Church as the Bride

David Stockton
Series: Ephesians

Good morning. College football has started! But I’m an Oregon fan. It was a rough night for me. 

But it’s good to be with you guys this morning. We’ve got baptism this morning—both services. About ten people getting baptized today, which is super exciting and fun. And we’re going to be working through Ephesians again. Ephesians 5. 

Life Groups. Life Groups. Life Groups. Maybe it’s weird phrase: Life Groups. But it is small groups of people trying to get together outside of the Sunday morning context to check in on each other, pray for each other. The four things we’re dreaming and praying for you is that you’ll get raw authenticity and the healing that comes with that. You’ll get relentless encouragement from each other because we definitely need that. You’ll get Biblical counsel in those small groups. And you’ll get some genuine friendship. Not the online kind but the face-to-face kind. Online is cool. You can do that, too. But face-to-face is important, as well. 

We actually have over 200 people that have signed up since last Sunday. Yeah. There’s a lot of “whoo-ing” going on around here. We think it’s really important. We are not trying to build a Sunday morning show. That’s the last thing we’re trying to build around here—where people come for an hour, watch a show and then go. We are not in that business. We’re trying to build a church. And it is so important that the church has more than Sunday morning to stand on. 

I don’t care if you find life groups in another church. You’ve got to find ways to get together with people in smaller settings, where you can be known and you can impart the wisdom God is speaking to you and you can be supported. 

Did I mention Life Groups? It’s very easy. You go online, and we’ve got a whole list of them. They’ve got times, locations, what’s happening there. We’re asking everyone in our church—everyone—if this is your first Sunday—hey—you’re in. You came. It’s your fault.—to at least sign up for six weeks, starting September 15. We have leaders, we have groups, we have everything ready. We even gave the leaders their first snacks for the first night. We’re serious about this thing. And we’re serious about snacks, too.

Just give it at least six weeks. The leaders are going to be there and they’re ready to run past six weeks, but we just really want you guys to give it a shot and see what the Lord can do. We don’t want to miss anything that God has in store for us.

All right. We’re going to be in Ephesians. We’re looking at Paul’s vision of the church. He didn’t have a vision for Living Streams Church. Living Streams is just an organization that has men and women who are leading it. And the Church that Jesus Christ gave birth to by his blood and the vision that Paul had is the Church organism. It is the thing that lives on beyond Living Streams. It is the thing that was there before Living Streams or whatever other church you might be a part of. 

And we’ve built these organizations, these churches that are hopefully going to help that organism prosper and thrive within it. But YOU are the Church if you are called by Jesus’ name. You are the Church. And the Church is the single most dominant force for good that the world has ever seen. Any era. Any age. Any place. No one can deny the power of what the Church, the true Church has done.

At the same time, no one can deny that there have been real good seasons and real bad seasons for the organization aspect of the Church. There have been horrible seasons when we look at the organization of the Church. But Jesus is not the head of the organizations. We do our best to make sure he is in control of this place, but at the end of the day, it’s got to go through people like me. And it’s going to come out a little squirrly. But he is and always will be the head of the Church, which is his Body here on earth. And everyone of you has a part to play. 

So Paul is trying to impart to us this vision, this grand vision, this vision that, when he got it, he did not want it. But when he got it, he changed every single thing in his life. He threw away everything he had ever known and become—position, power, money, self-righteousness, pride. He threw it all away and said, “I just want to live into this vision.” And he spent the rest of his life traveling the world to tell Gentiles (people who are not Jews) about this vision that God has for them.

In Ephesians he tries to piece it all together in this letter that he was writing. And it’s so ridiculous. If you were to get this letter back in Paul’s day, you would think the guy is insane. You would think he’s absolutely crazy. Because, what he is putting forth in this vision, and what was in reality at that time of the Church are so far apart. If you get nothing else in our time in the book of Ephesians, I just want you to get this. That Paul was declaring something that had no chance of becoming a reality. The Church at that time was scattered, was living in caves and dens, was persecuted and dominated. It was a laughing stock. It was pitiful. And yet Paul could see something that Marty Caldwell gets to see all the time as he travels around. That other people—we have someone speaking next week who’s been around the world seeing the Church in action in all different continents. He’s going to share a little bit of the strength and beauty these days.

If Paul could see the Church today, he would do an old man backflip. Which is kind of like rolling over, I think, or falling down, maybe. What the Church has become, there is no way Paul could actually have believed that it would be what it is today. She is so beautiful. But Paul could see a vision. We talk about Martin Luther King, Jr., as he speaks to that crowd right before he was killed and he said, “I have no worries. For I have been to the mountaintop and I’ve seen the other side. I’ve seen the Promised Land. I know we’re going to get there.”

And that’s basically what Paul is saying in his day and age. He’s saying, “I’ve seen the vision. Jesus has given me the vision. And now I’m living into the vision. And I’m going to see us grow from this tiny, little, infant baby that is not even having a chance to live, forsaken in every way—it’s going to become the most powerful thing the world has ever seen.

It’s awesome what we are reading right now. And I’m hoping it will get in us. I’ve had a couple of visions in my life. When I first gave my life to Jesus, I was about eighteen years old. When I first gave my life to Jesus. I had received Jesus prior to that, but there was a big difference when I turned seventeen and eighteen, right in there, where I think Jesus was saying, “Okay. Now I’m going to ask something from you.” 

And I went for it. Immediately (Mike, you can attest to this) I just, for some reason starting thinking about Ireland all the time. I had actually gotten to go to Ireland with my family right after I graduated, so I just thought that’s all that it was. And yet, this idea of going to Ireland and starting a camp, like a summer camp, and then also starting a church and having a school there kind of all on the same property. This vision just started coming. 

Again, I had been to Ireland. My grandmother was Irish. I do have Irish citizenship—I have dual citizenship through her. So, I started thinking, “Maybe there’s something here.” And I just had a compelling vision of going to Ireland and getting rid of all the snakes. Not really. That was somebody else’s vision. But going to Ireland, trying to see the Lord do something. So I graduated college and I talked to some friends who were crazy enough to say, “Let’s do it.”

We came up with a plan. We were all going to go for three months. We bought a three month ticket. That was the entirety of the plan. And we were going to just see what the Lord would do.  And I’m here in Arizona now. Right? Working here, you know. 

But we did go there. We got to see the Lord do really great things. It was very strengthening for our faith. Within three days we had jobs and a place to live. And our names were being sent to all these different ministry clubs in Northern Ireland. We got to go two or three times a week. We’d get on a bus and say, “Can you take us to this place and do ministry?” And at the end of it, though, we were like, “Well, we should go home.” It was a great time. It was building my faith, but then we came back. 

Then I had another vision. I was sitting right down here one time by Mark Buckley as he was about to preach. And we were singing the song, “For the sake of the world, burn like a fire in me.” And I can’t tell you how clear it was. I saw a vision of a bunch of Belizeans. My wife and I had lived in Belize a little before, so it wasn’t that far off. But I saw a room full of Belizeans and they were singing, “For the sake of Belize, burn like a fire in me.” And it was real clear. And it was a vision.

I remember talking to Mark about it and the elders, and saying, “You know, my wife and I are thinking maybe we should go to Belize again.” And Mark said, “Okay. Okay. Let’s figure this out.” And, sure enough, we ended up going to Belize for a little more than a year with our family. And step by step, we started a Friday Night Fire, is what they wanted to call it. Except, in Belize, it’s called “Friday Night Fi-yah.”

We started a little worship night. And my wife and I were doing music, which is not that impressive. We started using that song to close every one of the Friday nights that we had. We changed the word, I don’t know if we’re allowed to, but it was in Belize where you can get away with anything. We changed the words and I thought, “Wow, this amazing.” Little by little, the room started to fill up. And people were singing that song. And the Lord, just to make it so clear that I didn’t miss it, there was one night when it was totally jam-packed. This was probably about one hundred or so Belizeans. It was a small room so it was jam-packed. 

We were singing that song and it was a great night. We were really leaning in to the Lord. And, all of a sudden the power went out completely. When the power goes out in Belize, it was dark. It was so dark you couldn’t see anything inside this room. And it was very hot. Yet, the power goes out, our mics, everything is gone, and everyone just kept singing. And we’re just at the part where we sing, “For the sake of Belize, burn like a fire in me.” And I just stepped back from the mic for just a second and just went, “Oh, my goodness!” It was like the Lord was saying, “No, no, no. We’re making a point of this.  Exclamation point. Boom!”

There are these visions that the Lord gives us. Paul was so compelled by this vision of what he was going to see. I don’t know if he ever got to a point where he felt that he got to see it. I think he probably saw little pieces of it. But again, Ephesians is this grand vision that he’s trying to lay out for all of us.

He starts out giving a vision of the Church as a family—that we’ve been adopted into God’s heart. So the Church is one of the ways we can see this vision. One of the ways Paul saw it as it’s like the family of God. We’ve got the name of God on our jerseys, on the back. We walk around and are learning how to live according to his family rules and culture.

And then he goes on to talk about how the Church is the dwelling place of God. That somehow his Spirit is in all of us and, as we go about the world, God’s presence goes into all the world, and it’s a picture of what God can do.  When people come and get to know us, it’s like coming over to God’s house and hanging out for a while. 

Then we talked last week about how the Church is a body. That we’re this body. We’re trying to grow into this full stature, this amazing, powerful force that God has in mind for us to be. And we start at one point and try to grow into it so that we can be strong enough to withstand the winds of every deceitful scheme that comes our way. That we won’t be tossed to and fro by the waves. And that’s the dream that we have. 

Today we’re going to talk about the Church as a bride. So all the girls are like, “Oh, yeah, that’s cool.” And all the guys are like, “College football, man. College football.”

So Ephesians Chapter 5. You’ve got to deal with it. It’s in the Bible so get ready. Get your wedding dresses out.  

5:1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

So there you have fragrance, right? We’re already getting girly. But Jesus loved us and he gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering. And then he says:

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 

Or, for God’s bride. Right? Skip down to verse 21: 

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

And then Paul says this as a little bit of a hesitation caveat:

 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.

So all this stuff about submission, all this stuff about two becoming one, he’s saying, “Now, I need you to pay attention here. I’m not trying to be weird. But somehow this is a mystery. All of this stuff that I’m talking about is actually about Christ and his Church—his bride—the people who follow him

 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Paul opens up this whole can of worms. He’s basically saying, “Now another way I want you to picture the Church is as the Bride of Christ.”

It is the people he has chosen. The people he has give his life for and will forevermore. The people that he is actually trying to love so well that they actually form into all the beauty that they can form into. He’s talking about how Christ and His Body are to become one in lovingkindness and mutual respect.

Again, John 17 is a prayer that, if Jesus didn’t pray it, I would never really teach it. is prayer is that those who believe in him would become one with him, just like he and the Father are one. It’s not saying that we’re going to become gods. But somehow we’re going to be included into the trinitarian love and oneness as we follow him.

It’s a profound mystery. And I’m not going to talk about it anymore because I no idea what else to say about it. One day I’m just going to die and—bam—in it. I can just call it a profound mystery,

We’re talking about this love. We’re talking about the romance. We’re talking about how God in Christ romanced us. Reckless love. However you want to talk about it. He wooed us. Romeo and Juliet. All of the stuff you want to say here. 

It’s fun for me to talk to guys when we go on men’s retreats or Belize retreat. To get to know them, I love to just ask the question, “Do you have a girlfriend?” (if they’re not married.) And it’s so funny because, immediately, I feel like—bam—you are in. Unless they’re like, “No. Don’t talk to me about that. I don’t know you.” 

But if they start to answer that question at all, they can’t help it. Their heart is coming right out of their mouth. You get to see their heart right away, whether it’s good, bad or whatever. Because that’s a big part of where their life is flowing out of. It’s that part of their heart that longs for that companionship.

And then I love to ask guys on our men’s retreat—we were in Belize and last time I asked the guys, “All right. What we’re going to do tonight as a kind of debrief, I want everyone to tell us how you got engaged.” 

You could see all the guys were like, “What do you mean?” And then they’d start telling it. And they would be struggling, trying to make it not a big deal. But then as they would start telling the story they would start gushing a bit. It’s like, “Oh, you’re sappy! Yeah, you are a romantic guy! Look at you! Ha ha! We got you! Busted.”

But as they would tell the story, it comes out. And it’s so precious and beautiful. Even the guys who are like so tough, when they start telling about getting engaged, it’s just an awesome, awesome thing.

For me, I fell in love with this girl named Brit. And she and I were dating and hanging out. (This is my wife, by the way.) Yet, at the same time, I knew she also loved another. It was the kids in South Africa. She loved them a lot. She knew that she needed to go to them. So we started dating and we were hanging out and I was like, “Yeah, we love each other. But I know you love these little kids in Africa.”

So, we knew she had to go. And so she went. A big thing was, she was going to see. She loved the Lord above it all and she wanted to go where God was leading her. So she went for a few months to Africa. I didn’t know what was going to happen. Would she love me more than Africa? Would God put our paths back together at some point? It was a real moment of truth. 

I remember talking to her while she was there. At one point it was pretty clear that what she was saying was that she loved me more than Africa. That was a big deal for my life. I was like, “I’ve got all of Africa beat! Yeah!” I was thrilled.

So knowing that, I ended up getting on a plane and flying to London where she was going to be flying back. I surprised her by being in London. She didn’t know I was going to be there. And I surprised her by looking like this (photo of David with long hair and beard). She was going and I said, “I’m not going to cut my hair while you’re gone.” I didn’t think about this part. So she was like, “Oh, hey! Oh, heyyyy!

And I surprised her one more. I got on one knee and asked her to marry me. She said, “Yes.” It’s been almost fifteen years. It’s been a pretty cool deal.

I’m saying all of this because Jesus loves you in this way, if you can receive it. He loves you and wants so badly for you to love him. Not only for his own good. Somehow, mystery of mysteries, if you love Jesus, his heart is full. If you don’t, his heart is broken. God of the universe, Creator of everything, has somehow made his heart dependent on your love. 

If you choose to love him, you will be loved well. There are some verses in Ephesians that bring this out. I want to go through these and I want you to maybe grab a couple of things out of these. Maybe write them down. Maybe just hide them in your heart.

There are some phrases that are key as we go through. Ephesians 2: I’m going to read this out of the Message translation. I like the way the Message says it: 

1-6 It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. 

You weren’t anything that special.

You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. 

That’s powerful imagery.

We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. We loved a lot of other things. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. 

He walked right up to our filthiness, our rebellion, and our anger, and he hugged us. He pulled us close to him and stole it all away.

He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.

7-10 Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. 

That is what Jesus is longing to do. To bring you closer to him. To shower you with lovingkindness both in this world and in the next. And just so you know, there won’t be pain in the next. Here you get both.  

Next is Ephesians 2:11-13 in the NIV. 

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” 

(Those who are feeling like the upper class and you were called the lower class by them.)

(which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

All the way into his arms. Pressed against his own chest. Covered by his love. Never needing to fear or worry again. Perfect redeeming love is wrapped around you in Christ Jesus. 

I defined it a little bit like this, the way that God treats us as his bride: Lovingly, romantically, faithfully, kindly. What happens is our vulnerability is met with his passionate, wholehearted, generous covering. He finds us naked and ashamed, and he covers us with his righteousness and love. His love really does redeem. 

Ephesians 5:1-3.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity…

 Why is the Bible so serious about sexuality? Why is the world disparaging and rebelling against the Scriptures right now because it’s too harsh or hard? Well, because the writers of the Bible are trying to help us understand that there are really two images that God has given us outside of Christ incarnate that teach us about him better than anything else. 

Genesis 1 makes it very clear that God created male and female in his image. So if we get male and female right, then the world gets to see God. If we screw up or twist up male and female, we lose one of our most powerful demonstrations of who God is in full. God is not male. Never has been. Never will be. God is not female. He is somehow the fullness of both of those when we get it right. That’s why there’s a big attack right now. But it’s not the first time. We got through this attack generation after generation, where the devil tries to destroy our image of God found in maleness and femaleness.

We do need to sit back and weather the storm with love and kindness. But we also need to make sure people understand God put the fence there for a reason. If you move the fence, you’re going to find the lions, the tigers, the bears ready to devour you. Which we see over and over again. That’s why the world and society has never really been able to move on to this total free love thing. Because, ultimately, the consequences show up and we go back. This isn’t a new thing. This is just the latest wrong version of “woke,” that we’re going to have to wake up from with consequences all around us. The Bible is the only thing woke. 

Not only that, but he also says that the second thing that is the best image of God is marriage. Marriage is the second best image of God. I’m talking about Christ and the Church. You want to learn about Christ and the Church, go look at someone’s marriage. That’s how you’re going to learn about the love of God. The faithfulness, the stick-to-it-ativeness, the patience, the kindness. That’s the way God loves you, except that he’s perfect and totally trustworthy. 

So why would the enemy want to destroy marriage? Why would he want to get rid of that or call it crazy or too hard? Because he doesn’t want people to see the image of Christ and his Church. Because they might fall in love with him and experience his love. 

The last thing I want to read as we close is Ephesians 5:21-33. The same passage, but I want to read it in the Message translation. I want to highlight a couple of things. I ask again that you try to grasp a couple of things for your own heart right now. 

21 Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another.

22-24 Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.

25-28 Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, 

Be extravagant like Jesus was. 

…exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.

And we’ll just finish with that. I love some of those phrases. That this is the love that Christ has for us. It’s the love that we’re supposed to show toward our spouses, toward our kids, toward our friends, toward our enemies, toward our neighbors. This kind of love that is marked by giving, not getting. The kind of love that makes the person that we’re loving more whole. It doesn’t point out their deficiencies, but it actually begins to fill those things, cover those things until they have a chance to grow in those things. And their words evoke their beauty. 

I want to love my wife like that. And I’m so bad at it. I want to love my kids like that. And I know I fall short. I want to love you guys like that. It’s a beautiful love that Jesus has for us. It’s a life-changing, redeeming love. It’s a love that feels like vulnerability met with passionate, wholehearted, generous covering. 

As I was worshiping downstairs with the team, there was a moment where I saw this picture of some people who are feeling pretty vulnerable, pretty gross, pretty bad themselves, pretty unsure, pretty weak—whatever it might be. And Jesus comes and actually covers you with his robes of righteousness, of love. He wraps this covering around you. And then, when you look in the mirror, you’re like, “Wow. I didn’t know I could like this.” But the story wasn’t over, because, at one point, that robe was removed, and no longer was there something disgusting underneath. Now it was like you had your own form of beauty. You had your own form of strength. It was Christ in you, that hope of glory. So the covering doesn’t just cover up your sickness and make you feel better for a moment. That covering actually redeems everything underneath the covering, stirs up, evokes the beauty that he made for you to be. His innocent love causes that kind of change.

It’s hard to abide in Christ. It’s hard to keep absorbing that love from time to time. But that’s the only way that we’re going to be able to love like him. We can’t do it in our strength. Never can. Never will. But Jesus knows that. So if we will set aside time to go sit in his presence and allow him to robe us once again—if we can put on Jesus Christ, be robed in his righteousness, we will absorb that love. It will reform us and fill us so that we can then go and clothe others in this world. That’s a beautiful vision of Christ and his Church. Christ and his Bride. You are the Bride of Christ.

Let’s pray:

Jesus, we do thank you so much that you love us, that you gave yourself for us in ways beyond what we can imagine. I pray, Lord, that once again we would allow you to cover us so that you can cleanse us and transform us and fill us, so that we can go into this world and we can cover others with that same love. Thank you. 


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