Preeminent in all things (1:18)
If it weren't for biblical texts like Colossians 1:18, it would be easy to get discouraged about the local church. There Paul continues his description of Jesus Christ with the statement, "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."
I've ministered in a lot of churches from a vast array of denominations: Presbyterian, Vineyard, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, Nazarene, Assemblies of God, Lutheran, as well as numerous independent and non-denominational congregations. It isn't always a pretty sight to behold. Many are struggling to stay open. Others are on the verge of schism. Political ambition and behind-the-scenes shenanigans prevail. In some, the proverbial "worship wars" are raging intensely, while others are laboring to overcome the devastation of moral failure in its leadership.
I don't want to sound unduly pessimistic. I'm thankful that some churches are flourishing and vibrant and maintain a faithful testimony to Jesus and a commitment to his Word. But far too many have compromised with the surrounding culture or have embraced worldly values that have largely muted their proclamation of the gospel.
As I said, it would be easy to get discouraged if it weren't for the fact that Jesus is the Head of the Church. The "church" here is probably a reference to the universal body of Christ, that spiritual organism comprised of all believers in all of history. But if Jesus is the head of the universal church in general, he is also the head of every local church in particular. These many and varied local expressions of his body belong to him. If a local church dissolves or strays off course, the Church, the universal body perseveres. When Jesus first promised to "build" his Church (Mt. 16:18) he assured us that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. I have to keep reminding myself of this, as I suspect you do as well.
When Paul says that Jesus Christ is the "head of the body, the church," he means to tell us that Christ is the sovereign, ruling authority over his people, as well as the source from which we, his body, derive all spiritual sustenance and power. As such, we can rest assured that our Lord will neither permit his body to drift into utter moral and theological chaos nor to die of spiritual starvation and thirst.
Some professing Christians behave and "minister" as if Jesus is the head of the Church only in name or title, much in the way Elizabeth is the Queen of England. When it comes down to the daily operations and administration of that country, she has very little if any role. The title "Queen" is merely honorary and traditional.
But such is not the case with our Lord Jesus Christ. He exerts a functional authority over his body. He can be trusted to govern and direct and provide instruction and power for the life of his church if we will but look to him and draw from the resources he so generously supplies. The relationship between Jesus as Head and the church as Body is organic and living and vital. He exercises sovereign control over us and we are ever and always dependent on his abiding influence and presence. As J. B. Lightfoot once wrote, Jesus "is the inspiring, ruling, guiding, combining, sustaining power (of the church), the mainspring of its activity, the centre of its unity and the seat of its life" (157).
Paul continues by describing him as "the beginning, the firstborn from the dead." That is to say, he was the beginning and founder of a new humanity, a new people, by virtue of his having been the first to rise, never to die again. When God the Father raised him from the dead and glorified and exalted him to the right hand of the majesty on high, he became the first-fruits of that resurrection guaranteed for all who are united to him (cf. 1 Cor. 15:20-23; Revelation 1:12-18).
There is a reason for this. There was a goal in view. It was so that Jesus might be seen and known and glorified as preeminent in everything! God raised Jesus from the dead and placed him in authority over the church so that he, and only he, might be seen and savored, recognized and relished, exalted and enjoyed as the sovereign Lord, the one for whom all things were made and to whom all praise should be given.
To what extent does your life reflect the preeminence of Christ? Are the affairs of your daily existence so ordered that Jesus is seen to be preeminent? Is there any doubt in the way you use your time, your money, and your talents that Jesus is the source and center of it all? Is he your treasure, or is it found in the documents and deeds lying in a bank vault? Does he govern your life in such a way that all may know he is Lord? How visible is the supremacy of Christ in the way you talk and relate to others and fulfill your responsibilities at work and in the home?
Resist the temptation to restrict the preeminence of Christ to one day a week, as if he were Lord and worthy of praise for only one hour on a Sunday morning. He is to be honored as preeminent not only over all things but at all times, in every context, in every circumstance.
Resist the temptation to isolate the preeminence of Christ or to confine it to "religious" matters. He has been given preeminence "in all things"! Everything in all of life, both inside and outside the church, exists to make him look good. Not to make him good, for he is eternally and self-sufficiently good, but to reveal and disclose and enable all to see that he is, in fact, good and glorious and worthy of our whole-hearted and exclusive devotion.
Pursuing his preeminence,