THE CHURCH AS CHRISTÂ’S BRIDE
The Church Joined to Christ
How searching words often are. A minister addressing a congregation hears his words turn upon himself, “Marriage should not be entered into ill-advisedly or lightly”, the words may hit him with breathtaking force. What pains has he taken to “advise” this couple about marriage? Perhaps great pains, to which their future experience would add an authenticating voice.
How searching these words are: “Wilt thou . . . keep him in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto him, as long as ye both shall live.” Like two streams joining to flow together as one new river, the couple joined in marriage vow to flow together and are joined by God to do so. From the time of their uniting the two streams are directed by the same banks, they flow over the same terrain. Sometimes in calm, safe, broad tranquility, at others through narrow, boulder-ridden rapids with torrential falls always threatening to tear the streams apart, but still they flow as one.
The Church has been joined by God to Christ as her Husband. They shall ever flow as one. Christ has promised to keep the Church, not only in times when she is a picture of spiritual health and vitality, but also when she appears diseased, deformed, weak and dying. He will keep her and none shall pluck her from His protecting hands. The Lord Jesus has also forsaken all others to have an exclusive love for the Church. John records for us; “Having loved his own … he loved them unto the end” John 13:1. Alive in glory, the Lord prays for His Church with exclusive devotion. John 17:9 – “I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me.”
The Lord has pledged His bride His unending practical concern and His undivided love, He has poured Himself out to flow with His Church through all history, till together, He and His bride fill the ocean of eternity. The Church’s response is to pledge to Christ loyalty of labour and love, to keep and maintain the cause of Christ – in times of advance as well as in adversity – exclusively to love Christ, to keep her heart only for Him. The Church is to pour herself out to flow with Christ, as one with Him.
It is the honour of wives to be the completion of their husbands. Adam needed a helper suited to him and so God created Eve. The Lord of Glory humbled Himself to become a man, the second Adam: of whom it was equally, though graciously true; “It is not good for Him to be alone.” God, through the blood of death that flowed from Christ’s side, created the Church, a second Eve, the helper suited to Christ, His fulness and completer (Ephesians 1:23). It is the Church’s honour to throw herself into the labours of Christ. He is not an independent Husband inflicting redundancy upon His wife’s ‘wifehood’. The Church is called to work together with Christ. Does Christ seek and save the lost? It is the Church’s honour and commission to share in that work (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8, 1:19-21, 2 Corinthians 5:20). Does Christ labour in intercessions? It is the Church’s privilege and duty to join her voice with His (Isaiah 3:12, John 17:20, Luke 22:31f and 1 Timothy 2:1-4, 2 Corinthians :11, 1 John 5:16). Does Christ long for and work towards the uurity, health and beauty of His Church? His Church should also concern herself with her purity, spiritual health and loveliness (John 15:3,17:7,15:2,8, Ephesians 5:26f, Jude 12 and 22f). In short every concern that lies upon the heart of Christ should lie upon the heart of His Bride the Church. She has this honour of flowing with Him, His “help meet” on earth.
Whilst each individual Christian is committed to Christ, that individual loyalty is to find its expression in the corporate loyalty of the Church. The only union with Christ there is, is the union with Him in His body, the Church. The only service of Christ there is, is service of Christ in His body, the Church. Freelance service of Christ is as repugnant to Him as a hand operating independent of an arm, an eye independent of the brain or the foot without the body, 1 Corinthians 12:14-21. Each individual’s service is to be integrated with the service of the whole body, contributing to and conditioned by that service. Personal evangelism, private prayer and individual sanctification are essential but they find their meaning only when inked to the Church. People are evangelised to become members of the Body of Christ, the Church. Private prayers are offered on behalf of brothers and sisters in Christ. Personal progress in holiness is so that there may be purer members of Christ. Private exercises are essential, they are the foundation of the public exercises of the church, without them the united public labours of the Church borders on hypocrisy, but if the private does not issue in the corporate, they are buds without flowers, blossoms without fruit.
Christians bound together as the Church, the Bride of Christ, are
duty bound to “keep the cause of Christ.” To maintain it in the earth. Not only in times of prosperity and health, but also in times of struggle and persecution. Job’s wife was tempted to throw in the towel and abandon her husband’s beliefs. How patient Job was with her. Job 2:9f. In times of bearing the “reproach of Christ”, the Church may feel like throwing in the towel. How patient Christ is with us. We must rest upon His pledge to keep us, and in that strengthening to persevere in keeping His cause. Dear Christian, bound to Christ by “ties which nought can sever” (J. G. Small), as members of His body the Church, can we divorce ourselves or separate ourselves from Christ because the world despises our Husband? God has joined Christ and His Church (and us in His Church) together, dare we put such a union asunder, can we? No. Can we be members of His bride who withdraw from maintaining His cause, a wife abdicating her duty, honour, and love? Wouldn’t we be ashamed to face Christ when He comes if we are ashamed to stand by Him now?
Let us weigh the words of the marriage service carefully in their application to the Bride of Christ, to us if we are Christians.
“Wilt thou keep him in sickness and in health”.
May those of us who are Christians vow with a personal “I” and also with a united “I” of the Body say, “With God being my helper, I will.”
The Bride’s dress
After a wedding, it is usual for a lady guest who couldn’t attend to ask, “What was the bride wearing?” To which, a man might vaguely but seriously answer, “It was white, I think!” To the enquirer this is most unsatisfactory. She wanted to know the material, style and cut, what decorations it had, the details of the veil and whether it had a train. Decorated or not, the simple glory of a white dress is however wonderfully symbolic of purity. In the wedding service the vows “Forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him/her, so long as ye both shall live”, mark the mutual pledge to continue that purity within the marriage context.
The Church as Christ’s Bride, must seek to be pure for Him. He died so that we might be purged from our old sins. He lives so that in union with Him, we shall live in purity. Let us think about the Church’s duty to “forsake all other” and keep only to Christ. In other words, the Church’s purity.
As a bride is careful over her appearance and purity, so the Church has a corporate duty to be careful over her purity. Every Christian should be concerned for the purity of Christ’s Bride, they should have special concern for the purity of that local Church to which they are committed as members. Each local church must be concerned for the purity of the universal Church.
Purity of each member
The Lord died to save His Bride. His body was broken so that the body of His Bride might be formed. Each true Christian is a member of this Body and therefore linked to other Christians. As part of Christ’s Body, how we act affects the rest of the Body. If we sin, it as repercussions for others. “The way we paddle our boat may create shockwaves for others.” (Keith Walker). Privacy is very important and has to be preserved, but what we are privately sooner or later affects the Church publicly.
Jesus said, “Thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:6). How often churches have been blessed through the private intercessions of some member! In 1 Kings 19:18 Elijah was encouraged that 7000 hadn’t bowed the knee to Baal. In the privacy of their homes they bowed to God alone, keeping themselves pure for God. In the next chapter it was an army of just 7000 Israelites who drove off Ben-hadad and the amassed forces of thirty-two kings. Those 7000 on the battlefield almost certainly owed their victory to the intercessions of the secret seven thousand. How many ministers owe all the blessing in their ministry to the ministry of a member’s secret intercessions? Brethren pray for us!
Whilst it is a reality that the private walk with God of some often leads to the public blessing of many, it is also a reality that the private sins of some may lead to the public troubling of many. For example, Achan’s sin (Joshua 7:1,11). David’s sin in numbering Israel. Jonah’s sin in running from God. In the New Testament Paul warned that the private conduct of one member would have devastating consequences for them all if they did not deal with it (1 Corinthians 5:1-7). Our private sin, if not dealt with, will become a public scourge to the Church, even secret private sins.
Christians represent Christ as members of His Body, anywhere and anytime, everywhere and all the time. Each individual member of the Body of Christ, in private as well as in public, must remain loyal to Christ. Can an arm inject itself with poison without affecting the rest of the body? Neither can the Christian allow himself/herself to indulge in any sin without affecting the Church. We cannot say “It’s only me, it’s quite private, it won’t affect anyone else.” IT WILL! Unless forsaken, confessed and forgiven, IT WILL affect the Church. “A LITTLE leaven” of private sin, will have a corrupting influence on the whole. The complete and constant personal holiness of each member is an important aim for the whole Church. I think it was Robert Murray M’Cheyne who said “My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.” That can be taken out of context and misunderstood but, it is true, not only of ministers but also of every Christian, their Church’s greatest need from them is their personal holiness.
Personal holiness and fellowship
There is a link between holiness and the fellowship of the Church. Where there is personal holiness there can be happy fellowship. God is holy and what happy fellowship there is between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Where there is sin, fellowship is marred. Think of Adam and Eve. One of the results of our personal sin, though it may be a very private sin, is the poisoning of Church life. Guilty, we feel ashamed. Ashamed, we may simply withdraw from fellow Christians and end any fellowship there may have been, or we go on the defensive. Since attack is often a good form of defence we become aggressive and go on the offensive. The shock waves of our secret sin begins to rock the whole Church.
For the purity, peace and prosperity of Christ’s Bride we must each earnestly seek to live holy lives. When we fail, as we each will, we must be quick to repent and go to God to find pardon. Without that early cleansing by the blood of Christ, the sin will fester and seep into public life.
Fellowship and personal holiness
Science teaches us that material things, if left to themselves, tend to disorder and decay. The Lord ordained the Lord’s Supper to preserve us in a lively memory of His death. As another means of preserving us in the Christian life, we are ordered to engage in Christian fellowship, (Hebrews 10:25). As the Church is to be the salt and light to the world, so it also acts as salt and light to its own members. The exhortations in Hebrews 10:22-25 are aimed at the preservation of Christians. Collectively coming into God’s holy presence, all cleansed by Christ’s blood, collectively learning and professing the faith, each and all seeking how to show Christian love to each other and each encouraging the other in holiness, this kind of fellowship will surely be a wonderful means of preserving the personal holiness of each member and therefore, the true holiness of the Church.
In “forsaking all other” and “keeping only unto” Christ, the Christian must not “forsake the assembling” together with Christians in the Church. Keeping up participation in Christian fellowship is the God-ordained way for a Christian to continue ‘Keeping only unto” Christ.