By Shawn McMullen
John, the apostle of love, wrote three brief letters to Christians, encouraging them to remain faithful to their calling in Christ. He instructed his readers to “love one another” (1 John 4:7). He reminded them of Jesus’ command to “walk in love” (2 John 6). He commended his friend Gaius for his loving reputation (3 John 6).
John knew that by loving one another, Christians identify with Christ and validate his message. After all, he had recorded Jesus’ teaching on the topic in his Gospel: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). But is there more to John’s message of love? Perhaps. I’d like to think John wanted believers to love one another because in doing so, they would demonstrate their love to Christ himself by loving what he loves—the church, his bride.
You may have heard someone say, “I love Jesus, but I don’t love the church.” Frankly, it doesn’t work that way. If you said to me, “Shawn, I love you, but I want nothing to do with your wife” (although I’m sure that would never happen), your love for me would mean nothing. I would reason, “If you want nothing to do with my wife, and the two of us are one flesh, then you want nothing to do with me.” It seems strange anyone would think he could love Jesus without loving that which is most precious to him, the very thing “Christ loved . . . and gave himself up for” (Ephesians 5:25).
Let’s take it a step further. If you love me, you will love my bride no matter how attractive or unattractive you think she is. (Just for the record, my wife is a very beautiful woman!) People who say they love Christ but not the church usually think they have legitimate reasons for spurning his bride—reasons that have made the church unattractive to them. They may have been hurt or misunderstood by church members. They may feel the church let them down in a time of need. They may consider the church irrelevant and ineffective. But no matter how weak or unattractive the church may appear in someone’s eyes, she remains the precious bride of her adoring husband, Jesus Christ. She is always beautiful to him.
He loved her when he died for her, he loves her as she makes her way through the world, and he will love her as “the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). Despite her flaws, the church is a beautiful bride—and worthy of our love—simply because she belongs to Christ. Professing our love for Jesus means professing our love for the church, his bride.
Next week’s issue of The Lookout will focus on the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13. To introduce the issue, I’ll continue this essay on what it means to love the bride of Christ and suggest several practical ways to express our love.