The Church, a Beautiful Bride

September 9, 2012

It was a quiet Saturday morning as the guests began to
filter into the little church.  Friends
of the couple had been there for hours making sure everything was just
perfect.  The guests were a diverse
bunch, some were friends of hers, and others were friends of his.  They both had family there as well as friends
that they shared.  They were all there
from the very old to the very young to celebrate with the couple.  It was a special day, perhaps the most
special day in their lives and all those who loved them had come to make it
even more special.
Each of the pew markers had been painstakingly created
by the bride’s aunt, her mother’s sister. 
Tiny lace doilies starched to stiff perfection with burgundy bows
holding petite ceramic bells in place. 
Each one an individual expression of love.  The floral arrangements on the platform had
been done by the groom’s mother, four baskets overflowing with flowers from the
garden which filled their back yard. 
Each bloom chosen for its beauty, each one placed with the love that she
had given her son through all his years growing up. 
The music had been chosen with an ear to tradition,
and with careful attention given to things special to the couple.  The medley of love songs floated over the
gathering crowd.  On the eleventh hour
the bride groom and his entourage stepped on to the platform.  Fiddling with their hands and looking
handsome and awkward in their rented tux’s, they wait with baited breath.  With a barely discernible nod the pastor
signals the organist who begins to play “ode to joy”.
Through the doors in the rear of the sanctuary step
the first of the brides maids and she makes her way down the isle, consciously
thinking of the instructions received the night before at the rehearsal.  Step, wait, step, wait, step wait.  Half way down the aisle she is followed by
yet another pretty young lady in a matching dress.  Step by step they proceed, being joined by
another bride’s maid, the flower girl, and then the bride’s best friend, now
serving as her maid of honour.  The
beautiful young ladies join the handsome young men at the platform and the
organist finishes with Beethoven.
The Trumpet breaks the still air with a flourish and
signals the beginning of the “Trumpet Voluntaire”, the crowd stands as one and
even over the sound of brass you can hear a collective intake of breath as the
bride steps into the sanctuary.
In the Talmud, the Jewish book of wisdom, the rabbis
tell us “On
their wedding day all brides are beautiful”. 
They’re right.  In  over thirty years of pastoral ministry I have
performed dozens of weddings, and never once have I ever seen an ugly
bride.  It just doesn’t happen. 
On the wedding day the bride has made sure that her makeup
is perfect, she’s gone out and had two hours of intense work done on her hair
and make-up.  The dress she is wearing
was chosen after hours and hours of soul searching questions, and fears that it
just wouldn’t say the right thing.  The
flowers in her bouquet were selected to perfectly compliment everything from
her eyes to her hair to the shade of nail polish she is wearing.  Nothing is left to chance.  Absolutely nothing.  She is going to be radiant when she walks
down the aisle and people are going to gasp, and talk about how they have never
seen a more beautiful bride.  When her
groom looks at her walking toward him, there will be no doubt at all in his
mind that he is the luckiest man alive.
The church has long been
recognised as the bride of Christ. Paul writes to the church in Corinth and
tells them 2 Corinthians 11:2 For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I
promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ.
And we are told in Ephesians 5:25-27 For
husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave
up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of
God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without
a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without
fault.
And we know that the one person
the bride wants to be beautiful for on that special day is her groom, but she
wants the spectators to know how much she loves her man and so she is looking
her very best for the congregation as well.
In the same way that all eyes
are on the bride when she walks down the aisle it often seems that the eyes of
the world are on the church. And like every bride the church should be most
concerned about how she is seen by her groom. 
But we need to show the world how important that is to us.  If a bride showed up wearing old tattered
clothes and hadn’t washed her hair in a week and smelled bad what would that
say to the groom and to their friends? 
Oh she could say “It’s what’s inside that counts” or “Don’t judge
me”.  But her appearance would be sending
a very clear message to the groom and to everyone else. 
In the same way the church
should do it’s very best to be and look it’s very best. 
When Paul writes to Titus, he
includes a fairly lengthy section on how Christians are to behave, what they
are supposed to do what they are not supposed to do.  And then he finishes with these words in Titus 2:10 . . . but must
show themselves to be entirely trustworthy and good. Then they will make the
teaching about God our Saviour attractive in every way.
At no other time in history has the church been
scrutinised more closely concerning the claims of the gospel.  Our outward attitudes and outward appearances
are often the only visible means for people to examine us.  And the world holds us to a higher standard
than they do other organizations, when a scandal breaks out involving a school
teacher or a hockey coach or a scout leader it is a very brief flash in the
pan, but the same scandal over someone in the church and it seems to take on a
life of its own.  And we should be held
to a higher standard, we are the church.

On her wedding day the church will be the most beautiful bride that anyone has
ever seen.  Everything will be
perfect.  Nothing will be out of place,
and the entire universe will gasp as she walks down the aisle toward her
bridegroom Jesus Christ.  And as he hears
the fanfare and watches her approach he will know that all of his sacrifice and
the price that he paid on the cross was worth it, because she is the most
beautiful bride that ever was or ever will be.

I’m sure that Jesus could echo the words of King Edward VIII  who said “Of course, I do have a slight advantage over the
rest of you. It helps in a pinch to be able to remind your bride that you gave
up a throne for her.”  Because of Jesus great love for the
world, he gave up all that he was, left his throne and came to earth for his
bride, the church.


So
how do we, the church, present ourselves to Christ as a beautiful bride? 

The scripture that was read earlier was from the last chapter of the book of
Proverbs.  Chapter 31 begins with the
words Proverbs 31:1 The sayings of King Lemuel contain this message, which his
mother taught him.  And there has
been much debate through the years over who he was and who is wasn’t.  Some scholars claim that Lemuel was a wise
man who wrote in the style and nature of Solomon.  Others feel that it was written by Solomon
himself and that Lemuel was possibly a nickname that his mother had for
him.  But that is really irrelevant, I
think what is relevant was that it was Lemuel’s mother who asked the question
in Proverbs 31:10 Who can find a virtuous and capable wife? And then the King’s
mother spends 300 words answering her own question.  And I think that in 2012 the question could
be rephrased to read Proverbs 31:10 Who can find a virtuous and capable spouse?   But this morning we are going to
focus what the “virtuous and capable bride” looks like as it relates to the
bride of Christ.

Now
we need to understand that the church’s main obligation is to be the beautiful
in the eyes of Christ.  We all understand
the reality of “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.  And the one we are to be beautiful for is
Jesus, but that doesn’t mean we ignore how the world sees us.
There are all kinds of ways that the church can be
attractive to people, in attitude, in physical appearance and in the care taken
during morning worship.  Because, whether
we want to admit it or not, people see Jesus in the local church.  If we appear negligent in how we present
ourselves it says something about our view of our Saviour.  Does the face that we present to the
community say “We think it is important to do our best for our saviour,” or
does it say, “We don’t really care.” 
So let’s begin with Song of Songs
4:10
Your love delights me, my treasure, my
bride. Your love is better than wine, your perfume more fragrant than spices.   The Song of Songs or Song of Solomon
has long been regarded as an allegory for the Love that God had for Israel and
ultimately the love that Christ has for the church. 
1) The Church is to be a Loving Bride 
One would think that would go without saying.  In Canada in 2012 we have pretty much moved
beyond arranged marriages and forced marriages. 
The concept of “we had to get married” is almost a relic of the past,
today people marry because they are in love and want to spend the rest of their
lives together. 
Unfortunately if we look at the
statistics for divorce in our country it would appear that not everyone remains
in love.  It seems that if we can fall
into love we can also fall out of love. 
I don’t know how many times I
have sat across the desk from someone who is trying to explain what has
happened to their marriage and they say “I just don’t love them anymore” and
sometimes they will go as far as saying “I don’t know if I ever loved
them.”  But whatever feeling they
experienced as a bride or groom they apparently no longer experience it as a
wife or husband.    
Sometimes that happens with churches, in the book of
Revelation,  that made everyone perk up
didn’t it?  “Oh this is serious, he going
to the Revelation.”   In the book of
Revelation Jesus sends letters to seven churches in Asia and to the first one is
addressed to the church in Ephesus.  This
is the same church that the letter of Ephesians was addressed to, and Jesus
begins his letter by telling them all of the things that they should be proud
of.   And they had a lot to be proud
of.  They worked hard at being an ideal
church, they didn’t lack in good deeds and moral integrity, they rejected sin
from their midst, tested teachers and knew how to separate the true ones from
the false ones. And were perseverant to the end.  You gotta love them. 
But then Jesus says 
“Whoa, not so fast guys, there’s something else.”  And so here it comes for the Ephesians, Jesus
tells them  Revelation 2:4 “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or
each other as you did at first!  Ouch.  That’s gotta hurt.  You ever hear those words in a personal
relationship, you don’t love me like you used to?  And sometimes they are right, sometimes love
fades and disappears.  Maybe because of
neglect or apathy, maybe because the person isn’t as lovable as they once
were.  But yeah sometimes first love
disappears, not necessarily because we want it too and we certainly don’t plan
it but it does.  When I’m counselling
couples who are struggling in a relationship I will often challenge them to
return to their first love. To remember what it was that attracted them to
their partner in the first place, to remember how they felt and the commitments
they made.  We don’t plan on falling out
of love, when we get married we don’t say “Well this will be good for a few
years then I’ll fall out of love and move on.” 
No in most cases we take serious “Till death do us part”  We believe that our first love will never
change.  That’s why Benjamin Disraeli who was the Prime Minister of
England in the 1800s said “The magic of first love is
our ignorance that it can never end.”
And Jesus is looking at the church and saying, “You don’t
love me like you used to.”  And we’re not
sure how that love had changed. Some would suggest that the love that was lost
was their enthusiasm for the Lord.   A
similar analogy is used in the Old Testament, in Jeremiah 2:2
I remember how eager you were to please me as a young bride long ago, how you
loved me and followed me even through the barren wilderness.  Often times there is a honeymoon
period in a relationship but then the first flush of enthusiasm fades.  Perhaps Jesus is insinuating that the joy and
enthusiasm of the Ephesian
Church had disappeared.
Kind of like the story told about the old farmer and his
wife who were driving along in the pickup one day and she asks, “how come we
don’t sit all snuggled up when we drive like we used to?”  to which he replied “I ain’t moved.”
And really how many of us can look back at the hunger with
which we devoured the word of God right after our conversion, and the urgency
and conviction that we shared the Gospel with our lost family and friends.  But then everything got ordinary, we just
kind of drifted along until we lost our first love.
What does it mean to love Jesus?  It’s easy to say “I love you”  but how does that translate into action?   Well Jesus told his apostles in John 14:15 “If you love
me, obey my commandments.”
Let’s go back to the scripture
we began with in Proverbs 31:27 She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers
nothing from laziness.  There was
actually an entire section of that proverb that we didn’t read, and it talked
about all the things that this wife did. 
Kind of reminds me of a plaque my mom had in our kitchen when I was
growing up and it said “A man works from sun to sun but a woman’s work is never
done.” 2) The Church is to be A
Productive Bride. 
Periodically we
read about churches closing, and it seems that it either happens in the inner
city or in small rural communities.  And
often we hear that is just the way it happens, that churches can’t survive in
either of those situations in 2012.  But
that isn’t a reality. 
I can point to churches in
small towns that are thriving, churches where people are meeting God and
growing in their faith.  Our new church
in downtown Halifax, which is just five years old is running close to 300,
people are meeting God and growing in their faith.  They are productive churches. 
Churches are supposed to be
productive, they are supposed to be growing and they are supposed to be seeing
their people growing spiritually. 
Because if they are not productive, if they are not growing then they
are dying.  It is simple math, if every
year a church gets smaller and smaller then it will eventually disappear. 
And finally we read in Proverbs 31:11 Her husband
can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life.  This is probably the most important one, 4) The Church is to be a Faithful Bride There
is nothing more devastating in a marriage than adultery.  And people give all kinds of reasons why they
cheat and today it is greeted with little more than a nod and a wink.  But 2000 years ago it was considered a
serious enough breach in the social fabric to warrant the death penalty. 
And we read in 2 Corinthians 11:2 For I
am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure
bride to one husband—Christ.  Not
just any bride, but a pure bride, a faithful bride.
Throughout the bible adultery is used in relation to
Israel and the church as a euphemism for stepping out on God.  When a church takes a soft stand on sin and
refuses to admonish or condemn sin then it becomes unfaithful to the word of
God and is in effect committing adultery.
We live in a world where churches all too often would
rather preach “love, motherhood and lower taxes” then condemn sin.  They are afraid that they will drive people
away if they preach against sin, they are afraid that it will make them
unattractive to the world.  And because
they are more concerned with pleasing the world than pleasing God they become
the unfaithful wife to Christ. 
And while these churches may present what they see as
an attractive appearance to the world often the world sees through the
hypocrisy to the adultery at the core. 
The concept of biblical and personal holiness is
summed up in the word obedience, obedience to the word of God.  And when the word of God is not used as our
absolutes as Christians and when we participate in actions that are directly
spoken against in the bible then we are unfaithful to Christ.
What do we need to do to be the most attractive bride
that we can possibly be for Christ?  Well
this passage tells us that we need to submit to him.  One person doesn’t make a church but a church
is made up of a pile of one persons.  And
while we may not be able to change the church individually, individually we can
change the church.  And we can make the
church a beautiful bride through our individual obedience.  If the rest of the church doesn’t come to the
party that is their responsibility. 
Yours is being obedient on a person level to what Christ wants in your
life.