Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Jesus Loves and Cares for His Church
For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it,
just as the Lord does the church.
Ephesians 5:29 NKJV
Question 63 of the Larger Catechism, asks, “What are the special privileges of the visible church?” It gives the answer, “The visible church hath the privilege of being under God’s special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies, and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him.” Last time we looked at the nature of the visible church. This week we consider some of the ways in which the visible church is especially blessed by God.
We often consider how the Lord Jesus preached the gospel, did miracles, and opposed the hypocritical leaders of His day when He walked the earth some 2,000 years ago. Many individual Israelites believed in Him and followed Him, hoping to be saved from their sins. Yet, we know that our Lord did not remain on this earth very long after He completed His mission of accomplishing our salvation. How would those who had believed in Him continue to follow Him and be blessed by Him once He had gone? The answer to that question is abundantly provided to us throughout the books of the New Testament. The way in which God’s people are to continue to serve Him and to be helped, blessed, and strengthened in their service of Him is through the visible church. In the gospels, which infallibly record His life, the only organization that Jesus ever claims to build is the Church: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18b). I will build it. Jesus Himself will build His church, and that church will prevail against all enemies until His return. No other organization of people, no nation, tribe, or race has that promise. Thus, the Church alone is “protected and preserved in all ages.”
Likewise, only the Church is “under God’s special care and government.” Jesus has been given “to be head over all things to the church” (Eph. 1:22), not to the world. In fact when our Lord was about to purchase “with His own blood” the “church of God” (Act. 20:28), He prayed exclusively for that church. He would not pray for “the world,” (John 17:9). The church alone is His body (Col. 1:18), His building (1 Cor. 3:9), His household (1 Tim. 3:15), His children (1 John 3:1), His bride (Rev. 19:7). All of these metaphors for the church (and others like them) convey to us the special, particular, and exclusive care that Jesus has for the church. Men do not provide for all the way they must provide for their own households. They do not discipline all the way they are commanded to discipline their own children. And they do not love all women the way they are required to love their own wives! For these things are a picture of how Jesus especially loves and cares for His church!
Furthermore, the New Testament makes it clear to us the specific ways in which our Lord blesses His Church. To the Church alone is given the fellowship (communion) of the saints, where in fellowshiping with one another, we fellowship with those in whom God dwells (1 John 1:3). Thus, the Church alone is called “the fellowship of His Son” (1 Cor. 1:9). Additionally, only the Church enjoys “the ordinary means of salvation.” Hence, the Scriptures declare: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:14-15a). God does not raise up, call, and send preachers to the nations or even to the family, but He does give them to the Church (Eph. 4:11-12). And through that God-ordained preaching, Christ Himself offers grace to all the members of the Church in the ministry of the Gospel, and also saves all who will come to Him “excluding none.” Praise God for the privilege and blessing of the visible church! May we grow to treasure her and love her more and more all of our days.