Head over All Things to the Church
- In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (Jn. 1:1)
Have we considered the full implications and conclusions to be drawn from this? Throughout the OT we see God working as King over Israel, intervening for and protecting them. He brought them out of Egypt and helped them conquer the promised land. God proved over and over again He had complete and absolute control! Nothing was left to chance or to man’s power alone. God’s promises once made can never be broken. So He could never leave it fully in man’s power alone to fulfill them. His divine power always strengthened man’s efforts. What we learn about Jesus reveals this did not end at the cross. Jesus promised, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” and with that promise His power will never cease to work with and for us in this age.
God planned for Jesus to be king and shepherd to work with His church as God had worked with Israel. God therefore saw no need to set up any leadership or organization above the congregational level. The NT Scriptures make it very clear that God wanted elders “appointed in every church,” (Acts 14:23), and that those elders were to “tend the flock of God which is among them.” (1Pet. 5:1-4). Thus each church was designed by God to be self-ruled and thus self-contained. Anything that was too big for any single local church has been left for Jesus to do.
Although this leaves many thinking of this as a weakness, it is exactly what God did after Israel left Egypt. Israel looked weak because they were weak. Pharaoh saw their weakness, but through God’s intervention, Egypt was decisively defeated in the battle. Later, the ten spies sent to scout out the promised land felt like “grasshoppers” because there was no sign of any human strength in them (Num. 13:33). They had been slaves in Egypt, not an army. They were not soldiers and had no weapons and no training. They had nothing but their trust that God would help them. While this was more than enough for Joshua and Caleb to confidently affirm “we are well able” to conquer Canaan, the people were swayed by the ten spies and rebelled against God. God swore in His wrath that none of them would enter the promised land. When that unbelieving generation had died out and the Israelites finally entered Canaan 40 years later, God made them “well able” to win every battle. God described this to Gideon: “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands.” God knew He would supplement what they lacked, and He never wanted Israel to lose sight of it: “lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’” (Jdg. 7:2).
Sadly, the attitude of the 10 spies lives on today in the church. Since the end of the 1st century, men of little faith, have seen God’s organization of the church as making them like grasshoppers. Having only elders over each local church left them feeling vulnerable and weak. Soon after the death of the apostles, they appointed bishops, then archbishops, then cardinals and finally a pope. Men of little faith always feel stronger when they have human power behind them. This is why Israel wanted a king so they could be like the rest of the nations. But it never occurred to them that when they sought a human king they rejected God as their king. That same problem exists today. When men go beyond what is written they reject Jesus as their Lord. (1Cor. 4:6; 2Jn. 9; Mt. 7:21-23).
Jesus is the head over all things to the church! Each church is to have its own elders tending the flock among them and Jesus is the head, king, and chief shepherd leading them. Jesus will always supplement what might be lacking in the feeble human resources of any church. Some have scoffed that the 1st day of the week contribution and limited resources of any single local church couldn’t possibly give the church the ability to go into all the world to preach the gospel! Yet this is exactly what they did do in the first century! Churches did work independently as commanded and God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit gave the divine power necessary to supplement what was lacking, just as He had done for Israel. They did go into all the world and preach the gospel!
It was never God’s intent that man be fully responsible for the work of evangelism. Actually, God had made it clear, both in prophesy, NT commands and promises, and in the record of how the church grew in the book of Acts that man’s role was the exactly the same as it had been when God brought Israel into the promised land. Man’s role is “nothing” when compared to God’s role! “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. 7 So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.” (1Cor. 3:5-7).
God had promised these things long before Jesus was born. It began when the “Root of Jesse” as “a banner to the people” led to “the Gentiles shall seek Him.” God promised that He would “set His hand again the second time To recover the remnant of His people who are left,” “assemble the outcasts of Israel, And gather together the dispersed of Judah From the four corners of the earth.” (Isa. 11:10-12). The first time, God brought Israel back to their land after Babylon; the second time, He would do it through the gospel. Because God said He would do it, the local churches did not need anyone else to coordinate or fund the work. Carefully consider how God ended this prophesy. “There will be a highway for the remnant of His people Who will be left from Assyria, As it was for Israel In the day that he came up from the land of Egypt.” (Isa. 11:16). The book of Acts records exactly how God’s fulfilled His promise. With the same power that He used to bring Israel out of Egypt into the promised land, God brought them back to the church through the gospel.
God did not leave this critically important work to man alone. He did command the church to put forth her efforts to accomplish it, but promised to strengthen their efforts with His own:
- “For thus says the Lord God: ‘Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land’ (Ezek. 34:11-13). God then revealed how He would care for them after He had gathered them. “I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them — My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken. (Ezek. 34:23-24).
Those with true faith are perfectly content to work in their own local church - planting and watering and trusting in God to give the increase. We see no need to replace God’s divine plan with some feeble human substitute. All service to God in the church must be done with the strength God supplies: “If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (1Pet. 4:11). In exactly the same way that “the Lord said to Gideon, "By the three hundred men who lapped I will save you,” and as Jonathan clearly saw: “nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few.” (1Sam. 14:6), so today, we can be content with the local church that God gave to us under the chief shepherd’s guidance.
Conclusion. If we still have any doubts, consider how Acts revealed “they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them.” (Mk. 16:15-10). Not only were the inspired words given to them, but the audience were also gathered for them. (Acts 2-3). Philip was directed to the Eunuch, Ananias to Saul, and Peter to Cornelius. From the local church at Antioch, “the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” After they left it was said, “So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went.” After they completed this work, they “gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:2-3; 14:27-28). There was no doubt that God was searching and seeking His sheep - Barnabas and Saul were the instruments God used. God made Jesus head over all things to the church, and as King and Chief Shepherd, He directs His church to do His will. The Lord only needs one thing from us: full trust and submission to be strong in the strength which God supplies.