For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you, and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him 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. 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.
A Link Between Suffering and the Body of Christ
One link between the series on suffering, which we just finished, and the series on the church as the body of Christ, which we begin today, is that the suffering which Christ began to experience in his earthly body he continues to experience in some sense in his body called the church. You recall how before Paul was converted, he persecuted the church. Acts 9:1 says he was breathing out threats and murders against the disciples of the Lord. On his way to Damascus to capture and imprison Christians "a light from heaven flashed about him." Acts 9:4 says, "He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'"
Jesus Identifies with His Followers
Now Saul did not believe that Jesus was alive. He thought the whole thing was a delusion. He was persecuting deluded Jewish fanatics that thought a dead criminal was the Son of God. But that was not the way the Son of God saw it. When the Son of God spoke, he said, "Why do you persecute me?" So not only is this crucified criminal alive, but he is so identified with his followers that to persecute them is to persecute him.
This is the link between suffering and the body of Christ. When Christ was on the earth, Christ had one kind of body, a physical body like ours. And with it he suffered and died that we might live. Now he is raised from the dead and sits at the right hand of God; but on the earth he has another kind of body, namely, the church. Christ was united to his body then, and felt the blows of his enemies. And he is united to his body now, the church, and he feels the blows of his enemies still.
You can see this connection between Christ and his people in numerous texts. For example, in Matthew 25 Jesus says to his people at the final judgment, "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me . . . " (vv. 35–36). And they ask when this happened, since Jesus wasn't there; he was in heaven. And he answers, "Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (v. 40). The brethren of Jesus are the church. If you persecute the church, you persecute Jesus, and if you show love and affection to the church, you show love and affection to Jesus. The church is his body; it is the physical form of his presence on earth. Touch the church and you touch the body of Christ, which means you touch Christ.
1 Corinthians 6:15–16
Another striking illustration of this is 1 Corinthians 6:15-16, where Paul says, "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her?" If you are a disciple of Christ, then you are a member (i.e., part) of the body of Christ, and the parts of your body are parts of Christ's body—so much so, Paul says, that if you commit fornication or adultery, you drag Christ himself into bed with you and make him do what you do.
The Aim of This Series
I'm going to devote a whole message to that text in November. But I just want to illustrate now the reality of Christ's presence in the world in the form of his church, his body. Today on the earth Christ has a body, the church. It has legs to walk and arms to work and mouths to talk and feet to be blistered and backs to be beaten, and hunger to be fed and loneliness to be visited. Paul said that his aim in life was that the life of Jesus might be manifested in his mortal flesh (2 Corinthians 4:11). In other words, his aim is that his body might make Christ's body real to the world. Jesus said, "Whoever receives you receives me" (Matthew 10:40).
We are going to spend about 12 weeks talking about this amazing reality—the body of Christ: Christ is present in the world in his body, the church. And our aim is not just to fill our minds with knowledge, but to fill Minneapolis with Christ. To become what Christ wants to be in his body not only for each other but for this city and for the unreached peoples of the world.
Today's Text: Three Observations
Now take that goal of "filling Minneapolis with Christ" and you will see the connection with today's text, Ephesians 1:22–23, "And he [God] put all things in subjection under his [Christ's] 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." Notice: "the fullness of him who fills all in all." So this text speaks to the issue of filling Minneapolis, or any other city, or the whole world and the whole universe with Christ.
Let's make three careful observations from verse 23:
1. The Church Is the Body of Christ
First, the church is the body of Christ. Verse 22 ends by saying, "God gave Christ as head over all things to the church." Then verse 23 refers to the "church" when it says, "Which is his body." The church is Christ's body. Not the building called the church. (In the NT the word "church" never refers to a building.) But the people of God, the disciples of Jesus, the elect from all the nations—they are the body of Christ. That's the first observation: the church is Christ's body.
2. Christ Fills All in All
Second, Christ fills all in all. Verse 23: "Which is his body, the fullness of him [i.e., Christ] who fills all in all." So Christ fills all in all. Or as the present tense and the middle voice imply: Christ is now filling for himself all in all.
I take this to mean that Christ is filling every sphere of existence everywhere in the universe in all the ways he pleases. The best guide for what this means that "Christ fills all in all" is found here in the immediate context of verses 20–22 and in 4:8–10. Look at that text first.
Something He Does with His Authority as Risen Ruler
Paul is talking about the way Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven; and in doing so he broke the bonds of death and captured for himself a host of captives, and led them free from sin and death and fear. Then Paul says Jesus did this that he might fill all things.
8) "Therefore it says, 'When he ascended on high, he led captive a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.' 9) Now this expression, 'He ascended,' what does it mean except that he also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10) He who descended is himself also he who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.
What this shows us is that Christ's purpose to fill all things is accomplished by his rising from the dead and his ascending into heaven as victor over his enemies. In other words "filling all things" is something Jesus does with the authority he has as the risen ruler over all things.
Christ's Resurrection and Exaltation over All
That takes us back to 1:20–22. Here Paul is doing the same thing as in 4:8–10, namely, describing the resurrection of Christ and his exaltation above everything and his triumph over everything. Let's pick it up in verse 20b:
20b) [God] raised him from the dead, and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21) 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. 22) And he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him as head over all things to the church.
Notice the four things God does for his Son in these verses:
- he raises him from the dead (v. 20);
- he gives him the seat of kingly authority at his right hand (v. 20);
- he puts everything in the universe in subjection to him (v. 22), which includes every form of evil power and every being which is now or will be in the future (v. 21); and then
- he gives his Son with all that universal power and authority to the church as the head of his body.
Asserting His Authority over All Things
Now Ephesians 4:10 says all that happened "that he might fill all things," just like verse 23 says this Christ is "filling all in all." So the filing all things is the effect of Christ's ruling all things. And the most natural meaning of the filling then would be that he fills all things with the assertion of his rule and authority. That is, he asserts himself and his rights as fully as he pleases in all things.
Picture him as the king over many territories that are not fully subdued to him. This text is declaring that Christ is indeed the king of the universe. He is "above ALL rule" (v. 21). He is over "EVERY name" (v. 21). God put "ALL THINGS" under his feet (v. 22). He is head over "ALL THINGS" (v. 22). And by this authority he will sovereignly fill all his territories with absolute sway. He will accomplish his purpose in every sphere. He will make himself unmistakably known in every place. He will be preeminent in every nook and cranny of the universe. Even the outer darkness of hell will be filled with his authority and his power and his wrath and the knowledge of his wisdom.
So the first observation in verse 23 is that the church is the body of Christ; and the second observation is that Christ fills all in all. The glory of Christ will pervade "all in all"; that is, the glory of Christ will pervade everything in every way that the wisdom of God ordains for his maximum renown and splendor. There will be no place where his power does not hold sway to accomplish exactly what he wants for the dissemination of his all-filling glory.
3. The Church Is Christ's Fullness
The third observation, in verse 23, boggles the mind even further, namely, Christ's body is his fullness which fills all in all. "[The church] is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all." His body, the fullness. His body, the church, is the fullness of Christ. Which most naturally means, the church, the body of Christ, is the fullness by which Christ fills all things.
Now how does that fit together with what we have said before? We have said that Christ fills all things by asserting his authority over all things to make himself known in all things—to fill all things with his power and his wisdom and his glory. We are saying that this fullness with which Christ fills all things is the body of Christ, the church. What does that mean?
Ephesians 3:10 Provides a Clue to the Meaning
Look at Ephesians 3:10 for a clue. Paul says that he has been called to preach the riches of Christ and reveal the mystery of Christ, "in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places."
Now look at what is going on here. It takes your breath away if you believe it and you are part of the church. The first thing is that the wisdom of God—the manifold, many-sided wisdom of God—is being made known to the rulers and authorities. These are satanic, demonic powers in the universe. They are the very ones that according to 1:21 state that Christ now is seated above with his feet on them.
What is going on here is, first, that God means to fill the habitations of demons with the manifestation of his wisdom, the wisdom that conceived and ordained and planned and brought about and will consummate the salvation of his people—the unfathomable riches of Christ. Not even the place of demons will be left without a revelation of the glory of Christ, the wisdom of God.
The other thing going on here in 3:10 is that this revelation that fills the habitation of demons happens "through the church"—"that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places." I think this is an illustration of our third observation from 1:23, namely, that the church, the body of Christ, is the fullness of him who fills all in all.
The Church as the Embodiment of Christ
It means: God AIMS to fill the universe with the glory of his Son, Jesus, by making the church the showcase of his perfections. Or, to put it another way, and include the idea of body: God means to fill the universe with the glory of his Son by putting the church on display as the embodiment of his Son.
Christ fills the universe with his glory by showing the universe his body—how he chose her, how he destined her, how he came for her and taught her and suffered for her and died for her and rose for her and reigns for her, how he called her and justified her and cleansed her and kept her and will raise her and glorify her and satisfy her forever and ever with himself.
One Final Observation
There is so much more to say about this text and our unspeakably great calling and destiny as the body of Christ. And I will apply more of this text to us Wednesday evening. But let's close with this final observation from verse 22. "[God] put all things in subjection under [Christ's] feet"—so that as sovereign ruler of all he might assert his truth and right and power and wisdom in all the universe and fill all things with his kingly glory.
Yes, all of that, but not without the church. The verse goes on: "[God] put all things in subjection under his feet, AND GAVE HIM AS HEAD OVER ALL THINGS TO THE CHURCH." God did not exalt Jesus and subject all things to him and then simply say, "Now go ahead and fill the universe with your glory; fill all things with yourself." Instead he raised him and exalted him and subjected all things under him and then made him one with the church, as head to the body, and said, "Now, my Son, you and those with whom you are united as head to body, go forth in the universe and fill it with all that you are in your body. Let everything, from the highest heaven to the lowest hell, be filled with a revelation of your glorious perfections in the form of a chosen, destined, blood-bought, called, justified, holy, glorified, and infinitely, everlastingly satisfied people, your body, the church of the living God. Amen"
Discussion Questions for Small Groups
"His Body: The Fullness of Him Who Fills All in All" (Ephesians 1:15–23)
You might want to begin the discussion by asking what one truth from the sermon had the most impact on some of the members of the group. Remember the goal is to strengthen each other's hope in God. Constantly draw the focus onto what builds more faith with its joy and peace and courage to love.
- We just finished a series of messages on suffering. How does the suffering that Paul was bringing on the church lead us to see the church as the body of Christ? See Acts 9:4. Even though this verse implies we suffer as Christians, why is it encouraging?
- If Acts 9:4 says that when we are persecuted Christ is persecuted, then Matthew 25:35–40 seems to say that when we are loved and cared for, Christ is loved and cared for. Do you agree with pastor John that "the least of these my brethren" in v. 40 refers to Christians? Compare Matthew 10:42. How might this union between Jesus and his people motivate our practical acts of ministry to each other, or the Christians in Somalia? Does it help overcome the sense that little acts like visiting are somehow insignificant?
- How does 1 Corinthians 6:15–16 show that our participation in the body of Christ is not just a general corporate thing, but also a specific physical thing that includes our bodies? What are some other behaviors (besides sexual immorality) where this truth will affect the use of your body (eyes, ears, stomach, voice box, etc.)?
- In three brief sentences, what were the three observations pastor John made from Ephesians 1:23? (1—The church is the body of Christ. 2—Christ fills all in all. 3—Christ's body is the fullness by which he fills all in all.)
- What is it about Christ that is stressed in Ephesians 1:20–22 which prepares us for the way Christ fills all in all? How is this confirmed in Ephesians 4:10? How does it help to picture Christ as a king with many territories who do not yet honor him as king? What does he intend to fill them with so that they submit to him as sovereign Lord? In view of what we see in our own modern culture, what effect does this truth have on our daily lives?
- The most astonishing observation from Ephesians 1:23 is that the body of Christ, the church, is the fullness by which Christ fills all things! Be sure to see the very words where that observation comes from. Now if Christ is using his absolute authority (described in verses 20–22) to fill all the universe with his glory, how can it be said that it is the church that is this fullness with which he is filling all things? Use the clue in Ephesians 3:10 ("through the church").
- What is the emotional effect on you in knowing that God intends to make the church the showcase of his perfections in the whole universe, including the demonic world itself (3:10)?
Suggestions for Prayer Focus
- that God would hasten the day when this great work of filling all things with Christ will be done ("Thy kingdom come!");
- that we would have the eyes of our hearts enlightened to see and feel the awesome calling and destiny that is ours as the body of Christ;
- that we would conform more and more to the image of Christ that our families and businesses and schools and city may be filled with Christ here and now.