how did Christ love the church?


From the series Night of Blessing; An elder’s charge to John Parker on the occasion of his upcoming marriage

I’d like to start tonight with a confession. It took me years to get all the Parker boys straight. So Luke, I’m happy to —wait, you’re John. My real confession is that I don’t know the younger sons as well as the older sons. So I have still lots of questions about who you are and what you care about.

I do know you have a blog you haven’t posted on in over 2 years. I know Tina took your engagement photos and says you and Michelle are good swing dancers. That in fact that’s how you met, or at least got together. I know you grew up at Countryside, went to Grace College, worked on security, and fell in love. I can know all of this from Facebook.

What my heart tells me is that you are from a whole family of faithful men, that your parents have raised you to work hard and seek the will of God. And now that Will includes Michelle Clark, a beautiful woman who can’t wait to marry you—at least that’s what she posted on February 8.

So tonight, in this fellowship of men, I come as an elder to answer two questions you may not know you have. They are taken from Ephesians 5:25, which says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”  The two questions are these: how did Christ love the church? And the second, more practical question, is how do you give yourself to your wife as He did?

So how did Christ love the church? 

First of all, he loved her on purpose. You understand this much. You have purposed to love Michelle. You bought the ring, set the date, sent out the invitations so others can witness your covenant making.

In the same way Christ is choosing his bride. But mark this: He loves the church even when she is unlovely and he cares for her when she cannot or does not care back.  He sets his love on her, not as a response to her beauty but as a commitment to her character and her future.  He choses the church in a conscious and deliberate way, not merely an emotional or physical one.

The emotions and attraction you feel are necessary but not sufficient.   It is only with the same kind of intentional and sacrificial love that Christ enables that a marriage can stand.

So love MIchelle with such steadfast intention. The choice you have made requires sacrifice beyond your ability to understand and my ability to explain. As the love of Christ compelled him to leave heaven and die for us, your love will require humility, obedience and service.  Dying is the easy part.  Setting aside our own interests every day is the hard part.

What does it mean then to give ourselves for our wives?

I can tell you what it doesn’t mean to give ourselves for our wives.  It doesn’t mean we get to eat whatever we want and have sex whenever we want. Such male adolescent fantasies will soon be disabused.  Good food and good sex require time and energy, both of which are limited by our responsibilities and resources.

But when you have stayed up all night with a sick child so your wife can sleep and you’ve made such sacrifices hundreds of times, your joys will be multiplied, much as Christ after centuries of caring for his church still longs for the Great Consummation.

His purpose, verse 26 tells us, was so the church would become holy and radiant. This should be your purpose too, that Michelle would be better and more beautiful because you love her.

Imagine the patience and gentleness with which Christ has cared for His church, even in its indifference and disobedience.  Imagine the grace poured out on us when we least expected it, and the forgiveness extended to us when we least deserved it.  Imagine it and emulate it.

Before you lay failures, stresses, diseases and disappointments, often of your own making and sometimes of hers. So let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus, that you would empty yourself and take on the form of a servant.

That’s not to say your life together won’t include glittering moments of unspeakable joy.  But these moments will be in proportion to your willingness to set yourself aside in the care of others.

Such moments will require you making tough choices because you see a bigger picture or a more important principle.  They will require you sharing the remote and going to the restaurant you least prefer.  They will require you getting up on Sunday morning when you would rather sleep in and staying up late at night when you would rather crash.  They will require you listening for hours and hours, often to the same concern. They will require you waiting when you want to act.

In ten-thousand ways, and in ten-thousand days, you will earn the trust and respect your young heart desires.  Then you will understand what it means to love your wife, as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.

So I charge you, as an elder, a brother, and a friend, to wait for her, to listen to her and to serve her. She will become better and more radiant, and you will become more like Christ.  It is a grace beyond our imagining.

So go in His strength and experience His joy.

(based on an earlier charge)

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