Did you ever have a “push puppet” when you were younger? Sometimes called “thumb puppets”, these are articulated figurines that are held together with strings and a spring-loaded button. Normally, the puppet looks like any other character on a stand, but pushing the button removes the tension in the strings and the figures collapse into a heap. Releasing the button causes them to spring back up to their normal pose.
The human body works similarly, requiring some effort to stand. If we let all of our voluntary muscles go limp (like an obstinate child), we just lay on the floor. If our involuntary muscles aren’t regularly contracted by our nervous system, well, our breathing and heartbeat would stop, and we would expire.
The point is that holding something together requires energy and effort: Without a strong leader, companies wander from their goals. Without a compelling leader, armies lose battles. Without intentional investment, relationships drift apart.
Read this verse from the book of Colossians, which is talking about Jesus Christ:
He existed before anything else,
and he holds all creation together.
Colossians 1:17 NLT
Whether we translate the latter part of this passage as holding things together (see above), “consist” (KJV and elsewhere), or helping them endure (see footnote in NLT), it sounds like Jesus is keeping everything in the universe intact. In atomic physics, this is kind of like the strong force: a subatomic property that, if it stopped working, positively-charged protons in the nucleus of atoms would forcefully fly apart, and the primary forms of matter as we know them would cease to exist!
Jesus is the Creator (see Colossians 1:16, just before the verse above), but He is also what keeps our world working as we have grown to expect. At the end of time, I imagine Him releasing His hand and everything disintegrating, in preparation for the new heavens and the new earth. That’s just an illustration, but it reminds me that the universe is not somehow stable and self-organizing by nature. Instead, the world is increasing in entropy and “running down”. The truth is that we can function as human beings on this earth only because Jesus continues to preserve a level of stability in the world that He created.
Although it is good to acknowledge that even physics was created by God (and it runs according to His design except when He intervenes), let’s look at another environment where Jesus holds things together, in the next chapter of Colossians:
Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud, and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it.
Colossians 2:18-19 NLT
Yes, Jesus is the head of the church (hence the name, “Body of Christ”, for the global community of those who follow Jesus). However, He is not some remote individual who merely gives orders or defines the rules. He is holding everything together. (And, if you have ever spent time with His diverse, opinionated, and imperfect followers, then you know that this takes an enormous amount of strength, only achievable through divine power.)
If we push Jesus Christ out of the church, and try to have a bunch of fallen people (including ourselves) try to keep everything coherent, we can expect the result to be a bunch of disconnected individuals, flopped around like the limbs of a thumb puppet when nothing is keeping it intact. Jesus must be not only the head of the church, but also the One who connects everything together. Anything else, especially an organization that is dependent upon the finite strength of human beings, is bound to fall short.
So, as we do our part in the Body of Christ, whether God has called us to service or to shepherding (which is also a service), let us continually look back to this body’s namesake, and seek His help. We can connect best with other believers when we first connect to Him. If we find ourselves trying to hold a community together through our own strength, or relying on other people to do it for us, may the gaps and faults that we encounter be a reminder to get back to the source – and the strength – of our connections.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.