The unbelieving world has always looked upon the church with a contemptuous glare, harshly criticizing, ridiculing, and even vilifying her. In his farewell discourse, Jesus predicted this animosity that the devil’s offspring (John 6:32) would have toward God’s sojourning children (John 15:18-25). Therefore, though we do not enjoy being on the receiving end of never-ending cynicism and a wide variety of other hostilities, we do expect this to be part the exiled life to which God has called us (Hebrews 11:13).
However, what is a bit unexpected is when those within the church seem to share the world’s uncharitable disposition toward her. Christians who continuously express skeptical, hypercritical, and unforgiving attitudes toward their spiritual family don’t exactly fit the “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34) script. Though I would like to say you would have to search high and low to find such a Christian, my personal experiences have proven otherwise. Not only am I acquainted with a number of believers who seem to have a perpetual axe to grind with the people of God, but I was once among this camp, myself.
A major point of focus in the early days of my discipleship was my sinful cynicism toward the church. I viewed her with a critical eye, incessantly pointing out the hypocrisies and flaws I perceived within her. Were some of the blemishes I saw and spoke of legitimate? Sure. Is there a place for helpful critique and speaking the truth in love (just as the brother who discipled me pointed out my cynical attitude)? Absolutely. But this is not what I was doing. I did not scrutinously search for and expose the church’s faults because I had her best interest at heart.
I harped on the church because I didn’t love the church. I did not view her, in all her not-yet-perfect glory, through the eyes of her gracious Redeemer. My perspective was wildly out of sync with the way Jesus sees and contemplates his cherished Bride. I’ll let the apostle Paul elaborate:
“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. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” – Ephesians 5:25-32
Jesus loves the church.
Jesus gave himself up for the church.
Jesus cleansed and washed the church.
Jesus nourishes and cherishes the church.
The affection that exudes from Christ’s heart towards his blood bought Bride is beyond measure and comprehension. He is not ignorant of the sins that presently taint her. He sees, more clearly than anyone else, the ways in which she is flawed. However, her imperfections do not stifle his love for her. Though he sees her as she is, he also sees who he has made her to be and who she is becoming—splendorous, spotless, holy, and without wrinkle or blemish.
It goes without saying that we should share Jesus’ disposition toward the church. How can we truly love him without loving her (1 John 4:20)? Loving her does not mean we silently gloss over the ungodliness that exists within her—within us. We must exhort one another every day (Hebrews 3:13) to cast off sin and pursue the holiness to which Jesus calls us (Hebrews 12:14). However, if we really share Christ’s heart for his church, our attitude toward her will not be one of loveless cynicism but one of charity and grace. We will honor her, cherish her, and, when we must speak of her shortcomings, we will do it with a heart full of sincere love (Ephesians 4:15).