Loving The Bride-Part One
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 11:28
Loving The Bride-Part One
2 Corinthians 11:28
November 6, 2004 • Grace Church of DuPage Men's Retreat
Pastor Randy Smith
One of the most astounding passages in all of Scripture is hidden away in 2 Corinthians 11. Beginning in verse 23, Paul lists the many ways he suffered for Christ in contrast to the false teachers. "Are they servants of Christ?-I speak as if insane- I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure" (2 Cor. 11:23-27). Then we arrive at verse 28 which says, "Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches."
That is remarkable! His daily concerns for the church were on par, if not greater than his severe physical hardships, something he called earlier in the letter "momentary, light affliction" (2 Cor. 4:18a). It's amazing to think that all this suffering resulted from Paul's love for the church. It's one thing to consider all that he endured for the church, yet another to understand that His love for the church which resulted in harsh affliction took precedence over the harsh affliction. We have to ask ourselves, how did Paul develop such a heart for the church?
I have the honor of officiating a marriage ceremony next weekend in New Jersey. It's a special blessing for me to be invited to play a part in one of the most memorable days in a couple's life. It is also a special blessing to interact with the engaged couple in the weeks and days prior to the ceremony. Their joy. Their excitement. Their anticipation. Soon they will be married and their relationship will be culminated by an inseparable bond whereby they can undergo the fullness of all the experiences they enjoyed while dating. Everything from the intimacy to the communication and from the sorrows to the joys is heightened when God makes two into one new flesh. We could say that the time prior to marriage is only a foretaste of the divine blessings we take pleasure in once married. It's only natural to enjoy the partial as we anticipate the completeness.
The Christian life is no different. Once we enter into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we immediately begin to enjoy the greatness of our union. However, every Christian awaits the day when things will get even better. It doesn't take long to realize that this world is not our home. Broken relationships, physical suffering, fruitless service, spiritual warfare, incomplete worship and unceasing persecution all contribute to helping us as Christians concur with the Apostle Paul as he desired "to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:8b). Internally Christians have a hunger that seems to go unsatisfied. The only explanation is that we were, as C. S. Lewis once said, made for another world. Like the couple I mentioned earlier, we want to get beyond dating and move to the culmination of the relationship.
How about you, beloved? Do you feel like a citizen or an alien in this world? Do you believe this world is as good as it gets or do you desire a better country? If so the Bible says, "God is not ashamed to be called (your) God; for He has prepared a city for (you)" (Heb. 11:16). Are you in accord with the biblical writers and the godly saints who have spanned the past two millennia, which longed to be removed from the shadows and transported into the substance of your eternal home?
Think about it for a moment! Serving when we can see the fruit of our efforts. Perfect fellowship with other Christians. Deeper learning about our Creator. Ongoing communication with our Lord. Sinless worship of the Almighty God. Do these activities excite you? This is what heaven is about! Do you all desire an eternity of these activities? Do you?
Your answer to that question is not answered through your words, but rather through your actions. You see, none of us are in heaven yet, but God has given us an opportunity to participate in all these awesome heavenly activities while we remain on earth. Just as dating is a foretaste of marriage. The church is a foretaste of heaven. Just as we would be concerned if a couple preparing for marriage disliked their dating experience, we should be concerned if professing Christians preparing for heaven dislike their church experience. How can anybody expect to enjoy heaven if they are not already enjoying these activities here on earth? It is a rather logical question.
The local church is the closest thing to heaven on this planet. The world unwittingly has done their best to mimic this blessed institution. They have their service projects. We get to serve others through the Holy Spirit and make an eternal difference! They have their fraternal gatherings such as the Moose Lodge or Kiwanis Club. We have our fellowships every time we assemble. We are the most diverse group of individuals in the world able to engage in perfect fellowship because we all have in common that which we love the most. Our discussions can go deeper than the sports, the weather and our aches and pains. They have inspirational speakers and instructive seminars. We are taught God's truth that truly comforts our souls and makes an eternal impact on our lives. They have their idols of worship: Bigger houses, better bodies, exotic vacations, faster cars, anesthetizing drugs and immoral sex. We worship the living God who "is a rewarder of those who seek Him" (Heb. 11:6).
Do you love the church? Jesus Christ does! The Bible says He "loved the church and gave Himself up for her" (Eph. 5:25b). Acts 20:28 says "He purchased her with His own blood." Jesus loved the church so much He was willing to die for it! Are you willing to live for it? The church is the bride of Christ (Rev. 21:9). The church is the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12). It is impossible to call yourself a Christian and fail to love the church.
My purposes in these messages are two-fold. First, I would like all of us to engage in some healthy self-examination. May God reveal to us this morning how much we really love the church. Second, and this is the content of my material, I would like to present some biblical material that I believe will help you grow in your affection for the church of Jesus Christ.
The first step in developing a heart for the church is the most logical place to begin. Since the world and the flesh and the devil naturally seek to persecute the church, a desire to love the church must come from God. And even though it is God's will for all of us to love the church, oftentimes we as James said, "do not have because (we) do not ask" (Jas. 4:2). In other words, the place to begin in developing a love for the church is the discipline of prayer. We must ask God for that which only He can give.
All humans will always pray for that which they deem most important. I've seen pagan sports fans on their knees during a crucial moment in a big game. We've heard the saying that there are few atheists in foxholes. This principle applies to Christians as well. If your wife had cancer, no doubt you'd be before the Lord everyday. However, how often do we go before the Lord and ask Him to give us and other believers a greater love for His church? Maybe we need to begin by first asking God to give us the desire that would desire to love His church. Then once the desire comes, the prayers will naturally follow.
If we realize a heart for the church can only come from God, we will be driven to beseech Him through prayer. And when we see our affections growing for His church, we will thank Him, knowing that He is the only source of the gift. Prayer enables us from beginning to end to depend on God. This was Paul's point in 2 Corinthians 1:11a, "You also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us." This dependence in prayer, which leads to thanksgiving by many, is an endless cycle that brings God much glory (see 2 Cor. 4:15).
Allow me to explain this one a little further. I regularly pray for the Grace Tabernacle to grow in their love for the church. Then it really excites me to see people devoted to the church. Maybe it's the family that joyfully cleans out toilet bowls every Thursday morning. Maybe it's the woman who faithfully serves in the nursery. Maybe it's the man who adequately prepares before He teaches. Maybe it's the teen that shares Jesus with her classmates. Maybe it's the young couple that consistently attends church activities. Maybe it's the single that never misses a Wednesday evening prayer meeting. Maybe it's the widow who puts all she can in the collection plate. Maybe it's the child who takes notes during the sermon. Though I could provide over a hundred more examples, these individuals are catalysts that cause me to give thanksgiving to God. Since only God can give people a heart for the church, God receives great glory as He dispenses grace in this area.
Therefore a heart for the church begins with prayer and ends with praise.
2. A HEART AFTER GOD'S
Second, God loves the church, and a man after God's own heart will naturally love the church as well. Therefore, a passion for the church must begin with a passion for God.
About a year ago I came across an enjoyable hobby known as collecting sea glass. Sea glass is broken glass that has been polished by the sand while being continually churned by the ocean waves. Collecting sea glass is free. It promotes mild exercise. It furthers family activity and communication, and it enables one to enjoy God's beautiful creation. Maybe the best wonder of it all is trying to imagine where the particular piece initially came from and when it was first deposited in the ocean. Some no doubt originate from beer bottles recently smashed on the jetty, while others that vary in color and thickness may have come from a sunken ship many years in the past.
Though I will not reveal my secrets to finding the best sea glass, I will tell you our adventures have become a family activity. All of my girls look forward to walking along the tide lines, hoping to find a red or aqua piece, or if we're especially fortunate, a coveted blue piece. We now have special jars in our home where we sort our treasures by color.
My kids are always excited to harvest sea glass, but if you ask Julie, she'll tell you that they are only excited because I make a big deal out of it. They think it's very special to me, so it naturally becomes very special to them. Here's the premise: children want to imitate their parents.
In the same way, the Scriptures call us to be "imitators of God as beloved children" (Eph. 5:1). If God is our heavenly Father, we as His children, should want to be like Him in all ways. We should love what He loves and hate what He hates. This is only natural since He is the object of perfection and we have been created in His image. Furthermore, it's only expected since we as Christians have been given His Spirit, which continually conforms us into His holy character pushing us to model His affections and His desires. But even as Christians, this process does not happen automatically. It only happens as we submit and yield to the work of the Holy Spirit. When we lay our lives on His altar and say, "it's all Yours, Lord!"
Listen to this pledge from America's greatest theologian, Jonathan Edwards: "On January 12, 1723, I made a solemn dedication of myself to God, and wrote it down; giving up myself, and all that I had to God; to be for the future, in no respect, my own; to act as one that had no right to be himself, in any respect. And solemnly vowed to take God for my whole portion and felicity; looking on nothing else, as any part of my happiness, nor acting as if it were; and His law for the constant rule of my obedience: engaging to fight against the world, the flesh and the devil, to the end of my life."
Our love for the church will only grow as we grow in our walk with God. As our heart beats more in tune with His, we will naturally love what He loves and God passionately loves the church. Since He and the church are so inextricably linked, I believe I can boldly say that one's love for the church is an indication not only of one's spiritual maturity but ultimately of one's love for God.
3. LOVING THE PEOPLE
Let's move to a third way a person can develop a heart for the church. As I tell my children, the church is not the building; it is God's redeemed people. As I said earlier, if we love God, we will love what He loves. God loves His children. As we grow in our love for God, we will grow in our love for His children. And as we grow in our love for His children, we will grow in our love the church, because the church is comprised of His children. But how? How do we love God's children when both they and us at times can be so unloving?
Please turn in your Bibles to John 15. This chapter is noted for the famous allegory often entitled "The Vine and the Branches." Often people stop reading after verse 8, but the application of the allegory is equally important in verses 9-17.
In verse 9a, Jesus states a profound truth. "Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you." Think about that for a moment. To the same degree that God the Father loves God the Son, God the Son loves you! Despite all that He knows about you, flaws and sins that you never dreamed you have, He still loves you with a perfect, never ending love!
It was that infinite love that Jesus has for you that compelled Him to spill His blood for your redemption. Ephesians 5:2 says, "Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma." In the same way, this knowledge of Christ's love for us is not meant to remain a static, internal, warm fuzzy. Rather it is intended to compel us (2 Cor. 5:14a), like Christ, to sacrificial obedience as well. For example John 13:34 gets right to our point. Jesus said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another." In other words, we are called to understand the love that Christ has for us and then demonstrate that same degree of love for other Christians.
Rick Gray, a missionary from Uganda, said it well: "Unless I maintain a Jesus-centeredness in the midst of ministry, I will be unable to love people well and bring glory to God. Only as I realize my self-worth is determined by how awesome is the Savior's love for me, and not by how productive my work is for Him, will I be free from my drivenness and need to accomplish tasks. When I gaze upon His nail-pierced hands and believe that they are actually reaching out to embrace me, then I am empowered to reach out with similar compassion and care to those around me" (Gray, Quoted in: Chapell, Bryan. Holiness by Grace, 79)
To love others we must first look to Christ's love for us. However this love at times can still be self-generated so there is more. How can I be sure to love others with Christ's love?
Allow me to read verse 9 in its entirety. "Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. How do I abide in the love of Christ? Next verse, "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love" (Jn. 15:10). Simply put, I abide in Christ through obedience. When I obey Christ, I abide in Christ, just as a branch abides in the vine. Just as the branch needs to remain connected to the vine for the continuance of life, we must remain connected to Jesus by righteous living if we wish to see His life manifested in us.
What is the result of abiding? A branch gives indication that it is abiding in the vine by producing material fruit. A Christian gives indication that he is abiding in Jesus by producing spiritual fruit. Jesus said in verses 4 and 5, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing."
So I need to realize the awesome love Christ has for me. I need to realize my responsibility to love others in the same manner. How do I do that? I abide in Christ through obedient living. Through this relationship, Christ through the Holy Spirit produces fruit in my life. What fruit? "The fruit of the Spirit (which) is love" (Gal. 5:22).
What do we do with this fruit, this divine love that is produced in our lives? Keep it to ourselves? No, agape love is always given to be given away! In the context, verse 12, "This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you." Verse 17, "This I command you, that you love one another."
When God pours His love into our lives vertically, He wants us to give it out to others horizontally. We find ourselves acting as conduits and not cul-de-sacs of His love. We find ourselves used as God's vessel whereby the Holy Spirit pulsates God's love through us to God's people. John rightly concluded in his epistle, "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (1 Jn. 4:11). Do you want a heart for the church? Then have a heart for God's people.
A fourth way you can develop a heart for the church is giving to the church. Naturally, when we think of giving to the church we initially think of money. So let's start with that subject.
Turn if you would to Matthew 6. In verse 19, Jesus said, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal." If we look at the Greek text, we can better identify the play on words. Literally the verse could read, "Do not treasure (thesaurizo) for yourselves treasures (thesauros) on earth!" Jesus is not condemning all earthy possessions, He is only condemning the attitude that treasures these possessions above all things. Why? Because of, as he says: moths, rust and thieves. In other words, earthly treasures are temporary. We lose most of our treasures in this life, and those we retain until death, will not travel along with us anyway (Job 1:21; 1 Tim. 6:7). As John Piper so often says, "There are no U-Hauls behind hearses" (Piper, Desiring God, p. 161). The point: Earthly treasures are not just a bad idea - they're outright foolish!
So where should we store up our treasures? Jesus parallels verse 19 with verse 20. "But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal." Earthly treasures are temporary, but heavenly treasures are permanent. Isn't only logical to pursue that which will endure forever? A pursuit that is best for our good and God's glory? Treasures that are moth-proof, rust-proof and burglar-proof.
Now I don't think any of us would deny the logic of this premise. Moreover, I don't think any of us would question the validity of Christ's words. Then why do so many of us, if not all of us struggle with this principle? I believe the answer is simple. We fail to realize our citizenship in heaven and wrongly believe this earth is our true home. But if we could only grow in faith. If there were only a way to get our hearts off this temporary dwelling and get them in heaven. I mean, if our hearts are in heaven, our treasures will naturally follow, right? So how do I get my heart in heaven?
Well, Jesus gave us the solution. Verse 21, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Our hearts will always follow our treasures. Do you want a heart for Burger King? Then buy stock in that company. Do you want a heart for a politician? Then invest in his or her cause. Do you want a heart for heaven? Then invest in heavenly things! Augustine said it well, "Where your pleasure is, there is your treasure; where your treasure is, there is your heart; where your heart is, there is your happiness." You know, we hear so much about money keeping our hearts out of heaven (Mk. 10:25). What I'm trying to say is that money, when properly invested, can put our hearts in heaven.
Now, what does this principle have to do with developing a heart for the church? Can you see the connection for yourself? If I want a heart for the church, I need to invest in the church. Yes, money is one way, but there are many other ways as well. Ways such as church attendance, ministry, evangelism, prayer and fasting.
For example, say you joined an athletic team. You considered yourself part of that team, but your affiliation was in name only. You didn't spend a penny to buy the equipment to maximize your performance. You missed many of the practices. You rarely spoke about the sport and had little interaction with others on the team. You continually criticized the coach. You made little effort to improve and much of your time on game days was spent on the sidelines. Do you think you would have a heart for the team? Absolutely not! You've made no investment!
It's even sadder when these traits apply to those who consider themselves members of God's team. They make a minimal investment in the local church. Should we be surprised if their hearts are disengaged? As Jesus said, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Mt. 6:21). Is your treasure in the church?
In my eight years of pastoral ministry, I have made one observation that is beyond all doubt. Those most in love with the local church invest most of their finances, time and energy in the local church. And those who invest most of their finances, time and energy in the local church are those most in love with the local church.
Beloved, do you want a heart for the church? Possibly, the Apostle Paul said it best. "Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth."
The activities of the church are the closest thing to heaven we can enjoy while living on earth. Isn't only natural that if we long to spend forever in heaven, we will not only begin preparing our hearts by doing the activities of heaven, but we will also enjoy engaging in these activities while living on this side of heaven. It's it only natural to assume that if we are truly a child of God that God would give us a love for the "things above" for the few remaining years we have left on this earth? And shouldn't a mind set on the "things above" be consumed with the things of the church?
I am confident that all of us can grow in this area. Our joy and our assurance are at stake, not to mention the glory of God. How can we grow? We can pray that God will give us a love for the church. We can grow in our heart for God, which will enable us to love the things He loves. We can grow in our love for the people of God who comprise the church. And we can give of our time, talents and treasures, trusting in the promise of Jesus, that our hearts will follow as well.
May God give you a greater love for the church the wonderful, glorious, sanctified and beloved bride of Christ!
More in Loving the Bride of Christ
November 6, 2004Loving The Bride-Part Two