The Fullness of Christ

Many descriptions and figures are used in the Bible to explain the church, and none is more significant than the body of Christ. Multiple passages of the New Testament use the figure of the body to demonstrate various aspects of the church, including the authority of Christ over the church and the church's submission to Him (Eph. 5:23-24), Christ's love and care for the church (Eph. 5:25-29), the differing functions of the members of the church and their care for one another (1Cor. 12:12-27), the unity of the church (Eph. 4:4), and the growth of the church (Eph. 4:11-16). These matters concerning the church are easily understood through the figure of the body, for the functions of the human body are universally known and common to all men.

As the body of Christ, the church is further described as the fullness of Christ. In the sister epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians, the apostle Paul used this description to give a greater expression of the church's relationship to the Lord. In Ephesians 1:22-23, he wrote concerning the Father's exaltation of Christ, saying, "And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Similarly, Paul wrote in Colossians 1:18-19, "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. For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him…” These two passages complement one another, and each gives help in explaining the other.

What exactly does it mean to call the church "the fullness of Him who fills all in all”? An investigation of the contexts of Ephesians 1:22-23 and Colossians 1:18-19 gives the answer by showing that the issue of Christ's authority is under consideration. This issue is evident in Ephesians 1:20-21, where it is stated that the Father raised Christ from the dead and "seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” Likewise, Christ's authority by virtue of creation is the context of Colossians 1:16-17, which states, "For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

So then, the church is the fullness of Christ in that it is the fullest manifestation of the authority and Lordship of Jesus on earth. This does not mean that the church is only realm in which Christ has authority, but rather it is the institution where Christ's authority is most completely recognized. The passages previously quoted comply with Christ's own words in Matthew 28:18 when He said, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” Indeed, Jesus has all authority in every realm, for Christ is He "who fills all in all.” However, it is only in the church that Christ's complete authority is fully accepted on earth. For this reason, it is the church that is the "kingdom of His beloved Son” into which Christians are transferred (Col. 1:13). Thus, the church is truly "the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

Perhaps the concept of the fullness of Christ can be further explained by means of some similar situations. Staying within the figure of the body, it can be said that the human body is the fullness of the human head. It may be that a man exercises headship over persons or things outside of his own body, but nowhere is the authority of his mind made fuller than in his own body. Similarly, the authority of a king may be respected beyond the borders of his kingdom, but only within his kingdom does his authority find its fullest expression. Another example is that of a husband and father whose authority has its fullness in the home where he is the head of his wife and children. These situations are not perfectly parallel to Christ and the church, but they are similar enough to give a better understanding of the fullness of Christ in the church.

Therefore, as we think of the church as "the fullness of Him who fills all in all,” let us understand the church to be the grandest expression of Christ's authority on earth. Christ truly has all authority in heaven and on earth, but it is the church that fully submits to that authority at present. Certainly, a time is coming in which "at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11). Until that time, God has determined "that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10). It is now our privilege as Christians to be part of the demonstration of God's manifold wisdom within the body that is "the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

Stacey E. Durham


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