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Colossians 1:24 by Robert Dean
With this verse, we begin a study of the Doctrine of the Church, the body of Christ. This raises some initial questions. What is the church, how did it begin, and where does it fit in with regard to Israel in God's plans and purpose in history?

In this lesson, we learn that the Church is distinct from Israel and is one of the two distinct people of God. We learn that the Church is both universal and invisible (made up of all believers during the Church age), as well as local and visible (made of local assembles of believers and non-believers alike).
Series:Colossians (2011)
Duration:1 hr 5 mins 53 secs

The Church, the Body of Christ. Colossians 1:24


Colossians 1:24 NASB "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions."

We will look at the last two clauses in this verse which brings our focus into Paul's expression of one of the purposes for adversity, specifically the adversity that he is facing in hi own life. We see that this explanation as to why Paul rejoices is a recognition that the suffering that he goes through in terms of his own life and ministry—all the rejection that he faced, the fact that he was arrested on numerous occasions, was beaten, whipped, shipwrecked on several occasions; he went through a variety of sufferings, adversity and rejection—"for your sake," referring specifically to the Colossian congregation. The idea of filling up in his flesh what is lacking means that he is continuing to be an example, as the Lord Jesus Christ was an example, of how to apply doctrine in the midst of adversity. Then he expands the reason for this in these last two clauses: "on behalf of His body." Earlier he said he rejoiced in his sufferings "for your sake" because he is applying it specifically to the Colossian congregation. But now he expands it and it is not just the Colossians congregation but on behalf of all the believers in all of history: "on behalf of His body, which is the church."

Introduction to the doctrine of the church, a summary. The terminology for the church is the Greek word ekklesia [e)kklhsia]. It is a compound word comprised of a root klesia [klhsia] which is a noun formed from the cognate verb kaleo [kalew] which means to call. The preposition that is attached is the prefix ek [e)k] which means out of or from. So the etymology of the word means literally to call out a group. Some people stop there, which means that they are guilty of what is called etymological fallacy. A word meaning is never based on its etymology because when you take different words and combine them together they often mean something more than just the sum of the parts; sometimes they means something a little different to the sum pf the parts. Word meaning is ultimately determined by usage. But etymology generally gives us a sense of the meaning of a word.

This word ekklesia is a word that is found far back into classical Greek literature. In the fifth century BC the word referred to just an assembly of the citizens who would come together in order to make decisions within the democracy of Athens. That was its root meaning. It just as a meaning of a gathering together of people, there is nothing special or spiritual about the meaning of ekklesia. It is used, in fact, in this way in the New Testament in Acts 19:39 simply to refer to a gathering of people together. But as happens so many times in the study of Scripture the apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit will take a common word and will bring it into the New Testament literature and assign it a little bit of a special meaning. ekklesia is also used in the Septuagint [LXX] to refer to the congregation or the community of Israel, but it is not used with this technical meaning of the word "church," because it is not until we get into the New Testament that there is revelation given about this new body of God's people, believers, that comes into existence on the day of Pentecost. It is only with this ministry of the apostle Paul and others that we begin to see this new word that is called the "church."

We understand that the church comes in to existence in Acts chapter two as a result of the fact that Israel as a nation in terms of the leadership and the people rejected the claims of Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. If it had been predicted in the Old Testament that there would be a new entity in the future that God would bless and a new people of God called the church, then that would sort of indicate that there was going to be some problem with Israel. So in order to set up Jesus' ministry and offer of the kingdom as legitimate without giving any indication from the Old Testament of what the consequences would be the entire church age is left undisclosed, unmentioned, unrevealed in the Old Testament. We do not have a mention of the church or an indication that there is going to be a shift away from Israel in the New Testament until Matthew chapter sixteen where there is the first use of the word "church" by the Lord Jesus Christ. There it is indicative of something changing in the future, and He doesn't mention it until after the events of chapter twelve which is when the leadership of the nation of Israel rejects His claim to be the Messiah. From chapter thirteen on is where we see Jesus beginning to teach that things will change and he begins to reach about the postponement of the kingdom and the nature of something new that is coming in to existence. Ultimately it is left to the ministry of the apostle Paul to reach and to develop this mystery doctrine which relates to this new organism that came into existence on the day pf Pentecost in AD 33.

The word "church" or ekklesia is used in two different senses in the New Testament. The first sense has to do with the universal church, sometimes referred to as the invisible church because we don't see it. The universal church is composed of every believer in the church age, from the initial believers on the day of Pentecost all the way up to the Rapture which ends the days of the church. Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ during that time is a member of the body of Christ which is called the church. It is invisible. But the word is also used with a local church or visible church connotation. Then local church is any individual manifestation or gathering of a group of believers for the purpose of worshipping God on the basis of His Word. The local or visible church is not composed solely of believers; it may have members who are not believers.

The church is distinct from Israel in God's plan and purpose, not only historically but also in terms of our future destiny. In the Old Testament God called out a special people in Genesis chapter twelve. Before that at the tower of Babel the human race was still united in one language and probably just one ethnicity. The tower of Babel is the precursor of many different international types and organizations, many different attempts by man, to bring peace upon the earth apart from God, and at that point, because of what they were doing, God brought a judgment upon those at the tower of Babel. The judgment was that He was going to give them separate languages, forcing them to break apart into distinct groups based on language. As different groups became isolated on the basis of language certain characteristics began to dominate developing different racial characteristics and the breaking into different nations and tribal groups, etc. Up to that point God was working through the human race as a whole, but as a response to what happened at the tower of Babel God called out Abram in Genesis chapter twelve as a counter movement to the internationalism that was presented in Genesis chapters ten and eleven. God was to restrict Himself to working through Abraham and his descendants through his sons Isaac and Jacob. It would be through that group that God would reveal Himself and the Jewish people would be the custodians of the Word of God and they would be the ones to whom God reveals Himself and gives His Word. They would be responsible for writing it down and preserving it. And it is through them that God would send the Messiah. That was the mission for Israel. Jesus was not recognized or accepted and because of that national rejection by Israel God hit the pause button on His plan for Israel and began to work through a second group of people that He is calling out for His name as an international missionary organization—the church.

Within the church universal there is an organization, and Christ is the head, the authority that directs the body. Colossians 1:18 NASB "He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything." In Ephesians 1:22, 23 we have a parallel idea. The first "he," the first 3rd person singular pronoun reference is God the Father, the second reference is God the Son. NASB "And He put all things in subjection under His feet [under the authority of Jesus], and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all."

When we think about this metaphor, the church being the body of Christ, we should think about is in this manner: that the second person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, entered into human history as a human being through the virgin conception and birth. His eternal deity took on or added to itself true humanity. Because of the virgin conception and birth there is no transmission of the sin nature and so He is born without a sin nature and lives His life without sin. He lives it in a physical body. That body that is the home of the person of the second person of the Trinity in hypostatic union went to the cross, and on the cross He bore our sin. That penalty is borne by the Lord Jesus Christ between the hours of twelve noon and 3pm and at that time darkness covered the land so that what was happening on the cross was shrouded in darkness as God the Father is imputing to God the Son the sins of all humanity. It was during that time period that Jesus Christ paid the penalty in His body. Then His body was placed in the grave. Three days later when Mary and Martha come to the grave they discover that the stone has been rolled back and the tomb is empty. The physical body that was there is no longer there, it has been transformed into a new body identified as a resurrection body. The resurrection body still had continuity with His previous mortal body.

Forty days later that body is the body that ascended into heaven and in hypostatic union there is a resurrected human body sitting at the right hand of God the Father. When that body was on the earth the Gospel of John tells us that the way in which we knew God was expressed through that physical body, finite though it was. That body has gone to heaven but it is replaced on the earth by another body, the "body of Christ," the church, the aggregate of all the members of Christ by virtue of their salvation. So just as through the incarnation Jesus revealed the Father to mankind, so too, one of the functions of the church is to be a manifestation of God—by looking at the church the idea is that we should be able to learn about God. The church hasn't done too good a job of that down through the centuries for a variety of different reasons, but that is what our calling is. As we learn from Scripture, in every dispensation the people that are called out by God fail because of sin. It doesn't mean they are unsaved, it just recognizes that until we have the second Adam living upon the earth, ruling upon the earth, there will be no ultimate fulfillment of God's original plan and purpose for mankind. So the church is called the body of Christ. That term never applies to any other people in history, it is restricted to those who are believers in Jesus Christ between the day of Pentecost and the Rapture. 

Our entry into the body of Christ occurs at the instant that we believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins: when we trust in Him is the instant that we become members of the body of Christ. There are a number of different things that happen to us simultaneously at the moment we trust in Christ as savior, but they are not experiential—we don't feel anything, there is no necessary experience, physical or emotional that identifies that. In fact, we don't know that most of these things even happened until we study the Word of God over time and learn about what God did at that particular instant. One of the things that occurs is referred to as the baptism of [by means of] the Holy Spirit but this, again, is a non-experiential event that occurs at the instant of our faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Romans 6:1-3 tells us that in this baptism we are identified with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The significance of baptism as it is used in numerous situations is of identification of one thing with something new. There is a transfer from one status to another status. Through the baptism by means of the Holy Spirit we are placed within the body of Christ and so through the New Testament the church is described as those who are "in Christ." That is a phrase that is not used of anyone else.

As we enter into the body of Christ, just as a physical body has many members—arms, legs, hands, eyes, ears, nose, mouth—there are also many members that comprise the spiritual body of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is in terms of these members that we come to understand the significance of our individual role because we are thought of and described as members of the body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians chapter twelve where the apostle talks about spiritual gifts he uses that analogy: that some people are like an ear, others like a hand or a foot; we all play a different role and function within the picture of the body. Another way we could try to describe that is that we are all part of a team.

Passages that use the analogy of "members" are found in Romans 12:4, 5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-14. Romans 12:4 NASB "For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, [5] so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another." There is a tendency to disregard that last phrase. This is one way in which our culture plays a negative role in helping us understand the Scripture. The body of Christ is not a picture of individual members that are atomized—broken down into the smallest component and unrelated to one another—isolated and functioning on their own. It is not about your spiritual life: put those blinders on, and as long as I am studying the Word in terms of my own spiritual life, and I'm growing, then I am successful in that spiritual life. That is a view that has been fed and shaped by the ideal of rugged individualism in our culture. It doesn't mean that is a wrong ideal but that is not the model for understanding the body of Christ.

The body of Christ means that we are "members of one another." We are individually responsible for our own spiritual life but there is also a function of our own spiritual life that is related to and dependent upon and serves one another. There is an interdependency between the members of the body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:12 NASB "For even as the body is one and {yet} has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ… [14] For the body is not one member, but many." So we hold two things that have to be held together: the significance of the unity of the body, which is never a unity at the expense of doctrine but a unity of the faith; but it is a real organic unity of all believers in the body of Christ. Yet there are distinctions in terms of the distribution of spiritual gifts, and some have more of the gifts, some less of the gifts, so that there are real differences. But everybody is crucial to the function of the team.

So we see that within the body the Holy Spirit gives these gifts, which are basically spiritual enhancements for capabilities, provided for each believer in terms of their ministry to other believers. There are no spiritual gifts that function in isolation from the body of Christ because the gifts aren't given so that we can use them at work, at school, in terms of some social organization outside the body of Christ. That is not what Paul says. They may be used in some other areas outside of the body of Christ but that is not why they are given, they are given so that we can serve one another. Even the gift of evangelism, according the Ephesians 4:11, 12, just like the gift of pastor-teacher is for equipping or training of the saints to do the work of ministry. We think of the gift of evangelism in terms of people like Billy Graham who preaches the gospel and there is a great response. He is an evangelist and that is the gift of evangelism working. It is, but that is not why he is given the gift according to Ephesians 4:11, 12. The evangelist is given the gift to equip the other members of the body of Christ so that they can be effective in evangelism. So our gifts are given primarily for utilization within the body of Christ, which means that there has to be a coming together and a gathering together of the body of Christ so that as a local body grows and develops and matures these gifts are developed and they operate first and foremost towards one an other within the body of Christ. All of the gifts function for the health of the body of Christ. They could have secondary application to others outside the body of Christ but if they are not functioning to believers they are not functioning legitimately according to the primary purpose of Scripture.

What are some of the things that should characterize a healthy congregation? If WHBC has a reputation among the Christian community or at large it is that we are known for the fact that we love the Lord Jesus Christ, what He taught us and how He expects us to live. To love the Lord Jesus Christ biblically means that we have to know Him. We can't love Him if we don't know Him. How do we demonstrate that we know Him and love Him, according to Scripture? We keep His commandments—that is not a reference to the Ten Commandments—and that refers to all of the mandates and prohibitions in the New Testament for the church age believer. In passages such as John 14 & 15 Jesus said: "If you love me, keep my commandments."

To love Jesus means that it is exhibited by action, and that action is to keep His commandments, and to keep His commandments means we have to know His commandments, so there is a focus there on the Word. But we don't want to be known just as a church that knows the Word because knowing the Word is a means to an end. The end is that we are to develop a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ that profoundly impacts our life—obedience to Christ and application. John 15:10 NASB "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love." We have to know them to keep them, so keeping them implies that we have a focus on knowing the Bible. That means we need to be a congregation who is known as people who know the Scriptures. We know the Bible, which leads us to an understanding and knowing doctrine. We don't just have a theology class where we know a lot of principles; we need to know the Word of God. As the Psalmist said, we need to hide the Word in our heart.

1 John 2:3 NASB "By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments." On the alternate side in his letter to Titus Paul said about false teachers, they profess to know God but in works they deny Him. We can't make a distinction between what we know doctrinally and what how we live our life—how we think and how we live. We can't create a compartmentalization between the two, they go together. Knowing the Word without applying the Word is as useless as applying the Word without knowing the Word, because applying the Word without knowing the Word is just a system of ethics and morality but it has nothing to do with applying the Word—because we don't know it, we are just applying a system of ethics or application.

So the first thing that should characterize us is that we love the Lord Jesus Christ, what He taught us and how He expects us to live. The second thing is to be known as a church that has a genuine care and concern for one another. Having a practical care and concern for one another is a product of knowing the Word. It comes from you as an individual learning the Word, and it drives you to a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and the by-product of that is that as you grow your spiritual gift—whether you know it or not—becomes manifest and you serve the body of Christ. Every one of us has a role in that, it doesn't matter what our gift is ultimately because we are all expected to function in different areas of giftedness. But some have special giftedness—the gift of evangelism so that they can train you to be an evangelist. Other passages of Scripture indicate that we should be able to teach one another, that we should admonish one another, and that we should pray for one another. All of these one another ministries relate to utilization or application of areas that are connected to spiritual gifts, but there are some within the congregation who excel in those areas and they help the rest of us understand how to function in those areas. So as a church we need to have this genuine care and concern for one another and that is the consequence of being in the Word, walking by the Holy Spirit, and growing to maturity.

It is not what we see in many congregations: an artificially manufactured system that is developed from the top down, i.e. the leadership down. For example, there have been a lot of churches where there has been an emphasis on evangelism. They say, we need to be a church that is known for evangelism so we are starting and evangelism class every Wednesday night for the next twelve weeks and we are going to go through some system or another and learn to evangelize, then we are going out and be evangelists. It usually doesn't work; it is an artificial manufacture of a top-down program because the people are not in love with the Lord Jesus Christ through His Word with an internal motivation from their spiritual growth to go out and give the gospel to people. So it is artificial and it is superficial. The biblical ideal is that as we learn the Word and we choose to apply it in our life as our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ matures then these things will be the fruit, the product that comes from that in our life. If it is manufactured by a top-down program then it is artificial; it is not a result of our spiritual life, it is a result of the church leadership coming down and making us feel guilty and putting us into some kind of a program.

We need to grow in our relationship and this is manifested in a number of ways. One of the ways we see this is that we have believers who recognize the needs in other believers' lives. That means we have to know each other. We have to walk a fine line between individuals' right to privacy and getting to know them and caring for them. People are really different. There are some who like come into a church and really are shy, quiet, reserved. That is just their personality and they don't want to be known but be relatively anonymous. Hopefully they will one day realize that they need to get to know people in the local church so that they can minister to people in the local church just as they are ministered to within the context of the local church. But we can't force that on anybody, it has to come as a product of their natural spiritual life and spiritual growth. But we have to recognize that as believers we have these responsibilities toward one another. Other folks, on the other hand, are just as gregarious and love to get to know people. They come in a church door and within five minutes they are introducing themselves to people and want to know what is going on in this church and they get to know people, it is just part of their personality and the way that has developed. So we have to understand that as a body of believers there are people at different levels of growth and people with different personalities. But if we are to fulfill these one another commands that are in Scripture we have to get to know one another. 

We have the emphasis on loving one another, and this is found again and again mentioned in the Scripture—thirteen times. We need to minister to one another. It is not just about coming to Bible class and learning the Word; that is simply the means to the end of building a healthy congregation that ministers in a umber of different areas but ministers, above all, to one another.