Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 11/14/99
Today we come to Eph. 5:25-29. In commanding men to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, Paul gives us the highest calling imaginable, and the most difficult. Fortunately, he also gives us the best Role Model imaginable, and the greatest Helper and Sustainer. We need Him in all these capacities. Specifically, I see in this passage three Patterns in Christ's love for the Church which provide insights about what true love is.
The cliche is that love is blind. It is symbolized by that naughty boy with the blindfold and the bow-and-arrow set, who sends an endless stream of premarital counselees into pastor's offices convinced that they are perfectly compatible and that all the challenges and pitfalls of married life about which they are being warned apply only to other people. But this is infatuation, not love--for the beloved is merely a romantic construction in the lover's own mind, not a real person who actually exists. Infatuation is blind. But look at Christ's love for the Church: He was not naive about what we are. See Jn. 2:24-25, Mark 7:21-22. He was not blind to our sinfulness, weakness, corruption, fickleness, or spiritual obtuseness. He saw us as we are, with complete accuracy and sobriety. That is the whole point: God commendeth his love in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:9).
But there is another vision Christ has of us, brought out in Eph. 5:27, cf. 1:4. He gave Himself for the Church to present her to Himself in all her glory, without spot or wrinkle. In other words, He saw us in a different light too--He could already see us as we were destined to be in Him. The cupid-like blindness that sees the beloved as perfect is a parody and corruption of this vision, which is a true prophetic insight. The glory Dante saw in Beatrice--the glory which you see in a woman (or man, for you ladies) who can light up a room with a glance, a smile, a gesture, a word, a deed: the modern world can see this only as an illusion perpetrated on us by hormones. I say it can be a vision given to you by God of the one He is fashioning, a revelation of her to the eyes of love as she truly is in Christ. But you--precisely because you love--are the only one who can see it now. This vision is given to you so that you may help your friend to believe that He who began a good work in her will complete it in the Day of Christ.
But hormones and loneliness can make a convincing counterfeit of this clear vision, the Truesight of love. How do we tell the difference? Infatuation blinds you to the other's faults; true Love sees the glory in spite of them. The light of infatuation fades; the light cast by Love grows and deepens. Infatuation's vision inspires greed; what Love sees is a kind of fulfillment in itself. What infatuation sees you want to possess; what Love sees you want to serve, as a true knight should. Infatuation says, "I want you." Love says, "I believe in you."
Scripture overwhelmingly protrays Christ as dying, not for the world, but for the Church. Even in John 3:16, the Son is sent for Believers; and in Eph. 5:25, Christ loves the Church and gives Himself for HER. This makes salvation a very personal transaction: Christ died not for an abstraction like "humanity" but for His Church, foreseen and known by God before the foundations of the world. Jesus did not die for people in general but for me; when he hung on the Cross he was thinking of you. As Vaughan said, "This ring the Bridegroom did for none provide / But for His Bride." It is because Christ's love for His Church is so particular and personal, because He says unto her, "I will never leave you nor forsake you," and because He is our Model for love, that husbands are asked in their vows if they will "keep thee only unto her, as long as ye both shall live." In this too we picture the love of Christ for His Church.
In Eph. 5:28-30, Paul brings together the metaphor of marriage as one flesh with the metaphor of Christ as head of His Body, the Church, suggesting that to love on'e wife is like loving your own body. Now, I have a curious sentimental attachment to my own hide. If it gets cold, I try to warm it; if it gets hungry, I feed it; if it gets tired, I try to rest it. But for some strange reason, if Marsha gets cold, we end up fighting over the setting of the thermostat. If I loved her like Christ loves the Church--i.e., like I love my own body--her being cold would be just as unacceptable as me being cold. Oops. Well, I am learning. Paul's point is that in true love, *self* interest disappears, so strong is the identification with the beloved. This is the mutual submission of 5:21 brought to its highest level, and like all the fruit which flows from 5:18, it is impossible without the Holy Spirit.
What we have seen applies to any love--to friendship, to love between the Brethren in the Church, applied on their appropriate levels--and especially to the love husbands are commanded to have for their wives. Well, this is an ideal--and it is an impossible ideal. Have I attained it? No. Can I attain it? No. Can you attain it? No. But Jesus has already attained it; He already loves the Church this way. And therein lies our hope; for He can love this way in and through us. And only thus can our loves be what they should be.
Friends, this is love. For God is love, and Christ is the express image of His character, and this is how He loves the Church. So, in the words of Spenser,
"Let us love, dear love, like as we ought;
Love is the lesson that the Lord us taught."
Here endeth the lesson.