At a meeting of the American Psychological Association, Jack Lipton, a psychologist at Union College, and R. Scott Builione, a graduate student at Columbia University, presented their findings on how members of the various sections of eleven major symphony orchestras perceived each other. The percussionists were viewed as insensitive, unintelligent, and hard-of-hearing, yet fun loving. String players were seen as arrogant, stuffy, and unathletic. The orchestra members overwhelmingly chose “loud” as the primary adjective to describe the brass players. Woodwind players seemed to be held in the highest esteem, described as quiet and meticulous, though a bit egotistical. Interesting findings, to say the least! With such widely divergent personalities and perceptions, how could an orchestra ever come together to make such wonderful music? The answer is simple: regardless of how those musicians view each other, they subordinate their feelings and biases to the leadership of the conductor. Under his guidance, they play beautiful music. (Today in the Word, June 22, 1992)

What the scholars found to be true of the leading orchestras in the nation can be said of the leading teams in each sport, the leading businesses in each field, the leading schools in each district, and believe it or not, the leading churches in corner of the world. What is the key to success? Is it qualified, intelligent employees? A well thought out plan? A solid financial base? Sound methods? No, these all are important components, but the key to success is subordinating oneself to the vision and plan of the leader.

Think of the leaders in each of the categories I mentioned earlier. When you think of the leader in software development around the world, Microsoft, what comes to mind? Bill Gates of course. When you think of the leading college football team in the nation over the past decade, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, what do you think of? The type of offense they run? Their team colors? No, you think of Tom Osborne, the head coach. When we stop to think of the Church, a living, vibrant Body of believers that has survived twenty centuries of persecution and attack by those who have sought to shut her down — what do you think of? Her architecture? Hardly. Her methods? I don’t think so. No, we don’t think of any of these things. What we think of is Her King, Her Lord, and Her Savior — the Architect and Master Builder who said, “Upon this Rock I will build My Church and the gates of Hell shall never prevail against it.”

The fact of the matter is that it has taken an act of Almighty God to preserve the Church throughout the ages because the members of the Body have done everything in their power to dismantle Her walls of reconciliation, crumble Her foundation of healing, and shatter Her windows of salvation. We have taken the masterpiece of God and contorted and distorted Her beauty into a monstrous machine that has hurt, mangled, alienated, and isolated those She was sent to heal, reconcile, and bless.

Today, we are getting back to our study of Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae after having taken a few weeks off to study other things. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for this morning found in Colossians 1:16-23.

For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. {17} He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. {18} And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. {19} For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, {20} and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. {21} Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. {22} But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation– {23} if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Col 1:16-23 NIV)

I want us to focus our time this morning on verses 18-20 where Paul says that Jesus is the head of the body, the church and that through Jesus God is working to reconcile the entire creation to Himself. This is such an important Scripture for those of us who have seen the rise of church closings in the past several years and the countless church fights that results in churches splitting and forsaking the mission of Jesus. In this section of Scripture Paul gives us an answer as to how we can turn around this troubling trend.

Before we get into the application of our lesson for today I want you to see the great mission of Jesus which has been laid out by Almighty God. If we fail to fully understand this my friend we will never understand the purpose and the power of the Church and we will go on missing out on God’s best for us.

Ray Steadman has written about his observations concerning the Church in our day by saying,

The church, of course, is the new creation. It is healthy to remind ourselves of that because many churches seem to forget it. The church is something eternally new that the world has never seen before. It is quite different from any other organization or organism among men. It is a sad thing to observe the loss of this concept among Christians.

As I travel about I have noted the way people think about their church. I am afraid that the most widespread concept is that the church is a religious country club, operated for the enjoyment and benefit of the members; it makes its own rules and exists for its own purposes. That is a far cry indeed from the New Testament description of the church. Others look upon the church as a collection of emotional misfits who are waiting for the first bus to glory. I fear some of us give them good reason to think that!

Then there are those, like the Colossians, who are a group of eager beaver religious fanatics, running after every new doctrine that comes along, especially if it offers a good feeling and has a sense of magic and mystery about it. That, to many, is the church.

I am afraid that Mr. Steadman is right. We have missed God’s purpose for us assembling together and as a result we have misused and mangled God’s awesome creation, the Church. There is still hope for us if we will repent of our sin and return to God’s ordained purpose for the Church.

My aim this morning is that by the time we all leave here we will understand and commit to being the Body that God has called us to be. Before we can commit we must understand so let’s get started.

If you look at our Scripture you can see that God has laid out a great and glorious scheme for history. First, we are told that God has created all things both in the Heavens and on the Earth through Jesus. The things that are visible and invisible have been created by Jesus and for Him. All of creation was made for the glory of its Creator, but it has become tainted and marred by sin. Secondly, Paul next tells us that Jesus is the Head of the Body, the Church. Thirdly, Paul tells us that Jesus is the first born from the dead, no other has ever been raised from the dead in glory. Last of all, God was pleased to have all of His fullness dwell in Jesus in order that He might reconcile creation back to Himself. Now we must ask the question, “How is God reconciling His creation to Himself?” The answer is, “Through His Body under the leadership of the Head, who is Jesus our Savior.” Jesus has called you and me to embody His love, mercy, grace, compassion, and offer His salvation to those who are yet to know and experience His saving power.

I want to make something perfectly clear: The Church has never and will never save anyone, that work is the exclusive work of our Savior, Jesus. With that said, Jesus has commissioned the Church to serve as an usher to lead others to His throne of grace and salvation. Isn’t that awesome!

Yet, when you stop to look at the Church today you have to be discouraged. Are we giving the world a clear view of the deep compassion of Jesus? Does the world understand the mercy of our Savior as they interact with us? Can a person who is struggling with sin know the power of Jesus to deliver them from the sin that is killing them by knowing and hearing us? Does a person who does not know the powerful presence of Almighty God feel His glory when they are in our presence? Does the watching world fully grasp the glory and grandeur of Almighty God by visiting our church? These are tough questions which ought to humble us, cause us to weep in sorrow before His glorious throne, and cry out for forgiveness for the erroneous lessons we are teaching those around us.

When we are confronted with the present predicament we have to ask, “Who is in charge here?” Without thinking about the question we would normally answer, “Well, the pastor is of course.” Someone else might say, “Well, the Elders and Deacons are the ones in charge.” A few might say, “I think the Chairman of the Board is the decision maker.” Others might offer, “The Committee heads are leading the church.” All of these answers, though honest and sincere are sincerely wrong. The pastor is not in charge and neither are the Elders, Deacons, Chairman of the Board, or Committee heads — Jesus is in charge, He is the Head of the Church. That is the way God has designed the Church anyway. Whenever anyone else seeks to usurp His authority then the church is headed on a collision course with destruction and its demise is just around the corner.

It is much like the story Max Lucado has told in his book, In The Eye of the Storm. Max says,

In U.S. Navel Institute Proceedings, the magazine of the Naval Institute, Frank Koch illustrates the importance of obeying the Laws of the Lighthouse.

Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities. Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing reported, “Light, bearing on the starboard bow.” “Is it steady or moving astern?” the captain called out. The lookout replied, “Steady, Captain,” which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship. The captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: ‘We are on a collision course, advise you change course twenty degrees.'” Back came the signal, “Advisable for you to change course twenty degrees.” The captain said, “Send: “I’m a captain, change course twenty degrees.'” “I’m a seaman second-class,” came the reply. “You had better change course twenty degrees.” By that time the captain was furious. He spat out, “Send: ‘I’m a battleship. Change course twenty degrees.'” Back came the flashing light, “I’m a lighthouse.” We changed course. (In the Eye of the Storm, Max Lucado, Word Publishing, 1991. Page 153)

The Church has been accustomed to setting it own course for far too many years and it has left us shipwrecked, being beaten by the tossing waves of the sea reminding us of how powerless we are. It is time for us to adjust our course, to set our sights on the Lighthouse and follow His commands in obedience.

There are three main areas where I see that we have strayed from God’s calling upon lives as the Body of Christ, the Church assembled to bless the lives of others with the message of Jesus’ love and salvation for all people.

First, I believe that we have strayed because of ignorance. Most of us simply don’t know any better. Most of us weren’t raised in homes where our mothers and fathers taught us what it means to be part of the Body of the Christ. Those of you who grew up in church were probably simply taken to a building to have church. You weren’t taught what it means to be the people of God.

Ignorance is a reality, but it is no excuse. There is still the opportunity to gain the insights necessary for you to become a vital part of the Body and to submit yourself to the Head, Jesus our Savior.

Second, I believe that we have strayed because of a desire for comfort. Far too many of us have the mentality that we’ve worked hard all week and on Sunday we just want to relax. We don’t want to be bothered with being nudged out of our comfort zone. The thought that God would disturb our comfort and ease makes us very uncomfortable so therefore we would rather have preachers tell us what we want to hear instead of what God desires to speak to us.

We find ourselves in that great assembly of the comfortably numb who have gone before us that Paul wrote about and warned Timothy about in his second letter to the young preacher.

For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. {4} They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. {5} But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (2 Tim 4:3-5 NIV)

This mentality has left the Church in shambles and has served to rob those of the world who need to hear the Good News of Jesus of ever receiving His grace and mercy.

Thirdly, I believe that we have strayed because of our fear. Fear is a very imposing reality isn’t it. When we are afraid we become paralyzed, unable and unwilling to move. We are afraid of those who are not like us. We are prejudiced and prideful and it has paralyzed the power of the Gospel.

We are fearful of those who worship in a different manner than we are accustomed to. We are fearful of those who look differently than we do. We are fearful of those who talk about God in a way that makes us feel uncomfortable. The problem is not the way someone worships, looks, or talks — the problem is our understanding of “we.” Folks, when we will ever learn that “we” are not those who are like us! “We” is the Body of Christ in all of its glorious diversity, beauty, color, manifestations, and functions! My allegiance and commitment is not to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the white race, the evangelical Church, or the married men of America — I am part of the Body of Christ pledging allegiance to Jesus and Him alone! By pledging my allegiance to Jesus alone I am then free to seek out all people regardless of their denominational affiliation, race, gender, or marital status in order that I might share the love of God found in Jesus with each of them.

The Apostle Paul stated it this way,

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. {20} To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. {21} To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. {22} To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. {23} I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Cor 9:19-23 NIV)

When we are in charge of the church we will ruin the church and build a wall that keeps others away from salvation that is found in the Savior alone. Jesus’ heart was to build a Body of believers who could then invade the world with love, grace, and forgiveness in order that the world might be saved. If we will leave the throne-room and allow Jesus to take up residence once again then we will see the Church turn around and become the powerful force of reconciliation that She was intended to be.

First, as Head of the Body, Jesus brings attention to Himself. Jesus, as the Head of the Church, desires for us to focus ourselves, our lives, our passions upon Him.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus said that He would send someone to come after Him. What

would the Holy Spirit do? Jesus tells us when He says,

When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. {27} And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27 NIV)

In another place in John’s Gospel, Jesus said, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” (John 12:32 NIV) When Jesus is the Head of the Church He will draw attention to Himself rather than drawing attention to the color of the carpet, the clothes that are being worn by the members of the Body, or the number of minutes the preacher goes past twelve o’clock. When Jesus is lifted up as the Head of the Church He will draw all people unto Himself.

Secondly, as the Head of the Church, Jesus leads us to evangelize, to share the Good News with those who haven’t heard. William Temple has said, “The church is the only cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of its non-members.” Stop and think about it for a moment. When you are a member of some club, the leaders are always polling the members to see what they want and thinking about what they can do to make their members happy. With Jesus as the Head of the Church we are to seek His desires as to how we can best share His love with those who aren’t here, those who have never heard.

Over and over again Jesus gave us parables and pictures of how He, as the Good Shepherd, left the ninety-nine and went out after the one sheep that was lost. He told us how He was the One who searched high and low to find the lost coin until it was located. His followers should model the manner of the Messiah!

Thirdly, as Head of the Church, Jesus will impress upon us the need to equip the saints for the building up of the Body. When Jesus is actively the Head of the Church, we will be devoted to, committed to, and obsessed with equipping the brothers and sisters so that they will be able to function has God has desired for them to function. Paul wrote in Ephesians,

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, {12} to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up {13} until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. {14} Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. {15} Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. (Eph 4:11-15 NIV)

When Jesus is functioning as the Head of the Church, the followers of Jesus will be impassioned with the necessity of working towards the maturity of every believer. This, in my estimation, is one of the key indicators of the health of not only the Church, but more specifically, a local church like Britton Christian Church. Are we intentional about engaging folks in the process of maturing in their walk with God? You can answer for yourself, “Am I working to lead others into Bible study, time in prayer, and being involved in a small group so that they can grow?”

Fourth, as Head of the Church, Jesus will lead us out of the church and into the world to meet the needs of a hurting world. For anyone who has seriously studied God’s Word, it is evident that Jesus could be found where there were hurting folks. Today, we could see the Church come alive in America if we would only follow the lead of Jesus and seek out those who are hurting.

You may ask, “Who are those who are hurting?” That is a good question. Those who are hurting are those who do not know the love, mercy, and salvation of our Savior. Their hurts result from various things, but the root of their pain is all the same — they need a life-restoring, life-giving relationship with Jesus.

Fifth, as Head of the Church, Jesus will bring us together. When the Church is following the leadership of Jesus, who is Head of the Church, we will see folks coming together. We look at race relations in our land today and cringe, and well we should. We were supposed to be making advances, getting beyond racism, prejudice, and pride. We’re not getting beyond it, we’re wallowing in it. The lines of division, of hidden animosities being harbored by people against folks who are of a different race than they are continue to haunt us. It is not just in our country, this is a problem that has the world in its grip.

As you search the world you will find no more prominent illustration of the divisions of people by race than in the local church. Billy Graham once said that the most segregated hour of the week is 11:00 am on Sunday morning. I would challenge you sometime to talk to your friends who attend different churches around the city. Ask them about the racial make-up of their church and I will bet that you will find the white folks having church with the white folks, black folks having church with black folks, brown folks having church with brown folks, and so on.

Jesus doesn’t separate us, He brings us together. In Ephesians 2, Paul writes about the power of Jesus that has broken down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile, the most segregated of all people. I will assure you that if Jesus can tear down that wall, He can tear down any wall that divides people because of race. Paul writes,

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, {15} by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, {16} and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. {17} He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. {18} For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. {19} Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, {20} built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. {21} In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. {22} And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Eph 2:14-22 NIV)

It is my prayer that the Church in the world, and Britton Christian Church, can begin to understand the power that awaiting us when we humble ourselves before Jesus and say, “Come Lord Jesus Come! We will humble ourselves before You as Head of this Body and we will follow You and You alone.”

Most importantly, when Jesus assumes His rightful place at the head of the table we will see love blossom in all of its glory and the world will come rushing in overwhelmed with the mighty overcoming love of our Savior that they see demonstrated in you and me. They will be like the little boy who lived in Chicago a few years ago.

In Chicago a few years ago a little boy attended a Sunday school in a little church. When his parents moved to another part of the city the little fellow still attended the same Sunday school, although it meant a long, tiresome walk each way. A friend asked him why he went so far, and told him that there were plenty of others just as good nearer to his home. “They may be as good for others, but not for me,” was his reply. “Why not?” she asked. “Because they love a fellow over there,” he replied. If only we could make the world believe that we loved them there would be fewer empty churches, and a smaller proportion of our population who never darken a church door. Let love reign in our churches and the world will soon be evangelized. (Moody’s Anecdotes, Page 71-72)

Who’s In Charge Here?
Colossians 1:16-18