Friday, April 15, 2011

Of Bodies and Brides

"Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love."  Ephesians 4:15-16

     There is a saying that I have heard frequently among church members that has always troubled me. It refers to people who "like Jesus, but not church," and it goes something like, "How can you like Jesus and not the church? The church is His bride, and you can't love a man and hate his bride."  I have pondered this for so long, wondering what it was that rubbed me wrong about this phrasing and finally I have realized what it is.

       Let me begin by saying that it is an absolutely accurate and worthy statement. Jesus is the Bridegroom and the Church is His bride (see Luke 5:34-35, John 3:28-29, Revelation 19:7). From the perspective of those who take the narrow path, there is nothing whatsoever wrong with questioning how anyone could love the man and not the wife. After all, Scripture says that "the two become one flesh," and so to hate a man's bride is to hate the man himself.  In the eyes of God, a man and his wife are one; a complete entity and no longer two distinct beings.

      The bit that bugs me, I have found, is that typically when the question is posed the answerer is not seeing through the eyes of God. Rather, it is man who thinks, "Of course I can love a man and not his bride," and so the analogy falls flat. I wonder, would it not be more clear to use other description of Christ and His church given in the Scripture? Would it not be more reasonable, at least in the mind of man, to talk of Christ as the Head and His church as the body (see Ephesians 1:22-23, Colossians 1:18, 2:19)? After all, any given person may see a married couple not as God sees them--a single unit--but as two individuals co-habitating under the tenuous bond of matrimony and easily divided by divorce. However, every man knows that without a head, the usefulness of a body quickly dwindles. If we think of it that way, the idea that a person can like the head but detest the remainder of the body becomes a smidgen ridiculous. 

     Personally, there was a time I could have said the same, but once I understood the absurdity of the thing I began to pray that God would help me to love like He does. Now I find that I can say I love both the Head and the body. The body may have its imperfections, it may malfunction, and it may appear flabby and even somewhat pathetic, but I have begun to understand the potential for which Christ is training His body. I have begun to understand that the church body is not yet grown and so must go through many awkward stages as it matures. Even though I can see why it appears so hideous to some, this immature body with an ancient and wise Head, yet I have come to love it. Not because it is wonderful or because I like the way it looks, but because it is a part of Him whom I adore.

"By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:35

Sunday, April 10, 2011


"For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: That one has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised."  2 Corinthians 5:14-15

     I recently had to ask myself, "Am I, in fact, controlled by the love of Christ?" If it was an uneasy question, then let me assure you the process of finding the answer was more uneasy still. It involved a prolonged and somewhat painful searching of the darkest corners of my heart, and yet a clue to the answer is given mere words later in the passage. If the love of Christ controls me, then do I live for myself? Or for Him?  That answer is simpler and more revealing, and it turns out that the answer to both questions is the same. 

     Oh, at first blush I could easily say I live for Him. After all, did I not seek His will for finding a place of worship rather than looking for what would best please me? I did not worry about the music, the location, nor even fret over which denomination to attend but left all in His hands and went where He commanded. I knew He desired obedience above all human reason, and I obeyed. So that's good, right? I worship for Him, not for me. But then He had me take a closer look. . .

     What about the service I give Him there? Is it truly for Him, or has my motivation been, at least in part, that I would look like a good little servant? Ahhh, now we've hit a sore spot. I had to confess that sometimes my acts of service were tainted by a smudge or two of pride. Then He had me examine my service on the home front... Do I ever grumble inwardly -- or even out loud -- when my husband asks me to do something when I am in the middle of a chore of my own? A better question would be, do I ever fail to murmur a complaint or feel a small surge of irritation? Again I find I am living for myself.

     I could go on for hours. Indeed, He went on with me for years, slowly and meticulously exposing even the tiniest, fragmental root of bitterness, selfishness, and self-serving.  It was what I had asked for, though I found myself many times wishing I never had asked. But what else is there for me? Once I knew the difference between this ancient, all-knowing Being and the pettiness of mere humanity, once I began to fathom the immensity of His wisdom compared with the fickle whims of my fellow man, once I had begun to grasp the unbelievable fact that He loves us despite our ignorance and even despite our outright defiance, once I understood who He is, I was undone. There is nothing else for me; no pleasure this earth has to offer that can compare to the knowledge that the bitterest draft He draws for me to drink is for my ultimate good, burn though it may at the time. Indeed, at times I hated this knowledge and wished I could drown myself in earthly delights. However, at the core of me there is the simple knowing that all else besides the Lord is futile, "a chasing after the wind." In the end, it comes down to Him. Only Him.  Now that the rift between what I said I believed and how I lived each day was found and exposed, it must be mended.

     This same dissonance exists between the Word of God and the collective church that claims to believe it, and it, too needs mending. There are many who, though they claim to be His followers, are merely in it for the society--to meet "nice" people and do "good" things. There is no real surrender, no real life change, no real desire to get in past the warm shallow waters of the faith. These are mere hobbyists, not devotees. There is too much comfort and convenience on the solid ground to keep them from wanting to dive in to the deep and even dangerous waters that lay farther out. But oh! the exquisite joy and beauty they miss out on! 

     There is more to Christianity than a set of pews and some great (or even not-so-great) music. It is not a social club, nor is it exclusive in its membership but open to all people regardless of background and personal taste. Indeed, personal taste has nothing whatsoever to do with it! It is beyond taste; beyond a building; beyond any ritual, be it new or old; beyond the scope of human reason. It is a matter of the heart. It is death and life. It is loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you, no matter how cruel. You, personally, stripped of metaphor. It is choosing to serve others, even when it means neglecting your own needs, even when those served do not appreciate it. Even when they are malicious in return. It is trusting God implicitly to know and meet your needs, never worrying or fretting. It means listening carefully for His voice among the clamor of demands and requests so that you will know what work He is giving you and not confuse it with all the other work to be done. It means quiet and careful listening. It means prompt obedience. It means that the love of Christ controls us without reservation.

     I want to say I am there, but I am not yet. However, I find as my body ages, my heart grows closer to Him. Is it the fear of death or some morbid clinging to some crazy unknown that gives me comfort in the down slope of life? No, I assure you it is not. It is because though my outer self is wasting away, my inner self is being renewed day by day. It because, as my flesh grows old and deteriorates, my spirit is coming out of its infancy and growing and learning more each day. It is the natural order of things, so that "in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling."  And so, for as long as this tent lasts, I pray that what dwells within it will be controlled by the consummate and unabashed love of Christ, my Lord.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.