The Bride of Christ

Read Eph. 5:22-32:   Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23  For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24  Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. 25  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26  that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27  that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.  28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

A. These passages clearly teach us about the God-ordained relationship between a husband and a wife – marriage as God wants it to be. It would unreasonable and illegitimate to teach about marriage from the Bible apart from these verses.

B.  But the last verse we read tells us that the apostle’s main subject here is not marriage as such. But rather he is “speaking about Christ and the church”.

C.  Christ and His church are as a Husband and Wife. The Church is depicted as the bride of Christ. The absolute qualities that define marriage also define our relationship to Christ as His church. 3 main points:

  • Vs.  23 – Christ is the only Head of the Church
  • Vs. 24 – The Church is to be subject to Christ alone
  • Vs. 25 – Christ loved the church (and gave Himself for her)

D.  I want to explore more carefully the picture of God’s church as the Bride of Christ. It is a picture of both of what Christ has done for us, and what He continues to do for us. There is also a picture of our responsibility to Christ, as our husband.

E.  The O.T. background to this picture: The image of Christ and His church as husband and wife is rooted in the O.T. scriptures. Jeremiah proclaims that Israel broke the covenant God made with them, even though He was a husband to them (Jer. 31:32).  Jer 3:14 –  “Return, O backsliding children,” says the Lord;”for I am married to you. Vs. 20 –  Surely, as a wife treacherously departs from her husband, So have you dealt treacherously with Me, O house of Israel,” says the Lord. Israel is depicted as the adulterous spouse of God in the prophecy of Hosea (2:16). This image is used to denote the treachery of Israel’s apostasy (spiritual adultery) and the intense love of God for His wayward people.

I.  The Elements of Our Marriage to Christ: There are 4 important elements of the relationship that connect the physical marriage with the spiritual union of Christ & His church.

A.   Unity – “The two shall be one flesh” – We cannot speak of marriage without speaking about unity. (wedding traditions – unity candle or pour sand from 2 containers into one) Marriage is a union of two people into one.

1. The language of the Bible that describes this intense union is “They shall be one flesh” . I am convinced that the best understanding of this phrase points to the sexual union of a man and a woman in the consummation of marriage.

2.  But we can also see how the unity of marriage is synonymous with the organic link between the body and the head. Our oneness is of one body, one person, as two people in marriage become one person – not literally, but metaphorically and comprehensively.

a. Paul quotes from Genesis 2 in Eph. 5:31For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” –  The union of a husband and wife requires the subjugation of every other relationship. One must leave before they can join themselves to another. So our relationship with Christ requires a single devotion.

b.  This union also requires continual purity.  2 Cor 11:2-3 2 For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.  3 But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. Paul represents himself as the friend of the bridegroom who had betrothed the bride to her bridegroom and thus shared in the Bridegroom’s jealousy for her purity and faithfulness. In Paul’s day among the Jews the betrothal period was taken as seriously as the marriage itself, where unfaithfulness was considered adultery. Many times the bridegroom was away preparing the home before the actual marriage ceremony. When he returned he expected his bride to be presented to him as a pure virgin. The church is to display a single minded devotion that is evidenced through doctrinal purity and obedience to the will of Christ.  Paul’s use of simplicity in vs. 3 is not saying that the gospel is simple in the sense of unsophisticated or naïve, but that it demands a simple, single-minded devotion.

c.  Paul also uses the analogy of the single body to encourage sexual purity in 1 Cor 6:15ff. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. 18 Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. You are one with Christ. Will you drag Him into your sin? Paul is pointing to the absolute incompatibility between Christ’s body and the practice of sin.

B.  Love – “Husbands love your wives just as Christ also loved the church”. Love is one of the most misunderstood words in American culture. When we say, “I love you,” we may mean, “You make me feel tingly all over,” or “I want to have sex with you,” or “I enjoy being around you,” or “I want you to feel wanted.” But Christ’s love for the church is not just a feeling.

1.  This love is giving, sacrificing, selfless. This love is a love that shows itself in action.

2.  How did Christ act out His love? Verse 1:7 says, “we have redemption through his blood,” while 2:13 says we Gentiles are “brought near by the blood of Christ.” His love extended to all the way to the shedding of his blood for us — and the shedding of his blood for us when there was nothing attractive about us. As Paul says in Romans 5:8, But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

3.  You recall that God had Hosea act out such a love in his own life and marriage. His wife, Gomer, was guilty of brazen adultery, even to the point of selling herself as a prostitute. But God tells Hosea to go down to the slave market and to buy her — to buy the woman who was properly his, and had rejected him — he tells Hosea to redeem her and to take her back as his wife. This is the type of love Christ has for the church.

C.  Leadership – “as Christ is the head of the church”  Christ as the head of His body, the church, was introduced in 1:22. Here He is the head of His wife, the church. The idea of headship is intimately related to the unity and love we have already discussed.

1.  In particular, note that Christ as head is not an external authority telling the church what to do, but Christ is one with the church — indeed, the one whose love brought the church into being.

2.  Headship is an organic notion — the head is part of the body, just as much as the foot or the arm. The husband expresses his authority through the context of this relationship of oneness. When the wife or husband corrects each other they are speaking to their own mind, because they are one. Where does one stop and the other start?

3.  Just so, submission to the head is a result of confidence in the unity and love we have discussed. Paul connects His headship to the fact that He is “the Savior of the body” (v. 23).  We as the church submit to Christ because we know he has saved us and has our good at heart, even when following him means acting in a way that seems to make little sense. Love drives obedience. We know that he who died for us when we were without hope loves us with an undying love, and so we express our love to him by being obedient to his headship. John 14:15“If you love Me, keep My commandments.

4.  Now, what does a head do? What does Jesus do for us?  Let me suggest three ideas:

a. First, the head decides. Headship involves the responsibility to make choices & exercise authority.

b. Second, the head coordinates the diversity of the body. Without a head, the different parts of the body would not work towards a common purpose or be at peace. Unity is the product of submission to the head.

c. Finally, the head looks out for the good of the entire body. There may be times when an action in the short run will hurt one part of the body. But the head knows this pain is worth it so that the whole body might grow.

D.   Perfection“present her to himself a glorious church”“ not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing.As our husband, Christ not only has saved us but He also works for our spiritual development. (difference between a doctor and a physical therapist – one treats the disease, the other builds up the body to its fullest potential. Consider some of the words Paul uses in our text describing the impact of Christ on the church:

  • He sanctifies and cleanses her (26), washing us from our sins and then setting us apart for his purposes;
  • He makes her to have no spot or wrinkle, but to be holy and blameless (27);
  • He nourishes and cherishes her (29), not being willing to stop at cleansing us, but giving us everything we need in order to grow up into him;
  • He is her savior (23).

1. The purpose of headship is the completion or perfection of the church. Christ is one with the church, and loves the church so much that he is determined to make it all it should be. You can be better because of who you are married to.

a. in the chapter earlier Paul describes this perfecting process through the provision (gifts) of Christ.  Eph 4:11-16And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ —  16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

b. The holy, blameless church is a reflection on Christ as its Head. The sunrise displays the beauty of its creator. Just so, we as the church are being perfected so that all creation will see us — holy and blameless, perfect and complete — and sing praises to God.

Conclusion:   The perfected church bringing praise to God is pictured in Revelation 19:6-9

6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. 7 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready; 8 to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure”– for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. 9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”

Can you imagine this scene? The huge multitude of all the created order will sing praises to God because of us! We are his bride, clothed in the very deeds done we have done through his grace. The perfect savior marries the perfect bride — and we, together, are that bride.  Christians, this is your destiny! This is who we are in Christ! Are you espoused to Christ?  Have you made the commitment?