By Eddie Cloer
" . . . for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin" (2 Corinthians 11:2).
Some of the women students at Harding University jokingly say, "Do you know why God made man first? He wanted to make a rough draft before He made His masterpiece!" All jesting aside, woman, according to God's design, is a beautiful creature-the most beautiful of God's entire creation.
A woman is never more beautiful than on her wedding day. What husband can forget the radiant beauty of his bride as she came to pledge her heart and life to him at their marriage ceremony? Her loveliness at that moment will stay imprinted in his mind until old age veils his memory or death claims him.
No other image of the church can possibly elicit from our minds such appeal and emotion as does the word "bride." It ranks as perhaps the most picturesque of all the New Testament images for the church.
The term is used only by John as a description of the church. He intermingled the earthly and heavenly states of the church in his use of the word (Revelation 21:2, 9; 22:17). Jesus, however, alluded to the church as a bride in Mark 2:19, as did Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:2. Other such allusions include Paul's comparison in Ephesians 5:22-33 and his analogy in Romans 7:1-4.
Thinking of the church as the bride of Christ brings us to another view of the nature and character of the church. For a complete understanding of what the church is intended to be, we must weigh all of the terms, images, and figures which the Holy Spirit used to describe it.
What does this imagery of a bride suggest when applied to the church?
First, the term "bride" conveys faithfulness. A bride has made a commitment; she has entered into a covenant that requires love, loyalty, and life.
Paul feared that the Corinthians were turning from the true Christ to a false Jesus and a false gospel. Consequently, he used the strongest possible language to urge the Corinthians to steadfastness and purity: "For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin" (2 Corinthians 11:2). It is unthinkable for a bride to betray her husband, so Paul used the betrothal relationship to illustrate the fidelity that a Christian is to have toward Christ.
What illustration would be more suggestive of allegiance than the husband-and-wife union? Most of us have heard of husbands and wives who chose to face death together rather than be separated from each other. The devotion of their hearts to each other mattered more than life itself.
The church's only imperative is faithfulness to Christ. His people do not have to succeed, prosper, or even live--they only have to be true to Christ (Revelation 2:10). We must prize our commitment to Him more than we value any other relationship (Luke 14:26), possession (Luke 14:33), or allegiance (Luke 14:27).
Second, the idea of the church's being the bride of Christ implies identity. We are a group of people who have narrowed down our loves to one love, and with this singleness of mind we have made a covenant with Christ. Hence, we belong to Christ and Christ belongs to us, even as a husband and wife belong to each other. We look to Christ as our Head and wear His name, and He takes us as His body on earth and calls us His church.
Marriage means a new identity for both husband and wife, but this is especially true for the bride, for as she enters the lifelong contract of marriage, she receives a new name, the name of her husband. Similarly, when we enter the church and become part of the "churches of Christ" (Romans 16:16), we enter into a new identity which springs from our union with Christ.
God has so arranged marriage that a husband and wife become one: "For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). Likewise, in conversion, we become one with Christ (Romans 6:3). This oneness is so profound that it is best illustrated by the oneness that a husband and wife experience in marriage: "So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies.... just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body" (Ephesians 5:28-30).
Of the major commitments that a person makes, other than becoming a Christian, marriage may be the foremost. The marriage relationship is so unusually significant that the one who enters it must become a different person. He was one before marriage, but in marriage he is two; before marriage he was himself, but in marriage he belongs to another. In a similar way, as we enter the church of the New Testament, we become the body of Christ. We are no longer what we were; we have become Christians, individuals who are identified by our oneness with Christ.
Third, a bride sustains a special, ongoing commitment to the bridegroom. No relationship on earth falls into the same category as that of a bride and her bridegroom.
Paul detailed the bond the church has to Christ in Ephesians 5:22-33 with an extended parallel to the husband-and-wife relationship. His illustration explains the roles God has given to the husband and the wife in the Christian marriage, but his primary focus is the linkage which exists between Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:32).
In his comparison, Paul by inspiration placed the emphasis upon submission. As the bride of Christ, the church submits to Christ as her Head. He said, "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the-husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body" (Ephesians 5:22, 23). The church looks to Christ as her leader even as a wife submits to her husband.
Someone has said, "The perfect government is a dictatorship if the dictator is perfect." The church submits to the perfect Christ and thus enjoys perfect leadership. The church looks to no man, to no group of men, to no headquarters on this earth for its authority. The true church of Christ has only one Head, Christ the Lord.
Whenever I discuss Ephesians 5:22-33 in a Bible class, I mention that verse 23 belongs to the wife, not to the husband, and verse 25 belongs to the husband, not to the wife. The word for the wife is "submission," and the word for the husband is "sacrifice." A good husband will have at least two qualities, according to Paul: (1) He will love his wife sacrificially even as Christ loved the church, and (2) he will seek to provide the highest quality of spiritual leadership for her. Likewise, according to Paul, a good wife will also have at least two qualities: (1) She will submit to her husband as her head, and (2) she will love him as the church should love Christ.
No one can have this exclusive bride/bridegroom relationship with Christ without entering and being His church. Just as no other woman can be given the same privileges as a man's wife, no other organization or institution-however renowned or committed to service-is given the privilege of a bride/bridegroom relationship with Christ.
Fourth, being the bride of Christ means having the provisions of Christ's care and love. Who can totally comprehend the blessings that come to the bride of the King of kings and Lord of lords?
To begin with, Jesus provides salvation for His church. Paul referred to Christ as "the Savior of the body" (Ephesians 5:23). He brought this life to His church by laying down His life for her: ". . . just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her" (Ephesians 5:25). Further, Jesus sustains the church. Paul said that a husband is to nourish his wife "just as Christ also does the church" (Ephesians 5:29). Jesus guards the sanctity of the church and secures her future: "That he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless" (Ephesians 5:26, 27).
Entrance into Christ's body brings
us under the care and provisions
of Christ even as the bride comes
under the loving care
of her husband.
Children (and adults) enjoy the charming story of Cinderella. We are enchanted by the idea that a mistreated slave girl could eventually marry a prince. Let us take the story beyond its ending. What was "the rest of the story"? What was life like for Cinderella as the wife of the prince? How different life was for her! Formerly accustomed to poverty, slavish work, ridicule, and disappointment, she came to know luxury, riches, assistance, and a glorious future in her new home and life. Her marriage to the prince brought her a new identity, a new life, and innumerable pleasures.
Entrance into Christ's body brings us under the care and provisions of Christ even as the bride comes under the loving care of her husband. Only the church has the promise of Christ's safekeeping.
Fifth, as Christ's bride, the church will enjoy the same future that Christ will enjoy. The church will go where Christ goes, receive what Christ receives, and live with Christ in eternity.
The specific use of the word "bride" in the New Testament in connection with the church is found in Revelation 21 and 22. John used the word to combine the nature of the church with its destiny. He first saw the "new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband" (Revelation 21:2). Later, John was told by an angel, "Come here, I shall show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb" (Revelation 21:9). He was then carried away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain and was shown "the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God......... (Revelation 21:10, 11). Revelation closes with the invitation of the Spirit and the bride: "And the Spirit and the bride say, 'Come.' And let the one who hears say, 'Come.' And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost" (Revelation 22:17).
The church, according to the Spirit, is to be seen as the fiancée of Christ in its earthly state and as the wife of Christ in its heavenly state. This fits Paul's exhortation to faithfulness at 2 Corinthians 11:2: "For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin."
The fulfillment of the betrothal is the actual marriage. John described a vision of the new Jerusalem, the holy city, as it came down from heaven as a bride adorned for her husband; and he interpreted this vision as the church moving from betrothal into marriage. The figure is a blending of the nature of the church, which is symbolized by the term "bride," with the future of the church, which is portrayed in the heavenly city's coming down as the wife of the Lamb.
Jesus has promised to save His body, His church (Ephesians 5:23), and no other institution. The future of His church is pictured in Revelation in terms of the fulfillment of a previously-made promise and as a victory over the Evil One. Should you seek that eternal city, the Scriptures guide you to seek it through faithfulness to Christ in His church.
Sixth, the term "bride" suggests beauty. Nothing exceeds the loveliness of a bride. Her charm and grace are proverbial.
John wrote, "And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband" (Revelation 21:2; emphasis mine). As Isaiah wrote of the blessings of the Lord he used the attractiveness of a bride as an illustration: "I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, My soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels" (Isaiah 61:10). He further compared God's faithful people to the radiance of a bride: "...and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you" (Isaiah 62:5)
A custom honored by many couples in America is not to let the bridegroom see the brides wedding dress until she walks in for the marriage ceremony wearing it. Following this custom, the bride is truly "adorned for her husband." When the bridegroom first sees her, he finds her beauty to be inexpressible.
The church, Christ's bride, is clothed with garments of righteousness and the wedding dress of holiness. Paul wrote, "That He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless" (Ephesians 5:27).
If the church is beautiful to Christ, it will also be beautiful to the world. It is like the cliches "Take care of your character, and your character will take care of your reputation." As the church remains pure through Christs Word, and thus is beautiful to Christ, its reputation in the world will be as it should be.
By abiding in the Word, by being loyal to Christ, the church adorns herself for the marriage to Christ in heaven. We prepare ourselves for that special day by maintaining a spotless character and a blameless spirit before God.
What is more beautiful than a bride adorned for her husband? Beauty, purity, and enduring loyalty are all conveyed in the word "bride." It is easy to see why the Holy Spirit chose this image to express the churchs nature. In this term, we see the unique relationship which the church sustains to Christ, the loyalty of the church to Christ, the provisions of Christ, the loyalty of the church to Christ, the provisions of Christ for the church, the identity Christ give to the church, and the future Christ has in store for the church. The figure brings to mind the advantages and aspirations we have as Christians, our obligations and our opportunities. It floods our minds with the lovely, glorious place of the church at the side of Christ.
Inasmuch as the church is the bride of Christ, who would not want to be a member of His church? What a privilege to be the bride of Christ! Whoever does not enter the body of Christ and live as a follower of Christ surely has not understood the nature of the church.
Suppose someone offered you a vast treasure and you could spend it as you chose. Would you accept it? Can you imagine anyone's refusing the Reader's Digest ten million dollar sweepstakes? If the money were awarded to you, would you be indifferent toward it? Would you say, "Ten million dollars, huh? Sorry, I'm just not interested"? The answer is obvious. You would exuberantly rejoice in the riches you had received.
Christ's invitation for you to enter His church and live as His bride transcends all earthly riches and positions of pleasure and glory. It invites you to enter into an eternal relationship with Jesus that will provide lavishly for you here and beyond our present ability to comprehend in eternity.
"And Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'... And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:38, 47).
QUESTIONS FOR STUDY
1. List the characteristics of a bride. 2. Which New Testament writer specifically refers to the church as "the bride of Christ"? 3. What does it mean to be loyal to Christ? 4. How does marriage change our identity? 5. Would you say that marriage is one of the strongest commitments we make? 6. What does the word "submission" mean? 7. Discuss the statement "The perfect government is a dictatorship if the dictator is perfect." Relate this statement to Christ. 8. How is a husband to love his wife according to Ephesians 5:22-33? 9. What does Christ provide for His church? 10. What kind of future does Christ's church have? Describe this future in your own words. 11. What main characteristic comes to mind when you think of the church as the "bride of Christ"? 12. Has Christ promised salvation to His church? Has He promised salvation to any other church?
For Preaching and Teaching Purposes: Sermon or Teaching Type: Basic pattern; topical. Subject: The church. Theme: The church, the bride of Christ. Title: Christ's Bride. Preaching or Teaching Portion: None. Proposition: (Declarative/didactic) The word "bride" suggests aspects of the church's nature. Interrogative Question or Probing Question: What? Key Word: Characteristics. Major Points: I. Unquestioned Loyalty; II. Unique Identity; III. Unsurpassed Relationship; IV. Unlimited Provisions; V. Unparalleled Promise; VI. Unblemished Beauty. Sermonic or Teaching Objective: To persuade people to live as the bride of Christ.