Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"The Beauty of the Bride ..."

"This is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the Church."   - Ephesians 5:32

Two years ago my wife and I were celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary by taking a cruise from Barcelona to Italy.  On our actual anniversary, June 19th, we were in Venice, Italy, riding in a gondola.  It was sweet ... not just because we were in Venice, but because I was with the love of my life, thanking God for giving us forty years together and praying for many more.  She is as beautiful now as she was the day we were married.  A man who loves his wife never forgets the way she looked on their wedding day and as he gazes into her eyes and looks upon her face she is beautiful beyond words!  That's the way it is with love that is centered in Christ and that comes from His Spirit.  This kind of love, the love described by Paul in I Corinthians 13:4-8, is truly a gift from God.

So many today miss the blessing of staying together through the good times and the trials and seeing God bring everything together for His glory and our good.  Perseverance may not sound all that romantic, but it is what keeps a relationship together when things get hard and the going gets rough.  Perseverance is God's gift to those who seek Him and who ask for His blessing.  We asked often, and continue to do so, and He gives us so much more than we ask.  He gives us joy as we share life together and peace and hope as we look to the future knowing that our faithful Father is the same yesterday, today and forever.  His love never fails, and as long as we are united to Him by His Spirit, OUR love doesn't fail either.  His grace is sufficient and His love and His presence are all we need to press on toward the goal of loving Him and loving one another.

This Sunday is also Father's Day, another blessing from the Lord to those who receive the gift of children.  I hear a lot of people complaining about their children these days, but God has blessed us with two wonderful, godly children, who seek the Lord Jesus Christ and who serve Him with zeal.  He gave them each a spiritual partner and now we have seven grandchildren who are also learning of Christ and seeking to follow Him.  We pray that they, too, will keep their eyes on Jesus and continue to pass on the heritage that God has entrusted to us as believers.

As God's timing would have it, I will be preaching on Ephesians 5:21-33 on Sunday morning.  Those who are familiar with the passage know that Paul is talking about the relationship of husbands and wives.  I won't go into all of what Paul says, but it is his words in verse 32 that I would like to focus on for a moment:  "This is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the Church" (Ephesians 5:32).

This is an extremely important and vital bit of information when looking at the relationship of husbands and wives.  The comparison of the relationship in a marriage with the relationship of Christ and the Church carries with it serious and dramatic applications.  There have been many books written about what it takes to make a "good" marriage, but as long as people are thinking about themselves they will never have a marriage that pleases God or brings blessing to those involved.  The point of Ephesians 5:32 is that as Paul is talking about husbands and wives, he is really talking about the relationship between Christ and His Church.  While there are some obvious differences, there are also some crucial similarities.

Paul makes a statement in Ephesians 5:22-24 that many today reject, to their own harm.  "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the Church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything."  All of this is said after Paul writes in verse 21:  "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."  You will have to listen to the sermon, either by coming to Lighthouse on Sunday or listening on line, to hear more about the meaning of "submission," but for now it is important to understand that biblical submission is a good thing.  It recognizes the value and worth of someone outside of yourself and includes giving yourself ... entrusting yourself, to another person.  It includes trust and, yes, love!

That's why Paul goes on to say, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her ..." (vs. 25).  The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus endured the cross "for the joy set before Him" (Hebrews 12:2).  What joy was on Jesus' mind as He endured the pain and humiliation of the cross?  What vision gave Jesus the strength to endure the wrath of God upon the sins of mankind?  It was the joy of His vision of His Bride, the Church!!  In Revelation 19:6-9 we read of the wedding of the Lamb and His Bride.  Dressed in the righteousness of Christ, the Church is beautiful in the eyes of her husband, and He is majestic in her eyes.  Between Christ and His Church there is a true "love-fest;" both gazing at the other with a passion and devotion unmatched in all the universe.  In this marriage there is no "until death parts us," for we have the promise that not even death "will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:39).

Indeed, "greater love has no man than this" (John 15:13).  A man who loves his wife not only honors her, but also their children, for he creates a family where love means more than a fleeting feeling, but where it blossoms into a steadfast perseverance that outlasts any trial or storm and that brings joy to all.  "This is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the Church" (Ephesians 5:32).  Much is written about the Church today, and most of it is negative ... but that's because most are writing about the "church," not the CHURCH!  The "church" is a religious organization, but the CHURCH is the bride of Christ, His body.  Jesus didn't give Himself for an organization.  He died for people, for sinners like you and me.  And here is the amazing part:  in HIS eyes, all who come to Him by faith are beautiful in His sight.  He sees His bride as perfect, even though in reality she isn't ... YET!

Husbands  ... AND wives ... would do well to remember this when the honeymoon is over and the reality of life begins to wear away at the fairytale imaginations of what marriage will be like.  "Love never fails" because true love never loses sight of the vision of beauty that first stirred the heart and moved the lips to say, "I love you!"  Such beauty never fades, but instead grows ever deeper as we keep our eyes on the One who promises to be with us and to never leave us or forsake us.  Love grows when it is focused on the spiritual oneness that is found in Christ.  As two people grow together in Christ their love for Him and His love for them enables them to love one another with all the qualities described in I Corinthians 13:4-8.

I thank God for my wife, Kathy, and I love her more deeply in Christ now than I knew how to do when we were married, now almost 42 years ago!  Forty-two years seems like a long time, but it is like the blink of an eye.  Being a part of the Church, the Bride of Christ, means that all those who know and love Him will spend an eternity sharing His love with one another and with all those who are part of God's family.  In the love I share with my wife and family, and the love I share with the body of Christ at Lighthouse and with the larger body throughout the world, I am a man most blessed.  For those of you who share my blessing, rejoice with me and never lose the vision of the beauty of your bride.

For those who have not experienced such love in a marriage relationship, or who may have experienced the sorrow of a broken relationship, I pray that you will draw near to God in faith through His Son Jesus Christ and learn what real love is ... a love that gives everything and that moves you to respond in turn with a love that endures.  Such love is found only through the work of God in your heart.  His Spirit can awaken that love in a moment as you gaze at the cross of Jesus.  You may see yourself and your life as anything BUT beautiful right now, but if you will put your faith in Jesus you can know that this is true:  "God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

Let God's love embrace you and cleanse you and know today that through faith in Jesus, you are united to Him and you are beautiful in His sight!!  As His Spirit transforms you, your life will reflect His glory more and more.  Living in His presence gives you the opportunity to allow His radiance to shine through you.  Oh, what amazing grace!  Live life in preparation for the wedding, for the groom is making ready our eternal home.  Soon He will return and we will be made like Him and will live forever in the light of His eternal love.  Eternity IS a long time!!

"This is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the Church."   - Ephesians 5:32

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