Have you ever seen a couple that just didn’t look compatible? And you thought,
“How did he attract her?!” or “What does he see in her?!”
I had that happen to me. A professor, who clearly thought more of my future wife than of me, provided a short, one line reference for me,
“Patrick is marrying up.”
Blunt, but I didn’t and don’t disagree. Marrying Laura is the greatest moment in my life and may be one of the few decisions that proves that I’m smarter than you think I am. I expect people to speak well of and be kind to my wife. I want to cherish, love, protect, and provide for Laura.
So, if someone said they liked me as a friend but not my wife, I’d have a problem with them. A BIG problem. In fact, I wouldn’t consider them to be a friend at all. I would… oh, never mind…
In the current church culture and Christian generation, it’s trendy to say that we love Jesus but not His Bride.
We are devoted to, filled with worship toward, and desire to be closer to Jesus. But His Bride, the Church, not so much!
It’s popular to bash churches - Her styles of service are outdated or too trendy. Her taste in music and expressions of love toward Her Jesus are too loud, too traditional, too showy, too boring, too… And don’t get me started on Her leaders - Her pastors are hypocrites, immoral, all business, and too focused on being celebrities. We condemn Her theology - it’s too much of this or not enough of that. And Her preaching - it’s too much love or too much wrath or too much... And Her worst feature is all the people who are part of Her - they are full of problems, dysfunction, politics, and they are either too fanatical or don’t live the message they hear enough.
We see and share all of His Bride's flaws and faults. We criticize and politicize. We gossip and rumor. We critique and judge - every decision, expenditure, person, and part. We attack every failure and condemn every shortcoming. And I guess, we should. Like white blood cells attacking infections, their is an element in the body that God designed to destroy and eliminate foreign, infecting disease. There are parts of the Church that are foreign to the Sacred Truth of the Scripture. There are false teachers that are wolves among the sheep. There are cancer cells that, if not dealt with quickly and removed, metastasize and spread and destroy the health of the Church body. But these are not the Body. They are outside, infectious elements invading and corrupting Jesus’ Bride. He loves Her, protects, provides, and cleanses Her.
When Jesus returns to receive His Bride, He will receive a pure and spotless Bride, because He will ultimately sanctify her of all her imperfections and faults.[i] His loving sacrifice and the power of His resurrection will transform what was corruptible and mortal into the perfect incorruptible and immortal Bride of Christ.[ii] Then, He and His bride will celebrate and feast from "banquet at the wedding celebration of the Lamb!” [iii]
Jesus confronted and challenged the forces of darkness that were and are at work trying to destroy her. How? By putting Himself in between Her and Her accuser and destroyer. He put Himself in the way, by making Himself the ultimate target of sin, death, and eternal destruction. [v] He stepped in between Her and Her attacker by becoming the bulls- eye of the fatal death-blow by stretching His hands as far as they would reach and exposing Himself to scorn and the curse of sin. He died so She could live. He rose to give Her the power to live forever in His love and victory.
So, how do we love the Church, the Bride of Christ, with the same sincere love that Jesus demonstrated? The dialogue between Jesus and Simon Peter in John 21 provides key principles to guide us.
REMEMBER JESUS LOVE FOR ME IN MY IMPERFECTIONS.
First, each of us must remember how much Jesus has loved us. He loved us extravagantly, in spite of our shortcomings, failures, sin, and betrayal of Him. Think about Simon Peter’s track record of offenses against Jesus - he overacts, misspeaks, becomes the voice of Satan, lashes out in anger, and finally, betrays Jesus three times. But in John 21, after His resurrection, Jesus introduces Himself to Peter for the second time while he’s fishing. The quick version – Peter, the fisherman-turned-fisher-of-men turns back to fishing. But his turning point, just like when he met Jesus first, he’s not having any luck catching fish. Empty nets. Someone from shore shouts,
“No fish? Try the other side of the boat!” Then, full nets.
“Wait, what? That’s got to be Jesus!” Then… the moment when Peter was reminded of God’s love for him. Jesus asks Peter,
“Do you truly love (agapaō) me more than these?” And Peter responds,
“You know that I love (philéō) you.” So Jesus says,
“Take care of my sheep.” They have this exchange twice. Jesus asks Peter if he has unconditional, unfailing love for Him, but Peter explains that he feels a brotherly love for Jesus. Finally, Jesus questions if Peter even has this brotherly level of love, and Peter is hurt,
“Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” (summarized from John 21:15-17, NIV). Peter needed Jesus love and had little but friendship to offer. Jesus gave all for Peter, and even after Peter experienced the resurrection of Jesus, he was only on the receiving end of Jesus’ generous love and grace.
By our very need for salvation, we were corrupt and imperfect when we came to believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We were sinners saved by grace through faith. [vi] We were stained with guilt and weighted by shame. Then, miraculously, amazingly Jesus gave us new life. [vii] Now we cling to His cross of death as our instrument of life. He loved us when we were unlovable. [viii] He forgave us when we deserved judgment. We need to remember how much we have been forgiven, and that this wasn’t only at the start or just one time, but an ongoing reality. [ix] We needed, need, and will always need the Cross of Jesus.
We are only on the receiving end, and have nothing to offer God except what He gives us by His grace. When we are reminded of how much we have been loved and are being loved by God, we are humbled in repentance and overwhelmed by grace. We remember that we are not part of God’s Church, Christ’s Bride, because of our performance or perfection, our righteousness or theological soundness. We are only and always chosen by LOVE.
Jesus renewed His love for Peter, and reminded Peter that he was loved, not because of what he could offer, but because of what Jesus already offered.
LOVE JESUS' BRIDE, THE CHURCH, IN HER IMPERFECTIONS.
Then, in response to the awareness of His love, Jesus invites Peter to “take care of my sheep.” [x]
What does a shepherd do in caring for his sheep? He protects them from danger, provides them with safe and lush pasture. He frees them from fear and want. He tends to their needs and cares for their wounds. A shepherd loves his sheep, and the sheep follow and know the shepherd’s voice.
Jesus commanded Peter to care for His sheep with this level of attention and compassion.
We must learn to love the Bride of Christ with the same humility that we receive the love of Christ. Jesus loves Her as Himself. He loves every part of Her. And He loves those who love Her. And rejects those who reject Her. We must fall back in love with the Church – Jesus’ Bride. We must cherish, honor, and care for Her.
The best way to show that we care is by actually caring.
We don’t need to fake our tenderness. We need to genuinely be tender. We don't need to "put on" a gentle spirit toward those within the church and offer grace to those who are sinful and comfort to those who are hurting. We need to actually DO IT! Compassion is action!
Love demonstrates herself through loving behavior. [xi] So, if I love Jesus, I choose to love His Church – all of Her – the organized and house church, the mega- and the micro- church, the stained glass and theater church, the suit-wearing and not-so-much wearing, the rural and the urban, the hip-hop and the pipe organ church, the underground and the American church, the global and the local church, the mainline and the marginalized church. I love all her theological nuances and novices. Her variety and the splendor of her diversity.
LOVE MY PART IN THE CHURCH IN THE MIDST OF MY IMPERFECTIONS.
We don’t have to be every part, just our unique part. But we do have to enjoy Her and appreciate Her diversity and uniqueness. We must honor the fact that we, individually, are not the only part nor always right. We must be willing to appreciate that there are different churches reaching different people using different methods with different non-essential doctrines governed differently.
There are indeed many churches yet ONE Church. And the Methodist cannot say to the Lutheran, “I have no need of you”; nor again the Reformed to the Pentecostal, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those churches within the Church which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those churches within the Church, which we think are less honorable, on these we place greater honor, and the churches that have unpresentable parts we give greater respect, but to those churches which already receive great honor no extra respect is needed. But God builds the Church, having given greater honor to churches and pastors that lack it, so that there is no divide or disunity in His Church, but that each church should care for the other parts of the Church. And if one church suffers, all the church suffers with it, or if one church is honored, all churches celebrate with them. (revised and adapted from 1 Corinthians 12:2-26, NKJV).
ASK YOURSELF IN PRAYERFUL REFLECTION:
- How have I not loved Jesus’ Bride, the Church?
- How do I need to repent and change my attitude toward the Church or a church?
- Who do I need to go to and give honor or ask forgiveness for my lack of love toward the unique expression of Christ’s Bride through that pastor or that church?
[i] Ephesians 5:27
[ii] 1 Corinthians 15:
[ii] The NET Bible; Bible. English (Revelation 19:9). Biblical Studies Press (2006).
[iv] John 3:29; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:23.
[v] Romans 5:8 and 1 Peter 1:19.
[vi] Ephesians 2:8-9.
[vii] 2 Corinthians 5:17.
[viii] Romans 5:8.
[ix] 1 John 1:9.
[x] John 21:16.
[xi] 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.