The church is the only movement Jesus left on earth to represent Him. George Bernard Shaw once said, “If you destroyed all the churches tomorrow, people would the very day afterwards begin to build them back again. That’s true because the church stands for something vital and essential.” The church gains its significance because it is the institution Jesus Christ left on earth to represent Him to the world. It like nothing else in the Bible, other than Jesus Himself, has the stamp of God’s divine approval on it. It is to the church that Jesus committed the work of extending the kingdom of God. Jesus Christ entrusted several sacred tasks to the local church; evangelizing lost sinners, edifying the saints of God, ministering to the needs of humanity, and worshipping Him.
Jesus did not entrust these tasks to a parachruch organization, the Salvation Army, the federal government, the seminaries, or any of the plethora of humanitarian aid societies. He left these tasks to the church. Perhaps it is because we misunderstand the church and her function in the world that we so readily turn these activities over to another organization, or fail to do them altogether. How best should we understand the church? The Bible gives us several analogies by which we can better understand her and accomplish the great mission God has assigned us while we remain in the world. This will be the first in a series of posts that will explore the biblical metaphors of the church.
First, the church is the bride of Christ. A bride is a woman to whom a man has committed Himself. So, the church is the people to whom Christ is committed. Ephesians 5:22-33 is in my estimation, the single most beautiful passage of Scripture regarding the relationship of Christ to His church. It speaks of the most intimate of all relationships, that of a husband to his wife.
The idea of God related to His people in a marital relationship is rooted deep in the Old Testament. Only a brief smattering of verses reveals this truth to us.
“I will betroth you to Me forever.” Hosea 2:19
“For your Maker is Your husband.” Isaiah 54:5
“Return, O backsliding children, says the Lord, for I am married to you.” Jeremiah 3:14
“I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them.” Jeremiah 31:32
Numerous other times the prophets of old spoke of Israel as the chosen bride of God, she whom God would love forever. This imagery presses on into the New Testament, as Jesus referred to Himself as the bridegroom in Matthew 9:15. John the Baptist used the same metaphor in John 3:29. The virgins of Matthew 25:1-13 wisely met the bridegroom, having neatly trimmed their lamps.
The Apostle Paul also relied profoundly on this analogy, applying it heavily in Ephesians. He warned against false teachers who were seducing the Corinthian Christians away in 2 Corinthians 11:2. And in the Apocalypse, John writes of the glorious marriage supper of the Lamb, of which all believers will partake. The idea is that true believers, the church, are now engaged to Christ and the marriage will be consummated upon His return.
The Scriptures use the metaphor of a married couple as the model of the church and her relationship with Jesus. And from that metaphor we can derive a few principles of how we ought to be related to Jesus. As his bride we should love Him supremely. Jesus is the object of the church’s affection. Everything in the church should be centered on Jesus; why? Ephesians 5:25 is the answer: Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. Jesus died for no parachruch organization; hence the believers’ resolute commitment to Jesus. Josh Harris recently wrote a book entitled Stop Dating the Church, and its basic premise is that people are in more of a dating relationship than a committed, monogamous relationship with the church. So many dating relationships are on again, off again, and that is the way a lot of people treat God’s church. They have a dating mentality, or worse, serial monogamy, that if this one upsets me I’ll just go down the street to another one. Simply dating the church will never cause one to fall head over heels in love with the church and the relationship will never proceed to the intimacies incumbent to marriage.
As His bride we are to be intimate with Him. Intimacy is a fundamental requirement of marriage. It speaks of that familiarity, closeness, and confidence that comes from being in a stable relationship. Ephesians 5:30-31 expresses this truth; just as the husband and wife become one flesh in the marital relationship, so we become flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone. Some Christians may know Christ, but never become intimate. Intimacy calls for transparency, a willingness to open oneself up to the other and can only be fostered in a genuine, trustworthy relationship. I have numerous friends, but only one I am genuinely intimate with; my wife. She knows my deepest secrets, my most painful hurts, my most profound joys, and my most earnest desires. I share my life with no one else in this sense; it is reserved absolutely, totally for her (and hers with me!). Moreover, intimacy necessarily leads to fidelity.
As His bride we are faithful to Him. What this means is you forsake all others. Fidelity is the cornerstone of marriage. What if a young lady I knew in high school called me and asked to have lunch with me? She had not seen me in a really long time and wanted to get caught up. I tell my wife it is absolutely harmless, nothing to worry about. We will grab a bite to eat and I’ll be home later. We may hold hands for old time’s sake, I might wrap my arms around her for a hug, but nothing to be concerned about! Do you think my wife would settle for this kind of fair-weather relationship? As a husband is faithful to his wife, so we are to be faithful to Christ.
Fidelity is the cornerstone of marriage. Without it, a marriage will cease to be. The delight of the unbelieving world is to see a church unfaithful to her bride. As an unfaithful spouse becomes a mockery to the covenant that is marriage, so believers shame the name of Christ when they hop into bed with other lovers. Remember, you belong to Him exclusively. There are other wonderful organizations that deserve your time, influence, and your money. But Jesus died for the church; He died for you. Therefore, He has conjugal rights with you and you alone. He is to be your first love and He deserves your devotion and fidelity.
When my wife lovingly accepted my hand in marriage, she also took my name upon her. She dropped the usage of her original surname and became identified with me. She was not ashamed to be called my wife and just as the ring on her finger symbolizes her absolute faith and trust in me, so does the acceptance of my name as her own. In commitment to Christ we take upon ourselves His name, unashamedly, in absolute commitment, in total purity.
For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Ephesians 5:30-31
As always, all Scripture taken from the NKJV.