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The great exposition on the church in Ephesians includes a prayer in which Paul pleads that we be given eyes to see the reality of God's new-life power. He asks that we might grasp the hope set before us. In the resurrected Jesus, you and I have the promise of God's incomparably great power unleashed now, for us. The power that infuses the church is "like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms" (Eph. 1:19-20). That power flows from Jesus into us.
In his prayer Paul also affirms the extent of Jesus' power. We must see Jesus set by God "far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come" (Eph. 1:21). The living Jesus holds ultimate power over the universe and all its personalities. No one can claim an authority or title equal to His. He is "far above all."
Then Paul reveals the appointment of Jesus to the position in which His power is to be exercised. "God placed all things under his feet," Paul writes, "and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way" (Eph. 1:22-23).
The thrust of Paul's argument is clear:
1. Jesus lives.
2. Jesus possesses ultimate power.
3. Jesus is God's gift to us, appointed to be head over everything for us.
Our struggle to understand leadership must begin with the recognition that in the church we are dealing with a living Christ; that this Jesus acts in "the present age" as well as "the one to come"; and that it is God's express intention that Jesus is to function as "head over everything for the church, which is his body." Whatever role human leadership may play in the church, it must not intrude into the realm of Jesus' headship or claim His prerogatives. Jesus, and Jesus alone, is head of the body.
Old Testament usage
To grasp the role Jesus plays in the church and to avoid overstepping our function as human leaders in Christ's body, it is important to understand what it means for anyone to be "head."
In the Old Testament we see many different usages of "head" (r'osh). Individuals could be "heads of their families" (Exod. 6:14) and stand either as progenitors or elders (cf. Num. 7:2). Headship also speaks in the Old Testament of authority and leadership. Moses made some "to have authority over you-as commanders" (Deut. 1:15). Jephthah accepted military control over the forces of Israel and agreed to be head over them (Judg. 11:11). The heads of tribes were chiefs (2 Chron. 5:2), even as the "head" cities in a region were chief cities.
Brown, Driver, and Briggs in their Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament suggest these dominant usages of r'osh:
1. literally, of the physical head of a person or animal;
2. of the top of a mountain or hill: ears on a stalk of grain;
3. chief city, nation, priest, or head of a family, apparently combined with the idea of first in a series;
4. front, as in the forefront of battle [the leader's place], or, of time, the beginning or first [as "of months"];
5. chief, or choicest [the best].
There is no question that in the Old Testament the term head (r'osh) was applied to human leaders. Their headship involved an authority that was judicial and/or authoritative. It is also clear that leaders were organized into hierarchies. Institutions were set up by procedures like that of Moses, who followed the advice of Jethro to "select capable men from all the people-men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain-and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens" (Exod. 18:21). In this leadership system, Moses, the responsible leader, delegated authority on a graduated scale; only difficult cases worked their way up through the system to come to his attention. As for the rest, the leaders were taught "the decrees and laws," and Moses as trainer showed "them the way to live and the duties they [were] to perform" (v. 20). "Heads" of institutions were this kind of leader.
Excerpted from Church Leadership by Lawrence O. Richards Clyde Hoeldtke Copyright © 1988 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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