Church: The Bride and Body of Christ (Eph. 5:22-33)
from The Church under Fire sermon series . . .
As we discussed in the previous article, the Church of God is always in Satan’s cross-hairs to one degree or another. And the first step in combating the fiery trials of Satan’s deceptions and lies that he launches against the Church is to understand who and what the Church actually is. Last week in 2 Thessalonians, we learned the origins of our common salvation and our holy position in Jesus Christ. The Church is the assembly of God’s elect that believes the gospel and lives according to the gospel. And this life that we live together according to the gospel is by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Today, we are building on what we learned. As the Assembly of God’s Elect, we the Church have a glorious new position as the Bride and Body of Christ. This is what Paul goes to great lengths to convey in chapter 5 of his letter to the Ephesian Church. Everything he says to the Ephesian Church applies to every genuine, local church today, including Grace Life Baptist Church.
Ephesians 5:22-33—Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, hav-ing 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. 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. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Life can be lonely. Sometimes we can feel alone literally because we are alone. Other times we may feel alone even if we are in a crowd of people. In our natural state of sin and rebellion, each of us is a head-strong, individualistic loner. We tend to want what we want when we want it, and we don’t want others holding us accountable for the kind of life we want to live. This can lead to seasons of me-centered, self-isolation. This kind of isolation is not admirable but sinful.
But to avoid the negative effects of isolation, people seek out what we call affinity groups—meaning we seek out relationships with others with whom we have the most in common. Gardeners seek out gardener groups, bikers seek out biker groups, sports fans seek out sports fan groups, etc. Of course, this isn’t all bad; but when Jesus saves us from our sin, such affinity groups take a backseat to the new family into which we’ve been adopted, namely the Church of Jesus Christ. Jesus removes us from the cesspool of self-isolation and He takes us beyond the shallowness of affinity groups and plugs us into the community of Christians called the Church. In this way, we are never alone as God in Christ has joined us together as His Church through the working of the Holy Spirit.
The intimacy of our life together as the Church is such that Paul uses the illustration of marriage to communicate the radical nature of our relationships together with Christ and with each other in His Church.
1. The Church is the submissive Bride of Christ (vv.22-24). As we read Ephesians 5, it can be difficult to say whether Paul is talking about marriage or about Christ’s relationship to His Church. Paul does this intentionally. In fact, he’s talking about both—he’s talking about the nature of Christian marriage between a man and a woman and the nature of the Christian’s relationship to Christ within His Church.
The word translated “church” has three primary meanings in the Greek, each of which you can find expressed in the New Testament.
(1) Assembly—A legislative body that meets regularly (Acts 19:39).
(2) Gathering—A casual or impromptu gathering of people (Acts 19:40-41).
(3) Congregation/Church—A people with shared beliefs
The word “church” literally means “called out ones.” Obviously, Christ’s Church is more than a legislative body or a causal gathering of people. The Church is God’s elect, whom He has called out to be His assembly or congregation with shared beliefs centered on the Person and Work of Jesus Christ for the salvation of sinners.
The Church is the universal Bride and Body of Christ that includes all the Old Testament and New Testament saints. Millions of them have died, whose souls are al-ready in Heaven, and they’re awaiting Christ’s Return when they will receive their resurrection bodies. And many millions are alive on earth, and we meet regularly together for worship and discipleship in thousands of local assemblies around the world as we await our resurrection bodies too at the glorious Second Coming of Christ.
Paul uses the language of marriage to highlight our glorious position in Christ Jesus as His Bride. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior” (vv.22-23). In marriage, it is the wife’s responsibility to submit to her husband just as she submits to Jesus Christ as Lord. The word submission means to subject yourself under someone’s authority. In the majority of uses in the New Testament, submission has a positive meaning, including its use here. The word is not in verse 22 but comes from verse 21. “Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (v.21). Some have used this fact to water down Paul’s argument and introduce egalitarianism or outright feminism. But such twisting of Scripture doesn’t hold water because Paul’s parallel teaching to the Colossians makes it clear what he means.
Colossians 3:18—Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Paul’s illustration of the wife’s submission to her husband is perfect because everyone is familiar with the concept of marriage, even if your experience has been mostly negative. No matter how culturally unpopular it is, the husband is the head of the wife, and the wife is to submit to her husband’s authority. The question then becomes is the wife doing a “good job” or a “bad job’ of helping her husband build and maintain the Christian home.
In the same way, the Church is Christ’s Bride living in submission to Christ. The question becomes is a local church doing a “good job” or a “bad job” of displaying their allegiance to Him as their preeminent Lord (cf. Col.1:17-18). Paul emphasizes the importance of both the wife’s submission to her husband and the Church’s submission to Jesus in verse 24. “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in every-thing to their husbands” (v.24). This doesn’t mean the wife must follow her husband into sin. God forbid! As we move through these verses, Paul lays out expectations for husbands too. But so long as the husband is walking in agreement with the Lord, the wife is to follow. And when the husband strays from following Christ, she keeps following Christ. In the case of Christ leading His Bride, we have no worries for He always leads us into all righteousness.
In this way, marriage is not about serving yourself but about serving one another even as Christ has served us. Paul goes on to illustrate this truth by addressing the husband’s role in marriage. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (vv.25-26).
2. The Church is the beloved Body of Christ (vv.25-33). Husbands are commanded to love their wives “as Christ loved the church.” And how did He love the Church? By giving “himself up for her” (v.25). The word translated “gave up” means to give up something of strong personal interest, like giving up your wallet or purse. You just don’t do that sort of thing naturally because they are so important. In this case, Jesus “gave himself up” by coming in human flesh.
2 Corinthians 8:9—For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
Jesus Himself came to earth in full submission to God the Father as an example of how the wife is to submit to her husband.
1 Corinthians 11:3—But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.
Jesus loved us by dying on the cross for our sins, taking responsibility for our rebellion. But in our culture, our view of love is so warped that we’ve come to believe that love is about ourselves. The result is that “love” has been redefined to include all kinds of sexual perversity.
But the love of Christ for His Bride translates into our purification. He “gave himself up” so “that he might sanctify her, heaving cleansed her by the washing of water with the word (v.26). Just as God uses the Christian husband to bathe his wife’s soul with the Word of God, so too Jesus saves us by cleansing our souls with His Word. And as His Bride and Body, Christ shows us how much He loves us by continually bathing us in His Word. This language intentionally sounds like the language of baptism. Baptism itself is not our cleansing but is the picture of what Jesus, as the Word of God, does as He washes us clean from our sin.
Why does Jesus wash us clean continually? “So that he might present the church to himself in splendor, with-out spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (v.27). Imagine a bride on her wedding day. In your mind, what does she look like? Is her dress stained and wrinkled like she’s been wallowing in a pigsty? Is her make-up smeared and runny? Is her hair matted up like a dirty dog? No! She’s beautifully adorned to meet her husband at the altar!
Just as it is the husband’s role to take responsibility for the protection and purity of his wife, so too is it Christ’s responsibility to protect and purify the Church. “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body” (vv.28-30). The word translated “should” is literally under obligation. It’s not optional for the husband to love his wife as his own body. But how does a person love their own body? We “nourish” them—meaning we provide them with food, water, and sleep. And we “cherish” them—meaning we provide them with clothing, proper grooming, and shelter.
Jesus means for His Church to be a reflection of His holy character. It is Jesus who does the purifying, and it is Jesus who does the presenting of His Bride and Body to the world. And notice that Jesus’ love for His Bride and Body is exclusive. He doesn’t love all people in the same way anymore than a husband loves all women the same way he loves his wife. Jesus loves His Bride with a special, saving-love because all Christians “are members of his body” (v.30).
Paul ends by summarizing his main point of the Church being the Bride and Body of Christ by taking us back to God’s Creation mandate. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (v.31). The marriage relationship has always been a picture of God’s love for His chosen people. Paul confirms this by saying, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (vv.32-33).
Grace Life, not only are we the assembly of God’s elect. We are the Bride and Body of Christ, set apart to be His purified people whom He has sworn to provide for and protect. The only way we can stand as the Church when the Church comes under fire is to remain submitted to Christ as our Husband who is committed to keeping us pure amid this impure and crooked generation.