The Body of Christ: The True Purpose of the Church

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. (Ephesians 5:22-30 ESV)

 

The passage quoted today is something that all of us have heard and read many times over; and every time we hear it preached on or we read it we tend to think of it solely as a passage of Scripture showing what the Biblical order of marriage is supposed to be. This is true. There is nothing “heretical” about using this passage as an exhortation to husbands and wives or engaged couples to model their marriage after the words of Paul. It is not bad exegesis to do so either. But that is not the point that Paul is making with this text ultimately. He is not merely showing us a picture of what marriage is supposed to look like. He tells us his theme and reason for writing these words himself. He says,

 

This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:32 ESV)

 

This is what I am going to deal with today. I am going to attempt to present to you the Biblical picture of what the church is supposed to be. I am going to point out some common misunderstandings that we have in modern Christianity about what the church is. Some of these misunderstandings are blatant contradictions to Scripture and will, therefore, be deemed as heresy. I do not apologize for any strong words used against modern teachings about the church. In fact, I boldly say that any idea of the church that isn’t backed by Scripture and that in even the remotest way undermines any aspect of the Biblical idea of the church is something that needs to be eradicated from our teachings and those promoting those ideas need to recant their position and repent of their error or be removed from their positions of leadership.

 

 

 

Gender Roles

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (Ephesians 5:22-24 ESV)

 

In the family, the woman has the responsibility to be submissive to her husband. The modern church misses something about this idea, though. Paul makes a clear point that the wife is to submit to her husband “in everything” just as “the church submits to Christ”.

 

The church doesn’t submit to Christ because He is an angry dictator or because He beats her into submission. The church submits to Christ because she wants to. It is a willful submission. It is a willful obedience on her part. This means that Christ does something to cause her to want to submit. This is where the husband’s role comes in (and where the modern church seems to miss the point).

 

The husband is supposed to do something to see to it that his wife will be obedient to him willfully. This means that the husband is Christ’s “representative” in the family. So what does Christ do to make the church want to submit to Him? Paul is kind enough to tell us.

 

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, (Ephesians 5:25 ESV)

 

This is what Christ did to make the Church want to submit to Him. He loved her and gave Himself up for her. The Message has an interesting paraphrase of this verse.

 

Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church–a love marked by giving, not getting. (Ephesians 5:25 MSG)

 

And Jesus did this for no reason other than

 

that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:26-27 ESV)

 

At this point, it should be clear what each role the members of the family play. But, if you’re for some reason clueless, I will paraphrase it briefly. Paul is saying that the husband is to love his wife in such a way that it models Christ’s love for the church. It is a sacrificial love. A love that is marked by joyful and willful service to the one he loves. As for the wife, she is to see her husband’s love for her and submit to his servant leadership.

 

The Result of Gender Roles

 

We move now from the roles that each of the members play to what the church is supposed to be in light of these roles. This is where we will see further controversy. The modern notion of what the church is and why she exists is skewed from the way that this passage presents it. This is where we will see how this is the case. We will also look at one of the most commonly held ideas of the church and show how it is unbiblical and wrong.

 

[He gave himself up for her] that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:26-27 ESV)

 

The NASB renders “holy and without blemish” as “holy and blameless”. Here is the entirety of this passage in the NASB.

 

[He gave Himself up for her] so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:26-27 NASB)

 

This tells us two very important things. First, it tells us who Jesus died for; and, secondly, it tells us why He died for them. Let’s take a moment and look at these two issues.

 

Who Jesus Died For and Why

 

I didn’t paste it to the passage above, but just before Paul tells us why Jesus died for the church, it makes this statement to the husbands:

 

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, (Ephesians 5:25 ESV)

 

This is probably the most blatant verse stating who Jesus actually died for. Many times, people will use verses like John 3:16 or 1 Timothy 2:4 to make the case that Jesus died for the whole world. If you read those verses, that is not what they are saying. John 3:16 says,

 

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 ESV)

 

The point here is not that Jesus died to save the world, but that God loved the world so much that He sent His Son to come so that anyone who believes in Him will live forever. This verse says nothing of His death or atonement.

 

1 Timothy 2:4 says,

 

[God] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4 ESV)

 

Again, this says nothing of the atoning death of Jesus Christ. It just gives us a glimpse into the mind of God. I am not going to explain this verse away as many Calvinists try to do. This verse holds just as much water as any other verse in Scripture. This verse is saying that God desires that “everyone” (as the Holman Christian Standard Bible renders it) be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. It is not wrong even for a staunch Calvinist to make this claim. In fact, anyone unwilling to use Biblical language to explain what they believe is full of pride, and we know what Scripture says to those who are prideful:

 

He makes sport of the men of pride, but he gives grace to the gentle-hearted. (Proverbs 3:34 BBE)

 

All that being said, here in Ephesians 5, Paul tells us specifically who Jesus died for. He died for “the church”. I will show you 5:25 again.

 

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, (Ephesians 5:25 ESV Emphasis mine)

 

Who are we to argue with Scripture? Jesus died for the church. He didn’t give Himself up for every individual person on the face of the earth to make redemption possible for all; He gave Himself up for the sake of His bride.

 

Do you catch what this means? This means that the death of Jesus was done for a specific people. Who is this people? The church.

 

What are the implications of this on our understanding of the church though? Well, this plays a very big role in who is supposed to be in the church. This says much about what kinds of people we are to be trying to draw into the doors of our respective local bodies.

 

The modern American idea of the church is that it exists for the sake of getting unsaved people in the doors to get them saved. Nothing in Scripture supports this idea. Not even the oft-quoted Great Commission.

 

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

 

First off, many times this passage is not taken as seriously as it ought to be. We have taken some of the commands here and institutionalized them and made them to be done only by ordained ministers. There is a claim that this is Biblical, but nowhere in Scripture is this claim made.

 

Secondly, this command is not given to the church as an entire body, but it is given to the individual members of the church.

 

Lastly, the command says nothing of drawing people to us, but we are commanded to go to them. We are not commanded, though, to go to them with the purpose of inviting them to our church. We are commanded to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that [Jesus] has commanded”. We are to do all these things, as the Greek would literally read, “after going”.

 

If this is the case; if our command is to go into the world and make disciples, than who is it that we are to bring to church? Who is it that belongs in the church?

 

The answer to these questions lies in another name for the church in Scripture.

 

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12:27 ESV Emphasis mine)

 

Think about Paul’s analogy of calling the church the body of Christ with me for a moment. Germs and diseases don’t really belong in the body, correct? In fact, if a germ or disease gets into our bodies, we get sick and our immune system kicks in and tries to fight and remove the disturbance to health. And where does a germ or disease come from? It comes from the outside. It is something that is not actually a part of the body. Now carry this to the idea of the church being the body of Christ.

 

Those things from the outside do not belong on the inside. Things that are not members do not belong on or in the body. The church should strive to keep the world outside the walls of the church simply because it is the body of Christ. The church, the bride, the body is what Christ died for. He died to bring this to Himself pure and holy. We have no right to bring in things that do not belong; things from the outside. But why? Paul tells us.

 

that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:26-27 ESV)

 

Because she is supposed to be holy.

 

Paul goes on to make this statement:

 

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. (Ephesians 5:28-30 ESV)

 

Rare is the man who goes out and deliberately puts deadly sicknesses into his body for the sake of putting deadly sicknesses into his body. And if we are members of the body of Christ, than why do we continuously bring in deadly diseases into Him? Why aren’t we keeping the church pure? Why are we doing everything except nourishing and cherishing it?

 

The mark of a healthy local church is not how many unsaved people run down the aisle each Sunday. The true mark of a healthy local church is how active it is in finishing the Great Commission. It is seen by how actively the church is seeking to plant new churches. It is seen in how actively they are sending missionaries home and abroad.

 

A popular Christian song of our day asks the question, “If we are the body, why aren’t we reaching?” Most would see this as convicting and would strive to invite more lost people to church, but I don’t think that is the answer to the question. The easiest answer to that question is that we aren’t reaching because for the most part, our churches are made up of mostly unregenerate souls. Our pews are filled with people who have absolutely no knowledge of the Scriptures and no desire to gain knowledge. Our pulpits are filled with men (and women and homosexuals) who are completely ignorant of the words that the Bible actually says and are opting, instead, to give people their 7 steps to living a good life or giving people their special purpose.

 

We aren’t reaching because most of our people are dead, and it is very hard to get a dead man to do anything. In writing to the Ephesian church, Paul says this,

 

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3 ESV)

 

Paul tells this church that they USED TO BE dead. This implies that the members here were expected to be regenerate Christians. We don’t hold the same expectation for our churches today. You can’t write those 3 verses to the majority of churches in America today because the majority of the people in those pews are still dead.

 

Conclusion

 

The purpose of the church is not to draw in lost people and get them saved. The purpose of the church is to live out boldly and proudly the fact that it is the bride and body of Christ. The purpose of the church is also to edify the members thereof. All that we do in the church should be to build up. As Paul tells the Corinthians,

 

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (1 Corinthians 14:26 ESV Emphasis mine)

 

Paul gives us strong words here in the book of Ephesians about the church. The Bible as a whole gives us strong words about it as well. Let us strive to live out the words of the Bible in our churches rather than the latest church growth strategies or methods to have a mega-church. Let us boldly proclaim that we are the body of Christ. Let us remove from our midsts those who do not belong among us. Let us treat the church as it is meant to be treated.

 

I have come with one purpose
To capture for Myself a bride
By My life she is lovely
And by My death she’s justified

 

I have always been her Husband
Though many lovers she has known
So with water I will wash her
And by My word alone

 

So when you hear the sound of the water
You will know that you’re not alone

 

‘Cause I haven’t come for only you
But for My people to pursue
And you cannot care for Me with no regard for her
If you love Me you will love the church

 

I have long pursued her
As a harlot and a whore
But she will feast upon Me
She will drink and thirst no more

 

So when you taste My flesh and My blood
You will know that you’re not alone

 

There is none that can replace her
There are many who will try
And though some may be her Bridesmaids
They can never be My bride – Derek Webb “The Church”

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