What Is the Church?

The Vision of Church in Colossians

If you were to take a survey of people living in the twenty-first century western world and ask them what they think church is, a lot of the responses would probably mention something about a building.

However, the word church is never used in the Bible to refer to a building. In fact, the early church did not have buildings dedicated to meeting or worship. Christianity was officially illegal in the Roman Empire until 313 AD, so Jesus’ followers met in places like houses and cemeteries.

The Greek word translated into our English Bibles as church is ἐκκλησία (ekklesia). Ekklesia is not a word that is unique to the New Testament. The word was used in ancient Greek to refer to a group of people gathering together. The word could also be translated as assembly or gathering.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul uses the word ekklesia four times:

1. Colossians 1:18: Paul uses the metaphor of a body to refer to the ekklesia. Just like how a body is made up of many different-yet-interconnected parts, the church is made up of many different people, and different types of people, all of whom possess different gifts that God has given them for the benefit of the community (see 1 Corinthians 12). We need each other. As Paul told the Corinthians, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” (1 Corinthians 12:20b-21 NIV). Jesus is the head of this body; he is the King of the church.

2. Colossians 1:24: The ekklesia is again referred to as Christ’s body, for the sake of which Paul is suffering in prison. The church is called by God to embody Christ to the world; his character, his glory, his love, and even his afflictions. But we shouldn’t run away from suffering. As Paul reminded the ekklesia in Corinth, “…this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17 ESV).

3. Colossians 4:15: Paul calls the Christian community that meets at Nympha’s house an ekklesia. This is the first time in the letter that ekklesia refers to a specific community rather than to all Christians generally.

4. Colossians 4:16: Paul instructs the Colossians to read the letter he sent to the ekklesia in the nearby city of Laodicea (a letter that we no longer have). He also tells the Colossians to let the Laodiceans read the letter he sent them.

God’s Vision for the Church

Although Paul only uses the word ekklesia four times in the letter, Colossians casts a robust vision of what a community of spiritually-mature followers of Jesus looks like. By reading this letter, we can learn a lot about what is expected of the people of God.

What God is calling the church to be:

A community of the Trinity (1:2-3, 7-8)

• Abounding in faith, love and hope (1:4-5; also see 1 Thessalonians 1:3, 5:8; 1 Corinthians 13:3)

• A people rescued from darkness into the Kingdom of Jesus (1:13)

• Indwelled with the presence of Christ (1:27)

• A new creation (3:9-10)

• A community consisting of people from multiple ethnic groups and social classes (3:11)

• Full of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience (3:12)

• A community ruled by the peace of Christ (3:15)

What God is calling the church to do:

• Forgive each other (3:13)

• Sing together (3:15-16)

• Tell the story of Jesus (3:16)

• Teach each other (3:16)

• Warn each other of the dangers of sin (3:16)

• Be devoted, focused, and alert in prayer (4:2)

• Give thanks to God (4:2; Also see 2:7; 3:15)

• Live wisely (4:5)

• Speak in a godly manner (4:6)

~May our God and Father empower this generation of his church to become these kinds of people, and to do the things he’s asked us to do. May the body work together in the unity of the Spirit, for we really do need each other. May we make visible the grace, peace, kindness and mighty power of the invisible God. And may we press on to take hold of that for which King Jesus has taken hold of us. Amen.

This post is the third in our series on Colossians.

Previous Post: We Always Thank God: Colossians 1:1-8 (https://theologyforreallife.home.blog/2019/07/30/we-always-thank-god-colossians-11-8/)

Next Post: A Prayer for Power: Colossians 1:9-14 (https://theologyforreallife.home.blog/2019/08/20/a-prayer-for-power/)

Referenced Sources

The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon – Ekklesia (https://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/ekklesia.html)

Justo L. Gonzalez – The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (https://amzn.to/2yWT1j6)

Wikipedia – Edict of Milan (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edict_of_Milan)

N.T. Wright – Colossians and Philemon: Tyndale New Testament Commentary (https://bit.ly/2Houfit)

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