God's Love for His People
Passage: Ephesians 5:25–5:32
God's Love for His People
August 24th, 2008
Way of Grace Church
I. Love and Marriage
I've always found it interesting that in this day of increased personal independence, in this culture that can very quickly reject traditional moral categories, in this time of "shacking up" and 50 plus percent divorce rates, I've always found it interesting that we still find the main characters, at the end of almost every romantic comedy, doing what? Yea, getting married!
You see, it seems that, even in this culture, there is some sense that marriage is still the ultimate fulfillment of true love. "And they lived happily ever after" continues to be the ideal, doesn't it?
But why do our most thrilling conceptions of love and the institution of marriage, why are they so often put together? As Frank Sinatra once expressed it in song: "Love and marriage...go together like a horse and carriage...this I tell you brother...you can't have one without the other." Is there something distinct about the kind of love that you hope to find and sometimes do find in the context of marriage?
Well, if you've been with us over the past few weeks, you may be scratching your heads at this point because our series "God is love" has been focused, not on the love of the married, but on the love of God. We've been attempting to understand more about God's love so that we can love as we should when God is our ultimate reference point.
So if this true, why did we begin this morning by talking about marital affection, about the kind of love that is shared between a husband and wife?
Well, I think our main passage helps clarify that this morning. Turn with me to Ephesians 5, verses 25 through 32.
II. The Passages: "As Christ Loved the Church" (Ephesians 5:25-32)
Listen to what Paul tells here about marriage, love, and God. Listen as I read:
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.ï»¿ 28 In the same way husbands should love their 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 Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
Did you notice what Paul is doing here? Very simply, as he does consistently in his letters, he is pointing his readers back to Jesus Christ. Specifically, he is pointing husbands to the kind of love they should show their wives by pointing them to the love of God in Christ.
But look at the way he does this. He doesn't simply say, "husbands, love your wives" as he does in Colossians 3:19. And he doesn't simply say, "love your wife just as Jesus loved you" No, he spends time here painting a picture. He uses the concept of earthly marriage as an illustration, a picture of God's relationship with His people.
But here's the really interesting question: why did Paul, why did God through Paul, choose to describe his relationship with his people using the concept of marriage? There are many others ways the Bible describes God's relationship with His people. Sometimes it uses the language of the parent and the child. Sometimes it uses the imagery of friendship.
But marriage? I think some people might be uncomfortable with this illustration.
Well, one of the reasons Paul used this description is because Jesus himself referred to himself as a "bridegroom" in a number of places in the Gospels, and John the Baptist confirmed this in John 3.
Of course, using marriage as an illustration like this is older than the Gospels. God, throughout the Old Testament, described His relationship with the nation of Israel as that of a husband and a wife.
But the question remains. Why did God choose the concept of marriage to describe His relationship with His people?
III. A Love of Distinction
I believe he did so because of what all of us understand about marriage. Marriage is a very distinct kind of love, isn't it? While our love for family, and the love that exists in a friendship are incredibly important, there is something distinct about the love between husband and wife. The love of marriage is love sealed with a promise. It is covenant love.
Therefore, we could say very generally, to use marriage as a description of God's love is a powerful reminder that God's love for his people is a very distinct kind of love. It is covenant love.
To say that God loves everyone in the same way misses the point of this analogy. A man or a woman might love all the different people that are a part of their life, but their love for their spouse is a very distinct love.
In talking about His people, God emphasized this distinction through Moses. Listen to what Moses told the people of Israel:
6 "For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:6-8)
When Moses talks about the oath God swore to their fathers, we're reminded of His promises to Abraham, that he wanted to bless Abraham so that ultimately, all the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3). But nevertheless, God chose to "set His love" on a particular people.
And all of this was simply a picture of what was to come through Jesus. From all the families of the earth, from every tribe, tongue, and nation, God has chosen to "set his love" on those who are His bride. In the opening verses of Ephesians, Paul describes how believers in Christ have been "predestined" by God (Ephesians 1:5 and 1:11), that is, from eternity past, God "chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight" (1:4).
That sounds a lot like our main passage from Ephesians 5, doesn't it? Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.ï»¿
So God chose to use this institution of marriage as a way of communicating the kind of distinct love, the covenant love that He has for His people; the love of Jesus Christ for His church.
But I think Paul allows us to take a step further here in light of verses 31 and 32: 31 "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
In verses 31, Paul, without any introduction or citation, he quotes Genesis 2:24. In Genesis, this verse follows immediately after the creation of the woman, and God's bring her to the man.
But look at the incredible statement that Paul makes in verse 32: This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
Paul is emphatic here that he is saying something, but what exactly is he saying? I believe what he's saying is that, ultimately, the foundational verse for marriage in the Scriptures, the idea of the two becoming one flesh, is first about Christ's relationship to His church.
If any person is joined to Jesus Christ by faith, they become one with Him; he or she becomes part of the body of Christ, the church. You see, Jesus taught us in Matthew 22 that marriage will not last forever, but...but...the marriage of the Lamb will.
So it's really not that God chose marriage after the fact to provide us with a picture of His relationship with His people, but it's more accurate to say that God designed marriage from the outset to be a reflection of His own covenant love.
Does that excite you? Does that stir you? It should, not simply if you're married, but more so, if you belong to THE Bridegroom.
I want us to stop for a minute and really think about the reality of God's intentions. If you can think about those times or that couple or that depiction of marital love, that love between a husband and wife, that for you embodied the ideal, the fullness of all that marriage can be, the beauty and the intimacy and the passion of that kind of covenant love, then you're starting to understand just a fraction of God's love for His people.
I mean, how could we miss this kind of love when we read Ephesians 5:25-32?
I don't care what novel it is, what true-to-life book it is, what movie it is, what poem it is, what play it is, there is no love story that holds a candle to the love story described in these verses.
The husband gives his own life in order to redeem his betrothed from the grip of death, so that in the end, love can defeat death and reunite, for all eternity, the bridegroom and his newly radiant bride. No, that's not the storyline for an epic romance movie. It's the reality of what God has done through Jesus.
This of course is the ultimate example of love, the reality that helps us define love. There are so many false definitions of love out there. But here we're reminded of that definition I offered several weeks ago. What is love?
Love is a passionate concern that labors without limit to see God's best accomplished in another's life.
And so very clearly, the cross reminds us that Jesus labored without limit to God's best accomplished for His bride. God loves His people.
IV. Loving the Bride
Do you belong to God through Jesus Christ? In a world with so many broken and weak depictions of marriage, we need to keep our eyes on the covenant love of God, don't we? We need to rejoice in what Jesus Christ did for His bride. We need to rest in the fact that Jesus, our husband, is nourishing and cherishing us even now, through His grace.
And of course, as we rejoice in this amazing love, we're also called to reflect it, aren't we? Listen to what Paul wrote at the beginning of this chapter: Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (5:1, 2)
This is why Paul is using the reality of God's love for His people, Christ's love for His church, to challenge husbands about how they love their wives.
But we've doing something else in this study. We've not only been exploring how God loves, but we've considering what God loves as well. And because of this, we've been reminded that we not only do we need to love as God loves, but we need to love what God loves as well.
Do you love the things that God loves?
When a man or woman sees a wedding ring on someone's finger, someone of the opposite sex, they are quickly reminded that there is an appropriate and inappropriate way, a right and a wrong way, to treat someone else's spouse.
So what is the right way to treat God's spouse? Do you love the church? Do you love the bride for whom Jesus Christ laid down His life? Do you love her with the same passion that God has for her?
But what does it mean to love the church? Does it mean you're so excited that you get here an hour early every Sunday? Does loving the church mean that you're willing to plaster the church's logo on your back window? Or that you talk about the church in glowing terms?
Well, maybe. But if we're to understand how we should love the church, we need to do two things. We first need to define this term ‘church', and second, we need remember how Christ loved the church.
What do we mean when we use the term church? Some of us might quickly envision a little white building with a steeple sitting in the middle of a scenic meadow or a windy prairie. But, as we've already talked about this morning, the church IS God's people. Every follower of Jesus Christ is a part of the Church. The Greek word for "church" mean those who are "called out".
So with the same language we used last week in talking about the world, we could say this morning, that the "church" is not simply some kind of abstract concept. No, the "church" is made real in the faces of those believers who inhabit your everyday.
Now in many situations, our love for the church will stretch our horizons. Our Christlike love will be directed toward brothers and sisters from other parts of the Valley or other parts of the world. To love the Church, capital "C", is to rejoice in the unity, the bond we share with every true believer in Jesus Christ, regardless of place of origin or denominational label.
But, in most cases, this idea of loving what God loves, this idea of loving the church, is going to be lived out right here, in this specific gathering of Christians, this local church.
When the Apostles wrote to the specific churches mentioned in the New Testament, they reminded them of this same principal, they wrote things like this:
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:10)
If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. (I John 4:20, 21)
To love Jesus Christ, to love God, means that we love what He loves; that we love the church; whether that's with a capital "C" or a small "c".
Now, if we're honest, we struggle with both of these. In the broader context, we struggle with Christians who don't do things the way we do them, Christians who go to THAT church. We are tempted to judge and demean those who believe this or that non-essential point, rather than love them.
But we also struggle with loving our brothers and sisters in this church family, loving them the way we should love them, the way Jesus Christ loves them.
And that brings us back to understanding HOW Jesus loved the church. And to understand that, we need to think again about our main passage.
When we look at how Jesus Christ loved the church, we are brought back to our working definition of love: Love is a passionate concern that labors without limit to see God's best accomplished in another's life.
Or we might now put it this way: Christ's love for the church is a passionate concern that labors without limit to see God's best accomplished in and through the church.
Now, when we put it that way, I think it becomes even more challenging. Are we laboring without limit, are we sacrificing, to see this church become all that Jesus died to make her? Are we devoted to living and laboring in the reality that Jesus cleansed [Way of Grace] by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present [Way of Grace] to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that [this body of believers] might be holy and without blemish
You see, when we say that we love God and His people, but are not truly committed to the local church, to the brothers and sisters who are part of this fellowship, then we are like a husband who doesn't mind going on dates with his wife, but who sadly, never goes home. He is unwilling to live in the daily reality of his love commitment.
Yes, loving the church, loving this church, is not always easy. In practice, the bride is not "without spot or wrinkle", is she? Since the church is composed of men and women, boys and girls, who continue to struggle and fail, then from one perspective, yes, the Bride's hair is messed up; her dress is wrinkled; she's got dirt around the hem and stains splattered across it.
Living together in love can be a messy thing sometimes.
But from God's perspective, the bride has been presented "without spot or wrinkle". In Jesus and because of Jesus, she has been presented "in splendor".
If we are to love what God loves, we need to see as God sees. And if we could see what God is planning to do in and through the local church, if we could see how he wants to use us in that, then I think our devotion would grow for His bride. Love God's people.
What does that look like? Take an interest in the lives of those around you. Pray for them and the work of this church. Get involved in a home group. Come serve the body in some tangible way. Give of your time, talents, and treasure. Listen. Extend grace to God's people. Make them a priority. There are so many ways that we can love God's people.
No matter where you are in terms of your commitment to God's people, I encourage you this morning, love what God loves. Love those for whom Jesus died. Love the church. Love this church.
"God is love". I pray you know that love, that you love according to that love, and that you that you love that which God loves.