Sermon: Are You Married or Just Dating the Church? - Ephesians 5

For this church to be all God wants it to be, each member needs to be working properly, needs to be connected, needs to be participating, sharing the burdens and the joys together.

Sermon series: Open Your Trauma Toolbox

  1. The Lord, He is God - Isaiah 6
  2. The Bible is God's Word to Me - Psalm 19
  3. I Am a Sinner Who Needs a Savior - Ephesians 2
  4. Jesus is the Answer - John 14
  5. You Can't Earn a Gift - Ephesians 2
  6. Are You Married or Just Dating the Church? - Ephesians 5

Scriptures: Ephesians 5:25-32

Introduction

In a few moments, we will take communion together, with Christ, remembering how we came to be His sons and daughters by faith, and recalibrating our lives to the incredible reality that we are loved by God. To prepare for this time, I want to talk to you this morning about a marriage. No, not the one that the Stilley family has coming this Thursday! There is no shortage of conversation on that around our home already, and we are excited for our son and our new daughter-in-law as this wonderful day approaches. The marriage I have in mind is not my marriage or yours. Nor is it the institution of marriage, which seems to be moving in dishonorable and God-ignoring directions at every turn in our country.

No this morning, I want to talk to you about Christ's love for His bride, the Church. I want to speak to you about His devotion and sacrifice for what is, for Him, the unrivaled passion of His heart. And I want to argue that if the church means this much to Jesus, it ought to mean that much to you and me. In fact, I want to pick up on this analogy that Paul uses of Christ's love for the church and ask you a very important question: Are you married or just dating the church?

Now the difference in the two is obvious. Dating is a kind of trial period in a relationship where your commitments are soft, relationships are tentative, and you keep your options open. Marriage is a covenant relationship of devotion and sacrifice and joy. In marriage, you've burned the ships, there's no turning back, and you only have eyes for the one to whom you have pledged yourself.

So I ask you again: are you married to the church-- fully devoted, making sacrificial investments of time and money and energy? Or are you just dating the church: nominally involved, partially invested, maintaining enough detachment so that if it doesn't work out the way you want, you can hit the door with no lingering obligations?

How you answer that question will determine whether you have nailed down this last truth in our study of what's in your trauma toolbox. We've taken six Sundays to open the lid on our inner world and see what's inside. We want to be certain that we already have vital truths in place before the bottom drops out from under your feet. Truths worth believing like…

  1. The Lord, He is God.
  2. The Bible is God's Word to me.
  3. I am a sinner who needs a great Savior.
  4. God has sent His Son Jesus to be that Savior.
  5. Salvation is a gift you receive, not a paycheck you earn.

And the sixth truth that you need to nail down in your life is a personal commitment to a local church. Now, maybe that sounds a little self serving for me to include this in a list titled six vital, lifesaving things you will want in place before the crisis comes. I mean, I am a pastor and we're gathered with the Church now, and I'm here saying that it is vital to have a strong, growing relationship with the people of God, where you can encourage each other in Christ and pray for one another and bear each other's burdens and intervene when you see a brother or sister lapsing into sinful patterns. Is it self-aggrandizing for me to urge you to belong and be personally invested in a local church for your own sake?

There are a lot of people who think so. Statistically, one out of four church attendees are considered "church shoppers," with no real devotion to any particular local church. An estimated 15-20 million Americans have said they are Christians, but don't want to be a part of the church. Around 80 percent of American evangelical churches are plateaued or declining. When asked, people give the standard answers: church is irrelevant, boring, hypocritical, after my money. Some have been hurt by the church, in some cases deeply. ("The Condition of the Church in America," Compiled by Andy McAdams, Pastor to Pastor Ministry.)

Maybe you're in that number. There's a wall that rises when you come to a place like this, a kind of automatic attitude that keeps anything that might be said or done or experienced here this morning at arm's length. May I challenge you to an alternate conclusion based on the evidence from Scripture?

Come with me to a passage that is often used about marriage, Ephesians 5. I want to read vv. 25-32. And as I read it, I want to encourage you look beyond the secondary application to husbands to the primary application of Jesus and the church. Wives I want to ask you to not be examining your husband as we walk through this passage. Instead, let the foundational relationship described here ring out.

There are two word pictures that make sense to us, two analogies that are obvious in this passage. When we read them, we can see and feel what they mean. Both of them bring home to us the importance of being personally committed to a gathering like this.

I. The Church is the bride of Jesus

The whole context of this passage about marriage has this model of Christ's passion for His bride, the Church, as its foundation. And the point is powerful: Jesus wholeheartedly, unconditionally loves His Church. You know there is a moment in every wedding when the bride walks down the aisle to her groom. Everyone rises to their feet as the music soars and all eyes turn to see the bride - radiant, beautiful, adorned in white, she seems to float past on her way to the man who has captured her heart.

As a pastor, I have a unique vantage point for this special moment. I get to stand in the center of that aisle alongside the groom, so I get to the best view in the house. Tell you what I like to do: I always cut a look over at the groom's face. He is grinning from ear to ear in anticipation, wistful, unspeakably happy, lost in love for the one who is coming to pledge herself to him.

Now listen, if you can see that look on the groom's face, then you have a small understanding of the intensity of Christ's love for His church. It resonates through this passage. "What stands out [here]," writes John Stott, "is the sacrificial steadfastness of the heavenly Bridegroom's covenant-love for His bride." (John Stott, The Message of Ephesians in "The Bible Speaks Today," Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979, p. 227.)

What makes this passage even more striking for me is that I am part of His church. The church in the Bible is made up of those who have been called out by the Spirit of Christ to salvation. The church is God's people. It's you and me and every believer in every place around this world who has put their trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord. The truth is when you read that Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her, you might as well be reading, "Jesus loves me like that."

It becomes intensely personal to meditate on the words Christ loved the church when I see that I am included among those He loves. And it strikes me when I see that the Greek word for love that Paul uses here describes immediately takes me to the cross. It is the word agape, which refers to the absolute, un-self-centered sacrifice of Christ for my sake. His love for His me never quits, never waivers, never weakens. Together, church, we will take a piece of bread and a swallow of juice to remember that cross love He has for His bride, you and me.

And then I read that He gave Himself for His bride, and I count the cost He has personally undertaken. The wording here speaks of voluntary surrender and total commitment to the horrors of bearing my sins in His body on the cross to ransom me from slavery to sin and take me to Himself. The broken body and shed blood of Christ are the measure of how far He will go for me.

And when I read that His holy love for the church moved Him with purpose to make her holy, cleansing her in the washing of water by the word, I am thrilled to see my complete forgiveness in those words, my justification accomplished at His Word, and the gentle, patient work of making me holy like Himself.

Christ is totally committed to the church. He is totally committed to me. Can I receive love like that from Him as an imperfect person He is sanctifying while ignoring the rest of what His love has purchased? You know what I've found in my life: the more like Christ I become, the more I love what He loves and devote myself to what moves Him to action. Say what you want to say, but you know it's true. If you're going to be like Jesus, you won't date the church anymore. And you won't stumble over the imperfections that are going to happen when a group of imperfect people gather together. You'll just realize that it has its flaws, but it's what Jesus died for.

II. The Church is the body of Christ

In v. 25, the church is the wife of Jesus Christ. But in v. 30, the church is called the Body of Christ: we are members of His body, it says. Paul changes the imagery to emphasize something important.

The image of the bride tells us deep things about the devotion and love of Christ Jesus for us, His bride. The image of the body of Christ reminds us that we have an assignment to fulfill. When Jesus bodily walked this earth, He moved from place to place in a small geographical area, doing the will of the Heavenly Father and securing the salvation of everyone who believes. Now, having ascended back to heaven, He still moves from place to place, only now on a global scale. How does He do it? Through us! We are His body!

Ephesians 1:22 expands on this picture when it explains, by telling us that God the Father has put everything under His feet and appointed Him as head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of the One who fills all things in every way. Like the fingers and toes, like the eyes and elbows of your physical body, you are a part of Christ's body on earth, which is the church. And just like the various parts of your physical body have a specific function in relation to your body, so you have a specific function in Christ's body! There is no unimportant member of the church. Each of us has a function to fulfill for the good of the whole body. Ephesians 4 speaks about the body being built up in love as each part is working properly (v. 16).

Paul plays with this analogy a bit in his letter to the Corinthians: If the foot should say, "Because I'm not a hand, I don't belong to the body," in spite of this it still belongs to the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I'm not an eye, I don't belong to the body," in spite of this it still belongs to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But now God has placed the parts, each one of them, in the body just as He wanted. (1 Corinthians 12:15-18)

Run with me on this, okay? Let's say for the sake of illustration that when God saved you, He made you a hand in His body. You have the gift of service that is meant to minister to the rest of the body by assisting and fixing and working. You are the oil in the machinery that keeps things running smoothly. So what happens when you say, "I love you Jesus, but I don't want to be a part of the church"?

That's like saying, "Jesus, I love you, but I don't want to be a part of Your body. So I'm cutting off Your hand from Your body. But hey I really love you, okay!?" How would that work out for your physical body if your body parts did a little mutiny? "As your big toe, let me just say that I'm sick and tired of working with these other toes. They're all a bunch of posers! I do most of the work, and they still get treated as equals. So I think I'm just going to take a break. You don't really need me anyway."

You get the point. If you're a Christian, you have an assignment to fulfill in the body of Christ. He's on the move and needs every member of His body in on what He's doing. So when you're missing in action, half-hearted, casually committed, the rest of the body is crippled and weakened.

Conclusion

Hebrews 10:24-25 calls us to a different value system when it comes to the church. "And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near."

For this church to be all God wants it to be, each member needs to be working properly, needs to be connected, needs to be participating, sharing the burdens and the joys together. Most of you here today are living examples of this message, and I cannot thank you enough for your example, your partnership, your stewardship of life for His sake.

But I also want to urge you who are on the margins, who are just going through the motions, who are acting out of habit rather than commitment. Brian Habig and Les Newsom, authors of a book entitled, The Enduring Community, write, "The church is body, and I am either a productive member of that organism, or I am actively contributing to its dismemberment."

Lloyd Stilley is pastor of First Baptist Church, Gulf Shores, Alabama. He is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Leeanne and is the father of Joey and Craig.