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Description: The Fullness of The Church
The Fullness of the Church
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Ephesians is full of these mysterious profound verses and this is one of the deepest it seems to me,
so we can trust the Holy Spirit to show us what little light we can understand about it. But it
follows on last week’s verse so if you’d like to look at that we could see the continuity. It’s
Ephesians 1:22. “And he has put all things under his feet,” under the feet of Jesus. And we said
that meant everything that we were going to meet today has been put under the feet of Jesus. “And
has made him the head over all things for the church,” and then verse 23 which is almost beyond us,
“which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
And maybe it’s good to emphasize again the meaning of the “church.” It’s that word “ekklesia” and
we said that “church” in the Bible can mean two things; the local physical church, such as the one
that was talked about in that chapter on speaking in tongues, that refers to the fiscal gathering of
that group in that building. And then the super- spiritual super-natural church that is called the
universal church, which is really pretty close to the kingdom of God. Emil Brunner, who was a New
Orthodox theologian along with Karl Barth, though he and Barth strongly differed, but Emil Brunner
used to say, “The ‘ekklesia” is sometimes smaller than the Kingdom Of God, and sometimes larger than
the kingdom of God.”
He was pointing out that the “ekklesia” in the sense of the local physical body, sometimes included
in it people who were not in the kingdom. And on the other hand he was saying that the kingdom of
God often includes people that are not in the local church, and indeed are not in the recognized
human church. And I don’t know if then you get into Jesus saying, “I have sheep that are not of
this fold.” Obviously the spiritual church, the universal church, includes the saints that are in
heaven; that’s the church triumphant, and this is the church militant here on earth. But, that’s
that universal church that Paul is talking about here when he says, “The church which is Jesus’
So it might be good to clarify that, otherwise we get all mixed up with what C. S. Lewis has in the
Screwtape Letters; you’re standing there and singing the hymn and thinking, “Can this possibly be
the universal church of God as I hear that creature beside me wheezing, and the boots creaking of
the person behind me?” And he implies that that’s what Screwtape does to you; he tries to get you
to look at this miserable physical group in front of you and think, “Is this the wonderful church of
God?” So it’s important to see that here Paul is talking about the universal church. The fact is
that there are thousands of physical churches today and the people in them have no knowledge of
Jesus and no sense of oneness in his body at all, but they apparently are good paid up members of
the local church. Now here Paul is talking about the universal church, the body of Christ and he
says, “Which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
Now what I’d like to do is show you the difficult words, then at least you’ll know what we’re
dealing with. “Pleroma” is the word used for fullness, the fullness. And then it says “autou”
which is “of him” then “ta panta” and you recognize panta who fills all things and then the next two
words are “en pasin”, in all. “En pas”, who fills all in all. And then the last word is “pleroma”,
the one who is filling. It’s actually “pleroumenou; it’s actually the present participle, who is
filing all in all. So the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Perhaps the first thing to see when you ask what is the difference between Jesus and Zoroaster, or
Jesus and Mohammad, the mighty, mighty difference is what is said about Jesus himself and you get
that in Colossians 1:19. “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” that is, in
Jesus. That’s the difference, probably the mightiest difference between Zoroaster or Mohammad or
any human prophet and Jesus: in Jesus all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.
In other words, if we want to know what God is like, the best we can do is look at Jesus who is the
fullness of God. Jesus is God as fully as he can be in the contracted form of a human being. Jesus
is God as fully as God can be in this rather limited form that we have on earth. So it helps a lot
when you see Jesus looking at Mary Magdalene and all the others pointing the finger at her and him
saying, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more” because that’s what God is like.
So it’s a great reassurance to us that the “Immortal invisible God only wise, in light inaccessible
hid from our eyes” is like that. He himself is there with this prostitute caught in adultery and he
is saying to her, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” And it’s the same when Jesus
actually deals with the Pharisees and then calls them a generation of vipers. You have to see that
is also our Father. Our Father has that kind of attitude to hypocrisy and pretense. He regards it
not just as an innocent thing, but something as like a viper, it’s something destructive and
poisonous. And when you see Jesus dealing with Peter after the betrayal, and then explaining how he
had prayed for him that he would be saved, and then tells him to, “Go and tell your brethren” then
we see that that is God.
God is like that. God not only would do that kind of thing, but God does that kind of thing.
That’s the kind of person God is. He is one who is understanding, remarkably understanding and
forbearing and always giving a second chance. At the same time he is also the one who when Jesus
was dealing with Peter and John and Peter said, “What shall this man do” Jesus said, “What is that
to thee?” So it’s not that God is someone who has no opinions, he is also that person; he tells us
when we’re out of line and when we need to attend to what we’ve been given to attend to and not to
what someone else is dealing with.
So Jesus is the fullness of God. You can’t get a better picture of what God is like except by
looking at Jesus and seeing him. So when Jesus says, “Don’t be anxious about tomorrow.” Don’t.
“Look at the lilies of the field, they neither sew
nor reap yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Look at the birds of the
air, how much more will your heavenly Father take care of you that are like grass which today is and
tomorrow is cast into the fire?” So that’s our Father, you know.
So Jesus is the “Pleroma”, the fullness of God. If you want to see what God is like Jesus has said,
“He that hath seen me hath seen the Father and you can be assured that my Father has the same
attitude that I have.” So that’s the first thing; Jesus is the fullness of God. But do you see
that there’s something that is startling here, because the last part of verse 22 runs, “has made him
the head over all things for the church, which is his body.” So this person who is the fullness of
God has a body which is called the church, and then it’s so startling that you’re hesitant to say
it, but the fullness is obviously, for those of who are grammarians, in apposition to the body.
The fullness is his body, so it’s like Queen Elizabeth, the Queen of England: the Queen of England
is in apposition to Queen Elizabeth, it’s referring to her in a different way and saying, “Queen
Elizabeth, she’s the Queen of England,” or, “Myron Cleaver is the Director of Fish Thailand.” It’s
referring to the person in apposition. Now, that’s what this is, “which is his body,” the church is
the body of him who is the fullness of God and this body is, ‘the fullness of him who fills all in
Now it just takes your breath away; the body is the fullness of him who fills all in all. Now him,
who fills all in all of course, is Jesus. Look back at Ephesians 1:10, “as a plan for the fulness
of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” To unite all things to
Christ. So Christ is the one who fills all in all. All things hold together in Christ so he’s the
one who fills all in all. Without him was not anything made that was made. He was before all
things and in him all things exist. So Jesus is the one who fills all in all but the church, his
body, is the fullness of him.
That means that Jesus’ body is the fullness of him himself. Now you can’t say that he’s not full in
himself so in what sense is the church the fullness of him? Obviously, God did not make Jesus and
then create the church to add to him and to fill him out. In fact, God at the very beginning when
he conceived of Jesus conceived of his body at the same time and that’s what we’ve often shared. I
feel as humbled as you do about it, so I’m just saying what is in God’s word. But when God
conceived of his son Jesus, at that same millisecond he conceived of his body that would be his
fullness. That is, his fullness in the sense that it would express him fully and completely.
In other words, he himself was complete when he was conceived by God but so that that fullness would
be seen and his full glory would be expressed God conceived of you. I know; if you’re pathetic I’m
more pathetic, but God conceived of you and me in Jesus from the very beginning. Why? Not so that
you or I would add to Jesus, because in a way my hand doesn’t add to me, it expresses me, but so
that Jesus could express himself through you and could express himself through me.
There’s a deep way in which each one of us, even when we’re outside God’s will, that when we smirk
we make Christ smirk. There’s a deep way in which Christ is tied to us and we are welded and then
grafted into Christ, even when we are acting on our own and harshly against God’s will and it’s part
of the way in which Christ bears our sins. But now we, who know this, need to see clearly that in a
deep way, when you smile Christ smiles. In a deep way there’s a connection between us and Christ
that is actually two ways; not only does he express himself through us, but what we express he
either has to bear or delight in. He has to enjoy or he has to regret and repent of, because we are
the body of Christ, the fullness of the one who fills all in all and so there’s an incredible
dignity about the real body of Christ.
There’s a sense in which the body of Christ is actually a divine entity, a divine part of Jesus and
of our Father. And if you think, “No, no,” you must reflect that the “no, no” comes a little from
thinking lowly of yourself, but it also comes a little from, “Well, I don’t know that I can be like
that, and I don’t know that I want that. That is a great responsibility. No, let me play around
here as a little human being and let me try to get into heaven if I can, but to say that I am part
of Christ himself, and indeed, I am in some sense his fulfillment, I don’t know that I want that
And that’s why I think Karl Barth says, “One of the chief marks of sin is sloth.” Sloth — a
reluctance to be lifted up with Jesus, a reluctance to be out there with Christ and a tendency to
want to draw back into ourselves and have the safety of what we want. So it is a deep thing but it
seems that’s the implication of these verses; that his body is indeed the church, which is us. It’s
the fullness of him who himself fills all in all, who actually himself – who is in every flower,
himself who is beauty, is what makes the sun rise. Him who fills all in all, him in whom all things
hold together and we, his body, are his fullness or his perfect expression.
Obviously, it’s something that we are coming into, but as we mature into his fullness, so we are
expressing his fullness. In heaven obviously, it will be much fuller and there’ll be all kinds of
complex wonderful elevations of our existence that will enable Christ to express himself fully
throughout the universe. But it is important that we get rid of this silly idea that this little
group in this little chapel is the body of Christ. We’re the body of Christ in a far fuller more
complete way than that.
I do think there are things in Jesus that are not seen in – I know this sounds extreme, but there
are things in Jesus that are not seen in any other way except in you. I think that’s right. I
think that Jesus himself is more wonderful and more massive and more complex and more versatile and
more many faceted than we have any idea of. And often when we’re looking at a picture of the man of
Nazareth we’re imposing upon it all kinds of limitations. We tie him down to a Middle Eastern man
and to that particular century and it’s false. Jesus himself is only going to be seen when all the
billions of us that are part of him come into his fullness and then he, in a sense, comes into his
fullness and fills all in all.
I agree with you, not that we add anything to Christ, but that all that is in him is seen only when
we ourselves come into his fullness. And I think that’s part of what the verse means in Ephesians
4:13 and 16. “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God,
to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” And then in verse 16,
“From whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when
each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.” When we come into
that maturity, Jesus comes into his fullness. But at the present time, we are his body, the
fullness of him who fills all in all.
So it’s quite important that we bring our opinion of what the church is into line with what the
Bible says, and that we bring our perception of our own little selves into line with what the Bible
says. I’m with anybody here who says, “Aren’t we a pathetic bunch?” Pathetic isn’t the word, we’re
wretches, but God has made us in his son and we are part of his beloved son, created in him to
express his fullness and that’s not a burden we have ourselves by our own efforts; this is something
that the Holy Spirit is working patiently to bring about in us.
So it is wonderful. I don’t think I’m a stupid kind of idealist thinking that each of you here are
something miraculous. I think I’m right; I think we’re each miraculous creations of God in his
beloved son and that we are limited not by our own ideas, but we are limited only by what Jesus
himself is. So it’s a holy thing. Let us pray.
Dear Lord, we would at this moment, state our repentance, our sorrow for not only the totally
inadequate concept we have had of ourselves, and of ourselves as your body, and of the church being
your body, but we have had a totally inadequate conception of you yourself, Lord Jesus. There is
not a speck of dust in this room that is not known by you and energized by you. There is not the
simplest structure in this whole universe that is not designed by you and held together by your mind
and by your love.
So Lord, we would repent of the attitude we’ve had towards ourselves that we’re little bits of dust
born by our mothers and fathers and trying to become like you. Lord, we repent of that. We see
that you dear Father have made us, out of the gracious love in your heart, part of your son Jesus,
and you’ve made us so that he himself is part of us and we are not only an integral part of him but
a unique expression of him. So we would rise into the glorious dignity that you have prepared for
us and we would look up to you Holy Spirit, and ask you to continue your work of making us and
molding us, breaking us and changing us so that Christ in all his beauty will shine forth for his
glory, not for ours, but for his. And then we know that we ourselves will be at home at last, at
home in his glory and fulfilled in his fullness.
Now the grace of our Lord Jesus, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with
each one of us now and ever more. Amen.