I’m a closet romantic. How could I not be? I grew up on '90s country music. So when I hear a song like She’s My Girl by Five For Fighting, I’m moved. It gets me (you can listen here). There’s a line in the song that I still can't get out of my head: “I know you don’t like her / But she’s my girl.” This was just another typical romantic song to me, until I heard it again with new ears. I heard something new, something I wasn't expecting:
She's my girl
She's my girl
There's beauty in disaster
You can just ask her
But you won’t like what you will hear
Her name has stitches between letters
Goes on forever
In a skyline rainbow made of tears
I heard Jesus saying these words. As I listened to this song, I couldn’t help but hear Jesus talking about His bride.
I was reminded of how the New Testament describes the church – as the bride of Christ. This vividly reminded me of Jesus’ love for His church. I kept hearing the refrain in this song over and over again: “I know you don’t like her / But she’s my girl.” Jesus knows that the church can be in chaos. He knows that she can be a mess. He knows that people won't like her. He's all too aware that we're not going to like what we'll hear. But He also knows that there’s beauty in the midst of her disaster. He sees something in her that many can't see, and He's not done with her yet. Jesus has the deepest love for His church.
If Jesus loves the church, why don’t we?
Well, I know there's plenty of reasons that could easily roll off of our tongues. We’re all too familiar with the messiness of being connected to the church. We might want to ask, "How could I love the church?" But there's another question I can't seem to escape, "How can we love Jesus but not love His bride?" As imperfect as the church may be, shouldn’t we love her if Jesus does?
Fair warning: It’s going to be hard for us to be friends if you hate my wife.
I love my wife. I don’t just like her; I don’t tolerate her. No, I have the deepest of affections for her. She's my favorite person. So if I find out that someone can't stand being around my wife, that’s likely to cause issues between us. Not that my wife is perfect. It’s possible for there to be a reasonable cause for someone to be upset with her. If that’s the case, I should help build reconciliation between the two of them, not drive a wedge between them. However, if this person has no interest in rebuilding a connection with her, if they have nothing but hateful thoughts about her, I have a hard time imagining being friends with this person. It’s just not going to go well between us. “I know you don’t like her / But she’s my girl.”
Why do we expect it to be any different with Jesus?
He has the greatest of affections for His bride, the church. He doesn’t just put up with her because He’s forced to. No, He loves her. That’s what Paul goes at length to say in Ephesians 5:
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 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. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
The apostle Paul is talking about marriage here, but he’s talking about more than just marriage. He says that marriage points to something greater: the relationship between Christ and the church (v. 32). Just look at how much of this passage describes Jesus' sacrificial love for the church. It's like Paul can't shut up about it. Jesus' astonishing, self-giving love for the church shapes how Paul even thinks about marriage, and so he calls husbands and wives to be like Jesus by mutually submitting to each other in love.
(Note: It’s not just wives who are called to submit here, for all of God’s people are called to submit to one another in love as Christ has loved us. Somehow we fail to see this in Ephesians 5:21, the very verse before this passage which Paul has in the forefront of his mind as he's writing about marriage. This deserves to be elaborated more fully but is at least worth briefly mentioning here.)
As much as Ephesians 5 is about marriage, it’s also not about marriage. Paul wasn’t as obsessed with marriage as we American Christians are.
That’s why I hesitate to write about Ephesians 5 and Jesus having a bride – I don’t want it to reinforce the message that you have to be married to experience love and be fully alive (for more on this, see one of our older blog posts here). For one thing, Paul never married, like Jesus; and I don’t think either of them were incomplete because they were single. Second, Paul even wished that more people in the church would remain single like him (see 1 Corinthians 7:6-7). Maybe Paul’s emphasis in Ephesians 5 isn’t as much about marriage as we automatically think it is. He explicitly points out in this very passage that marriage is really about a greater reality: the relationship between Christ and the church (see v. 32). Paul is highlighting the beautiful, costly love that Christ has for His bride – the church. That’s what he wants us to see.
If Jesus loves the church so much, shouldn’t we? Now, I’m not saying that the church is easy to love. Jesus Himself shows us that. His love for the church cost Him greatly. His love for His bride isn’t just a sentimental kind of love. It hurt Him. He’s not okay with the sin that wreaks havoc in the church. He hates the sin and corruption that does so much damage to people inside and outside the church. He wouldn't stand for all this brokenness. He cared too much about His creation. So He decided to do something about it. That’s why He was willing to humble Himself even to the point of death. He gave His very life in order to cleanse the church and make her holy (Eph. 5:25-27). Jesus loves the church at great cost to Himself. Jesus knows more than anyone that the church isn’t easy to love. “I know you don’t like her / But she’s my girl.”
The church isn’t easy to love because I’m in it.
The church can be so hard to love because the church consists of broken people like me. We’re far from perfect. We’re the reason why people like Jesus but don’t like His church very much. They’ve seen too much, and they're not attracted to what they see. They’ve been hurt too badly by their encounters with the church, and their wounds still sting. I know because I’ve heard about some of these wounds from people I know and care about. My heart breaks that they're far from the church.
If you’re trying to find the perfect church, you’re wasting your time. There's no such thing.
We desperately need Jesus to come back and transform us. Until then, the church will always be imperfect. It’s a good thing that the church’s message is grace because those of us inside the church need it as much as anyone else does. This is not an excuse for us as the church to passively continue on in our ugliness. Jesus said that the world will come to know Him by the way His people love one another (John 13:34-35, 17:20-21). If we don’t learn how to love one another in the church, then we fail at our mission. If people come to know Jesus by our love, then it shouldn’t surprise us that our failure to love has the reverse effect. Our failure to love pushes people away from the church – and therefore from Jesus. That’s why the brokenness within the church is so tragic, because no one can have Jesus without His body (i.e. the church, Eph. 5:28-30). You can't love Jesus and hate His bride. "I know you don't like her / But she's my girl."
As messy as the church can be, Jesus is in the process even now of creating beauty out of her ugliness.
Jesus hasn't given up on the church. He will not. That’s the kind of husband He is. He's showing through her that there’s beauty in disaster. He’s shining His light in the dark places. Jesus is forgiving and healing people of their darkest sins, creating new kinds of people who are agents of this very forgiveness and healing. He’s transforming lives - and yes, He's doing it even in the church. Despite all its imperfections, Jesus chooses to do His supernatural work in and through the local church. When we participate in Jesus’ love for His church, we participate in Him. We can’t have one without the other. We’re connected to Jesus when we’re connected to His people. We come to know Jesus when we tangibly experience His love from people in the local church. That’s how it’s designed to work. To experience Jesus, we need His body. To love Jesus, we also have to love His bride. “I know you don’t like her / But she’s my girl.”
If you want to hear more about the kind of transforming love that we're after at Redemption Church, check out our sermon: A Community of Friends (Unmasked #2).