I Love the Church
When thinking about the church, a key image for us to consider is the Bride of Christ. God established the institution of marriage for many reasons. But among them all, its greatest is to serve as a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church. As with any marriage, there is to be love, faithfulness, and commitment between bride and groom. So it is with Christ and the church. The New Testament is replete with calls for devotion toward Christ as He is always faithful toward the church (2 Timothy 2:11– 13; Romans 3:3–4). The image of the bride is a heavenly portrait we cannot help but be drawn toward.
First, there is a call for purity on the part of the bride or the church. Paul told the Corinthian believers, “For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, because I have promised you in marriage to one husband—to present a pure virgin to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2). It is well established that Christ, as the bridegroom, is without sin. So the call for fidelity lies with believers. The church is to love Christ in such great manner that we would be presented to Him as a virgin upon His arrival.
Unlike human grooms, Christ has the power to ensure a pure bride. Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:26–27 that Christ would make the church “holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. He did this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless.” It is the will of God that the church be holy. Aiding one another in purity should come naturally to us. Just as bridesmaids help the bride look perfect on her wedding day, so should we look out for one another as we await the Bridegroom. “Let us be glad, rejoice, and give Him glory, because the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has prepared herself. She was given fine linen to wear, bright and pure. For the fine linen represents the righteous acts of the saints” (Revelation 19:7–8). This portrait of the eternal residence the church will have with Christ should inspire us whenever we gather in worship.
In marriage, commitment naturally results in protectiveness. Throughout his ministry, Paul worked to aid the church in remaining a faithful virgin awaiting the consummation of her commitment to Christ. It’s a blessing to stand as the bride who awaits a jealous and adoring groom.
Angie and I were married in a sanctuary in 1994. I can still remember the surge of adrenaline and the palpitations of my heart in the moments before she entered the room. Everyone else faded into oblivion when the doors opened and there she stood; that was the most breathtaking moment. She didn’t walk down the aisle; she glided down the aisle. Her white gown, beautiful smile, and expectant heart were all a foretaste of the beauty of marriage.
By God’s blessings, I was called to serve on staff of the same church six years later. One of my Sunday morning duties entailed standing at the front of the sanctuary during the invitation following the sermon. I saw hundreds of people walk the aisle to have a counselor lead them to Christ, join the church, or seek prayer. But one specific thought always lingered in my mind: my wedding day. For I had the unusual honor of standing in the same spot each Sunday where I had stood when Angie walked the aisle to meet me as her groom.
My experience reminds me just how sacred the covenant of marriage truly is. The groom and bride commit themselves to one another in such a way that they are now one. The implications for the church is that you cannot love Jesus and deny love to His Bride. God gives a place of esteem to the Bride that is unlike any other in creation. Too many in the believing community are growing weary of the Bride due to her imperfections on a local level or denominational wrangling at a national level.
We are not given that option with Christ. After all, we aren’t presented that option with other humans. If you don’t like my wife, then I don’t suppose we will get along at any level. I will not stand for her to be disrespected. If a groom’s love for his bride is even the slightest indication of what Christ has for the church, then all believers should feel compelled to love the church; i.e., their fellow believers. As the church is faithful to Christ, each of us should maintain a faithful relationship with His wife. A betrayal of devotion to Yahweh’s Bride will certainly spell disaster for any believer.
What is your church like? Do you like the people who attend worship and Bible study with you? You might even be considering changing pews just to get away from somebody else.
Now is the time to renew our love for the church. She isn’t perfect yet, but neither are we. Love the people of the church, the leaders of the church, and the work of Christ through the church as we work together for the gospel of hope and love.
We will have a difficult time loving the world if we don’t even love the redeemed.
(an excerpt from Compelled: Living the Mission of God)