A bride on her wedding day is made as beautiful as possible. She is adorned in such a way to create the "wow" factor. I have watched a few episodes (by force) of "Say Yes to the Dress," so I'm somewhat of an expert! The bride's goal is to feel beautiful and be beautiful. The dress, make up and hair are scrutinized until the perfect combination comes together. I've performed a few weddings as a pastor, and I have never seen a groom not get that big, goofy grin on his face when he sees his bride in all that get up coming down the isle to meet him. Why? She's beautiful. She's beautiful just for him.
The analogy of the church as the bride of Christ is powerful. It communicates some important truths about how God relates to His church and what is expected of her. In the Old Testament the imagery of the bride was used as a description of the people of God. The prophets sometimes portrayed Israel as a bride who had committed adultery when they went after false gods and forgot mercy and justice. In the New Testament this bride imagery extends to the relationship Christ has with His church. This is a dramatic image - one worth considering beyond the emotional sentiment. How should this image impact us right now?
First, the bride should be earnest in making herself ready for her Groom.
The expectation of a bride (especially in the ancient world of the Bible) was that she would present herself to her groom sexually pure. In our culture, the white dress has traditionally symbolized this quality. As she walks to meet him beautifully adorned in the white dress, she is saying that she has reserved herself for him.
Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers using this marriage imagery. As a spiritual father he wrote, "...I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ" (2 Cor. 11:2). Of course, his concern was with their faithfulness to Christ. He feared they were being deceived by false doctrine and immoral practices.
In the ancient world the purity and devotion of the bride was paramount. Everyone understood this, even if it was not always the reality. Therefore, the meaning of the comparison of God's people to a bride was obvious. God's people were to strive for spiritual purity and faithfulness.
As Christ's bride, we in the church must recognize the importance of purity in our doctrine and living. The church is to adorn itself with the beauty of correct doctrine and a faithful message. In other words, the church much have a uncompromising commitment to the Gospel of the Groom and no other. We must heed the Apostle Paul's warning never to accept a distorted message about our Groom. Good, sound, biblical doctrine is a very good thing and an essential way in which the church keeps herself pure for her Groom. But we can have all our doctrine correctly arranged and articulated, but still possess dirty lifestyles. We have to know what to believe first, but then we have to live by it. It's not enough only to believe correctly; we must also behave correctly.
The bride of Christ makes herself beautiful by proclaiming an unadulterated Gospel message that people need to hear and by keeping herself away from idols and spiritual fornication. She must beautify herself by putting on love and good deeds while all the while never allowing anything to compete for her allegiance to her Groom.
Second, the bride should remember she is cherished by the Groom.
All during the effort of making herself ready for her groom, she must remember that she is not doing so to attract His favor. She already has that. He already loves his bride with an unmatched, sacrificial, divine love. Those of us who make up the bride were already defiled with sin. We were not fit for the Groom. But the Groom, who was pure, gave Himself for us so that we could be a pure, fit, clean bride.
We may not always feel like a beautiful bride ready to meet our Groom, but we have to remind ourselves that it isn't how we feel that rules the day, it's what He has done. We may still have some areas that are in the process of massive makeover, but He loves us still. Now, don't think the Groom is okay with an ugly, dirty, defiled bride. He's not. So, don't assume that one can come and not be transformed and still be the bride. The Groom loves and transforms those who are found truly in Him. He is working in them a work of purification that will meet His level of expectation. And on the day of consummation, she will be perfect and truly beautiful.
Church, Jesus the Groom does only what He can do for us. We can't make atonement for our own sin. He already has. We can't be righteous apart from His righteousness. But if we are found in Him, we possess His righteousness. We can't clean ourselves up and make ourselves presentable for Him. But He can make us clean.
When we know, really know, How much the Groom cherishes His bride we are motivated all the more to be faithful to Him and not take that kind of love for granted.
"...Christ loved the church and give himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Eph.5:25-27 ESV).
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