November 20, 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.
These days, it’s pretty common for people to speak poorly of the church. This is understandable, given all the ways the church is struggling in our current cultural context. These are not exactly glory days for the church. But, while we ought to pay close attention to the shortcomings of the church, we ought also to allow the vision of Ephesians to lift our eyes to the future, to see the church that Christ is forming through his sovereign grace.
According to Ephesians 5, Christ, as head of the church, loved the church and gave himself up for her. But his sacrifice was not merely a demonstration of ultimate love. It also had a purpose: “to make [the church] 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 5:26-27). How are we to understand this language and what difference does it make in our day-to-day lives?
The language of 5:26-27 echoes the opening portion of Ephesians: “For [God] chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4). The “washing with water through the word” is reminiscent of baptism. In 1 Corinthians 6:11, for example, Paul writes, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” The “word” associated with washing with water could be something proclaimed in baptism or even the gospel itself. Ephesians 5:26-27 also reflects the story of God bathing his people in Ezekiel 16:8-14. There, the Lord sought out forlorn Israel, washing, anointing, and dressing her as a bride for her wedding. In language suggestive of Ephesians 5:27, the result of the Lord’s care for Israel was international fame, “because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect” (Ezekiel 16:14).
Ephesians 5:26-27 reveals that Christ’s love for the church leads him to prepare the church to be fully holy and radiant. The word translated in the NIV as “radiant” has a basic meaning of “being held in high esteem, honored, distinguished, eminent,” suggesting that the church will shine radiantly for all to see the glorious result of Christ’s love (see Ephesians 3:9-11).
I think we’d all agree that the church of today has a long way to go before it is “radiant . . . without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Yet, even as we are honest about the church’s shortcomings, may we also be committed to its glorious future, and to the work Christ is doing right now preparing the church for that future.
Something to Think About:
Do you ever find yourself getting stuck in criticism of the church? What things about the church get you the most upset?
Do you ever envision the church as truly radiant, without stain or wrinkle, but holy and blameless? When you think in these terms, what comes to mind?
In what ways are you cooperating in Christ’s work of making the church holy, blameless, and radiant?
Something to Do:
Identify one thing about your church that reflects the grace and work of Christ. Thank the Lord for this one thing and, if appropriate, thank one or more leaders of your church who are responsible for this one thing.
Gracious God, when I consider Christ’s effort to sanctify the church and to present her as radiant, without stain or blemish, but holy and blameless, my first response is one of wonder. You have saved us, not only to draw us into relationship with you, but also to help us experience the new life you have for us, a life of holiness, a life that glorifies you in every word and every deed.
Lord, help me to see the church as you see it, as it is today and as it will be in the future. May the vision of a radiant church inspire me to love and support my own local church, acknowledging our shortcomings and the evidences of your glory among us. Amen.
Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
Best of Daily Reflections: Using God’s Gifts to Dishonor God
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.