By Shawn McMullen
Encourage the bride. What we say about the church matters. It seems strange that some who claim to love Christ and his church are quick to speak ill of Christ’s bride in public, broadcasting—even to unbelievers—play-by-play accounts of the smallest quarrel or most insignificant conflict.
The youngest of six children, I learned early in life that family quarrels and conflicts are best kept private. We worked hard to maintain peace and harmony in our home. We admitted our failures to one another and corrected our mistakes, but we didn’t publicize them. It kept our family healthy, and protected us from having to defend ourselves from misconceptions later.
On the positive side, speaking well of the bride of Christ pleases the Lord who loves her and makes the bride attractive to outsiders.
Honor the bride. The apostle Paul chastised believers in Corinth, “Do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing?” (1 Corinthians 11:22). Far from honoring the bride of Christ, the selfish and condescending attitudes some church members displayed toward others indicated they despised her. We show respect for Christ’s bride when we respect her members and her leaders.
Protect the bride. We protect the bride of Christ by guarding against division. Paul expressed his frustration with the problem-plagued church in Corinth with a rhetorical question: “Is Christ divided?” (1:13). The answer is “no,” and neither is the church, his bride. Sometimes those within the church are a greater threat to its welfare than those on the outside. The Bible commands unity (Ephesians 4:1-16), and we protect Christ’s bride when we preserve it.
Another way we protect Christ’s bride is by guarding against doctrinal error. Paul encouraged Timothy to “stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer” (1 Timothy 1:3). Later he challenged him, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (4:16). Holding forth the inerrant, infallible, and inspired Word of God shows our love for Christ and his bride.
The bride of Christ faces dangers from outside as well, but when she is protected from within, she has the strength and resolve to withstand any opposition
Serve the bride. “Serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13), Paul wrote. When we put the needs of others above our own, when we show respect and deference to others in the church, when we trade authority and prestige for a basin and towel, we demonstrate our love for Christ as we serve his bride.
It takes commitment, determination, humility, perseverance, and even creativity to consistently demonstrate our love for Christ by loving the church. But when we consider what he has done for us, and what he has prepared for us, loving his bride becomes second nature to us—and pure joy.