I had the misfortune of being involved in a couple of long-term dating relationships as a young adult. Both of these relationships were incredibly selfish, on my part as well as on the parts of the young men involved: I dated Mr. X because he made me feel special, because I liked going out on the weekends and having fun, because it was nice to feel like I "belonged" to someone.
In each of these relationships, we ended up taking one another for granted, using each other for our own gratification, and, eventually becoming tired, bored, disillusioned and terminating the relationship. It wasn't fun any more. I didn't feel special. That "loving feeling" was gone and it was time to look somewhere else in order to get it back.
Sadly, this is exactly how most of us relate to the church. I attend a particular church because it meets my needs, makes me feel special, gives me a sense of belonging. Then, when we lose "that loving feeling," we sigh and take our weary, disappointed hearts somewhere else. We have lost the consciousness of something bigger - both in our relationships/marriages, and in our church life.
God created and ordained marriage, and He designed it to be a billboard proclaiming the amazing love that Christ has for His bride, the church. Dating - or courting - has one end in view: marriage. But today, we play at dating like it's a video game, with no thought of marriage at all. We just run through a string of relationships, using people and allowing ourselves to be used by others, with no intention of committing to a permanent, exclusive, God-honoring, covenantal relationship.
We do the same thing with the church. If I was as committed to my marriage as most folks are to their local fellowship of believers, I'd probably be on my sixth or twelfth or twenty-second husband by now. But this is so contrary to Scripture, so against what we are called to as Christians, so outrageously ridiculous!
Steve and I will celebrate our 30th anniversary this next year. We are not still together because we have always loved one another well. We are not still married because we have each consistently respected and made the other feel special and appreciated. We are not still married because this has all been such unbelievable fun and so full of thrills that we were never tempted to go elsewhere.
Steve and I are celebrating 30 years because we are committed to something bigger than personal happiness or fun or fulfillment (although we have been blessed to enjoy seasons of those, too). We are committed to something as HUGE as God's love for His people. Marriage is God's institution and - in good times and in bad - He uses marriage to teach us about His redeeming love and to glorify Himself. We know things now, 30 years after the honeymoon, that we would never have understood if we had bailed out during times of trial or severe testing. Yes, there was much that was very sweet about those first idyllic years, but I wouldn't go back there for anything in the world, not if I had to give up what we've learned in the years since the I-Do's.
Christ doesn't love me because I'm beautiful - He loves me because I'm His. And, because He loves me, He is making me beautiful. That is the gospel, the gospel we are called to proclaim and model in our churches. We don't love the church because it's always pretty and well-behaved and makes us feel good - we love the church because it is Christ's. He loves the church - enough to die for it - and He is making it beautiful.
All of this to say - I LOVE my church, Grace Presbyterian Church in Troy. I am so thankful that God has brought us together, to serve one another and to labor together in kingdom work. To persevere through frustrations, trials and offenses. To encourage and pray for one another. To study together and learn what it means to be gospel people, to be Christ's bride. I thought I liked these people when we first began to meet together just over five years ago, but I had no idea back then just how truly beautiful each one of them would become to me.
If you say that you love Christ but testify by your words or actions that you have no love for the church, then you are deceiving yourself. One cannot long know and love the Bridegroom without also falling in love with His Bride. Christ has chosen a Bride - the church - and, as He does in all things, He has chosen very well.
If you are someone who has played at dating the church - you've been using the church for your own gratification, with no intention of committing to an active, intimate, long-term relationship (think, "marriage") - then I want to challenge you today to take the next step. The church is not your live-in girlfriend/boyfriend. She is not your Friday night date to the movies or your dance for the prom. She is the Beloved of Christ.
Stop messing around and marry the girl already.
2 hours ago