The True Nature of a Gospel Church — 6
We have looked at 5 metaphors –
A. The Building B. The Body C. The Household or Family D. The Flock E. The Vine
Church metaphors help us to understand God’s purpose for God’s people in local bodies of believers. Scripture frequently compares the relationship of God and His people to that of husband and wife; and it likens the relationship of Christ and His church to that of
F. The Bridegroom and the Bride
3rd October 1970 is a very special date! A proposal had been made earlier that year; and an engagement had been announced in June, and then the preparations began! All leading up to the big day! I was to meet my bride – and to be joined to her for the rest of my (or her) lifetime. And then we would spend our lives together as ONE.
My bride had a lovely white dress; we had a splendid meal in a smart hotel; there were guests, friends and family rejoicing with us.
But most importantly she had made herself ready – ready to respond to my proposal to love her.
The picture is familiar and common place. But when applied to God and His believing people it is hard to find a more honourable metaphor than this – indeed the Church – the bride of Christ – is highly honoured in this whole Bible picture before us this morning.
And what a wonderful picture was before us in that reading of the Book of Revelation a few moments ago from Chapter 21 v 2
And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
1. The Bride in the Old Testament
A. Isaiah 54 v 1 – 5.
1 Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the LORD. 2 Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; 3 For thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited. 4 Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more. 5 For thy Maker is thine husband; the LORD of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called.
Isaiah 53 has spoken of Christ the suffering Saviour – One who became qualified to die for His church
V 12 - and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Then chapter 54 –
v 5 For thy Maker is thine husband; the LORD of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called.
You have much to sing about – this is a prophecy for Jews AND Gentiles – verses 5 – THY maker – God who made all men, Jews and Gentiles – He is thy Husband.
B. Isaiah 62 v 4 – 5.
4 Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married. 5 For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee: and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.
Another church chapter with the marriage picture. “Hephzibah” means “my delight is in her.” As a husband has delight in the wife of his youth; and “Beulah” means “married”.
Matthew Poole says that Hephzibah is a new name agreeing with the Bride’s new condition and Beulah agreeing to the Bride’s new Relationship.
The Bridegroom rejoices over the Bride –
v 5 For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee: and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.
Which is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ rejoicing over the church.
C. Jeremiah 3 v 14
14 Turn, O backsliding children, saith the LORD; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion:
God grieved over His Jewish wife when she rebelled. God and His people were in a covenant Relationship. BUT THEY FORSOOK HIM. Here in Jeremiah 3 God calls His people back to Him using the marriage picture to remind them of their relationship.
Elsewhere Israel is accused of unfaithfulness – this is the subject of Hosea 1 and 2 – that she left her first love.
Isaiah 1 v 21 How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.
Jeremiah 2 v 20 For of old time I have broken thy yoke, and burst thy bands; and thou saidst, I will not transgress; when upon every high hill and under every green tree thou wanderest, playing the harlot.
God uses this pictorial expression “for I am married to you” to express His divine claim on Israel – and us His church the Spiritual Israel.
2. Marriage in Bible Times
Before we study the New Testament picture of the Church as a bride, it would be useful to notice what arrangement for marriage was. In this we will be able to see the CONTRAST between our modern customs, and the HISTORICAL arrangements in Jewish culture. They will have a bearing on the New Testament scriptures.
The Oriental Practice was like this –
2.1. The BETROTHAL.
This was arranged by the parents of the bridegroom or a confidential friend – who approached the woman’s parents and obtained their permission. The prospective bride was asked for her consent.
This betrothal was more than a mere PROMISE of marriage. It was altogether unlike our engagement which can be terminated. Betrothal was the initiation of marriage. The bride was legally considered to be married from the time of betrothal.
She could become a widow; be punished for unfaithfulness, or receive a Bill of Divorcement. All communication between the betrothed ones was carried on by the “friend of the bridegroom.” A reference to john 3 v 29 helps here – referring to John the Baptist –
29 He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.
2.2. The MARRIAGE.
The most important part of the act of marriage was the bridegroom’s coming to the bride’s house. He comes to collect her, and her friends, to go with him for a feast in his new home that he has prepared for them.
When they arrived a small ceremony took place – the friend of the bridegroom presents the bride to the groom – a blessing was pronounced and a “covenant of God” entered into between them – this is referred to in Ezekiel 16 v 8 –
8 Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord GOD, and thou becamest mine.
2.3. Then followed the FEAST.
This could last from 7 – 14 days! Special clothes for the guests to wear were provided by the host (how this would solve a lot of problems these days – especially for mother of the bride!) It was an insult not to wear the clothes provided.
After this the bride and groom settled down to life together.
Bearing all this in mind how does the picture apply to the church as the BRIDE and the Lord Jesus Christ as the BRIDEGROOM?
3. Christ the Bridegroom.
3.1. The Betrothal.
The betrothal of Christ and His Church took place in eternity past even before the world began. It was included in God’s eternal counsel – its progress would unfurl over the period of earth’s history – but from everlasting the Church was a reality! Over and over again the Lord Jesus Christ designated the members of His church those whom the Father had given Him. When the Lord Jesus Christ speaks of those whom that Father had given Him in John 17 He was referring to those who would be His bride given to Him from eternity!
There was a dowry paid – not of gold or silver or of costly jewellery – but His own precious blood. The Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world – the plan was laid; its inevitability guaranteed by the great Sovereign God who inhabits eternity. In the fullness of time the bridegroom came into the world, died at Calvary laying down His life for His bride whom He loved unto death.
Then this wonderful bridegroom went away – ascending into heaven. Yet 10 days after this He sent his betrothed bride a most valuable gift – His own Holy Spirit. He, the Holy Spirit, is the pledge and proof of Christ’s invisible, yet constant, faithfulness to His bride. And He reminds His bride that He the bridegroom will come back for her in order to take her to Himself as his spouse.
Nothing can annul this betrothal of Christ and His bride – because it was put in place by God, by covenant. The Covenant was sealed with the blood and it cannot be broken. Not even the bride’s unfaithfulness can void her betrothal. Through the experience of Hosea in the Old Testament the bride is assured like this –
Hosea 2 v 19 And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. 20 I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the LORD.
And since she is betrothed to Christ how then does He treat her?
3.1.1. Jesus loves His church – the Bride.
The love of the Lord Jesus Christ far surpasses anything known on the human level. Never has any husband loved as Jesus loved His church.
Romans 5 v8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
Westcott says, “Christ loved the Church not because it was perfectly loveable – but in order to make it such.”
3.1.2. Jesus shows His love to the Church, the Bride.
Ephesians 5 v 25 – 29.
25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. 28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. 29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:
V 29 – he nourishes her – feeds her – protects her.
He cherishes her – Keeps her warm (clothing etc), he is gentle towards her.
Jesus is concerned to ensure the care and total well being of His body – the church – His bride. He is concerned about her health and welfare, and makes daily provision in every area for her.
Are we enjoying this care and nourishment for the Lord Jesus Christ our Head? Do we recognise His care for us? Are we grateful?
His word nourishes us – do we eat? His power protects us – do we trust? His righteousness clothes us – are we dressed? His gentleness amazes us, seeing how it comes from the One who will also be our Judge!
His concern for our health and welfare must be realised every day. There are thousands who do not claim from the DSS when they could – do we receive all our benefits from Jesus?
4. Us – THE BRIDE.
What is our response to the bridegroom?
We will all probably admit that at the very beginning we did not want to know Him – we have no natural response to His love.
Yet he captured us by loving us! Just as a young man seeks to capture His future bride by love so the Lord has loved us deeply.
1 John 4 v 19 explains what has brought about our response –
19 We love him, because he first loved us.
The bride did not take the initiative – there was no February 29th (Leap Year) arrangement here!
But it is only John who refers to our attitude as one of love.
Paul prefers to speak of FAITH and OBEDIENCE.
Ephesians 5 v 24 – the church is SUBJECT Ephesians 5 v 22 – the church is in SUBMISSION Ephesians 5 v 33 – the church reverences her Lord.
And in this relationship of submission to Christ we must all have a part.
Let us go over again the Biblical standard for wives and husbands. Commenting on verse 22 John Gill says –
“Wives should honour, reverence, and obey their husbands; they should think well of their husbands, speak becomingly to them, and respectfully of them; the wife should take care of the family, and family affairs, according to the husband’s will; should imitate him in what is good, and bear with that which is not so agreeable; she should not curiously inquire into his business, but leave the management of it to him; she should help and assist in caring and providing for the family; and should abide with him in prosperity and adversity, and do nothing without his will and consent.”
And it appears from this verse, that when a wife is willingly in submission to her husband, who is to love her unto death if necessary, it is then that she is happiest. She can follow his lead; she can leave the big decisions of life to him; she can find her satisfaction in being led by the one whom God has appointed to care for her and nurture her.
If this is a blueprint for wholesome and satisfying marriage among men and women – then how much more does it apply to the church as the bride of Christ!
Christ as the bridegroom HAS loved His bride unto death.
Therefore she is to submit to Him; follow His lead; resist doing her own thing; speak well of her husband the Lord Jesus Christ – respect Him, love Him and serve Him.
Paul speaking to the Corinthians was concerned for them –
2 Corinthians 11 v 2 For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 3 But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
We need to be aware that the Lord Jesus Christ demands and expects, and is entitled to a response of absolute faithfulness from us His church, his Bride.
We are in danger of being led astray by false teachers and the devil’s schemes.
“Simplicity” in verse 3 means “a heart totally and wholeheartedly devoted to Christ with no secret loves.”
The Church is still at the BETROTHAL stage in our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. The actual marriage, the coming of the Bridegroom, the feast and the final union are all in the Future.
And before all this there needs to be CLEANSING.
The most important virtue which the Lord Jesus Christ the bridegroom demands of His bride IS chastity; and it follows that what the Lord Jesus Christ demands of us, the church, is HOLINESS.
Although she has been called out of the sinful world the church will be marred by sin until the marriage of the Lamb and His bride is consummated. Not until then will she be a glorious church and she is in constant need of cleansing until then.
How is the Church cleansed?
Through what is called the washing of water by the word.
Ephesians 5 v 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
It is thought by some that this is an allusion to the purifying bath of the bride previous to marriage. Water often refers to the Word of God – the great Bridegroom prayed that His believing people would be sanctified by the Word –
Thy word is truth. (John 17 v 17)
As the word of God is applied to human hearts by the Holy Spirit then the Lord Jesus Christ cleanses us His bride. At this very moment in this congregation, as we hear the Word of God and receive it by the Holy Spirit – we are being sanctified and cleansed. A fact which reminds us of the necessity of the attendance at the means of grace to hear God’s word and of the feeding of our souls on His word day by day. We are being washed and being made ready for the marriage.
He will come for us one day. He will come to this our home where we live – to take us to be with Himself for ever – in His Father’s House. There is a feast for us to look forward to – and then eternal Bliss in heaven – in his presence! What joy is in store for us!
But like the oriental bride we are NOW counted as the Church to be MARRIED TO CHRIST. We belong to Him – we are His bride.
But we are not his bride as INDIVIDUALS. We are His bride along with the millions of other believers in Him the great church of Christ with whom we will share eternity.
This metaphor therefore is a picture of the UNIVERSAL CHURCH.
Yet there are implications for us at the local Church level in this metaphor.
Implication 1 – Faithfulness.
In marriage there is an expression of mutual faithfulness between husband and wife – bridegroom and bride.
So in the local church there should be that reflection of loyalty and exclusive devotion between the members that reflects the bride/bridegroom relationship.
So church members stay separated from the world because the church is PROMISED to a husband. She is available to no one else. Only Christ deserves her affection, obedience, reverence, submission and love.
1 John 2 v 15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
Implication 2 – The Covenant of Marriage.
We noticed earlier that God Himself used this idea of a covenant between Him and His people in Ezekiel 16. There are many instances of God’s people making covenants together to serve the Lord together. One example
2 Chronicles 15 v 12 And they entered into a covenant to seek the LORD God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul;
Many churches use this principle to covenant together as a local assembly, a local body of believers, to love and support one another – as seriously as if they were married together! Whiddon Valley Evangelical Church Covenant Statement –
THE CHURCH COVENANT In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in obedience to His revealed will, we covenant together to give ourselves solemnly and prayerfully to the Lord and to each other, relying entirely upon the grace of God, the precious blood and righteousness of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the gracious assistance of the Holy Spirit and the infallible Word of God. We resolve to walk together in holiness of life, taking the Holy Scriptures as our rule in faith, worship and practice. Promising to uphold the doctrine and to obey the laws of God's house, binding ourselves to love one another and to seek each other's good, always striving for peace. We determine to hold fast to the faithful Word, to declare all the counsel of God and to stand fast in the faith. We fervently pray that God will grant us his blessing as we unite as a Christian church under our Great Head, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Why do local churches do this? They follow in the excellent tradition of the Independent Churches of the 17th and 18th Centuries who would refer to 2 Corinthians 8 v 5 to support their tradition –
5 And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.
Would it not be a glorious testimony to the grace and love of the Lord Jesus Christ if local churches were thus joined together in Holy Wedlock amongst their members – so that leaving would be as much a bereavement as losing a spouse!
One definition of the local church that is to be found in ‘Keys of the Kingdom’ page 304 is this –
“The gathered Church, a visible local church should consist of believers in Christ who are baptised on a credible profession of faith, and voluntarily associated under special covenant, for the maintenance of worship, the truths, the ordinances and the discipline of the Gospel.”
So we can see how much this metaphor of the bride can help us again recognise the richness of the very institution of the local church. Are we ready as a bride? Are we dressed in the whiteness of Christ’s righteousness? Are we looking forward to the feast?
How do we treat the One who has betrothed us to Himself? Are we His – utterly? Exclusively? And by faith – savingly?
May we know the blessing of being the bride of our great God and saviour Jesus Christ!
The bride eyes not her garment, But her dear Bridegroom’s face; I will not gaze at glory, But on my King of grace. Not at the crown He giveth, But on His pierced hand; The Lamb is all the glory Of Emmanuel’s land. Anne Ross Cousins, 1824 – 1906