How to Love a Blemished Bride, Part 1
“I’m not that kind of Christian! They don’t represent me!”
You hear variations of this sentiment often from Christians. The words might be in reaction to perceived or actual self-righteousness in the church. Or from heartbreak and rage at another Christian’s callousness toward people in need. It might even be due to deep personal wounds received inside the church. Many say they “love Jesus, but not the church.”
When you think another believer’s actions contradict Christ’s purpose, it’s easy to become disillusioned and disconnected. As a result, you distance yourself from them emotionally and socially. Maybe your church attendance falters. You might even question their faith, wondering, “How can they be Christians and act like that? How can they have any part with me?”
Choosing to disconnect might be an easy and even understandable reaction, but the Bible gives us strong reasons why it’s the wrong choice to make. Scripture tells us we can’t disconnect ourselves because every single one of us is a part of the church—Christ’s body. In Paul’s letters, Christ’s followers are often likened to one body, made up of many parts, each needing one another. And these passages—addressing church problems just as big and messy as ours today—are followed by calls to love one another (see Rom. 12:4-5, Eph. 4:3-6, 1 Cor. 12:27). Viewpoints, political leanings, location, ethnicity, and more may differentiate us, but we belong to each other, and when one part suffers, we all suffer (1 Cor. 12:26)
In fact, our oneness was one of Jesus’s top priorities. On his last night before crucifixion, Jesus prayed for a unity in his future followers that would testify to the world about his identity and purpose (Jn. 17:23).
And yet, secular news sources today say U.S. evangelicals have never been more divided, signifying an identity crisis among believers. Whether this disunity among believers shows itself on social media, inside the local church, or even among family members, it’s sure to leave a decidedly different impression on the watching world than the oneness Christ prayed for so long ago.
The Blemished Bride
As Christians, we cannot forsake the church—despite many reasons that seem to justify doing so. After all, the truth is that the church can be mean and self-serving. At times she’s lazy, desiring convenience and comfort over commitment. Often, she’s unfaithful, forgetting the very One who loves her most.
The book of Hosea shows the sinful side of God’s chosen people, comparing God’s relationship with them to that of a broken marriage. God tells the prophet Hosea to marry an adulterous woman named Gomer, symbolizing his love for a continuously unfaithful people (Hos. 1:2-3). Gomer’s waywardness results in estrangement from Hosea and harsh consequences, including prostitution and slavery. Unfaithful Israel also becomes separated from God and hits rock bottom in defeat and exile (Hos. 1:6, Hos. 1:8-9).
But then reconciliation is initiated, not by the offender, but by the offended, revealing God’s posture towards his people: “My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused…. For I am God, and not a man—the Holy One among you” (Hos. 11:8-9). This reconciliation is not initiated because the unfaithful bride cleaned up her act, but because the faithful bridegroom was moved to compassion and concern for her. God tells Hosea to find Gomer at her lowest, to purchase her from slavery, and to accept her as his wife again. All of this mirrored how God would rescue Israel in her time of trouble (Hos. 3:1).
Hosea prophesied to the Israelites about God’s response to their waywardness, but, as part of the record of God’s redemptive history, the book of Hosea (like all of the Bible) points to Christ, and to the ultimate rescue of an imperfect bride by her righteous bridegroom. See, I don’t write this so you’ll relate to the faithful bridegroom. I’m not so much trying to convince you to forgive the blemished Bride, but to identify yourself with her. We are not Hosea--we’re Gomer.
For Better, For Worse
The faulty nature of this blemished, beloved Bride is yours, but so is her hope! Just as Hosea rescued Gomer, while we were at our worst, Christ died on the cross to pay the price, delivering us from the bondage of sin and death (Rom. 5:8, Hos. 13:14, 1 Cor. 15:55-57). After paying for our sins in his death, and securing our eternal life in his resurrection, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in the church, both corporately and in her individual members, to change us from the inside out. He instructs us and reminds us of Christ’s teachings, enabling us to walk more faithfully than Israel was ever capable of doing. His grace doesn’t just save us—it transforms us, healing us of our waywardness (Hos. 14:4). Jesus loves his Bride. He gave everything for her. He treasures her now. How can we reject the Bride God has loved so sacrificially?
An excerpt from Mary Wilson's exposition at Verity Conference 2016.
It’s one thing to recognize that you’re part of this Bride, and another thing to know what to do about it. How do you move on in unity and true love? Does it mean you overlook sins for the sake of peace? Does it call for a good old-fashioned haranguing? Does it require you to jeopardize your own safety and well-being to risk loving others? We’ll take a closer look at practical steps in the next post, so please join us then!