It had been a big wedding, and the reception was well attended.  Then came the honeymoon.  The couple went to their hotel room and after they unpacked their bags the groom took his bride by the hand, sat her on the bed, and said, “Honey, I hope you won’t mind, but now that we’re married, I thought I’d mention a few little defects that I’ve noticed about you.”

“Not at all,” the bride replied with a deceptive sweetness.  “It was those little defects that kept me from getting a better husband.”

It is a universal truth: men who are wise do not tell their wives what’s wrong with them… it’s not healthy!  And not only is it not healthy, but it also shows a lack of understanding and sensitivity.

Ultimately, a husband who truly loves his wife doesn’t make fun of her.  He doesn’t point out her weaknesses and drawbacks.  And of course, wives who love their husbands don’t do that either.

Since today is Valentine’s Day, I thought we would take a one week break before finishing up our “Be Ready for Jesus” series and spend a few minutes today talking about “Loving the Bride.”

 

In I Corinthians chapter 13 – the great love chapter of the Bible – Paul gives us a description of love.  He writes:

“Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13:4-8)

Ephesians 5:25-27
Ephesians 5:25-27

That’s what true romantic love is all about.  That’s what the Bible tells us.  But God doesn’t just talk about love…  God gives us an example of what true love is like.

Ephesians 5:25-27 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church.  He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.  He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish.  Instead, she will be holy and without fault” (NLT).

Jesus is the ultimate example of that kind of love because Jesus is the ultimate example of how a husband ought to love his wife.  Jesus is the perfect husband.  He’s the husband of a wondrous bride… a bride called the church.  And Jesus loves His church with a perfect love.

I read an intriguing article a couple of years ago, that said that “Despite the sweet and loving connotations of the holiday, Muslim and Hindu leaders in Asia are trying to stamp out the celebration of Valentine’s Day by young lovers.  While the holiday seems trivial to Westerners, it is a serious issue of cultural tension in other parts of the world.  Cities in India have outlawed cards, and guards spent the day searching campuses looking for couples daring to celebrate the holiday.  In Brunei, Valentine’s Day has been declared a threat to Islam.  Religious leaders fear the ‘Christian practice’ of Valentine’s Day could ‘erode moral values, weaken the community and destroy Islam.’”  (www.worldnetdaily.com)

Did you notice that the Hinduism and Islam regard Valentine’s Day as a “Christian Practice”?  Why would they think that?  What is there about Valentine’s Day that would make it appear to be a Christian activity?

My guess is that they think that because Valentine’s Day (at least as Christians practice it) is all about honoring the person we love.  It especially focuses on men buying gifts and cards for their wives and sweethearts.  In fact, I just heard on the radio that on Valentine’s Day men far outspend women on such expenditures.

That doesn’t go over really well in Hindu and Islam cultures.  Because in both of those settings, women are second class citizens (whatever people may tell you about women in our culture being second class citizens – it doesn’t compare to what you’d see in those settings).  The women in those cultures exist principally to take care of guys.

But Christianity has a different focus… because Jesus has a different focus.

Jesus set us an example of how love should be done.  And by His example Jesus showed us that the most important thing on His mind was that His bride would be taken care of.

Look at John 21: 15-17: 

“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?’  ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’  Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’

Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you truly love me?’  He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’  Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’

The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’  Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’  He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’  Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep.’”

Here we have Jesus appearing to His disciples for the third time since His resurrection.  He has a private time now with Peter and is sharing with him one of His most important thoughts.  And essentially, Jesus tells Peter, “If you love me, take care of my bride.”  Jesus is instructing Peter to make sure that the Church is fed, protected and nurtured

That was His highest priority then and it is His highest priority now.

When Jesus set up the church, He wanted to make sure that it was overseen by the most experienced individuals that could be found.

In 1 Timothy Paul writes: “Now the overseer (an Elder) must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.  He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.  (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)” (3:2-5).

Jesus is saying that He wants only the most experienced people to watch over His bride.  He only wants men who have proven themselves as good husbands and good fathers to make sure His bride is taken care of.

And from what we see here in John 21 (from Jesus’ conversation with Peter), if we love Jesus, we need to take care of His bride, the Church.  If the Church is the most important thing on His mind it should be the most important thing on our minds as well.

Now let’s be clear here.  We’re not talking about a church building, or the church budget, or the church’s organization.  Christ’s most valued possession is the body of believers that makes up local congregations like this one.  That means that, if we love Jesus, we should do everything we can to make sure the bride of Christ is strengthened and nurtured and built up.

So, how can we do that?  Well, I gave this a lot of thought, and I came up with at least four things I believe we can do for her.

(1) First, we need to make sure we spend time with her.

I heard about a wife who had a terribly rough day with her three small children.  All day and they had been terrible.  To make matters worse, her husband didn’t come home right after work.  He had other things he wanted to do and never bothered to let her know of his plans.  So, when he eventually got home about 5:30 that evening and before he could sit down, she tore into him about the children’s behavior.

 He came back with the statement that she was at home, and it was her fault that they act like that.  And things went downhill from there.  Their argument grew in intensity and loudness.

Finally, after two hours of fussing and fighting, the husband said, “I’ll tell you what, let’s just start the whole evening over again.  I’ll go back outside and come in again and we’ll start over.”

She agreed.  He went outside on the porch and turned around, came back to the door, opened it and called out, “Honey, I’m home.”

To which she replied, “Well it’s about time!  It’s 7:30.  Where have you been for the last 2 hours?!”

What caused that man’s problems?  In part it was caused by the fact that when his bride needed him, he wasn’t there.  His absence from the home weakened his relationship with her and made her behave less like the bride he desired.

Likewise, when we put other things above being with Christ’s bride – the church – we weaken our relationship, and we weaken the church itself.

Now I realize I’m preaching to the choir here (after all, you’re here).  But it helps to realize how valuable our presence together is.  Our presence with the rest of the church helps create enthusiasm and encouragement for the rest of the church.

This is an important issue for Jesus.  In fact, Jesus said that when we honor Him by being with His bride, He’ll be there.  In Matthew 18:20 Jesus said, Where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them” (NLT).

(2)  Secondly, we need to take care of Christ’s bride by saying words of love and comfort to her.

A small boy and his sister were reading old letters they’d found in a trunk in the attic.  The boy said to his sister, “Boy, these sure aren’t the names they call each other now.”

As I said at beginning of the sermon, a wise husband or wife doesn’t insult or belittle their spouse.

In the same way, Ephesians 4:29 says that we Christians should “…not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

I’ve known Preachers who have failed in this.  I’ve heard men get up in the pulpit who have maligned and attacked the congregations they served.

Now I’m not so sure some of those churches may not have needed to be whacked upside of the head because of their behavior, but you just don’t treat your bride that way.  You don’t abuse her and misuse and say terrible things to her.  You may have to say things she doesn’t want to hear now and again, but to say hateful things to the bride of Christ is sinful.

And I’ve also known of church members who’ve damaged their congregations…

…by grumbling

…and gossiping

…sharing their “frustrations” with a small group of friends

…picking a little here, picking a little there.

They have forgotten who’s church it was.  They thought the church belonged to them.  But it didn’t.  They were abusing the bride of Christ and by their words and their attitudes they threw mud and filth all over the wedding garments of their church.

Now folks, that isn’t healthy.  It ought never to happen in a body of believers who say they love Jesus.

As a church, we need realize how important that is.  I strongly believe that every one of us who call First Church of Christ their church home and family should pledge that if we have anything against a brother or sister in Christ, we need to go talk to them, not to our neighbors or our little groups.  To do otherwise goes against the teachings of Jesus and is a sin.

Right now, in your heart and in your mind, I challenge you to pledge that if you have a problem with anyone in this congregation – you will do your best to go speak to them directly about what troubles you.

(3)  Third, we need to invest ourselves in the Bride of Christ.

One of the values of Valentine’s Day is that reminds people of the importance of focusing on – investing in – the ones they love.  Relationships fade and falter when the people involved don’t do that.

I need to share with you one of my weaknesses as a husband.  With Valentine’s Day coming up, I’m reminded of the fact that I often don’t know what my wife wants me to buy for her.  And because I don’t quite know what she wants, Valentine’s Day has a tendency to almost slip on by and I end up buying things at the last minute.  I keep hoping she’ll pipe up and just volunteer information about what she’d like, but that rarely happens.

Now, what do you think would be the best way for me to know what my wife wants for Valentine’s Day?  {Pause}  That’s right = ASK HER!  It seems so obvious, but husbands like me tend to overlook such simple ideas.

In the same way, may people come to church and just sit there.  They don’t become involved in ministry because “nobody asked them.”  But too often they don’t end up getting asked.  My point is this: if you and I love the bride of Christ, we need to take the responsibility upon ourselves to find ways to invest in her.  We shouldn’t just sit back and expect that someone will notice we’ve nothing to do.

THREE TIMES Jesus asks Peter “Do you love me.”  And each time, Jesus drives home how important it was for those who love Him to feed, nurture and care for the church.

At this church, we sense the need to involve people as much as their willing to be involved.  At some congregations, only a select few do everything that needs done.  But that’s not the way we want things to be here.  If you want to do some form of ministry, we’ll find a way to help you do it.

(4)  And then lastly, when we love the bride of Christ, we work at making sure her family grows.

Did you notice, when Jesus spoke to Peter that day, Jesus asked him to feed and take care of something?  What did Jesus ask Peter to take care of?  {Pause}  (That’s right, His sheep.)

Now we’ve talked about this before, but besides wool what do sheep produce?  {Pause}  That’s right – other sheep.  That’s how they build up the flock.

And that’s how we build up the family of Christ.  That’s how we increase His church.  We talk to people about Jesus and His church.  The best way to grow the church is for church members – for you and for me – to share about all that Jesus has done for us and to invite them to come and see for themselves what He can do for them.

Valentine’s Day is all about showing love.  It’s about modeling the love of Christ for our loved ones, for our spouses, for our friends, and for the world around us because many people in this world don’t know what love looks like.

Helen Keller, who completely lost her sight and hearing at the age of 19 months from a severe infection, tells how she learned the meaning of love from Ann Sullivan, her teacher, who was half blind herself.

Helen told about their first meeting three months before she was 7 years old.  She said, “The morning after my teacher came, she led me into her room and gave me a doll.  When I had played with it a little while, Miss Sullivan slowly spelled into my hand the word, D-O-L-L.  I was excited when I finally spelled the word myself.  And I ran downstairs to show my mother.”

Helen then told of how several days later Miss Sullivan pumped cold water onto her hand and spelled out the word water on her hand – W-A-T-E-R.

After learning to spell hundreds of words, one day Miss Sullivan spelled out the word, L-O-V-E in Helen’s hand.  Perplexed, Helen spelled back, “W-H-A-T  I-S  L-O-V-E?”

Folks, that is our objective as members of Christ’s bride, the Church – to trace into the hands of the people around us the love our Savior Jesus.