December 4, 2019 • Life for Leaders
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
Ephesians 5:25-27 (NIV)
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we considered Christ’s love for the church. I stated on the basis of Ephesians 5:25-30 that Christ loves the church even when it is so messed up. But, you might wonder, does Christ really love the flawed church? If so, how do we know that’s true?
Before I answer these questions, let me say that Christ’s love for the messed up church is not the same as his approval. Even as parents love their children when they act in ways that parents don’t appreciate, so it is with Christ. When the church fails to be what Christ designed it to be, when the church fails to love as Christ intended it to love, when the church fails to serve as Christ instructed it to serve, surely Christ is not pleased. (For some specific examples of Christ’s unhappiness with the church, see, for example, Revelation 2-3). But there is every reason to believe that Christ still loves the church in spite of its failings and flaws.
How do we know that Jesus loves the church such as it is? Because Ephesians 5 tells us so. This chapter reveals that Christ “loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). In other words, he loved the church that was to come even before he died for her. Christ loved the church, not in its perfection, but in its gross imperfection.
Furthermore, Ephesians 5:25-27 shows that Christ seeks to make the church holy—cleansing and washing her. Why does the church need this special treatment? Because it’s a mess. But Christ loves the messy, flawed, broken church and is in the business of making it whole, holy, and blameless. In fact, what is said about Christ’s love for the church in Ephesians 5:23-30 consistently underscores the fact that Christ’s love is not dependent on the church’s goodness. On the contrary, this passage reveals quite clearly that Christ loves the flawed church right now, even as he works to make the church all that he intends it to be. His effort to purify and perfect the church is an expression of his love for the church.
Christ calls each of us to join him in work of church renewal, not only because the church is central to his plan for the cosmos, but also because he cherishes the church. Thus, rather than taking potshots at the bride of Christ, shouldn’t we find ways to affirm and embrace her? Rather than separating ourselves from the imperfect, wounded bride of Christ, shouldn’t we join Christ in his work of washing, cleaning, feeding, and caring for her? If Christ loves the church so much that he gave up himself for her, shouldn’t we seek to imitate his self-giving love in our relationship with the church?
Something to Think About:
How do you feel about the flawed church?
How do you tend to talk about the church?
In what ways do you love the church in spite of her flaws?
If you were to take seriously Christ’s love for the church, how might this make a difference in your words, deeds, prayers, and passions?
Something to Do:
Prayerfully consider how you might actually love the church this week. Then do whatever the Holy Spirit puts on your heart.
Lord Jesus Christ, I am convicted today about how easily I fail to love that which you love so much, the church . . . your body, your bride. I can tolerate the church. I can criticize the church (as if I were not part of it). I can stand back from the church in my “holier than thou” attitude. I can wish the church were different. And I can use all of this as an excuse to fail to love your church. Forgive me, Lord.
Help me to discover how better to think about your church. By your Spirit, help me to feel about the church as you do. Show me how I can love your church in tangible ways, joining you in your work of purifying and perfecting the church.
O Lord, when it comes to your church, may I be part of the solution, not just part of the problem! Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online
The Seven Churches of Revelation (Revelation 2-3)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
“Millions call themselves by His name, it is true, and pay some token homage to Him, but a simple test will show how little He is really honored among them. Let the average man be put to the proof on the question of who or what is ABOVE, and his true position will be exposed. Let him be forced into making a choice between God and money, between God and men, between God and personal ambition, God and self, God and human love, and God will take second place every time. Those other things will be exalted above. However the man may protest, the proof is in the choice he makes day after day throughout his life.”
― A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst for the Divine