“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. Ephesians 5:31-32
Years ago I heard Warren Wiersbe say, “Never get hung up on one image of the church.” I have found that helpful. There is nothing on earth quite like the church. Since you cannot compare the church to any one thing, God teaches us by comparing the church to many things.
So when God uses multiple images to teach us about the church, that tells us that we are looking at something wonderful that is beyond the ordinary experience of life in this world. Today we come to a third image of the church—that we are the bride of Christ…
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church.” Ephesians 5:25
Notice the order—the Apostle doesn’t say to Christians, “Hey guys, Jesus loves the church the way you love your wives.” If that was the case we’d be in trouble because sometimes we don’t love our wives very well.
Thank God it’s the other way round. He says, “Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church” (5:25). The union between Christ and His church is the model for Christian marriage.
Paul does not say that marriage teaches us about Christ and the church. Paul says that the relationship between Christ and the church tells us what God intends for a husband and wife in marriage. That’s where you are to discover it.
That’s why the Apostle says, “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” (5:31-32).
If you grew up in an unhappy or a dysfunctional home, if your parents were not happy together or they did not treat each other well, you will have faced this question: How do you know what it means to be a godly husband or wife? If your father was not present or if he was not faithful or good, where can you learn, as a man, how to treat a woman? Or as a woman, where can you learn how to relate to a man?
You may say, “Well, of course, Jesus is my model for everything in life, but Jesus was never married, so I can’t look to Him in this.” But what we’re learning here is that Christ has a bride and that bride is the church.
People sometimes say, “I didn’t have a good father, so I can’t relate to God as Father.” Nobody comes to know God by having a good father! You find out what a good father is by coming to know God. It will be liberating to you when you see this.
Don’t get this the wrong way round. Get to know God and you’ll discover what a good father is, whether you had a good father in your childhood or not. Get to know Christ and you’ll discover what a good husband is, whether you saw this modeled for you when you were younger or not.
This is the wonderful news of the Gospel applied to relational life. Knowing God in Jesus Christ is wonderfully redemptive, no matter what your background. There is wonderful hope here.
Paul was writing to folks in Ephesus who would have grown up in pagan homes where there was no knowledge of Christ at all. He was saying to them, “You can learn to love your wives like Christ loves the church, as you get to know Him.”
If you want to know what a godly marriage looks like, the place to begin is not with your parents. No matter how good they were, they are going to bring all kinds of cultural and generational baggage into the picture. The place to begin is with the relationship between Christ and the church.
So, husbands (and this is primarily for husbands) think deeply about Christ and the church, and God will teach you what kind of husband he is calling you to be. Christ’s love for the church gives you the shape, it gives you the pattern, it gives you the template for loving your wife.
How Christ Loves the Church
Christ gave himself for the church
“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Ephesians 5:25
Here is Christ in heaven, at the right hand of God, but he loved the church and gave himself up for her. What does that mean? Christ says, “I’m ready to pay any price. I am ready to endure any pain to do her good.” He puts on hold all the joys that are his in heaven, and he loves the church when there’s no love coming back, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He endured. He suffered and he forgave.
Now listen to this, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church!” (Ephesians 5:25) If you think about that for just a moment you’ll immediately say, “Lord Jesus, I cannot do this in my own strength. I need your Spirit. I need your love. I need your power. I need your forgiveness if I am to begin loving my wife the way that you loved the church.” That alone would be a reason for coming to Christ in repentance and faith to receive from him today.
Christ leads the church
“Christ is the head of the church… of which he is the Savior.” Ephesians 5:23
Christ takes the initiative with the church. Christ is always up to something good. If you read the history of the church, you see the revivals—God sweeping into the church, bringing his people new blessings that they never imagined.
What will Christ do in this church next year? There isn’t a single one of us who can answer that question. We will experience his blessing and see his love in ways that will surprise us with joy. That’s the romance of the Christian life. You never know what Christ will do next, but whatever it is, you know that it will be good. In the next year, he may sweep us all away into his everlasting glory. Do you know that he won’t do that?
What does this mean for us: “Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church” (Ephesians 5:25)? It means the husband has the singular responsibility, if we are copying Christ’s model, to be the initiator, the innovator in the home, to make sure that the marriage does not become dull, stale or boring.
When was the last time you did something completely unexpected and surprising that was for your wife’s good? When was the last time you did something that made her say, “Oh, my,” something that brought joy into the dull routine of life?
Christ nourishes the church
“No one ever hated His own body, but he feeds and cares for it just as Christ does the church.” Ephesians 5:29
The point here is very simple. You look after your own body. You feed it, you nourish it, you protect it, you build your own body up. The church is the body of Christ, and this is what Christ does for the church.
Christ feeds the church. He nourishes the church. He protects the church, builds her up and he causes her to flourish. The attention and the affection of Christ are always with the church.
Christ always knows exactly what the church needs. Husbands, love your wife like that. He sees what she can become. Husbands, love your wife like that. The church is always on the mind of Christ and He loves her as she is. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church!
Christ will present the church to Himself
“[Christ will] present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless…” Ephesians 5:27
The church, as we saw last week, may not always look so attractive now, but she has a glorious future as the radiant bride of Christ.
Michael Griffiths, who served as president of the school where I studied in London, wrote a book about the church called, “Cinderella with Amnesia.” That is a brilliant title.
You remember the story of Cinderella. She goes to the ball and dances with the prince, and his heart is captivated by her. But Cinderella has to leave before midnight, and as she runs from the ballroom one of her slippers falls off.
The prince is left looking for the woman he loves. So, he orders that the slipper be tried on the foot of every maiden in the land. The one on whom the shoe fits is to be brought to the palace.
Now picture Cinderella sitting at home. She is dressed in rags. She is despised by her ugly sisters. She is oppressed by her wicked stepmother. But her destiny is a life of love and joy and peace in the palace.
Cinderella is a wonderful picture of the church. Sometimes she looks a bit ragged. There are some ugly brothers and sisters who despise her and count her of little value, and in some parts of the world, a wicked stepmother persecutes her. But Christ loves the church and he will bring her to his palace.
Michael Griffiths takes up that picture, “The church is often like Cinderella… with amnesia.” Our greatest problem is that we lose sight of our prince and of our glorious future. We need to remember who we are and to whom we belong.
Christ has chosen a bride and his bride is the church. He will “present us to himself.” Who else could do the presenting? And when he does, the church will not be in rags and tatters. The church will be “without stain, wrinkle or any other blemish” (5:27).
There will be no zits on this bride’s face on her wedding day and no wrinkles either. If zits are the pain of youth, wrinkles are the pain of old age. They speak of tiredness, weariness and carrying a heavy load. Christ says, “There will be no wrinkles on my church. She’ll be radiant. She’ll be glorious. And she’ll share the joy of heaven forever.”
It is the church that Christ presents to himself. We should thank God for the many agencies and ministries that God has raised up. But it is important to remember that their task is to support the church.
Christian schools, seminaries, radio ministries, missionary societies and evangelistic organizations—what are they? They’re like bridesmaids who assist the bride as she gets ready for the bridegroom. The bride needs her bridesmaids, but it’s a great mistake to make more of the bridesmaids than you make of the bride.
At the end of the Bible, John the Apostle hears a great roar coming from heaven, “Hallelujah, for our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready… Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (Revelation 19:6-9).
How to Love the Church
“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.” Ephesians 5:31-32
Christ has chosen a bride and his bride is the church. We are his body. We are his building. We are his bride. And if you really love the bridegroom, you will love the bride.
There is a holy union between Christ and the church that is like the union between a bride and a bridegroom. If you hurt the bride, you are no friend of the bridegroom.
Every husband knows this—if someone is rude to your wife, you will rise to defend her. Why? Because God has made you one with her, and if someone insults your wife, they have insulted you.
Do you remember how Saul of Tarsus persecuted the church? He was on his way to Damascus with anger in his heart, ready to do damage to the church, and Christ appeared to him in a blinding light.
When Christ spoke to Saul, He did not say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting the church?” He said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4) What you do to the bride you do to the bridegroom.
Let’s use this to our advantage. If my wife is in need and you help her, you are my friend forever. I am one with her, so the kindness you showed her is a kindness you showed me. The church is the bride of Christ, and when you’re good to the bride, you bring pleasure to the bridegroom.
Are you fluent?
Earlier in this series, I quoted from my friend Tom Nelson, who serves as a Free Church pastor in Kansas. Tom says…
For a long time in my own spiritual journey, I separated my love for Jesus and my love (or more often, lack of love) for the local church. Immersed in a tradition that wonderfully emphasized personal belief in Jesus and following Him in personal discipleship, I finally grasped that I was also to love what Jesus loved.
With that realization, I understood the teaching of Holy Scripture more clearly. The closer I walk with Christ, the nearer and dearer His beautiful bride the local church becomes.
The question I most often ask myself is, “Tom, what do you truly love?” What we truly love is not hard to determine. What do we dream and talk about? What do we sacrifice for? What do we persistently pray for? What we truly love is evidenced in how we spend our resources of time, talent and treasure.’ 
Then Tom refers to the work of Dr. Gary Chapman who has identified, “The Five Love Languages,” five ways in which love is expressed in marriage. The five love languages are…
Words of affirmation
Acts of service
I want to be fluent in all five of these love languages in my marriage. I also want to speak all of these languages in my love for the bride of christ. I have found this a helpful grid for testing how far I have come in sharing the passion of Jesus Christ.
How do you speak about the church? Do you speak well of her? How often do you speak of her with a critical spirit? The church is Christ’s bride. How does Christ feel about the way you speak about His bride?
If there are three words that define our culture in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, I think they would have to include: “My busy schedule.” This defines us. Some of us don’t have quality time for the church because our schedule is crammed full. What is it crammed full with?
I ask you to take a look at your schedule. What are the values that are driving your schedule and your children’s schedule? What is the fruit that will come of that schedule? Ask yourself, “How will I explain to Christ why my family had so little quality time for his bride?”
It came as a shock to me earlier this year to discover that the average giving in our church at that time was about three percent of the average income in our area. I was very puzzled by this.
I’ve come to this conclusion: We don’t see the church as Christ does. We haven’t been captured by a vision of the local church. The local church is the body through which Christ does his work in the world, the home he is building, the bride to whom his heart and his blood are pledged.
I want us to grow in our giving to the church, not simply so that we can do more of what the church is called to do here and around the world, but because I want us to share the passion of Jesus Christ. Christ loves His bride. The church is his consuming passion and I want to be like him.
I think we speak this language better than any other. We are a serving church, with so many people actively engaged in some way. If that’s not true of you, I encourage you to learn this language and love the bride of Christ by getting involved in some area of ministry.
Tom Nelson helpfully expresses “touch” as “presence,” which I think is helpful in this context. Tom says…
Another way we love our local church is simply be being there.
Many of you look forward to Saturday and Sunday as the high point in your week. You love Christ and you love Christ’s people. When we stand to sing, you sing. When we sit to pray, you pray. You are here and you are physically engaged in the worship of God. You are hungry and you are thirsty after God.
Can I say this from the heart as your pastor? There are too many of us who gather for worship about one weekend in every four. And for some there may be some very good reasons. But the heart of my concern, and I plead with you about this, is that I’m praying there will be a rising of the spiritual temperature among us.
It’s too easy to have a notional faith in which you sign off on certain things you believe and live on the edge of the community of God’s people, moving no further in sharing the passion of Jesus Christ. He loves the church and gives himself for it, and even now lives with her as the center of all he’s doing in time, preparing for the church all the joys of eternity.
I’m asking you to honestly and privately examine yourself. Gary Chapman’s five love languages are actually a very good way for us to measure how much we love the bride of Christ, to measure how much we love what Christ loves—by our attending, our serving, our giving, our time and our words.
Ask yourself, “Do I really share the passion of Jesus Christ.” I love the bride groom, but do I love the bride? Think about the glory of this and the privilege of this.
Christ has chosen a bride and he gave himself for her on the cross. Right now he lives for her in glory, and one day, it may be very soon, he is coming to sweep her away and take her home. If you love the bridegroom you will love the bride.
Increasingly, as you come to understand these things, you’ll count it your greatest joy in this world to belong to the church which is the body through which Christ works, the building that he makes his home and the bride with whom he will share eternal life—his joy and delight forever.
 Michael Griffiths, “Cinderella with Amnesia,” InterVarsity Press, 1975
 Tom Nelson, “Ekklesia: Rediscovering God’s Design for the Church,” p. 149, Cross Training pub., 2010
 Gary Chapman, “The Five Love Languages,” Northfield pub., 2010
© Colin S. Smith
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