Dustin Benge

Love the Church Like Christ Does

Jesus doesn’t lament the church he has rescued or look for another to capture his attention. Christ welcomes the church as his beautiful treasure and joy. The church isn’t just about organization, leadership, function, and vision. Jesus sees more. His gaze reveals the beauty of our Father, the sufficiency of his cross, and the fulfillment of his mission in the world. He sees sinners being rescued, redeemed, and renewed.

In an age when so many pastoral failures, missteps, and sins are posted for public exhibition, it’s easy to allow our warmth toward the church to grow cold. Through a scrutinizing lens, many scowl at the church with suspicion and sheer amazement that anyone would want to be part of such a seemingly dysfunctional family. Sometimes, the church can seem to be anything but beautiful.
Does Jesus look at the church with the same scowl?
“You Are Beautiful”
John Gill, an eighteenth-century English Baptist pastor, helps us answer this question by drawing our attention away from our introspection to the words of the bridegroom in Song of Solomon 1:15: “You are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful.” Interpreting Song of Solomon as an allegorical portrayal of an exchange between Christ and his bride, the church, Gill writes, “These are the words of Christ, commending the beauty of the church, expressing his great affection for her; of her fairness and beauty” (An Exposition of the Book of Solomon’s Song, 57). Jesus sees his bride through a lens of love, not disdain; beauty, not disgust.
How can beautiful be the adjective Jesus uses to describe the church? After all, she’s composed of sinners — forgiven sinners, yet still sinners. She’s plagued by division, is besieged with scandal, and sometimes appears to have lost her first love. Even the apostle Paul reminds us that only at the end of the age will she be found “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing” (Ephesians 5:27). What does Jesus see in his bride that would cause him to exclaim, “You are beautiful, my love”?
1. The Beauty of His Father
God’s beauty is most radiantly displayed through the biblical concept of glory. Moses experienced this glory when God passed by him, revealing only the afterglow of his splendor (Exodus 33:12–23). When God’s glory engulfed the temple, the priests were unable to perform their service of worship (2 Chronicles 5:14). The prophet Isaiah was prostrate in the dirt when he witnessed God’s glory radiating from his eternal throne (Isaiah 6:1–5). Jonathan Edwards, eighteenth-century pastor-theologian, identified God’s beauty as the differentiating feature of God himself: “God is God, and is distinguished from all other beings, and exalted above ’em, chiefly by his divine beauty, which is infinitely diverse from all other beauty” (The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 2:298). God’s beauty isn’t derived from external sources but emanates directly from the perfection and holiness of his being.
The supreme expression of God’s beauty is his Son, Jesus Christ, who himself is the image and radiance of his Father (2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3). The incarnate Christ is how God most vividly expresses his beautiful love to sinful creatures. The culmination of that love is selecting a bride for Christ that she too might reflect the same beauty. Edwards believed that this bride, the church,
is the great end of all the great things that have been done from the beginning of the world; it was that the Son of God might obtain his chosen spouse that the world was created . . . and that he came into the world . . and when this end shall be fully obtained, the world will come to an end. (Unpublished sermon on Revelation 22:16–17)
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Love the Church Like Christ Does

In an age when so many pastoral failures, missteps, and sins are posted for public exhibition, it’s easy to allow our warmth toward the church to grow cold. Through a scrutinizing lens, many scowl at the church with suspicion and sheer amazement that anyone would want to be part of such a seemingly dysfunctional family. Sometimes, the church can seem to be anything but beautiful.

Does Jesus look at the church with the same scowl?

‘You Are Beautiful’

John Gill, an eighteenth-century English Baptist pastor, helps us answer this question by drawing our attention away from our introspection to the words of the bridegroom in Song of Solomon 1:15: “You are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful.” Interpreting Song of Solomon as an allegorical portrayal of an exchange between Christ and his bride, the church, Gill writes, “These are the words of Christ, commending the beauty of the church, expressing his great affection for her; of her fairness and beauty” (An Exposition of the Book of Solomon’s Song, 57). Jesus sees his bride through a lens of love, not disdain; beauty, not disgust.

“Jesus sees his bride through a lens of love, not disdain; beauty, not disgust.”

How can beautiful be the adjective Jesus uses to describe the church? After all, she’s composed of sinners — forgiven sinners, yet still sinners. She’s plagued by division, is besieged with scandal, and sometimes appears to have lost her first love. Even the apostle Paul reminds us that only at the end of the age will she be found “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing” (Ephesians 5:27). What does Jesus see in his bride that would cause him to exclaim, “You are beautiful, my love”?

1. The Beauty of His Father

God’s beauty is most radiantly displayed through the biblical concept of glory. Moses experienced this glory when God passed by him, revealing only the afterglow of his splendor (Exodus 33:12–23). When God’s glory engulfed the temple, the priests were unable to perform their service of worship (2 Chronicles 5:14). The prophet Isaiah was prostrate in the dirt when he witnessed God’s glory radiating from his eternal throne (Isaiah 6:1–5). Jonathan Edwards, eighteenth-century pastor-theologian, identified God’s beauty as the differentiating feature of God himself: “God is God, and is distinguished from all other beings, and exalted above ’em, chiefly by his divine beauty, which is infinitely diverse from all other beauty” (The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 2:298). God’s beauty isn’t derived from external sources but emanates directly from the perfection and holiness of his being.

The supreme expression of God’s beauty is his Son, Jesus Christ, who himself is the image and radiance of his Father (2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3). The incarnate Christ is how God most vividly expresses his beautiful love to sinful creatures. The culmination of that love is selecting a bride for Christ that she too might reflect the same beauty. Edwards believed that this bride, the church,

is the great end of all the great things that have been done from the beginning of the world; it was that the Son of God might obtain his chosen spouse that the world was created . . . and that he came into the world . . . and when this end shall be fully obtained, the world will come to an end. (Unpublished sermon on Revelation 22:16–17)

The church is a gift from God to his Son as a beautiful expression of divine love “so that the mutual joys between this bride and bridegroom are the end of creation” (Works, 13:374). Therefore, as the Son reflects his Father, the church, as his eternal bride, reflects the Son.

When Christ regards his bride and exclaims that she is beautiful, he beholds the reflection of his Father’s everlasting beauty and infinite love, who chose and saves this bride and gives her as a gift to his Son. Since Christ’s ascension to the right hand of God, there is now no more brilliant exemplification of God’s perfect beauty in the world than his church.

2. The Sufficiency of His Cross

Jesus doesn’t see any intrinsic beauty emitted by the church, for she has no beauty apart from him. He looks at the church through blood, his blood. As if looking through the varied luminous colors of a stained-glass window, Jesus beholds the church through the multifaceted wonder of redemption — blood, election, righteousness, forgiveness, regeneration, justification, union, and grace. Only in union with his perfect substitutionary sacrifice on the cross and glorious triumphant resurrection are filthy sinners washed white as snow (Psalm 51:7). Because of our sin, what God requires of us is paid in full by our bridegroom on the cross.

“Because of our union with Christ, God’s love of his Son now includes love of his Son’s bride.”

With all of its flowing blood, lacerated flesh, and stench of death, the cross becomes the epicenter of cleansing for sinners, where Christ looks lovingly upon his darling bride and declares, “My love, you are beautiful.” Reflecting on the sufficiency of the cross, Edwards writes, “Christ loves the elect with so great and strong a love, they are so near to him, that God looks upon them as it were as parts of him” (Works, 14:403). Because of our union with Christ, God’s love of his Son now includes love of his Son’s bride. When Christ exclaims that his bride is beautiful, he does so through the lens of the sufficiency of his cross and makes the church the sole recipient of the love that ceaselessly flows between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

3. The Fulfillment of His Mission

The New Testament is unmistakably clear that God has commissioned his church as the principal agency for heralding the gospel of Christ. This commission in Matthew 28:18–20 stands as the summit of the church’s mission for all subsequent generations. Beginning in Jerusalem, the disciples understood this assignment with vital urgency and launched the beautiful good news of Christ into all the earth (Acts 1:8). No church has the freedom to tamper with, tweak, add to, or subtract from the good news of Jesus Christ — we are called to herald it to the nations, for there is nothing more beautiful and lovely in the sight of Christ than the Holy Spirit regenerating, calling, and transferring sinners from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.

All evangelistic and missionary endeavors are fueled by the assurance that Christ is enthroned as the head of his church and has promised to ransom men and women from “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:8–9).

This assurance fueled the Genevan Reformer John Calvin to write to the king when evangelistic efforts were harshly suppressed in his homeland of France:

Our doctrine must tower unvanquished above all the glory and above all the might of the world, for it is not of us, but of the living God and his Christ whom the Father has appointed to “rule from sea to sea, and from the rivers even to the ends of the earth (Psalm 72:8).” (Prefatory address to Institutes of the Christian Religion)

Calvin reminds the church that the gospel “is not of us,” but originates from God. Entrusting his church with the task of heralding the gospel, God has chosen her to be an honored vessel to house and disseminate his glorious treasure (2 Corinthians 4:7). When Christ beholds the church, he sees the voice, hands, feet, and heart of the gospel message in rescuing sinners.

The Bride Is Welcome

Jesus doesn’t lament the church he has rescued or look for another to capture his attention. Christ welcomes the church as his beautiful treasure and joy. The church isn’t just about organization, leadership, function, and vision. Jesus sees more. His gaze reveals the beauty of our Father, the sufficiency of his cross, and the fulfillment of his mission in the world. He sees sinners being rescued, redeemed, and renewed.

The bride is now waiting and watching for our bridegroom’s appearance, when he will bid us “Welcome” for all eternity to bask in the glory of his eternal presence (2 Timothy 4:8). Until then, Jesus bids us to join him in gazing upon his bride and exclaiming of her, “Behold, you are beautiful!” (Song of Solomon 1:15).

The Holy Spirit, Our Helper and Beautifier

The Spirit brings beauty out of fallen flesh and wayward hearts (Romans 8:9–11). The church becomes an instrument of Christ’s beaming radiance in the world through the individual expressions of the work of grace by the Spirit in the lives of believers.

The Ministry of the Spirit
Any discussion on the church would be severely lacking without a close look at the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit. Without him, the church would never have been founded. Godly leaders would never have been called, believers added, gifts distributed, service rendered, or growth realized.
The Holy Spirit is mentioned some fifty-six times in the book of Acts as filling, helping, guiding, calling, aiding, growing, sanctifying, maturing, organizing, assisting, regenerating, teaching, testifying to, interceding for, reminding, grieving over, and loving believers, who make up the church. Without the ministry of the Holy Spirit, there is no church. But with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the church shines forth beautifully as he makes her his glorious dwelling.
Our Helper
To comfort the hearts of his despondent disciples, who have just learned that Jesus will soon be leaving them, he promises them a “Helper” (John 14:16). Jesus unveils the identity and ministry of this divine Helper in subsequent verses:
The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)
When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. (John 15:26)
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)
The church exists to be a reflection of God’s indescribable love. In this concise version of Dustin Benge’s The Loveliest Place, learn to see beyond methodology and structure into the church’s eternal beauty.
The Greek word used here in reference to the Holy Spirit is paraklētos, which means “one called to another’s side, specifically to help and aid.” It can also denote an intercessor, an assistant, or someone who pleads another’s cause before a judge. The word itself reveals the all-encompassing role of the Spirit within the body of Christ. He is our Helper, Intercessor, Assistant, Advocate, Comforter, Counselor, and Sustainer.
What love Jesus has for the church! He doesn’t leave her to fend for herself with her own devices, inventions, creativity, or wit. Surprisingly, he says, “It is to your advantage that I go away” (John 16:7). If we listen closely, we can almost hear the disciples bemoan Jesus’s words. “What could possibly be good about you leaving us, Jesus?” Peter is so steadfast in his resolve that Jesus will not be leaving that he takes Jesus aside from the others and rebukes him (Matt. 16:21–23).
Yes, the disciples have a daunting and seemingly insurmountable task of walking in Jesus’s footsteps and continuing his ministry on earth. The proclamation of the gospel to the nations, the organization of the church, discipling believers, caring for orphans and widows, and all the rest—“You can’t leave us, Jesus! How are we to accomplish all of this?” In his love and comforting care of his disciples, he essentially says, “My Father will give you a Helper.”
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The Necessity of Sound Doctrine

Believers of all maturity levels must remain consistent in reading and studying God’s Word, submitting themselves to sound doctrinal preaching and teaching within the local church. There are no shortcuts. There are no substitutes. There’s no fast-food that will achieve the level of maturity required for the turning-the-world-upside-down type of unified ministry Paul commands within the body of Christ.

In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul is principally concerned with unity in the body of Christ—how the church functions as one unit for the mission and purpose to which she has been called. Paul identifies this “one body” (Eph. 4:4) as those who:

Walk “worthy” of their calling (Eph. 4:1).
Bear “with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2).
“Maintain the unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3).
Equip others “for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12).
Build “up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12).
“Attain to the unity of the faith” (Eph. 4:13).
Speak “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).

These splendid features identify the body of Christ and distinguish all mature believers. Maturity is essential in achieving the purpose and call of the church. How do we produce mature believers?
Sound doctrine.
In an age when doctrine is marginalized and disdained, Paul reminds us that biblical, sound doctrine is the golden chain linked to all the characteristics listed above. Without sound doctrine, the chain falls apart, releasing a torrent of false teaching and an onslaught of immaturity. We could put it forthrightly: the church falls apart without sound doctrine.
Sound doctrine is fundamental “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14). Paul isn’t mincing words here but distinctly points out that without sound doctrine, the church is susceptible to being carried away by cultural ideologies, false teaching, and deceptive methodologies.
Paul employs the analogy of children (immature) and adults (mature) to define the Christian life. In 1 Corinthians 13:11, he writes: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” Those susceptible to being “tossed to and fro” are children, those immature in the faith who have not had a steady diet of sound doctrine and have therefore been stunted in their spiritual growth.
If it were up to me, I would have eaten Snickers candy bars for every meal as a boy. Children are undiscerning and must be carefully taught, educated, and formed.
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How to Develop Your Spiritual Discernment

Never subjugate your minds to the media of this age and blindly be led in paths laid for us by the enemy of our souls. John MacArthur aptly said, “Unless we are willing to examine all things carefully, we cannot hope to have any defense against reckless faith.” Only in careful scrutiny will we be able to discern light from darkness.

We carry the world in our pocket. From international news agencies to social media platforms, we’re endlessly besieged with bytes of stories, political commentary, cultural opinion, conspiracies, blogs, and the ever-maddening notification ping of breaking news. A staggering 3.5 billion people on our planet have been identified as users and consumers of this assortment of media. In fact, most of us will spend an average of three hours every day engaging with this unrelenting barrage of information.
Over the past several months, we’ve seen how quickly news and social media can elicit fear, provoke anger, and fuel movements. This information overload is sometimes more than we can bear and has sent believers and unbelievers alike spiraling into despair and hopelessness as we’re simply trying to discern what to believe.
Throughout Scripture, believers are repeatedly cautioned to maintain a sharpened awareness of the difference between truth and error. Paul implored the Thessalonian church: “Test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:21–22). Similarly, Paul encouraged the Ephesians to “try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Eph 5:10–11). Therefore, spiritual discernment is not optional for the believer but is a clearly commanded necessity for proper Christian living. However, many believers have never been adequately instructed regarding how to develop truly biblical spiritual discernment. Such instruction is vital in the information surplus of our day.
Desire Wisdom
Our desire for spiritual discernment is directly related, at a deeper level, to our desire for wisdom. This type of wisdom is to be searched for, longed for, and pursued by every believer. In the opening sentence of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin said, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” Calvin reminds us that to receive true wisdom, and therefore the spiritual ability to discern, begins with a right knowledge of our Creator. No doubt he would have had Proverbs 9:10 in mind: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The current inability to determine truth from error finds its origin in a fundamental lack of understanding of the holiness and glory of the triune God and the sinful depravity of man.
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