The Church, the Bride of Christ

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Ephesians 5:21–33 (NLT) And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  22 For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.

25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.* 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body.

31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”* 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

This passage is about marriage (Eph. 5:21-33).  It comes in a larger passage that is about relationships in Christ (Eph. 5:21-6:9).  It’s part of what is called Paul’s household code.  Household codes were a common form in the Greek and Roman world.  In a household code, authors would express how one should behave in a family in the light of Greco-Roman moral values of family or kinship, honor and shame, patronage and reciprocity, and purity.  The Christian church had values that were shaped by the Scriptures (in Paul’s case, the Old Testament).  So Paul sets out to express how Christians should live within their homes in the light of the framework of faith he has set out in the preceding chapters.   Paul has a similar household code in Col. 3:18-4:1 and there is one in 1 Peter 2:18-3:7.  In this household code, Paul is concerned that Christians should live lives that glorify God.  So he has instructions for wives and husbands (5:21-33), children and parents (6:1-4), and slaves and masters (6:5-9).

But Paul makes an analogy which helps us not only to understand the nature of marriage, but to also understand the relationship between Christ and the church.  In vv. 21-24, Paul focuses on the role of the wife.  “For a husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.  He is the Savior of his body, the church.  As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.”  (vv. 23, 24)  Much of the emphasis in teaching this passage in hte past has bee on the role of women and submission.  There is a mutual submission that is taught here.  The wife is to respect the husband, and the husband is to love the wife sacrificially.

Yet, how does this relate to the church?  Christ is the head of the church, which is his body.  If Christ is the head of the church, which is his body, then we should act that way.  We should seek the will of Christ in our planning and execution.  It seems to me that we go about our business doing all sorts of things that have nothing to do with the mission of the church:  Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  (Matt. 28:19-20)

I just got back from the North Texas Annual Conference, and we had to close a church.  The discussion over whether to close the church centered on if there were any signs of life in the church:  baptisms, professions of faith, new members, outreach to the community, etc.  It’s always sad to close a church.  But in this case, it was clear (at least to the overwhelming majority of members there) that this was a church that had ceased to be vital.  In other words, it was dead.  Even though there were a few members left alive, keeping the doors open so that they can have their funerals in the church is not a good enough reason to do so.  The church is not a funeral home, nor a wedding chapel.  Funerals and weddings are ministries of the church, but not the purpose.  Our purpose is to make new disciples of Jesus Christ.  When a church ceases to do that, then it needs to be closed.  Maybe it’s reached the natural end of its life cycle:  Perhaps the neighborhood has changed, the community has changed, or the neighborhood has died.

The local church body might die, but the Church, the body of Christ will go on.  New expressions of the body will grow up, that are better able to meet the needs of those around them.  Our job, then, as leaders of the body of Christ is to remember our mission.  How can we reach the people in our neighborhoods?  How can we find new ways to get outside the 4 walls of the church on Monday through Saturday to minister to those around us who do not know Jesus Christ?  When we understand the cultural context of the community in which we live, and reach them, then the local church in that place will continue to thrive and not just survive.  There will be new people coming to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  People in the community will come to know the love of Christ through the many ways in which the church is loving them.  And that is a beautiful thing.

Lord, help us as the church and leaders in the church to do your will.  Help us to love those around us who do not know you as Lord and Savior, so that we will accomplish our mission:  making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Amen.

 

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