Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 5:26b “. . .and cleanse it. . .”
Jesus loved the Church before she was worthy of it. “He loved her foul that He might make her fair” (Pulpit Commentary). Our sweet Lord loved us in spite of what we were. He “gave himself” (5:25) for us when we were “enemies” (RM 5:10), “without strength,. . .ungodly” (RM 5:6).
Following Christ’s example, husbands are to unconditionally love the one whom God has bonded to them. One may sarcastically say, “Paul obviously never knew my wife.” True, but God did, and He inspired these words anyway.
In all relationships, as time passes, we begin to find in each other flaws, certain things we dislike and disapprove of. These deficiencies and difficulties can become a way whereby we have opportunity to show how much we truly love. However, if we stand on our dignity and become critical, and start to condemn and quarrel, things can very quickly begin to degenerate, to fall apart.
A spouse may be tempted to ask, “How can I love a husband (wife) like him (her)? Surely I can be excused from this duty.” No, you must love your spouse. God who commands can and will enable.
We are not commanded to love because of what a spouse is or is not. We are commanded to love because it is God’s will for spouses to love one another. Godly love is an act of the will as well as of the heart. When we choose, in God’s strength, to be loving and to practice loving deeds, the object will become attractive and “lovable” to us. Perceived beauty is a by-product of active love.
I caution us, always remember, no one is perfect. Husband, your wife has flaws. Wife, your husband has weaknesses. Young People, your parents are not impeccable. Nevertheless, at home we must all love one another. “Love never fails” (1 C 13:8a). It continues in spite of everything. If our love ever does fail, we had the wrong kind of love, not the New Testament variety.
The love required in family members comes only from being “filled with the Spirit” (5:18). The first “fruit of the Spirit is love” (GL 5:22). Thus, a primary way to know if a family member is filled with the Spirit is by whether or not he or she shows this “fruit” at home by loving the rest of the family.
One proves the infilling of the Spirit not by what one does publicly in church, but by the way one loves privately at home. What we are at home is the real proof of our spirituality. One can fake it at church, but not at home.
Eph. 5:26c “. . .with the washing of water. . .”
This refers to a custom of Paul’s day. A bride was given a ceremonial bath before her wedding. A dirty bride has always been unthinkable. Many cultures have long prepared ladies elaborately for their nuptials. Esther (2:12), before coming to the king, underwent six months of skin treatments, plus six months of bathing in perfumes. Queen Isabella took two baths in her life-time, one before her coronation, one before her wedding (Ferdinand was grateful). This common bridal custom is the basis of YHWH’s pictorial description of how He received Israel as His bride, “Then washed I thee with water” (Ezk. 16:9).
Today, the Lord is busy cleansing His Church in preparation for a grand wedding celebration. Our old sin natures produce evils which require constant attention. God’s sanctifying of us has to be ongoing. Our stream is polluted at the source, but the Spirit patiently cleans, rather than condemns, us. He opts, not to browbeat or berate us, but to wash us, His method being. . .
Eph. 5:26d “. . .by the word,. . .”
God’s cleansing of us is in accord with, and dependent on, His “word.” Scripture convinces us of sin, and makes us see it in a way to hate it. Jesus said, “Ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (JN 15:3).
Constant attention to God’s “word” is our best hope of being kept cleansed from the defilements we gather day by day. As a cleansing agent, the Bible searches, humbles, rebukes, corrects, informs, stimulates, refreshes, and comforts. Scripture convinces of sin, and makes us see it in a way to hate it.
Eph. 5:27a “That he might present it,. . .”
This is the climax of Paul’s metaphor based on three marriage customs of his day. He has alluded to the groom’s acquisition of a bride by a dowry; Christ “gave Himself” (5:25). His bride is “the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (AC 20:28). Paul has referred to the preparatory bath of bridal purification; the Spirit’s ongoing work is to “sanctify” (EP 5:26) the Church. Paul now turns to the actual wedding celebration itself.
At “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (RV 19:9), Jesus the heavenly groom will welcome His glorified bride. This future marriage celebration will surely be the most splendid and august event in the history of the Universe, and one of the most electrifying moments of this occasion will be that wonderful moment when the Church is presented in bridal beauty to her groom.
I will never forget that magical moment in my wedding. It is the nuptial image most engraved on my memory. As the organ began the wedding march, the congregation stood, blocking my view. I could not see Ruth until she and her dad rounded the front pew and turned my direction. She was the most beautiful bride–most beautiful sight–I had ever seen. Her lovely smile, her coal-black hair silhouetted by the whitest white veil I ever saw, her lovely form clothed in a gorgeous gown. That instant was “the” moment of my wedding.
This is the very imagery Paul seeks to evoke in our text. The Church is going to be presented to Christ in an unforgettable moment of sheer ecstasy.
In my wedding, Mr. Huey presented Ruth, and I received her. In Heaven, Christ will present, as well as receive, the bride. This is strong symbolism. The Church is the work of Jesus’ grace as well as the object of His choice.
The one who presents a bride represents the many who have influenced, trained, and helped prepare her for this special day. The fact Christ presents the Church pictures the fact that He alone gives her the beauty she has on her wedding day. We can do nothing of ourselves to make ourselves beautiful in the eyes of the Lord. We owe all spiritual beauty to Him. God said of Israel, “Your fame went forth among the nations on account of your beauty, for it was perfect because of My splendor which I bestowed on you” (Ezekiel 16:14 NASB).
Eph. 5:27b “. . .to himself. . .”
Christ will “present” the Bride, and will also receive her “to himself.” He wants her, He loves her, He longs to receive her. The latter implies some perception of distance at the present time. “Whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord” (2 C 5:6). “We sit together in heavenly places in Christ” (EP 2:6), yet “see through a glass, darkly” (1 C 13:12).
There is now connection and communion, but also distance. He is now with us heart to heart, someday we will be with Him “face to face” (1 C 13:12).
Eph. 5:27c “. . .a glorious church,. . .”
Take heart, weary pilgrims. “Let this bright hope sustain you in the dreary months of waiting and the weary hours of fighting” (Spurgeon). Today the Church is like Esther bathing herself in spices, making herself ready for the king. As a bride, we should want to appear before our groom perfectly beautiful. Let the Lord purge us, and do His holy work of cleansing upon us.
Like any engaged woman, we should be looking forward to the glorious wedding day, and planning for it. It should be the obsession of our lives. We should be excited. There is glory to plan for, the wedding, the reception, the reunion of family. Invitations need to be prepared. Others must be invited.