis 2:18 when God said to Adam, “it is not good that man should be alone; I will make a helper for him“. Now what this does not mean is that Eve has no involvement in God’s command to work the ground and multiply — rather, it is that Eve has a different role in that same mission. Eve is to be Adam’s helper. She is to come along side Adam and help him accomplish his God-given mission. This cannot be missed. This was the purpose of marriage from the beginning: that Adam would hold the responsibility of leading, and that Eve would help and bolster that God-given mission; both equal in God’s sight, but with differing roles.

It is not until the fall that we see gender roles within marriage being distorted. And it is interesting to see exactly how they are distorted. Genesis 3:16 says that after the fall, the woman’s “desire will be for [her] husband”. This word “desire” gives the connotation of wanting rule and authority over something (cf. Gen 4:7). In other words, Eve in her sin will desire to thwart Adam’s leadership by becoming her own leader. What this means is that the fall created in woman a natural aversion toward being a helper, and a sinful desire to be in authority. More than that, Adam’s role was distorted in that rather than being a loving leader, he would instead “rule over [her]” (Gen 3:16b). What this means is that after the fall, man has a sinful desire to overreach his authority as husband and domineer rather than lovingly lead.

What we must affirm here is that gender distinctions are not part of the fall. Rather, gender distinctions are distorted by the fall. This cannot be overlooked. Many today decry the thought that men should lead. The feminist movement calls for female equality. But what we should be decrying is the harsh and domineering rule that is a result of the fall.

This is why we need a new and perfect leader who can restore us not only to right relationship with God, but to one another! And Christ does this by becoming the ultimate husband to his bride. Paul picks this motif up in Ephesians 5 by giving an ethic for marriage that revolves around Christ as head over the church. Paul says to the women, “as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (Eph 5:24). Likewise, Paul says to men, “husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her” (Eph 5:25).

By his death and resurrection, Christ gives us not a new model of gender roles, but a redeemed model. Just as Christ sacrificially loved and gave himself for the church, so husbands should lovingly lead and die for their wives. And, just as believers submit to and bolster Christ’s redemptive vision and mission, so wives are to model that for their husbands. As Tim Keller says, “the gospel of Jesus and marriage explain one another” (Meaning of Marriage, p 47)

The biblical narrative therefore makes it clear that in marriage, while man and woman are equal in God’s sight, they are differing in their respective roles.

In my next post, I will consider the Trinity as a proof for gender complementarity.

Martin Luther on Union with Christ

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How does Martin Luther think of a believer’s union with Christ? He compares it to a divine marriage, saying:

“Who then can fully appreciate what this royal marriage means? Who can understand the riches of the glory of this grace? Here this rich and divine bridegroom Christ marries this poor, wicked harlot, redeems her from all her evil, and adorns her with all his goodness. Her sins cannot now destroy her, since they are laid upon Christ and swallowed up by him. And she has that righteousness in Christ, her husband, of which she may boast as of her own and which she can confidently display alongside her sins in the face of death and hell and say, ‘If I have sinned, yet my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned, and all his is mine and all mine is his,’ as the bride in the Song of Solomon says, ‘My beloved is mine and I am his,'” (from The Freedom of the Christian)

How Can I be Wise? Lessons from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians

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The Bible says a lot about wisdom. Proverbs tells us that wisdom is more precious than hidden treasures (Prov 2:4), and that by it you will understand that fear of the Lord. There are tons of books on wisdom, understanding, and insight. The how-to section in the book store is riddled with new insight on all sort of matters.

But how do Christians find wisdom? Is there a matrix by which Christians can pursue and grow in what is right?

Paul, in Ephesians 5:15-17, gives us some insight on this question. He says:

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of your time, because the days are evil. Therefore do no be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is”.

There are some important things to notice here. First he defines wisdom: Walking carefully, and making the best of your time. A wise person is cautious, desiring to maximize every bit of their time. And if we tease out this statement in Ephesians 5, we can gather 3 things (at least) about a wise person:

(1) A wise person doesn’t waste their time

(2) A wise person spends the right amount of time on things

(3) A wise person spends their efforts on the right things

Not only does a wise person not waste time, but they spend their time effectively–implicit in this though, is that a wise person doesn’t spend time on things not worth spending time on (pretty simple right?). They expend their efforts on things worth expending effort on. They pour into things worthy of being poured into.

The problem is, what type of things should we spend our time on? I mean, how do we know if the things we give our time and effort to are really worth it?

Paul gives us a hint in his next verse:

“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph 5:17)

Don’t be foolish (or, be wise), Christian, but understand the will of the Lord. How can we be wise and maximize our time? By understanding the will of God.

Here, Paul gives us a grid. What is a wise action? Whatever falls into this grid: the will of the Lord.

Ah, gotcha…but wait…what is the will of the Lord?

Luckily, we are not left in the dark about God’s will–Paul is assuming that if we are reading Ephesians 5, we have already read Ephesians 1-4. And Paul lays out in Ephesians 1 very clearly what the will of the Lord is. He says in Ephesians 1:3-10:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”

Paul here is taking away the veil, so to speak, and showing us God’s will and purpose in his great act of redemption. He says first in verse 5 that God adopted us in Christ, according to his will, for the praise of his glorious grace. So God’s will is that he may be praised for his glorious grace. But Paul then adds to this, and says that God has lavished grace upon us in all wisdom and insight, according to his purpose, that he might unite all things in Christ, whether they be in heaven or earth.

So here, Paul presents us with 2 aspects of God’s will–and really, they are just different layers of God’s will–first he says that God’s will is that his redeemed and adopted children may live to the praise of his glorious grace. God wills that his redeemed people may live a life that displays praise to the one true God who lavishes with grace.

But then, Paul says that God also wills that all things may be united (or summed up) in Christ Jesus. In other words, God has willed that all things be redeemed and renewed through Jesus’ death and resurrection alone, whether things in heaven or on earth.

These aren’t really two different wills, though. For in God summing up all things in and through Jesus Christ, he gets all the glory. In Christ’s death and resurrection, we find a humble and lowly God, taking on the curse and sins of his people, and raising up to new life in victory! He is the great King who has overcome all obstacles. He is the victor, who brings to a broken people redemption, renewal, and salvation.

And so we find that God’s will is that he may get optimal glory in and through Christ Jesus crucified and risen again.

His will is Christ-centered and God-glorifying.

How does knowing this help with wisdom? There’s a few things we can gather about a wise life from God’s will in Ephesians 1:

(1) A wise life is one that is Christ-centered, and God-glorifying

(2) In order to be wise, then, we must apply this grid to everything that we do.

(3) If anything that we do does not end in exalting Christ to the glory of God, then it is not worth our time or effort. We are not being careful in how we walk (Eph 5:15), and are being unwise.

Use this grid the next time you think about doing something: Is it Christ-centered and God-glorifying? If not, then you should either not do it, or change the means and motivation behind it. For this is the will of God, that he might sum up all things in Christ, to the praise of his glorious grace.