Christ’s Vision for the Church (7)
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. Ephesians 5.25-27
The strong affection which a husband ought to cherish towards his wife is exemplified by Christ, and an instance of that unity which belongs to marriage is declared to exist between himself and the Church. This is a remarkable passage on the mysterious intercourse which we have with Christ.
- John Calvin, Commentary on Ephesians 5.29
Days of preparation
The Church and all its members are the Bride of Jesus Christ. We enjoy a mysterious, intimate, passionate, joyous, and pleasurable relationship with the One Who has bound us to Himself in love. We see Him enthroned in splendor; we meet with Him in His glory; we know the reviving power of His presence and grace; and we serve with Him according to His purposes in the world.
In this life we are only preparing for our eternal union with the Lord, although our betrothal to Him is real and joyous for us even now. Yet a day is coming when the followers of Jesus Christ will be joined with Him and one another in an eternal bower of perfect joy and holy, complete pleasure, and it is toward that day that we prepare ourselves with longing and anticipation.
Jesus is building His Church. He pours out His Spirit to call out His holy nation, build His spiritual temple, fit the members of His Body for service, dispatch them as agents of change, and prepare them as His Bride. This entails a three-fold calling: to holiness, good works, and adoring worship. As we prepare for the eternal consummation of our marriage with the Lord of glory, we must make sure that we are becoming a Bride who will be seen to be appropriate for her holy Groom, clothed in the bright wedding garments of holiness, good works, and worship.
A call to holiness
As the Bride of Christ, the Church is called to holiness, as Paul explains. Churches that have set their focus on the horizon of eternity, in anticipation of eternal union with their heavenly Bridegroom, will work hard at removing every spot, stain, or semblance of worldliness and sin with which they might be tainted.
This means regular and faithful attendance on the ministry of the Word on the part of every member, engendering a conscious and diligent effort on everyone’s part to increase in the beauty of the Lord and to lay aside every vestige of fleshly living.
It also means mutual accountability and encouragement in the pursuit of holiness, as individuals and congregations, looking toward the day of our being united with the Lord. We are the Bride of Christ; we are called to bring holiness to completion in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7.1).
A call to good works
Here also is a call to good works, so that by our persistence in doing the works of the Lord we may be seen by all to be well-suited for union with Him.
The Lord adorns His Bride to be the joy and beauty of the earth (Pss. 45.10-17; 48.1, 2), reflecting His splendor and goodness to the watching world. Churches where members exercise mutual encouragement and edification, reach out to the poor and needy, work to bring beauty and goodness into moral and social issues, discover the needs of their neighbors and serve them accordingly, labor to bring beauty and joy to their neighbors, and, above all, are faithful in proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom to their communities – such churches show that they are being fitted for eternal blessedness with the One Who went before them in just such ways as these.
Churches that are ready, zealous, and faithful in every good work (Tit. 2.14; 3.1, 8, 14) show that they endorse and support the works of their Husband and King, and wear the many-colored robe of His covenant love (Ps. 45.13, 14).
A call to worship
And here is a call to adoring worship. The church that looks forward to eternity with her Lord will savor every foretaste of that bliss. This is part of the purpose of worship, to train our hearts on the Lord and to cultivate our affections and priorities, so that we please and find pleasure in Him as our all in all.
Worship that takes as its starting point the needs, interests, and pleasures of people cannot rise to the heights of adoring worship of her heavenly Groom. We need Christ-focused worship, worship that hews to the pattern of worship Christ has revealed in His Word, if we are to strengthen our betrothal to our King.
The Church is the temple, nation, servant of the Lord, and agent of the Kingdom of God – the light, salt, and leaven of the world. Believers bring to the world a foretaste of eternity, a glimpse of the resurrection life of Jesus, and they do so together, as communities of His people – the betrothed of the Lord – always looking forward to the day of His appearing in glory, when He will gather them lovingly and eternally to Himself.
The Lord is coming to receive His Church as His Bride. We must make ready. We must show the world that a great wedding is in the offing, and we are the objects of our coming Savior’s devotion and love. And we must go into the highways and byways of our lives, living for our coming King and Savior and calling others to come with us to the feast and to join us as His temple, nation, servants, and agents of change. Let us rejoice in our being betrothed to Christ, and joyously invite others into the intimacy of His love and the power of His resurrection life.
Let us, and let our churches, prepare together according to Christ’s vision for His Church – in holiness, good works, and joyous worship – so that we may be found to be a suitable and ready Bride for our heavenly King.
“The apostle speaks of a great mystery in the relation of Christ and the church. That which is great in respect of Christ and the church may seem less auspicious in the relation between husbands and wives. But in marriage it still represents the mystery of an inseparable bond.”
- Augustine (354-430 AD), On Marriage and Concupiscence 1.23
Pastoral Hope Initiative
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T. M. Moore
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).