Wow! What a Head!

CC BY, Thomas, Flickr
CC BY, Thomas, Flickr

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” (Eph. 4:15)

Who has not admired a newborn or young child and thought, Look at the head on that one! I know I have and I know you have, too. It’s a fact of life: humans, from fetus to toddler, have big heads. And it’s by design.

Babies’ brains grow large in vivo and quickly develop to an advanced stage in order to accommodate the body’s further development. A child’s brain is one-half its adult size by nine months and two-thirds that size by two years of age. Of all species, the human brain is proportionately larger than other animals’. Studies suggest that the larger the brain, thus head, the more intelligent the child.

Interestingly, our brains would be bigger if they could be. The brain is the human organism’s administrative “ground zero,” certainly the most mysterious body part and a science with many vague areas still. Yet all that remarkable circuitry and undiscovered ability is packed into our craniums, its growth limited by one thing: the size of the birth canal.

An infant’s head is never larger than 25 percent of its size; strangely, some still sport a whopper of a noggin!

The Chief Thing

One of the Bible’s metaphors for Christ is “head of the body” (Col. 1:18), signifying his Lordship over the Church. We should think more broadly here. Scripture also refers to him as the “firstborn” of creation (Col. 1:15) and of the dead (1 Cor. 15:20). It all points to Christ’s preeminence, as Hebrews 1 so marvelously explains.

Our English word “capital” derives from a Latin root meaning “of the head.” You’ll recognize the concept in statistical parlance specifying something “per capita” or per person, literally meaning “by the head”. The idea of authority and supremacy are strongly affixed to “head”, which is obvious when “capital” is defined.

In Good Proportion

Paul’s concern in Ephesians 4 is the growth and maturity of the church at Ephesus. You may recall that he spent three years there on his third journey. In his farewell to the elders, Paul offers us a glimpse of the conditions vexing the Ephesian Christians:

“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” (Acts 20:29-31)

So from prison in Rome, Paul writes to them and, in Ephesians 4, highlights the rich diversity, complexity, instinct, and acumen of the spiritual gifts that flow from Christ, the Head, to the Church, his Body.

And what is the intended result? “Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (v. 13)—or until this body catches up with its head; and “no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people” (vs. 14)—or until we gain the strength and coordination to stand and walk and do so against all resistance.

When we look back at the early church, we see a baby with a mighty big head, wouldn’t you say? Hopefully, today we’re a mature and fit body that matches.

More on this topic: A Survey of Ephesus, Paul and Timothy’s Field

3 thoughts on “Wow! What a Head!

  1. Do you think we are a mature body that fits the head? I suspect it is different in different places. It is an interesting concept that the ‘head’ of the church will only be as big as the body supports. Do we only get as much Christ as the body allows?

    • Thanks for reading, Nate! I think there’s no doubt we are a well-formed and more mature Body than what we look at in the NT, simply because we’ve come through 2,000 years of rigorous doctrinal formation; and that counts for much. If we didn’t have that as early as the second century, the church would be extinct today. And, like you say, the church is probably stronger in places than in others.

      But I think you’ve gotten it turned around. I never implied the head will only be as big as the body supports. A baby’s head is already unsupportable; the head is larger (and so contained) to support the body that must grow to further maturity. I stated that the head’s growth is limited by the birth canal. Let’s treat the illustration like we do the parables: if you press them too far, they break down.

      Certainly Christ as head of the Church…well there isn’t any worthy comparison–that with the fact that his people as the Church are fallen and imperfect. We’ll never fully match our head until glorification. But, then, will we ever really match Christ? He is matchless and we’ll eternally stand in awe of him. But somehow we’ll be the Body he intended to have. Cheers!

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