By Larry White

    The church holds a prominent place in the scriptures. Any student of the Bible will readily recognize the indispensable position the church has in God's plan and working.
    Unlike the premillennial idea of the church being an after-thought when God's plan did not work, or a stop-gap measure to patch things up when the Jews supposedly thwarted God's design - the scriptures portray the church as an integral part of God's provisions for his people, according to his eternal plan that he had laid out before he created the world.
    Because man does not understand fully God's purposes, he does not see the high value of the church - he undervalues it, especially when he considers the church's outward appearance - the simplicity of its design, or the poverty of its members. Seeing the church in this way has prompted men to build bigger and richer churches to do bigger and better things.
    But God sees the church in a wholly different way. He does not see as man sees. God has set his own value on the church and we can see his estimate of it in the scriptures.

I.) What is the church?
    The Greek word underlying the term church is (ekklhsia) a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place; an assembly. (Thayer) And so, a called-out assembly.
    In the spiritual sense, God calls us out of the world and into a fellowship with him and each other. This is a special gathering together that he has planned, and it carries with it all the honor and blessings and the riches that an all-powerful God can bestow upon those who answer the call.

    "...that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth – [even] in him.
    In him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of his glory.
    In him you also [trusted], after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of his glory."

"...who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began."

    This calling is one that calls us out from the world and separates us from the world - a holy calling.
    One thing that separates or sanctifies us from the world according to Jesus in (Jno.17:17) is God's word - and it is by this word of the gospel that we are called.

But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which he called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    We are called to come together into a fellowship (a joint venture where we all work together for a common goal).

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life –  the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us –  that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his son Jesus Christ.

    Through the truth that the apostles declared to us and that we believed, we have a fellowship with them and with God.
    To sum up: God calls, we hear and come out of the world, and we have a relationship together with God, a common cause - a fellowship.
    That is what happened first, in AD 30 on the day of Pentecost. In the same way, we are called together and the Lord adds us to the assembly.

Acts 2:46-47
So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added those who were being saved to their number daily.

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were immersed into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

    No matter who we are or what our background - by faith we are baptized into Christ and we become one assembly - all our earthly distinctions dropped. The church is now a group who have answered the call standing together, "...with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel." (Phil.1:27)

    God sees this group in a unique way. From God's perspective, we are not just a motley crew of sinners that he has to tolerate. The church is very precious to him; we are special in his eyes. No matter how many are gathered together or where they are in the world, even just a handful of us in Boise, to him we are the Bride of Christ.
    Paul uses this figure in speaking about the church, because he saw the church as God does.

Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly – and indeed you do bear with me. For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.

    Another place he uses this metaphor is in (Rom.7:1-4) where each individual is wed to Christ. This figure has a background. Jesus likens the kingdom to a wedding feast.

And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: “The kingdom of the heavens is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come.
    Again, he sent out other servants, saying, “Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.”‘
But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business.
And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them.
    But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.
    Then he said to his servants, “The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy.
Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’
    So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.

    This analogy was also in the Old Testament prophets who described the perspective of God toward his people. His people in a sense were married to him.

    Again the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, "Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations, and say, "Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem: "Your birth and your nativity are from the land of Canaan; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. As for your nativity, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you; you were not rubbed with salt nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you; but you were thrown out into the open field, when you yourself were loathed on the day you were born.
    "And when I passed by you and saw you struggling in your own blood, I said to you in your blood, 'Live!' Yes, I said to you in your blood, 'Live!'"
    I made you thrive like a plant in the field; and you grew, matured, and became very beautiful. Your breasts were formed, your hair grew, but you were naked and bare.
    "When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread my wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became mine," says the Lord GOD.
    "Then I washed you in water; yes, I thoroughly washed off your blood, and I anointed you with oil. I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck. And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head.
    Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty. Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through my splendor which I had bestowed on you," says the Lord GOD.

    So here was what God did for Israel and Jerusalem. He had pity on her, and not only lifted her up - but arrayed her in his own glory and then was wed to her, and he was like a husband to her.
    With this Old Testament figure we can then understand how God looks at the New Jerusalem.

Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

    The church is the glorious bride of Christ. (Eph.5:27) "that he might present her to himself a glorious assembly, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish."
    Usually in society people marry equals. You do not have very many instances where men in an upper circle of society marries a girl from across the tracts. Or like a prince marrying a commoner.
    Jesus is a King of princes and he took the lowliest bride. James says, "Has not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?" (Jam.2:5)
    Like the Old Testament figure, Christ chose us when we were polluted, sitting naked in the dirt and in the corruption of our sins.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate perverts, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortionists will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

    But such were some of you.
    After Jesus chose us for his bride, he washed us and arrayed us in his own moral perfection and glorious excellence.

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the assembly and gave himself for her, that he might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that he might present her to himself a glorious assembly, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish."

    Christ's glorious bride without spot or blemish, now looks just like him - as she partakes of his character.

"...but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot."

    This freedom from any blemish is obtained when Jesus washed his bride in his own blood. "To him who loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood." (Rev.1:5) So it carries the idea of the remission of sins, being without blame, without fault and without blemish.

"just as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love"

"that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world"

"in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in his sight."

"And in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God."

    After the church is washed, like God did in the O.T., he gives her a place of honor and dignity.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly [realms] in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

    We have been lifted up along with Jesus to sit along with him in the heavenlies. That is the spiritual realm where Jesus now sits on the right hand of God. Eph.1:20
    Those authorities and dignitaries, whoever they be who are in the spiritual realm, now had to get their information concerning what God was doing in the earth, through the church.

"to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the assembly to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places"

    Everything that I own I consider as belonging also to my wife. Jesus is the same, he not only exalted his bride to sit with him, he also has bestowed upon her the wealth of the universe.

    "Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things about to come – all are yours. And you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s."

    "The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified together. For I account that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory about to come which shall be revealed unto us."

    Look at another picture of the bride.

    "Let us be glad and rejoice and give him glory, for
the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his wife has made herself ready."
    And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
    Then he said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!'" And he said to me, "These are the true sayings of God."

    That is how Christ views us - the church. Clean and white and blameless. We have this because of his forgiveness that we have in Christ. We are made into a new bride in his sight.

Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “
Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people. God himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
    Then he who sat on the throne said,
Behold, I make all things new.
And he said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
    Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For he made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

    We as his bride are a new creation and made righteous before him by faith in Christ and by that reconciliation God dwells with us and bestows on us his riches.
    The church as the bride of Christ has the protection of a loving husband.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the assembly and gave himself for her,
that he might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that he might present her to himself a glorious assembly, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.
    So husbands ought to love their own 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 the Lord does the assembly. For we are members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones.
    “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
    This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church."

    Christ loves us and cherishes us. He is a gentle husband to his church, he is not degrading, but patient with her faults. "Be kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you." (Eph.4:32)
    He is a perfect husband; most men are not this willing with their wives. We have a tendency to find fault - and our wives cannot do anything right. But Jesus is ever ready to help in our weaknesses and he stands at the throne of God constantly interceding on our behalf.

"My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And he himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world."

    He helps her in her weaknesses, the way a husband should do.

"Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered."

    He loves her, he has given everything he has for her. He died for her, and gave her his glory. "Unto him be glory in the church by Jesus Christ throughout all ages world without end. Amen." (Eph.3:21)

    You need to be a part of that church. The Lord can add you to it today. Upon confession of your faith, repentance and immersion into Christ, you can be wed to Christ - part of his glorious bride.

(Originally delivered as a sermon at Eagle Point, OR September 16, 1984)


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