Throughout the month of February we have been exploring three central relationships that God has created as vehicles for His love and the love of others: family, marriage, and friendship. Through exploring the Scriptures, we have found (at least in part) how the gospel transforms our understanding of each of these relationships, and how these spheres of love witness to God’s love in Jesus Christ for all people. In this final installment, we will spend time thinking about how the Church (that is God’s people) are described by these three motifs, and what they mean for our love for one another.

The Family of God

In Ephesians 2, Paul describes our salvation in two movements. The first movement (Ephesians 2:1-10) describes our personal transformation from being the walking dead in our trespasses to being made alive together with Christ. This movement is for each individual, who is transformed by the gift of their God who calls them by name. The second movement (2:11-22) describes the transformation of the community, no longer defined by the “dividing wall of hostility” between Jews and Gentiles but instead making them one in Christ Jesus. Paul moves from a redeemed individual to a transformed community, linking these two realities logically and fundamentally. In other words, our personal redemption always leads to our spiritual membership in the family of God to whom we belong and with whom we become “fellow citizens” with (Ephesians 2:19).

After the death and resurrection of Christ, the people of God are no longer generated through biological family but through conversion. Thus all of us, even those outside the family of Abraham, “have access in one Spirit to the father…and [become] members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:18-20). In short, the global body of Christ is the family of God, and we are truly brothers and sisters who share one Father who is in heaven.

The Bride of Christ

In Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul makes explicit the connection between the natural reality of marriage and the supernatural mystery of faith. Although Paul certainly intended for his words to be taken as pragmatic wisdom, in his structure the person of Christ and his Church takes over his discussion of marriage. In describing the relationship between husbands and wives, Paul has Christ’s primary and prior love on his mind. Christ loves His bride by “the washing of water with the word” presenting her to Himself “without spot or wrinkle…holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27-29). He nourishes and cherishes the members of His own body through His self-sacrificing love (Ephesians 5:30).

This metaphor will become reality in the final days as John poetically describes:

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:2-4)

Friends of God’s Friends

“You did not choose me,” Jesus says, “but I chose you…these things I command you, so that you will love one another” (John 15:16-17). In His abundant kindness, God chooses us in Christ who restores our friendship with the Father and by whose Spirit we are empowered to be able to love one another with the same sacrificial friendship.

Through Christ’s self-giving life, not only is our friendship with God restored, but we then find ourselves bound to other human beings who are friends of God. In this community we call the church, we practice the vulnerable, self-sacrificing, and forgiving friendship of Jesus amongst one another. Because He first called us friends, we can call each other friends and find our definition for what that means through His example.

As we follow Jesus’ command to love one another just as He has loved us, through our Christlike friendship with one another, it becomes evident that we are His disciples. The church is meant to be this community of Christlike love made visible to a watching world. Through our love for each other locally and concern for each other across the globe, we display the love of God in Christ to all who have yet to know Him.

The Body of Christ

Our frail, complicated, beautiful, and wonderful human relationships are the ground in which God works among us and always has. From the beginning God declared “it was not good for man to be alone,” and has continued to make ways in the sin-stained wilderness for sinful and violent humanity to dwell with Him in a community of love (Genesis 2:18). He does this most fully and finally in Jesus, who breaks the dividing walls and makes us all one family in Him (Galatians 3:28). The unconditional love of God in Jesus instructs us how they witness the reality inaugurated by Jesus Christ even now.

All of us have been invited to live amongst His friends, become a part of the one family of God, and His one Bride. God’s love makes all His people, both past and present, members of His one body. Just as there is one body, Paul says, there is also “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:5-6). In Christ, we are given a “redeemed individuality,” where we find our sense of self within the collective identity of God’s people. As Jesus prayed: “[I ask] that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).