During worship Sunday, July 31, 2016, much of the following came to me as I prayed about the meaning of Romans 8:35-39.
The Bride of Christ
“For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” – Genesis 2:24, NASB
Each Sunday, we come together to worship, in our case a small, warm family of believers in a small church. Even as we meet with the Lord, singing His praises, waiting in His presence, others in other bodies meet to do the same. Other churches in the same town, in surrounding towns, in the same state, in surrounding states, in the nation, in all the nations in the world, in every culture and every time since the beginning, always and forever, the beloved of the Lord praise Him without ceasing.
“And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying,
“To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”“ – Revelation 5:13-14, NASB
In churches, chapels, cathedrals, homes, fields, stadiums, prisons, hospitals, those loved by the Lord rise up to love Him in return. This great body, transcending all boundaries of age, race and language, the promised Bride of Christ, will be one with Christ forever.
Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom, who gave His life for His bride, loves her with the infinite, perfect love of God, who is that very love. A love that shall never end, enduring forever, perfect, unwavering, unreserved. This great, infinite, eternal love of the bride for her husband and the husband for his bride is reflected in the institution of marriage, which at its best is a poor reflection of the original.
“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. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so 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 would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason A man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.” – Ephesians 5:22-32, NASB
Paul is clearly defining the institution of marriage in terms of a vision of the marriage of the Lamb and His Bride. In order to stay on the subject at hand, forgetting the obvious controversy that this passage raises for us today in terms of the proper roles of husband and wife, here is the same passage focusing only on what Paul says about Christ and the church:
“Christ … is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. … the church is subject to Christ … Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so 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 would be holy and blameless. … nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. … and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. …” – from Ephesians 5:22-32, NASB
The message is clear, that Jesus Christ, the exalted, eternal Lamb of God, laid down His life for His Bride, devoting Himself to transforming her into a Bride worthy of such a Husband. And each of us, each individual Christian is in the Bride. Each Christian is being transformed, purified and glorified in the Bride. Each Christian is subject to this same perfect love, a love that will never fail.
The Love of Christ
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written,
“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
WE were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:35-39, Message
When Paul says that “nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus,” he is speaking of the Bride and of the Bridegroom’s faithfulness to her. He is the great and perfect Husband of one Bride in a marriage that will never end. Every believer, every member of the Bride, every sheep hearing His voice, has eternal life.
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” – John 10:27-30, NASB
The Body of Christ
When Paul writes to the church, he speaks as much to the body as a whole, to this greater body and Bride, as he does to the individual believer who finds his identity, purpose and shelter within it. As Americans, because of the trauma of a history of living under tyrants and our rebellion against tyranny, we believe that individual and corporate identities are at odds with one another. We assume that investing our identity in a group will cause us to lose who we are. This distinction based on rebellion and a skewed view of identity stands in the way of our understanding our place in the Bride and the nature of the love with which we are loved. It keeps us from truly grasping the meaning of His promise to keep us.
In the body of Christ, the Christian finds his identity, true purpose and essential value as he lays his individuality down. As he loses himself, he gains himself. (Luke 9:23:24). His only need, our only need is to submit ourselves to the love of God, to release all our fears and burdens and so lose ourselves in His great love for us that we give no further thought of our selfish desires.
“We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us.” – 1 John 4:16-19, NASB
This great love, expressed in our communion in the Body of Christ, goes to the heart of worship. When we come together to praise Him, we sing less as individual believers and more as members of the body of Christ. We sing as the Bride sings to her Husband.
When we fellowship together, when we eat together, when we share with one another, when we pray for each other, in every aspect of our lives as individuals, as workers, as sons and daughters, as husbands and wives, we live and act in fellowship as members of the great Bride being purified and perfected for the great wedding day of the Son of God. We do nothing apart from our place in the body. Just as the Bride is being prepared for her wedding day, we are being purified and perfected in the great love that is God and that grows within us in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails;” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, NASB
Bought With a Price
Whatever we do, whatever I do, must be governed by this love and by my place in the body. I am not my own. I have been bought with a price. Every action that I take, every choice I make, is done within the body, governed by the love of God. I do not act in a vacuum. Everything I do impacts the entire body of Christ, of which I am a member.
“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “The two shall become one flesh.” But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:15-20, NASB
All of us who have died to our sins and been raised to life in Christ are members of one great Bride. We do nothing apart from that greatest of realities.
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” – Ephesians 3:14-19, NASB
In the coming times of trouble that I fear is coming to the church, we need more than ever to have a revelation of the love of Jesus Christ firmly planted in our hearts. When each day of darkness, struggle and persecution follows another, it will be the only shelter we will have and the only protection we will have from losing hope. I pray that the darkness does not come, and if it does not, perhaps we will need the knowledge of His love even more.
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