THE BRIDE OF CHRIST
The churches of Christ Greet You (Romans 16:16)
Christians are aware that in the scriptures the church is referred to as the kingdom and the Savior as its King. But the New Testament has several other ways of referring to the relationship between Jesus and His followers, and some of these are metaphorical. For example: there is the head and the body, the vine and the branches, the shepherd and the sheep, and a number of others. Of all these figures of speech, for Jesus to be called the Bridegroom and His church the bride is most meaningful. We can all easily relate to this description since we have either been in such a relationship ourselves or have been very close to those who have.
Some of the marriage terminology for the LORD and His church comes to us from the LORD Himself. Jesus said He was the bridegroom (Mark 2:19), and John the Baptizer called himself the friend of the bridegroom (John 3:29). Toward the end of His life's work on earth Jesus gave a parable of an impending wedding in which Jesus is obviously the bridegroom for which the people were waiting (Matt 25:1-13). And then Paul made some touching statements depicting Jesus as a husband and the church as His wife (Eph. 5:22-33). This brings to mind certain actions and/or responsibilities on the part of both parties that it would be well for us to keep in mind.
He loved her. Paul says, Christ...loved the church" (Eph. 5:25). This is not the romantic word for love but rather the word agape - which speaks of the ultimate, outpouring kind of love. He loved us even when we were unlovable. Jesus, "having loved His own that were in the world, He loved them unto the end" (John 13:1). There is simply no limit to the kind of love Jesus manifests toward His bride. Even from heaven Jesus dictated a letter to a first-century church and told them that the ungodly would "know that I have loved you" (Rev. 3:9). We cannot fathom the love of Christ.
He died for her. Paul said that Christ not only loved His bride, the church, but also "gave Himself up for her" (Eph. 5:25). Paul pointed out that people will ordinarily not even die for someone righteous and good but that "while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:7-8). Jesus said, "Therefore My Father loves me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again" (John 10:17). He said, "No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of Myself” (v. 18). He was heaven's volunteer martyr. All we can say is, "Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift" (2 Cor. 9:15).
He cleansed her. Since the bride of Christ was sin-stained, the only way for Jesus to enter into a betrothal with her was for Him first to clean her up. So He became "the savior of the body" (Eph. 5:23) as well as the heavenly bridegroom. He died for the church in order "that He might sanctify and cleanse her, by the washing of water with the word (v. 26). The purifying element was "precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Pet. 1:19). He "washed us from our sins in His own blood" (Rev. 1:5). But the cleansing place for each one of us is our baptism. The washing of water over the body signifies the simultaneous cleansing of the soul (cf. Heb. 10:22).
He cares for her. It is not just what Jesus did in the past that counts but also what He continues to do in the present. Paul said that Jesus "nourishes and cherishes" the church (Eph. 5:29). The blood of Jesus continues to cleanse us from all sin (1 John 1:7) because the Lord "always lives" to make intercession and care for His own (Heb. 7:25).
He becomes one with her. Paul quotes God's words to Adam (Gen. 2:24) as repeated by Jesus (Matt. 19:5): "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh" (Eph. 5:31). This speaks of human marriage. But Paul sees something that Adam didn't know - that marriage in its deepest union is to remind us of the more profound spiritual union between Christ and His bride: "This mystery is great: but I speak in regard of Christ and the church" (v. 32). Becoming ONE with the Lord is the privilege of every one who is "in Christ" (Eph. 1:3) and thus a part of the Lord's bride.
She must realize her importance. One cannot have Christ without the church. Jesus promised to build it (Matt. 16:18) because it was part of God's eternal plan (Eph. 3:10-11). Therefore, it is important and one must "seek" it and put it "first" in his life (Matt. 6:33). We cannot honor the Lord if we despise His bride. As an unbelieving Jew, Paul [then Saul] spent time "breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9:1). Years later Paul said he had "persecuted the church of God" (1 Cor. 15:9). But when Jesus spoke from heaven while Paul [Saul] was still engaged in those activities, He said, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" (Acts 9:4). Whatever is done to the church is done to Jesus, for she is His bride. And she must recognize her privileged position. So Paul exclaims that unto God "be the glory in the church by Christ Jesus...forever and ever" (Eph. 3:21). She has her glory too.
She must wear His name. Long ago it was prophesied that God's people "shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord will name" (Isa. 62:2). This was fulfilled when "the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch" (Acts 11:26). Peter spoke of the Christ and said that "neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Years later he said, "If any one suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this name" (1 Pet. 4:16). It is that "worthy" or "honorable name by which you are called" (Jam. 2:7). If Christians are true to their standing as the bride of Christ, they will not adopt the name of some human leader or favorite doctrine by which to be known. Such was condemned in the first-century church (1 Cor. 1:12-15), and it is still wrong today.
She must not commit spiritual adultery. Paul said, "I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy: for I espoused you to one husband, that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness, your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity and the purity that is toward Christ" (2 Cor. 11:2-3). This can mean two things:
First, the bride of Christ must not forsake the simplicity and purity of undenominational Christianity to join human allegiances that are in conflict with the Lord's will. The Lord prayed for the church to be "one" (John 17:20-21), not split up into competing sects. Church divisions are condemned in scripture (1 Cor. 1:10-12; 11:17-19). Paul said that those who engage in "factions, divisions [and] parties...shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal. 5:20-21). As observers of the current scene, we see denominational thinking and practices encroaching more and more into the Lord's church. The bride of Christ must sound an alarm lest many souls be lost in the process.
Second, the bride of Christ must not forsake spirituality to become worldly. James said, "You adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God?” (Jam. 4:4). As worldliness seems to be creeping more and more into the bride of Christ, let us correct the problem at its root - our hearts. John said, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15). The cure for worldliness is to get our minds off of the secular and temporal and put them on the heavenly and eternal. "Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3:2-3).
She must bear fruit. We were "joined to another, even to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit unto God" (Rom. 7:4). Fruit bearing should manifest itself in two ways:
First there should be fruit in our own lives - the development of spiritual qualities of Christ-likeness. Paul spoke of "the fruit of the Spirit" and then named it as love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control. The bride must bear this “fruit,” and crucify "the flesh with the passions and the lusts [desires]" (Gal. 5:22-24). Each one of us should strive to "be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inward man; that Christ may dwell in (our) hearts through faith" (Eph. 3:16-17).
Second, we must bear fruit by multiplying ourselves. Jesus said to the apostles, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide" (John 15:16). But such fruit bearing did not stop with the apostles. Faithful men are to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2). The "Great Commission" is still in force, and the world still needs evangelizing (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15). We must not shirk these responsibilities.
She must get ready for the wedding day. Up to now the bride of Christ is simply betrothed or engaged, much like Joseph was to Mary before the birth of Jesus (Matt. 1:18-20). The wedding day awaits. John saw a vision of the end of time in which it was said, "Let us rejoice and be exceeding glad, and let us give the glory unto Him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife has made herself ready" (Rev. 19:7). The bride's splendid clothing was then described as "the righteous acts of the saints" (v. 8). When Jesus comes again, He will come "to present the church to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:27). What a blow to His dignity and honor it will be if He comes and finds His bride stained with sin. Pure religion is to "keep oneself unspotted from the world" (Jam. 1:27).
In order to be prepared to meet our God and take our place with the heavenly bridegroom, we must never forget that we are the bride of Christ. Let us not allow earthly concerns to distract us from that high and heavenly calling. In the parable of the virgins, when the bridegroom finally came, "they that were ready went in with Him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut" (Matt. 25:10). When this event takes place in actuality at the second coming, how many who now make up the bride of Christ will find themselves on the outside? "Blessed are they that are bidden to the marriage supper of the Lamb" (Rev. 19:9). Let us make sure we are among that number.