Not too many years ago, while walking through a college campus, I saw a group of individuals holding up placards encouraging individuals to, “Love Christ, not the Church.” The church is seen as unforgiving, unloving, and un-Christlike. Scandals reverberate through various organizations claiming to be the church. Venomous words of hatred spew out of those claiming to speak in the name of Christ. It is understandable why many would be skeptical of those who claim to be the church. Consider a few passages of scripture which detail God's design for the church, God's feelings towards the church, and our responsibilities to the church.
Christ loves His church
Ephesians 5:25 tells us, “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.” Christ sees the church as His bride. He wants it to be radiant, pure, an entity to be admired. He willingly gave Himself for her. To sacrifice His own life was not the most pleasing idea. He prayed that if there be any other way, let this cup pass from me, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” It was a sacrifice of obedience to His Father, so that the Father's plan of redemption might be fulfilled (Ephesians 1:1-10). It was a sacrifice of love, knowing that by it all men might have the opportunity to be cleansed of their sins, and sanctified through His word (Ephesians 5:26).
Notice, though, verse 25 says Christ gave Himself for the church. Christ loved those who would respond to His call. They are the called out, the ones who believe Him and are sanctified through the washing of water by the word. Hebrews 2:11 goes further in explaining this idea of sanctification. Those who are set apart to God, and cleansed from their sins, are now united with our sancitifier, Jesus Christ. For that reason Jesus Christ willingly calls us brethren. All individuals who are willing to accept that Jesus Christ is the son of God, and be immersed in the likeness of His death, are now heirs with Christ (Romans 8:16-17). He considers us not just His bride, but also His fellow heir, a fellow child of God. We become precious in His sight, a very joy to Him. His desire is for the church's well being.
He has compassion on those who seek to follow Him (Hebrews 4:14-16). He nurtures and cherishes the church, just as we might care for our own bodies (Ephesians 5:29). Jesus Christ loves the church.
Christ leads His church
In Acts 20:28 we read that Christ purchased the church with His blood. Ephesians 1:22 further explains that God gave Christ to be head over the church. The church, then, is subject to Christ. Consider your own body. If your head tells your right foot to move forward, and instead your left foot moves sideways, there is a miscommunication between the head and the rest of the body. The body is dysfunctional. There is no unity, and the body cannot properly operate. It would be horrible if the rest of our bodies decided to go in whatever direction they wanted, and completely disregarded the command center. So too, the church. Jesus Christ has all authority over the body. Ephesians 5:24 begins, “therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ...” The church then is a collection of members all willingly following the head, which is Christ. Each member plays a role in the growth of all the other members, and maintains a care and concern for each other. Ephesians 4:15-16 explains this point by saying,
but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all thing into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
Christ gives the church and its members direction (Ephesians 4:20-21). Christ provides the framework whereby the sanctified body operates, edifies, and serves (Ephesians 2:10; 4:11-12). Christ leads His church.
Loving Christ and His church
The church is not as some have falsely represented it to be. It is not a complex, hierarchically organized non-profit organization. The church is the body of Christ. It is the collective grouping of all individuals who profess Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, and have willingly been immersed for the remission of sins.
First John gives us a very sobering statement concerning our love for God. I John 4:20-21 state, “If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” The scripture makes it very plain that if we were to try to love Christ, but not the church, we would love neither one. Christ loves the church, and He expects us to love each other. He expects us to be forgiving toward our brethren (Ephesians 4:32). He expects us to show each other the same sort of love and affection that He showed to us. I John 4:9-11 explain,
In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
Christ so loved us that He willingly gave up the rightful place He had in heaven to live and die as a man. If He so loves His church that he would give His most valuable asset away for it, how can we expect to be pleasing to Him if we do not show love toward those for whom He died?