The Glorious Church

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There is an expectancy among Christians that a huge revival will leave the church in a state of glory right before she meets her Groom from heaven. It will be wonderful, of course, as all revivals are. However, looking at the church today, one wonders if another global outpouring will actually happen before the Lord’s return.

The parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25 speaks of the condition of the church when Jesus comes to fetch His bride. Half of the virgins were foolish and had no oil in their lamps, while the others were wise and kept their lamps filled. The story ends on the sad note that all of them were sleeping when the call came to meet the groom. This is, in general, typical of the church’s condition today. It is clear that the church at large has deviated from the straight and narrow way.

What exactly is the glory, and how do you define it? So many people, so many opinions, but, as with everything else, we find our answers in Scripture. We know from Paul’s letters that Jesus is working to present the church to Himself a glorious church. The apostle uses the marriage relationship to explain this process:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church 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 church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. Ephesians 5:25-27

Paul, by his own admission, was not an eloquent speaker, (2 Corinthians 10:10 & 11:6) but what flowed from his pen was clearly the work of the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 5:22-32 confirms it as Paul masterly addresses two aspects of the Christian life in this one passage, namely the relationship between a married couple on the one hand, and the relationship between Christ and the church on the other. The two run together, side by side—separate, yet the same.

The relationship between a husband and wife is the same as that between Christ and His church: marriage on earth is a reflection of the relationship between Jesus and the church. How will Jesus bring a body of believers—all sinners by birth and defiled by nature—to be a glorious church? With the washing of water by the Word. The Word of God has a cleansing effect on you; it cleanses you from within every time you read it. Jesus Himself said so:

You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. John 15:3

The Word works with the Holy Spirit to bring you to repentance and renewal through the new birth:

Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. John 3:5,6

A possible reason why so many Christians struggle with various aspects of their lives, might be their low exposure to the cleansing power of the Word. The Bible has something to say about everything in your life! According to Strong’s Concordance, the Greek word used for glory in our opening verses above, means held in good or in great esteem, of high repute, illustrious, honourable, esteemed, splendid, gorgeous. That is exactly what the Word of God teaches us to pursue as a lifestyle!

Moses, when he was on the mountain with God, asked to see His glory, and this is how God responded:

And he said, “Please, show me Your glory.” Then He said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you. Exodus 33:18, 19a

Back to our opening passage, which speaks specifically about relationship. How do we reach the full potential of both our marriages and the glorious church? The quick answer is obedience to the Word, but let’s look at it in greater detail.

There is a reason why Paul used marriage as an example for the glorious church: marriage is glorious—if done God’s way. However, two of the words that Paul used can also be stumbling blocks in the way of reaching that goal, namely submission and love. These are key aspects that describe the true church’s relationship with Christ, both of them requiring sacrifice. No wonder, then, that these same two words either bless or rob our marriages from the goodness that God intended for it.

Marriage works well only when love and submission are firmly established between husband and wife. Trust is lost when even the smallest part of love or submission is withheld, setting in motion the first steps to alienation. Of all the different kinds of relationships that we engage in, marriage is the only one with intimacy as a foundational requirement. With that said, it often comes with some level of sacrifice. The fact that Paul mentions these two elements is an indication that temptation to neglect them, exists. We must give ourselves fully to our spouse in order to defeat the inclination to selfishness that has personal preferences at its core, and to ultimately enjoy the benefits that marriage offers.

In some way, and at some point, these two aspects become one—the one feeding into the other—to become inseparable: love becomes submission, and submission love. It is easy to submit to unfailing love, and to love where submission is complete, but the dilemma that we face is that both of these elements are sustained by unwavering faith—in an imperfect person. It is helpful to know that faith sees the unseen, and looks beyond the visible, wherein lies its power.

What does the above have to do with the glorious church? It has a culture of love and submission to the Lord, strengthening even while we go through the ups and downs of life in our broken world. Trust develops when we see His provision, protection, forgiveness, and unfailing love as we stumble through the obstacle course known as life. When we consider the challenges of the past—that often looked like final defeats—we now see only monuments of His grace and mercy. Our faith in Him, and our love for Him, grow stronger through life’s winding path until we are able to take on the rough spots without anxiety. The fiery darts of the enemy don’t scare us anymore, and we stand firm in our faith through the temptations aimed at our weaknesses. This is how we become gorgeous and splendid in His sight!

There is a wonderful intimacy that flows from total surrender, and it cleanses the soul. When He becomes the sole object of your love, nothing else matters anymore—including yourself. Paul prayed for the church to experience this level of love:

…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17-19

Knowing the love of Christ which passes knowledge, and being filled with all the fulness of God, despite adverse circumstances, make the church glorious. Let us fix our hope on the answer to this prayer. Constant looking into the mirror of God’s Word will bring us there:

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3:18

Peter wrote about the glorious church along the same lines. He describes a church that has the innate strength to overcome various trials with unwavering faith:

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,  receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:6-9

One old saint understood this truth, and expressed it in a hymn still loved after more than a century:

This is the glory: Filled with His goodness, lost in His love! In His letter to the Ephesian church, Jesus commended them for their good works and pure doctrine, yet reprimanded them for neglecting their first lovfor e. It is this submissive love, more than anything else, that separates marriage from platonic or business-like relationships.

We may see the Laodicean church gaining strength all around us, but those who have their eyes on the Lord are not moved by its glamour or its numbers. We are working on a different kind of glory!

Let’s stir up our first love for the Lord, and express it in our marriages for all to see—we have nothing to lose, but everything to gain!

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