Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. - Ephesians 5:25 – 27
By Frank King
The wife is the joy of the husband: “Husbands, love your wives…”
My wife, Susan, and I have attended a lot of weddings over the years. Susan loves the bride’s march, the dresses, the vows and the cake.
I have to admit I enjoy attending weddings as well; however, my favorite part is not the wedding ceremony, the gown, nor even the reception.
What I love – and this is confirmed by my wedding albums – is the photo that I take as the bride walks up the aisle. While most attendees are watching the bride, I position myself at the front of the church, near the empty seat that will soon be occupied by the bride, and I watch groom.
I cannot resist seeing his reaction as the bride approaches. In his mind, this is the grand finale of all he has done to win her heart.
I see their short history reflected in his look of wonder as she approaches. In that gaze I see their initial introduction and first conversation; I see the “talking” phase, the courtship. As she walks down the aisle, his look summarizes all those little steps that add up to the “I do.”
During her walk down the aisle, the groom gets to see the perfect, spotless bride, and the glow on his face reflects that perfection.
“You may kiss your bride.”
After the pastor says those magical words, the real adventure begins.
I’m not only speaking here of the honeymoon, but also of that wonder-filled first year of discovery.
This is the period of time when the groom begins to unwrap his wonderful gift called a wife.
Of course, this brings many delightful revelations, but it’s also the period during which he realizes that his bride is not only imperfect, but possibly even flawed, as the sweet aroma of that first kiss gives way to that first whiff of morning breath.
The magic of the courtship and the bliss of the engagement fade in the light of reality. The woman he could not live without now becomes the woman he must live with, and this is often not a joyful revelation.
Now he begins to discover that she doesn’t cook like his mom did, and that her standards of housekeeping clash with his.
All those idiosyncrasies that were so endearing during the courtship now become irritating and sometimes repulsive.
The cute way she wrinkles her nose becomes an unattractive scowl. That endearing giggle now grates on his ears. His bride is definitely flawed, and he is not sure what to do about it.
If the husband is wise, he remembers that marriage is a covenant. This is not an agreement founded on looks, sounds or standards. It is preserved by a vow: for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health. If he is a man of character, he remembers that he promised to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part. He has made a covenant, and that means that he must uphold his end of that promise.
So the wise husband begins to accept the flaws in his wife and to change the flaws in himself.
In God’s perfect plan, each spouse changes and accepts until eventually the marriage settles into the joyous experience we expected prior to the vows. Well, maybe not the joy of a Hollywood romance, but at least the loving, committed ebb and flow of acceptance and change.
The Church (Bride) is the joy of Jesus: “…as Christ also loved the church…”
Just as a husband’s joy is to his wife, so is Jesus’ joy to us. In many ways, the courtship and our Christian walk are similar.
At some point, the bride and the groom were strangers. In many cases, somebody who knew them both provided introductions.
The same is true of the Bride of Christ. Each of us was a stranger, even estranged from the Lord.
It took a common friend – somebody who knew both us and Jesus – to bring us together. We approached that introduction as lost and lonely sinners, and exited saved and betrothed to the Lord of Lords.
Our very first conversations with this Groom were at the altar, and then we entered the “talking” phase, consisting of daily prayer.
We learned as much about Him as we could through His word. Our talking progressed to courtship, then engagement, and eventually we will walk up the aisle into His glorious presence forever.
Jesus will be the one with that joyous look on His face as He watches us approach.
Except, as the betrothed Bride of Christ, our flaws are immediately known. With the first prayer, our gross nature, our morning breath, our poor spiritual housekeeping is exposed and in the open.
But, the Groom is not surprised; He not only knew His bride was flawed, He chose her because of those flaws, knowing that her love for Him would increase as His grace and forgiveness flowed.
And this Groom not only has character, He is The Word: He is the very definition of all that is good character and faithfulness and covenant.
Of course, this Groom is the Perfect Groom, so any and all change must take place in the Bride. The process of exposure, admission, repentance, and change will be the one constant process in a Christian.
During our courtship (Spiritual growth) and engagement (complete with a Holy Ghost chaperone) the flaws are exposed for the purpose of our repentance, and this is a process that continues until the wedding.
The spotless bride is made up of flawed people: “…..that He might present to Himself….”
Jesus does not expect His bride to be perfect during this process; He only expects her to be improving.
And we must not lose sight of the fact that this spotless bride is made up of flawed people.
When I was first saved, I went through a honeymoon period with the local church. The church was young, and each of us was putting on our best “spiritual face” every service.
It was not apparent that I was attending worship with flawed people. I thought I was the only one putting up the front. When reality hit, and I realized others were as flawed as I, it was a great disappointment.
In January of 2015, Pastor Warner tweeted: “The Church is far from perfect (hint: made up of human beings) but Jesus said it was His own personal project: ‘I will build My Church.’"
The Bride of Christ is made up of multitudes of people, each having his or her own idiosyncrasies.
We each have unique strengths and quirks and unique gifts and flaws. Yet God has called us all and each to be parts of His bride. It is our job as people of the covenant to get along with each other. It is our job to make the parts fit in order to do the work of the Church.
It only took me a short time to realize that I have many flaws. As my relationship with Jesus grows closer, I realize just how damaged I am. At first it is the “really bad” sin that is exposed and forgiven; eventually, as God deals with us, he gets down to the real problems: the relational attitudes and pride that prevent us from being the spotless Bride.
These are hard issues to address, and they are even harder to accept in our brethren. But accept we must. Just as the worldly wise groom accepts his wife’s flaws and repents of his own, each of us as a member of Christ’s church must accept and change.
The Church doesn't change until I do.
A husband cannot change his wife, and I cannot change those who make up the Church. I need to accept others until God changes them. I can, however, position myself for God’s change.
This seems pretty simple, and it appears to give me control over the situation. Then I remember how really broken and fallen I am, and the proverbial monkey wrench hits the plan. I need special power to change and accept.
That special power is agape love, which is love of and from God, Whose very nature is love itself.
Agape is the love that defines who God is (1 John 4:16). It is the love with which God loves the world (John 3:16). It is the love that proves we really know God (1 John 4:8). Agape is the love that John commanded we have one for another (John 13:34-35).
In his sermon, “In Pursuit of Agape,” Pastor Garett King said: “A training ground of agape is the Church. Another training ground for agape is marriage” (Eph 3:18-19). “Agape is not just something we can learn,” Pastor King said, “it is something we must do.” That means agape is an action word.
It is the action I practice in order to gain power to change my flawed self and accept the flaws of others.
C.S. Lewis said: "Free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having."
In order to have agape love, we must do agape love. Now that I understand that the spotless Bride is not made up of perfect Christians but of flawed people undergoing a process of change, my disappointment is assuaged. I can focus on allowing the Holy Spirit to make me better, and as others do the same, the Church changes.
On this earth, the Church will never be perfect, but she is the Spotless Bride.