The Church as the Bride of Christ

cookPastor Gordon Cook

Lightly edited sermon transcript:

Ephesians chapter 5, verse 22,

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. 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. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.”

Well, let’s look to The Lord by way of prayer, and ask Him for His blessing upon the word. Let’s Pray.

Father in heaven, we bow before You, conscious that we are in need of Your Spirit. You have promised, Lord, that You will hear the cries of Your children, so we come as children who have even the spirit of God, the spirit of adoption to enable us to cry “Abba Father.” And we come believing, Lord, that You love to shower Your children with good gifts. You are a generous God. We thank You for the blessings of the past Lord’s Day. We thank You for giving help to those servants who ministered the Word of God, and now we pray, Lord, that Your blessing would be upon the men here, upon the various speakers. Give us, Lord, Your Spirit. Help us to rightly divide the Word of Truth, and we pray this in Christ’s name, amen.

Let me begin by saying there is a kind of obsession with marriage today. Marriage books, conferences, seminars, marriage counseling galore; and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it might not be as good as we think. It can be a sign of a disease, not a sign of health, a sign that we’re in trouble, and people are looking for answers. Who generally talks about cancer? It’s people who have cancer, and who are suffering from that disease. And that explains, I think, to some degree, why there are so many books on marriage: because marriages are crumbling before our very eyes. For the first time in American history, more people—I was told recently—are cohabiting, then they are entering into the marriage relationship; and something similar has happened to the church of Jesus Christ. Have you noticed there are more books being written about the church in the last, what, five, ten years, as opposed to the last 25 or 30 years? And they’re not all positive! In fact, a number of them are quite negative. Here are some of the titles: Life After Church, Quitting Church, You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore. There’s a growing sentiment that the church is dying. We are being told ad nauseum that we need to make changes, and if we don’t make changes fast, then we are going to face sure death. And I’m sure you’ve heard some of the negatives, as well, maybe even from people who once sat on church pews, but no longer. They view organized religion as oppressive and irrelevant. Plus, there’s a growing disillusionment and disenchantment among young people. Eighty percent of young people are leaving evangelical churches and not coming back. And with all the criticism, don’t you feel like Christian in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress? You remember the front part of that story, the opening scene? He’s in such distress, he puts his fingers in his ears and runs out the door; and sometimes, I don’t know if you do, but I feel like that, putting my fingers in my ears and saying, “Stop all the criticism! Stop bad-mouthing the church! Stop hating the church of Christ!”

I love the church, don’t you? We should; and that’s really the purpose in this session and the other ones I trust that I will have the opportunity to set before you. I’m not here to talk about our problems and supposedly how we can fix the problems we might think we have, but to appreciate and stir up love and affection for the church. We too, as pastors, can decline in our affection, in our love, in our appreciation for the church. Pastors can lose perspective, and we can forget how privileged we are not only to serve the church, but to be members, to be integrated into the church ourselves. So, let me begin by saying I don’t plan to say anything new.

In our recent study of the church with our own people at Grace Baptist Church several months ago, I made good use of our Confession of Faith the 1689 or the London Confession. I know it’s a Confession that’s over 300 years—324 I think, to be exact—but it’s like vintage wine, right? The older it gets, the better it gets. It’s good to remember that we are living in the age of fads, at least here in America, a very lack of sticking power with almost anything. 300 plus years—now that’s pretty significant! Well, how do you explain the long-term usefulness of that document or that confession? Well, I think it’s quite simple: it’s saturated with the Bible, and the Bible never loses its relevance. There are at least 100 plus texts of Scripture to support all of those paragraphs found in the 1689 of the London Confession. It’s full of Bible, and that’s something that I think testifies to why it’s stood the test of time. Chapter 26 of our Confession focuses upon the church, that’s where our Baptist forefathers seem to get really excited. That’s where they have what you might have called an explosion of ink. It’s the longest chapter, it’s twice as long as the Westminster chapter they have on the church; and you can understand why: they loved the church. When you love something or someone, you can’t help but talk about it, and you want to tell others about it.

I’m a Canadian, and there’s something that Canadians love that probably most people in other parts of the world don’t love. We love a game called “hockey,” not “soccer,” but “hockey”; and I used to play hockey until I had a pretty serious car accident, that’s where I lost my right arm, but I loved the game of hockey, and I still do. And there’s a particular team in Canada that I love, it’s called the Toronto Maple Leafs, you’ve probably never heard of them, but they’re probably the biggest sports team in Canada. They haven’t been in the playoffs for 9 years, this is the first year they got into the playoffs. In fact, they play tonight, but I do love to talk about the Toronto Maple Leafs, maybe we can sit down at lunch and have some conversation. You could ask me about the players, who plays what position, the fence, the center, right wing, left wing; but the point is: if we love something or someone, we love to talk about it, and the same is true of the church.

Our Baptist forefathers, we could say, loved the church, and that’s why they have that long statement or paragraph in chapter 26 about the church. And what should strike us, I think, most about that long paragraph, chapter 26, is that it has something of the aroma of Jesus Christ. The statements throughout have what you could call a “Christological pulse or heartbeat.” For example, the opening paragraph immediately identifies the church in its relationship to Jesus Christ “gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and ithe spouse, the body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” Paragraph 2, again, consisting of the people “throughout the world, professing the faith of the gospel, and obedience unto God by Christ.” Paragraph 3 reminds us that there are no perfect churches, “The purest churches under heaven are subject to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan; nevertheless Christ always had a kingdom in this world, to the end thereof, of such as believe in him, and make profession of his name.” Paragraph 4 begins by identifying Christ as the head of the church. Jesus Christ is given explicit mention in every one of those paragraphs except one, fourteen of the fifteen. It has the aroma of Christ, and it makes sense, doesn’t it? Because the church belongs to Christ.

Other articles in this series:

The Church as the Body of Christ by Gordon Cook
The Church as the Flock of God by Gordon Cook
The Church as the Army of God by Gordon Cook

The very first time the word “church” is used in our Bible, you know where. Matthew’s gospel, Matthew 16, the Greek word ecclesia, where Christ says, “My church, it’s My church!” Christ loved to talk about His church. Every day, we could say, Christ is thinking about His church. Every day He’s praying for His church. Every day He’s guiding, taking care of His church. He loves His church! That’s a great starting point, when you start talking about the church. How should we shape the doctrine of the church? Well, think of Jesus Christ, and again, the Confession captures that quite distinctly. Paragraph 1, after telling us that Christ is the head of the church, they describe His relationship to the church under a marriage analogy. They use the word “spouse.” Now, that’s a word that comes from the Latin. It comes from the Latin word espouse, meaning “betrothed.” We often speak of ones wife or husband. It’s a picture word, it’s a graphic image; and I don’t really know a better way, a more simpler way to appreciate the church than to study the pictures of the Bible, the graphic images. It’s almost as if God takes a paintbrush, and begins to paint on the canvas of Scripture one picture after another picture of the church. Someone has counted up to 100 pictures of the church, 100! I think someone got a little bit more specific, 93, but even if you cut that in half—let’s say that’s a little bit of an exaggeration. Let’s say 50, or 75, that’s pretty significant. Just the sheer number of pictures of the church tells us that the church is important, significant.

God has spent a lot of time at His painting easel, painting pictures of the church, and He doesn’t use dark colors. Not one of the paintings is ugly, not one of the paintings is repulsive or negative. No, we could say this: they are rather breathtaking, positive, beautiful pictures. Arguably the most beautiful picture we have of the church is the church is the spouse, the bride of Jesus Christ, and that’s how we want to look at the church today under that first graphic image. I’m going to use four pictures of the church throughout our session, but this is the first one that I want us to take advantage of: it’s the marriage analogy, or the bride, or spousal analogy, and I’ve got two simple points. Two simple points, and then about three applications that grow out of what we will consider. First of all: the bride or the marriage analogy presented; and then secondly: the bride or marriage analogy developed.

So, let’s consider then first of all—looking again at this graphic picture: the church is likened to a bride, the spouse of Jesus Christ—first of all: the marriage analogy presented. Doctor Packer, in a excellent book titled The Quest for Godliness, which is a study of the Puritans, describes the Puritans as spiritual giants; and he describes them under the analogy of trees. He describes them as those California redwoods, what? 360 feet tall, and in terms of the size of the trunk: 60 feet round. Spiritual giants; and he says that what makes the Puritans the Puritans was spiritual warfare, they were prepared to wage war against sin, the devil, and the world. Doctor Packer says, “Ease and luxury, such as our affluence brings us today, do not make for maturity. Whereas hardship and struggle do.” Haven’t you noticed that the most mature, the most Godliest people, are often those who have suffered the most? Ordinarily, the best of Christians, and I think that, to a large degree, explains the Puritans. They were men who suffered, and who suffered well. What one man said, “What I owe to the hammer and the anvil!” What made the Puritans the Puritans was, again, they suffered and suffered well. Their battles produced a heroic of character, they were able to rise above their fears and their discouragements.

Doctor Packer goes on to say how indebted we are to the Puritans, and he says not only in terms of their Godly example, but he says this is what the Puritans gave us: they were creators of the English, Christian Sunday, and they were creators of the English, Christian marriage. They restored, what we could say, those creational ordinances of the Sabbath and marriage, those ordinances that were given to man as man. Sabbath was given to man, and so was marriage, the gift of marriage. They restored those two Creational ordinances: the Sabbath Day and the marriage institution. He says the Puritans were like the Reformers in that they glorified marriage. Marriage. That’s what I really want to talk about. Let me give you a couple of quotes from the Puritans, just to let you see what they thought about marriage. “Hail wedded love,” one quote, “as a wife deals with letters of her husband in a far country, she finds many sweet inklings of love, and she will read these letters often. And daily she will talk with her husband afar off and see him in the letters. The man whose heart is endeared to the woman he loves dreams of her in the night, has her in his eye in apprehension when he awakes. He thinks about her as he sits at the table. She lies in his bosom. His heart trusts in her, and his affection for her is like a mighty current that runs with full tide and strength.” The Puritans gave great honor to the marriage institution. They really loved their wives. They loved their wives, and wouldn’t we all agree that there’s no relationship between human beings that’s more important than a husband-wife relationship? Who are you most indebted to if you’re a married man? You’re indebted to your wife, she is your helper.

And when God talks about the church, He wants us to think in these terms: the marriage analogy, or the husband-wife relationship, that intimate relationship that we all can certainly appreciate. The marriage or spousal analogy runs throughout our Bibles. God wants us to understand that His relationship with His people is one that is to be marked with intimacy. It has its seeds in the Old Testament. We have something of a slideshow, we could say, kind of a wedding album in our Bibles, Old Testament. Let me just give you a couple of snapshots of the divine Bridegroom or Husband. Isaiah chapter 62, verse 5, “For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you. As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” God rejoice! That’s the language, it’s a language that soars with emotion.

Now, I’m sure most of us can remember back to those days when we felt like our emotions were soaring, those courtship days, those days of engagement, those early days of honeymoon or marriage. Think back to the very day that your wife, your bride walked down the aisle wearing that beautiful, white dress. Remember that day? Now, don’t tell me your heart didn’t race with excitement. Even me, being a Canadian with my reserve, I was excited when I saw my wife, my bride coming down the aisle. Your heart surged with joy, there’s something of a delight that we experience as men, as husbands. Well, God wants to communicate that to us. When He thinks about His people, when He thinks about the church He paints that picture. Jeremiah 31, God says, “I am a Husband to them,” and Jesus makes good use of this analogy. Several times we read in the gospels Jesus putting Himself under this very figure with his disciples.

Turn, for example, to Luke’s gospel, Luke chapter 5. Jesus doesn’t simply pull this image or picture out of a hat. I believe He’s thinking of the Old Testament, He’s using this image, He’s drawing from Old Testament passages; and here in Luke chapter 5, Jesus engages those Pharisees and scribes. He was constantly engaging them in controversy, and they were coming to Him with complaint after complaint. Well, here in Luke chapter 5, they have two problems, or two complaints, against Jesus. One complaint, first complaint is: He’s spending too much time with sinners in Luke 5, verse 30. They don’t like the fact that He’s involved in outreach and evangelism. The second criticism relates to the disciples of Jesus: His followers are enjoying themselves too much, they’re too happy, celebrating. Luke 5, verse 33, “Then they said to Him, ‘Why do the disciples of John fast often and make prayers, and likewise those of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink?’” Jesus and His disciple friends are attending a banquet, something of a party, Levi’s party; and they’re really enjoying themselves. The food’s great, you might even hear them laughing. It was a joyous occasion, but the Pharisees—they were party poopers, sourpuss guys, I don’t know if they ever smiled. They were like that woman, that humorist Erma Bombeck, who overheard someone speaking to her daughter during a worship service, to stop that grinning here in church.

“We fast, John’s disciples fast, why don’t you fast? What’s wrong with you guys? Get those smiles off your face! Stop filling your mouths full of food!” And Jesus doesn’t let this go, does He? He goes on the defense of His disciple friends by picking up this marriage analogy. Notice verse 34, “And He said to them, ‘Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them?’” The word Jesus uses here to describe the bridegroom attendance is a Hebraic expression, literally “the sons of the bridal chamber,” the friends of the groom were the ones responsible or in charge of the arrangements. They had to make sure that there was enough food room, enough wine, music was playing. They were to make sure that everybody was being taken care of, especially the bridegroom; and Jesus identifies Himself as the Bridegroom. Verse 34, again, “while the bridegroom is with them.” In the presence of the bridegroom, in the presence of Jesus, there is joy. Jesus doesn’t want gloomy disciples, He’s not a gloomy Savior. You think there was anyone more happy than Jesus? “Man of sorrows,” yes, but the Bible does tell us He was a “man of joy.” He had a perfect balance when it came to His emotions. We worship a Bridegroom Savior.

I’m sure you’ve seen this yourself with women and wives in your own congregation, some of them are very happy and some of them are very sad; and oftentimes—not always— oftentimes the emotional health of a wife is related to how her husband treats her. A caring, loving, sensitive husband usually, usually, has a wife that blossoms like a bright flower with joy, contentment, but the husband who is insensitive, demanding, unrelenting in his criticism, the wife shrivels up, she looks like a flower that has been under a hot sun and hasn’t had water for weeks. A husband—just like a wife has a profound impact upon a husband—a husband has a profound impact upon a wife, upon her emotional health. Well, think about this: the Bridegroom is Jesus. Jesus. We have a perfect Husband, Jesus rejoices over us. This Husband never gets irritated. He never is frustrated, He’s never grouchy with His wife, He’s never selfish. He always takes care of her, He’s always solicitous, He always has enough time for her, she always is able to talk to Him. Jesus is the Bridegroom, the church is His spouse.

Now, this marriage analogy, strange as it might seem, finds its greatest frequency in the book of Revelation, and why is that? Well, because, at least what I’m thinking is, the marriage analogy looks forward. It looks forward. As you probably know, the Jewish marriage was a little bit different than ours. They had what was called a betrothal period. Betrothal was more than our engagement, far more serious, more binding. It was really like they were married. It was like they’d signed the documents, they’d said their vows, they’d done than in public. There was a witness that these two were betrothed. It was something like a wedding ceremony, again, legal documents had been signed. There even had been a dowry paid by the groom or his family. So, in that sense, it did look like a marriage. It sounded like what we would understand as a marriage, but it fell short of a full-fledged marriage. A betrothed couple didn’t live together, they weren’t under the same roof, they had no intimacy in terms of the sexual relationship. In fact, during the betrothal periods they might not even see each other, or talk to each other for months, and it could go on for a long time. And one of the reasons was to test fidelity, loyalty; something similar to our relationship with Jesus.

We are, we have been betrothed to Jesus, that’s the very language the Apostle Paul uses, doesn’t he? In 2 Corinthians, “betrothed.” He could say to the Corinthians, “I have betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one Husband.” So, we’re betrothed to Christ, but we haven’t sat down at the marriage supper. We’re still anticipating the fullness of that marriage relationship. Jesus hasn’t brought us home to dwell with Him forever in that place called “Heaven.” There’s still something to come, you see. The Bible’s looking forward to the final consummation, still waiting for the Bridegroom to return to take us home! In the book of Revelation, John anticipates the coming of the Bridegroom. That’s why you have those references, Revelation 19, verse 7, for example, “Let us be glad and rejoice and give honor to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” Again, he’s anticipating that marriage of the Lamb, marriage supper. Revelation 21, verse 2, “And I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” And then at the very back end of Revelation, Revelation 22, verse 17, “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’”

If you’re married, you probably have a picture of your wife, right? In your wallet? Before I left, I asked my wife if I could take a picture of her. She doesn’t like getting her picture taken, but I said, “Honey, I want a picture of you.” So, I got a picture in my iPad, if you want to see my wife, you can; but tell me you have a picture, don’t you, of your wife? Maybe not on your wallet, but at your desk, in your office. Well, this is a picture that God wants us to set before our own eyes, before our people. It’s this picture of a tender, loving husband; it’s the picture of Jesus Christ. They say “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Well, this is worth ten thousand sermons.

The marriage analogy presented, but secondly: the marriage analogy developed. I got a pretty simple outline: marriage analogy presented; marriage analogy developed. So, we’ve shown, I trust from the Bible, that that marriage analogy stands up, doesn’t it? I trust your conscience is convinced it’s a legitimate picture of the church; but the marriage analogy developed. As I said, a lot can be said from this one picture, let me simply draw your attention to two facets or aspects of Christ’s love for His church. Both are tremendously comforting for God’s people, for us as pastors, in the midst of our challenges and struggles. I want to talk to you about His love. First of all: His protecting love, and then: His sacrificial love. Protecting love, and sacrificial love; Jesus loves His church, that means He takes care of His church.

Turn to Ephesians chapter one, the book of Ephesians does have a lot to say about the church. He begins this first chapter telling us about the church. Ephesians 1, verse 21, he says that Jesus Christ towers over all; “He has power and dominion above every name that is named.” It’s a magnificent statement about our Lord Jesus in terms of His rule and reign: “Far above all power and principality and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.” But—as Doctor Ferguson points out in his commentary on Ephesians—as magnificent as that statement is about Jesus, it doesn’t come to its applicatory climax until verse 22. Notice verse 22, “And He puts all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” He reigns over all things. He subdues all of His enemies, all sinister, evil forces in this universe, in order to safeguard, bless His church, His chosen people. Paul wants to assure the Ephesians in this very letter, on the very front part of this letter, that Jesus is going to take care of His church! That’s how he begins.

But notice, that he, also, at the back end of the letter, tells us about Jesus taking care of His church in Ephesians 5, that section that was read earlier. Ephesians 5, speaking here to husbands and wives, helping them to understand their distinctive roles, he gives a theological module about the church, and says that a way a husband and a wife relate to each other, behave towards each other, serves as a visible parable, reflecting the relationship that exists between Christ and His church. It’s pretty sobering as a husband, because we’re supposed to be a living example in our relationship to our wives! The man who treats his wife graciously, kindly, tenderly, is really serving as an evangelistic tool to the world. He’s advertising, “This is Jesus! This is how Jesus treats His church!” So, that’s always the question we need to ask ourselves, “Do we talk to our wives? Do we listen to our wives? Do we care for our wives? Do we protect our wives? Or do we ignore our wives? Are we irritable with our wives?”

You’re telling people about Jesus. We don’t want to lie, do we? About Jesus? He urges husbands to love their wives like Christ loved the church. He emphasizes that in verse 28, in verse 32, as well as verse 25; but he roots or grounds it in Christ’s love for the church. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church,” and he underscores that this is a purposeful love. Verse 26, “That He might sanctify”; verse 27, “Present her to Himself in splendor”; and then thirdly in verse 27, “Enable her to be holy and blameless,” three purpose clauses. Then he further instructs or urges husbands to love their wives, to tenderly take care of their wives like their own body!

When it comes to sports, men tend to like it rough and tough, we like football, we like hockey. When it comes to our bodies, we turn into softies. Has your wife ever said this to you? My wife has, it’s rather embarrassing, “Stop your whining!” When I have a little cold or a little touch of the flu bug, I mean, I can groan and moan quite a bit. “Stop your whining!” We don’t handle sickness! I don’t handle sickness as well as my wife handles sickness; but the Apostle Paul knows that. Maybe he knows that men tend to be softies with their own bodies, and so he drives this home, we could all relate to this, in terms of how you take care of your wife should be manifested in some way in which you take care of your body: that gentle, solicitous, high-quality care. So, husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies, and when he talks here of nourishing and cherishing our wives like we do our bodies, he brings Jesus back into the picture. Verse 29, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.”

Now, you want to see Jesus in action? You want to see how Jesus cares for His church? Run through the gospels, see how He cares for His disciples! He took care of the whole person, didn’t He? He was concerned for their emotional well-being. Remember? He tells them not to be afraid. He protected them spiritually from their enemies, the Pharisees. When the Pharisees attacked His disciples, it was like Jesus was a lion, springing to the defense of His little cubs. A number of occasions He warns the disciples about the leaven of the scribes and the Pharisees. Sometimes Jesus exercised His protecting care by dealing with the disciples’ own sin problems. He protected them from that dangerous sin of pride, and when they were squabbling among themselves—remember? “Who’s the greatest?” What did Jesus do? Well, He gave an illustration using a child. He protected them by teaching them, not only warning them, but teaching them about humility and what it means to be a servant. He also protected His disciples from the devil. Remember the incident with Peter in Luke chapter 22? Jesus knows the devil’s going after Peter, and He warns Peter, “Simon, Simon, indeed Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.” It’s almost as if Peter’s walking around with one of those big targets on his back with a bullseye, and the devil’s going to zero in on Peter’s pride and his fear of man. And he hits Peter! Peter falls, Peter stumbles in a big, bad way. He begins to swear that he doesn’t even know the Lord Jesus, and if you were to freeze-frame Peter at that very moment, you might conclude, “The guy’s going to be another Judas! He’s going to go AWOL,” but he doesn’t, and you know why? Jesus prayed for him, Jesus was protecting him.

So, what we see—Jesus in terms of His relationship with His disciples—is something of a microcosm of what He does for the church, the local church, the universal church, His bride. We see something of that too, don’t we, in the book of Revelation? As soon as you open up the book of Revelation you see Jesus walking amongst the lampstands. He’s there to protect His church, to warn His church. He speaks to the seven churches in those first two chapters, warning them specifically of dangers and threats; but what’s so clear is that Jesus cares for His church. He’s protecting His church from the enemies, from within and from without. Jesus loves His church, of course He does, the church is His bride!

Well, we’ve considered this second matter of the church developed under this analogy. We looked at His protecting love, but I did mention I want to consider the final matter here: His sacrificial love. When we think of Christ’s relationship to His church: He is the bridegroom, the church is His bride, He protects the church, there is protecting love, but there’s also sacrificial love. I could say I’ve saved the best for the last. When we think of Christ’s love for the church, there’s lots of places we could go, I realize that. We could go all the way back to eternity, before the foundation of the world He chose us. He even tells His disciple friends, you remember? On that last night, in that upper room when He talks about love, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you”; and He loved us, we would never have loved Him if He didn’t first love us! It’s an electing love, it’s an eternal love, but where Jesus’ love comes to its highest expression, its pinnacle, its zenith, is at the cross. This marriage analogy takes us to the cross! Ephesians 5:25, it’s as the mountain peak text, “Husband love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.” “No greater love,” said Jesus, “than to lay down one’s life for his friend.” Jesus gives everything, He gives Himself! What more could He give? And remember, it’s not just a physical death, it’s a substitutionary death. On the cross He suffered not just pain of body. He only uses one expression there on the cross to let us know He was suffering pain of body: “I thirst,” but more. Those sayings point to His spiritual suffering, especially that cry of dereliction, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” First time in an eternity of communion with the Father. First time that relationship was fractured, it was like a divorce took place at the cross!

I’m sure you’ve heard the story of Martin Luther where he was in his study and was meditating for a long time, hours, upon that one saying from the cross, and he went long periods without food and in deepest meditation, sitting in his one chair for a long time. Then he finally rose, and when walking the room he was heard to exclaim with amazement, “God forsaken by God—who can understand that?!” When I first started my ministry in Canton, 25 years ago, you know what one of my greatest fears was? I wouldn’t have enough to preach. “Two sermons every week? I’m scared!” And now—I’m scared I’m going to preach so little. So little of my Bible! The more I read my Bible, the more I read of my Savior, the more I think about His love, the more I feel I’ve just touched the surface. It’s an ocean of infinity, we simply dip our toes in the ocean! That’s all we do; but on the cross our Savior, Jesus, is forsaken. He comes under the billows of God’s wrath. God fires every arrow He possibly can at His Son. God brings the full curse upon His Son! Why would God do that? Well, to be true to Himself, The Just and The Justifier. “God also loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son,” but why would Jesus go to the cross? Well, He wanted to obey His Father. He was a perfect Son, but why is He gasping for air? Why is He groaning out those words of Psalm 22, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”? Well, it’s because He loved the church!

You’ve heard it said, “The best way to teach is three R’s,” right? Three R’s of teaching, you know what they are? Repeat, repeat, repeat. Here in Ephesians 5, Paul uses the three R’s to speak of Christ’s sacrificial love. Go back to verse 2 of the chapter, chapter 5, “And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us,” that’s about the cross. Verse 23, you can argue by that very word “Savior” he’s thinking of the cross. “For the husband is the of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body,” that’s the church. Verse 25, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,” that’s why He’s on the cross, that’s why He’s bleeding, that’s why He’s dying, that’s why He’s burying the wrath of God, because He loves the church, the bride! He’s laying down His life for the bride. A marriage figure, or graphic, is a graphic used to describe the church, we’ve considered it under two simple heads, but now let me just close with three simple applications. What can we draw from this? Well, we could draw many things brethren, but I simply want to set before you three simple words of application. If we understand this analogy, the significance of it, and the implications of it, what can we glean? What can we say to our people, as pastors? What does this teach us, ourselves?

Well, number one: understanding the church as the bride of Christ reminds us that we have an obligation as the church, to be loyal and faithful to the marriage covenant. “The new covenant in My blood,” said Jesus. I mentioned earlier that a young, Jewish couple betrothed, was a testing time, sometimes they were separated for months. It was to test fidelity and loyalty, to test whether they were going to be true to their marriage vows. So the question could be asked: we are betrothed to Christ, are we going to be true to our vow? At the very heart of the covenant are promises, vows. God promises loyalty and faithfulness to us, don’t we promise the same to Him? He’s promised love, lovingkindness, loving loyalty, steadfastness. David and Jonathan had a covenant of loyalty, “I’m going to be true to you, you’re going to be true to me.” Isn’t that what a marriage demands? On a sad, tragic note, Old Covenant Israel was unfaithful, they’re likened to a spiritual whore, adulterous. Think of the book of Hosea, isn’t that the whole picture? Hosea and Gomer? It’s a picture of Israel, “You haven’t been faithful, you’re like a prostitute, a harlot.” God wants a faithful people, that’s one of the things that should mark out the church: faithfulness.

The very first snapshot we have of the church is in Acts chapter 2, it continued steadfastly, it was faithful. They devoted themselves to Apostle’s teaching, fellowship, and prayers. And remember when Paul writes to the Corinthians? That’s one of the things he’s pressing upon their conscience, they’re not being faithful. He’s afraid they’re not being faithful to their vows. 2 Corinthians 11:2, “I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you that I might present you as a chase virgin, and the serpent that deceived Eve by his cunning,” or his craftiness, “so your minds have been led astray,” or corrupted, “from a pure devotion to Christ.” It can happen quickly, can’t it? Often within a generation. Very few seminaries last for two generations. We all know churches, probably even churches that we might have fellowshipped with years ago, they no longer hold to the Apostles doctrine. Somewhere along the line they stopped believing they were the bride of Christ. The analogy argues for loyalty and fidelity to Jesus, and to the true. Jesus is the true.

Secondly: the marriage analogy, the bride and bridegroom argues that we need to cultivate and maintain intimacy with our Bridegroom, our Savior. Isn’t that what marks out a relationship of marriage? “The two shall become one.” It’s a relationship of intimacy, and it’s so easy, isn’t it, to become something like a sermon machine? Or to go into your office or your study, and you begin to approach your books, your commentaries, and even your Bible like a professional lawyer? We stopped viewing Jesus as the lover of our souls! We stopped thinking of the Christian faith in terms of a romance, and it’s something to be said that it is, it’s something of a romance. “The church of Ephesus has left their first love,” and you could be doctrinally orthodox and still leave your first love! A head full of facts, but no heart for Jesus! Doctor Packer, in that excellent book Knowing God said a statement that I’ve never forgotten. He said, “You can know as much about God, or have as much theology as John Calvin, and not know God at all.” We need to have a growing, intimate relationship with The Lord Jesus, and we need to encourage our people they are the bride of Christ, they do too. The pressures of the ministry, sermon preparation, even our praying can become formal. We say the right words, but there’s very lack of affection and heart. Don’t forget your Savior is your Husband. Don’t forget we are to maintain an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ in our prayer closets, in our prayer meetings, as we interact with God’s people, as we preach we want to encourage them to remember that they have a living, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. I was reading this past week that huge volume on Puritan theology by Doctor Joel Beeke, and he says, “What can we learn from the Puritans?” The first thing he says is: they’re focused upon Christ. The Puritans, they’re focused upon Christ! Read the letters of Rutherford, I mean, he talked in such intimate terms with his Savior, and the first thing he says in that chapter, the first quote he gives is he gives a quote by Thomas Brooks, “They do not love Christ who love anything more than Christ. Miss Christ, and you miss all!” Let’s not lose sight of the Lover of our souls, and let’s not stop loving Him and encouraging our people to love Him, He is their Husband.

The marriage analogy encourages us to maintain loyalty, fidelity to Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom; it encourages us to cultivate intimacy with Jesus, the Bridegroom; but thirdly and finally men, this marriage or bridegroom analogy, bridegroom and bride analogy, encourages us to strive for purity. We worship a holy Savior, the perfect Lamb, the perfect Bridegroom, the perfect Husband, and Jesus wants a pure bride. Ephesians 5:26, “He loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of the Word.” In 2 Corinthians 11:2, remember? “Present you as a chase virgin.” If we are the bride of Christ, we must take holiness seriously, we must take it seriously. I heard a man argue for the matter of modesty, of dress, amongst young ladies from our churches. He argues from this bridegroom/bride analogy! Now, that’s a pretty powerful argument; you’re dressing up for Jesus, you want to show yourself to be pure in how you appear. We need to tell our people that Jesus Christ went to the cross so they would be holy in all manner of life. There are Gospel indicatives, aren’t there? They tell us what God did for us. I’m not afraid to say there’s Gospel imperatives, as well. I had someone leave the church where I was pastoring because I used that terminology “Gospel imperatives,” he thought that was a perversion of the Gospel. I said, “Doesn’t the Bible say, ‘Obey the gospel’?” All those epistles by Paul are divided in terms of indicatives, “This is what Jesus has done for you, now this is what you must do for Him: live out a holy life!”

A perfect bride for a perfect Bridegroom; that’s why we long for the day when Jesus returns, and we see Him face to face. You want to look in His eyes and not be ashamed that we have been true, faithful. On that day we will become like Him, perfect like Him, and until that day we need to strive, we need to fight to live a holy life, encourage our people to persevere, persevere in faith, persevere in putting on the whole armor of God and warring against the devil and against their own remaining corruption. Jesus loves the church! He loves His bride, and He wants a pure bride, an attractive bride. When He first chose us we were as ugly as ugly could be, but He wants to make us beautiful, that’s why He sanctifies us under the Word of God, that’s the primary way in which he does that. Jesus loved us, and gave Himself for us, and one day we will be perfect, it’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? Perfect. There’ll be no marital spats in Heaven, you have a perfect Husband and a perfect bride. It’s the only marriage in Heaven, right? It’s the marriage made in Heaven: a perfect marriage, perfect Husband, perfect bride.

This is a lightly edited transcript of a sermon. All rights reserved.

Other articles in this series:

The Church as the Body of Christ by Gordon Cook
The Church as the Flock of God by Gordon Cook
The Church as the Army of God by Gordon Cook

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