Jesus came not merely to save individuals, but to create community. You cannot have a relationship with Jesus without also having a relationship with his people, the church. On the day of Pentecost, Jesus followers were filled by the Holy Spirit, united by one Spirit into one body. Since those early days the church has been the primary expression of Jesus presence on earth. Being sent by him as witnesses, servants who represent him as his earthly ambassadors through whom God makes his appeal and offer of salvation, is foundational to the Christian faith. When Peter made his confession saying to Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16), Jesus confirmed this truth replying, On this rock I will build my Church. Jesus builds his church, brick by brick as each person makes this confession of faith. However, Jesus’ aim is not to gather a pile of bricks, but to build them into his Church. As Christ builds the church, uniting us together, a new community was created.
The Church is no ordinary community, the Church is Christ’s Beloved. Megan Hill writes, Before we are anything else as the local church, we are the people God loves. Before any denominational differences, before any liturgy, planning, schedules, church rosters, before any task or duty, committee or team – before anything else we may associate with the church, we need to understand and remind each other we, the church, are God’s beloved. God says to us, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.’ (Jer 31:3) Drink deeply of this wonderful truth from the river of life. Allow your heart to be moved by this truth. This can revive the weary soul. It can energise the tired and strengthen the burdened. In the Old Testament, to help the people of Israel understand God’s love, he spoke of Israel as his bride. Ezekiel gave a tender description of God’s love for Israel. I spread the corner of my garment over you. I gave you my word, my promise. I bathed you and put ointments on you.
Such is the tender love of God, that Israel, like Cinderella in the ashes, was lifted from her poverty and transformed. Love bubbles over as we read, “My beloved is mine and I am his” (Song of Solomon 2:16) This is a love song in which the bride and groom try to put their love for each other into words. The people of Israel understood while at one level this was about human love and desire, at another level it is about God’s love for Israel, his beloved bride.
The idea of God’s beloved bride carries over into the New Testament where it came to be expressed as the relationship between Jesus and the church. “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7) Salvation history is steadily moving towards the wedding feast, where Jesus is pictured as a groom and the church as his bride. One of the most difficult spiritual truths for Christians to grasp is the extent to which God loves the church. Many only dip their little toe into the sea of God’s love without daring to dive into the depths of God’s love where our hearts swell and we are overwhelmed by his love. Paul prayed that together with all God’s people we might grasp the fulness of God’s love (Ephesians 3:17–19). The extent of God’s love is such that no individual can grasp it. Understanding God’s love is a corporate task that can only be undertaken together.
It is only as we are secure in the love of God, that we can truly live as God’s beloved and become the beautiful bride he is preparing for eternity. It is only as we are filled with God’s love that we as his people can be strengthened to live as the church should live. Brick by brick, the church is built on Christ the cornerstone, and the cement that holds us together is his love. God’s beloved, together we are on a journey to discover, how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.
- John spoke of his first experience of attending church, not realising God had created this community; a people with open arms, warm hearts, a love for God and a sense of mission, who would receive him and nurture his faith. How do we at our church express a similar loving commitment to those who attend?
- Read Matthew 16:16-18 What do you take from the statement, Jesus came not merely to save individuals, but to create community. How does Jesus go about building community?
- Read Isaiah 62:5 & Revelation 19:7. Do you tend to see the church as a type of Cinderella in the ashes, as a beautiful bride or as something in between? Discuss your view of the church and why in the eyes of some it might be seen “in the ashes” or “as a beautiful bride”.
- Read Jer 31:3 & Song of Solomon 2:16. How might these verses help a church develop a greater sense of spiritual security and belonging?
- Megan Hill writes, Before we are anything else as the local church, we are the people God loves. Do you agree with this statement? Why/Why not? What difference do you think it makes to a church to understand we are loved by God?
- Read Romans 1:7 & Eph 5:1. How do your translations variously speak of the church? Older versions use the word beloved. Why might this be a good description for the church?
- Read Ephesians 3.17-19 Why might it be easier for a church rather than an individual to grasp God’s love? What are some ways we explore God’s love together?
- How might the church as a loved community, become a loving community? Can you think of ways we at Greyfriars express God’s love to each other and to the community around us?
Rev John Malcolm