(The reflections below were published in the Hickory Daily Record June 4, 2011 and also at http://corinthpastorbob.com/2011/06/loving-two-brides/ on the same date.) The entry is used here with permission from Rev. Dr. Bob Thompson of Corinth Reformed Church in Hickory, NC. Bob has posted on Red Door’s Blog before. Check out his last entry “When You Give Yourself a B.”
I have loved two brides in my life. Only one of them is mine.
My wife and I will celebrate our thirty-third anniversary July 1. We vowed our love, loyalty and faithfulness before our 22nd birthdays. We have kept those promises through every phase of life from honeymoon to empty nest, during seminary or sickness, facing opposition or enjoying stability. Linda is still my best friend, my partner in life and ministry. I protect and defend her, valuing her above anyone else and treasuring the times we can be together. I would give my life for her if I had the opportunity.
The other love of my life is the bride of Christ. He loves his bride as I do mine – only infinitely better and deeper. The Apostle Paul made that analogy in Ephesians 5 when he instructed husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Giving his life for his bride was more than theoretical for Jesus.
A man and a woman marry, at least in our culture in time, because of a combination of attraction and friendship we call “falling in love.” Couples whose marriages endure learn that the “enchantment,” as C. S. Lewis called it, is transient – or cyclical at best. The glue that keeps a marriage together is rather a commitment to mutual sacrifice and submission that includes patience, forgiveness, and a choice to keep loving when the enchantment wanes. When Linda and I wrote our own wedding vows, we both promised to love the other in full knowledge we would at times be disappointed in each other. The Greek word for that kind of love is agape.
Agape describes Christ’s self-sacrificing love for his bride. He loves her as she is, and claims her as his own. He knows her flaws better than she knows them. He protects, defends, forgives, and waits for her, even with the realities of her imperfections.
Given Christ’s love for his church, I am sometimes surprised at the disdain and apathy of his followers toward his bride. I am not surprised at the cynicism and distance of non-believers toward the church. I find it, in fact, understandable for those who have not experienced grace.
Long before your church or mine ever came into being, Jesus’ Plan A was to gather his people into communities for worship, encouragement, learning, service, and witness. It does not surprise Jesus that these faith communities would be imperfect. He was aware from the beginning that within the church we would encounter hypocrisy, gossip, power struggles, anger, immorality, pride, error, greed, racism, envy, and deceit. The biggest problem with churches has always been that they’re full of sinners.
Is it frustrating to pastor a congregation of the imperfect? It would be, if I weren’t among those deeply flawed. As in marriage, disappointment with another’s brokenness should cause me to name my own, and then be merciful. The church is where sinners gather to name and share the benefits of grace.
My life is one of contradictions. I’m a southern boy living in northern New England; a boring guy married to super-fun girl; a conservative pastor in a progressive Christian denomination; a changed man in need of change; a sinner loved by a holy and perfect God.