Love the Church Like Christ Does

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 4:4Colossians 1:15Hebrews 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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