Imagine a wedding day. The guests are all seated. The wedding party is in place at the front of the church. The groom stands waiting. All eyes are glancing at the back doors of the sanctuary – waiting. After an uncomfortable amount of time, there is a great commotion in the hall outside the sanctuary and then the doors burst open. The bride stumbles into the sanctuary with mud all over her shoes and the bottom of her gown because she stopped in her garden before she left to pull up some weeds. She’s very late because her favorite show was on TV. She has headphones on her head listening to the play-by-play for her favorite sports team’s big game. She rushes up to the front of the sanctuary and looks quickly at her groom and then the pastor and asks if they can get this over quickly because she offered to babysit for a friend and on her way home she needs to stop at the bank.
I have never seen a wedding start this way and I hope I never do. It would be deeply insulting to the groom.
Ephesians 5:25-33 states:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”
What is the church? Is it a building? A collection of programs? A club? A self-help group? According to God’s Word, the Church is PEOPLE – people who have been saved by Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection; people who are following Christ and, through the power of the gospel at work in them, living out His will in this world; people who are sinners and deeply flawed but are being renewed and remade into the image of Christ that we were all created to display (Gen. 1:26). Ephesians 5:25-33 gives us the metaphor of the Church as the Bride of Christ. Paul is writing about how the gospel impacts our relationships and is specifically challenging wives and husbands to love each other according to the love that Christ showed to us on the cross. As he writes, it is almost as if in his excitement he wanders off topic a bit and into his favorite subject, Christ’s love for His people – the church.
Christ’s Love for His Bride
We learn some things about Christ’s love for the church in this passage. Christ loves the church with a sacrificial love. Verse 25 says that Christ gave himself up for the church. He laid down his life so that we might live. Christ loves the church with an intentional love. Verse 26 says that Christ gave his life for the church to make us holy. Christ loves the church with an effective love. Verse 26 also says that the way Christ makes us holy is “the washing with water through the word.” Christ is the one who makes us ready for the wedding by washing us through the Word of God.
Christ loves the church with a love of the highest motivation. Christ’s motivation for loving the church, His Bride, is the highest and best possible motivation there could ever be. If I said my greatest motivation for loving my wife is for my own sake – to make me feel or look good – then people would call me selfish. Why? Because I’m saying that I’m more important than my wife or than anything else. I am putting something lesser (me) in the place of greatest importance. Paul says in verse 27 that Christ’s love is motivated by the desire to “present her to himself.” This means that Christ loves the church for Christ’s sake – for his own glory. Selfishness is wrong in us because we are putting ourselves in the place of highest importance. Yet when we speak of Christ, the place of highest importance is rightfully his. Christ loves the church with the highest possible motivation – his own glory. For Christ to love the church for any other reason would be to settle for a lesser motivation and a lesser love.
Christ loves the church with a caring love. Saying Christ loves the church for his own sake does not mean there is no benefit to the church – far from it! Verse 29 says that Christ cares for the church with a loving and tender care because we are his “body” (the church as the Body of Christ is another great metaphor in Scripture). Christ also loves the church with a committed love. Verses 30-32 talk about a husband and wife leaving their past security and identity and becoming “one flesh.” This is a picture of absolute and lasting commitment and this is how Christ loves the church.
Christ looks at the church and says, “I love you with a sacrificial love – I’ve given my life for you. I love you with an intentional love – I have a plan and a purpose that is your greatest good. I love you with an effective love – I will make this happen even though you struggle because my strength is enough. I love you because I want you to be with me and to share in, enjoy, and display my glory. I am watching over you and caring for every need and I am committed to you forever and ever.”
The Radiant Beauty of the Bride
There is something special about a groom not seeing the bride on the wedding day until the doors of the sanctuary open. The bride has put a great amount of effort into looking her best as she presents herself to her groom. When we speak of the church as the Bride of Christ, there is also a display of great beauty, but there is an important difference.
Ephesians 3:20-21 says, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” When the church stands as the Bride of Christ, we can claim no credit for our own beauty. It was not our effort that prepared us for this moment. The beauty that we have as the Bride of Christ is because we are made beautiful by God through Christ’s death and resurrection.
Ephesians 3:10-11 says, “[God’s] intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms…” The church’s beauty is not her own. It nothing less than the radiant beauty of God and his work on display for the world to see. The church does not exist for people to be amazed or impressed by us. We exist to point to the One who makes us beautiful. This is God’s purposeful plan and design.
One aspect of the church’s beauty that most greatly displays the glory of God at work is our unity. In John 17:23 Jesus prays, “May they [the church] be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you love me.” Jesus is saying that the unity within the church helps prove to the world that Jesus is sent by God. Our unity is one of the greatest proof’s that Jesus is the Son of God because this beautiful unity cannot be accomplished by our work. It only comes as together we submit to the work that God is doing in and through us.
As the Bride of Christ, we stand in the doorway ready to walk down the aisle completely unworthy in and of ourselves to be there. We are beautiful only because of what Christ has done and is doing in us. We radiate the beauty he has accomplished in us for his glory.
So the doors open and the bride appears. People look at the groom as he looks at his bride. A smile grows on his face as he thinks, “This is my beautiful bride and she is perfect in every way because I gave my life for her to make her perfect. I love her with an unending love. I will care for her every need and we will be together forever.”
This is how Christ loves his church – his people. We must treat what Christ loves so much with great honor, respect, commitment and love. The church is not ours and does not exist for our happiness, comfort, traditions, or fulfillment. We do not make the church effective, impressive, or attractive. That is God’s job – our job is to keep our eyes on the groom who loves us so deeply and to live as a display of his power at work in us, his love that changes us, and his glory that draws others to be part of the Bride of Christ.
This post is from a sermon I preached a few weeks ago at Orchard Community Church as we started a series on the church.
photo by flickr user kriffster