By Dr. Keith Megilligan
New love is exquisite. There is joy for the first time that enters the heart of the one who is in love. When you view the radiant faces of the young couple who stand enraptured in each others’ presence at their wedding, you appreciate again how fresh, how joyful, how exquisite love can be. You wish for them and briefly vow once again to yourself that that state of love would not diminish. You likewise yearn for them that time would not be allowed to take its toll, that the brandishing about of life’s trauma would not subtract from the captured moment of bliss that love expresses at the beginning…
In that beginning of love, the conduct demonstrated between the enraptured couple, the words which they express are fresh, vibrant, hopeful, and even peaceful. They would desire that everyone in the world would feel as they did; that each person would know the sheer bliss they seem to have patented. They may even vow that "no matter what," they will maintain this level and expression of intimacy, the immense joy that they presently experience. After all, it is there for the taking; just jump in and experience what they know, how they feel. Why should such love ever go away? Why should such love even bare the threat of diminished ecstasy? And you want to ask them, "Why, indeed?!"
When the "enraptured state" begins to wane, there may be an initial denial to its impact upon the couple’s expressed love. But the haunting of the start of less than loving comments and slowly diminished acts of vibrant love become not-so-silent witnesses to the aching sunset of their requited love. Even subtle thoughts in the form of questions begin to arise: did we really expect this joyful love to last? Was it right to think that our love would always be exquisite? Slowly, even a little painfully, the transition is made from blissful love to contented love; a love that rests in commitment, not so much in exuberance. Be assured, there is nothing wrong with that, after all even the Bible presents marital love in covenantal language. Maybe the time has come to focus on the covenantal part of marriage rather than the "blissful" element. After all, is it really possible to believe that they could live out such a fevered pitch of love for the long haul? But, the question could be asked, "How then, should they live?" How then would they live?
With apologies to Francis Schaeffer, who decades ago not only raised the question of how we should live but provided excellent answers in return, it’s perhaps time to reexamine the question: How should we then live? To view once again, from a slightly different scriptural point of view, what are the biblical answers and expectations to such a question? This question is asked, especially, in light of the pre-tribulational return of Christ.
The beginning of the historical church’s love affair and wedding preparation to be with her groom were days of ecstasy. Following the events of their initial declaration and public display of power and mutual devotion in the early chapters of the book of Acts, the world would soon realize that this union was a love relationship that would rock the world. Though launched in the humility of a simple but devoted prayer meeting, the power of the Holy Spirit’s presence would be the signet ring she would wear proudly before the watching world. Their love was on display and the Lord was pleased to bless His church with His miraculous power.
The church’s faith in her Groom had started with such incredible zeal; the world seemed to be turned upside down by her ongoing faith. No obstacle, either within or without the church was strong enough to keep her joy from being displayed and their mutual love from conquering her enemies. They were days of euphoria! There were times when angels would intervene directly to free apostles from prison; there were powerful prayer meetings accompanied with earthquakes; there were even times when thousands would come to saving knowledge of the church’s Groom at one time. Those were indeed, heady times for the bride.
But alas, it took less than 60 years for the young church of the Mediterranean world to lose its luster of love for its Groom, Jesus Christ. The fervor, dedication and emotional bliss of the early days of the church’s devotion to Christ soon began to fade. And like most relationships, there was not a dramatic drop in commitment; it came about like an uninvited debilitating disease. Slowly the devotion of the bride began to fade toward her Groom. Perhaps it was the fascination of the allurement of the material offerings that were perpetually available in the world around her. Perhaps it was the forbidden devotion to other lovers manifested in the form of idolatry that her apostles would frequently warn against. Whatever the causes, the Lord of the church and the Groom of the bride came to one heartbreaking pronouncement against His bride: "Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love." (Rev. 2:4)
The Groom had used one of His choice servants to deliver the painful message. To be sure it was one of several messages that John would convey to his young but faded-in-devoted-love bride. John sat on an isolated perch to make his pronouncements. But from that island of Patmos, he had an unusually keen perspective. He got a glimpse of the current state of the church as it ended its first not-quite-century-old relationship with her Groom. But he also had an incredible prophetic view of events that would lead to the apex of the bride’s marriage to her Groom. Viewing both the historic and prophetic spans of time, John would at least draw comfort in the fact that one day, the bride and the Groom would be gloriously reunited in an indescribable display of glory. He provides this description: "Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints." (Revelation 19:7-8)
What a glorious picture and marvelous reunion awaits the church-as-bride with her Groom! There is an incredible air of expectancy. There is an unmatched anticipation of a wedded bliss that causes all others to pale by comparison. There will be a feast of unimaginable proportions. The attire to be worn by the bride will be exquisite: fine linen, bright and clean! If pictures or videos of this event are to be taken, they will attempt in vain to capture the glory of this event.
But did you notice the reason that the linen is fine, bright and clean? The answer is the last phrase of the passage…the righteousness of the saints. If you allow your mind to ponder such a statement, and if you are a child of God—one of the saints of this church age, please ask yourself the question, "Is the description accurate?" Do the saints of the church age demonstrate "righteousness?" Would I, as a child of God, be comfortable with that characterization of my present conduct? Mind you, I am not speaking of the declared state of righteousness we graciously occupy as the provision of being justified by faith. No, I am speaking of our ongoing conduct as children of God who are saints in the body of Christ. Could we with good conscience say that our acts are indeed righteous?
Shouldn’t we, especially in light of our longing expectation of our Groom’s coming and glorious reappearing be living lives that exemplify the biblical term "righteous"? After all, our destiny is to become the very essence of our Groom. John describes that condition in one of his epistles: "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure." (1 John 3:2-3) Our ultimate state will be "pure" just as our groom is pure. So then, why are our eyes cast about at the alluring attraction of modern day idols and materialism? What has caused our love to be muted instead of vibrant? How close to living in a "righteous" manner are we as the bride of Christ? If we are not emulating His righteousness, what needs to change? Again, it should be asked, how should we then live?
I believe the answer to that question is not only one of biblical perspective, similar to John’s perspective presented above, but it is also one of a biblical directive. It is found in a brief paragraph of verses located in the middle of Paul’s succinct epistle to Titus. Here’s how the godly apostle put it. "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works."(Titus 2:11-14)
First, the perspective: Just as when Paul wrote the letter, though the church in his day was still living in the "afterglow" of the initial throes of vibrant love with her Groom, the church still finds herself between the events of the "grace of God [having] appeared" and looking for the "blessed hope and the glorious appearing of…our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus." It would appear evident that the church today is imminently closer to the "blessed hope" appearing than it was in Paul’s day but the call to the church’s conduct is still the same. Thus the second matter is the point of this article: the biblical directive as to how we are then to live. The language is clear: 1) deny ungodliness, worldly desires, and 2) live sensibly, righteously and godly in this present age.
The pattern presented is definitely Pauline: putting off and putting on. First, we are to put off (deny) ungodliness and worldly desires. Recognizing such conduct may be relatively easy, doing it is another! I say relatively because Satan as the master deceiver is fine tuned in masking ungodly conduct and in turn making it very enticing. The Greek behind the English words translated "ungodliness" and "worldly desires" is pretty straight forward. Ungodliness: living without regard to a religious belief or practice. Worldly desires: a combination of two words: kosmos = this world system and epithumia = lust, strong desire. In each case, the desire(s) of the individual are simply wrong, misplaced.
Second, we are to put on (live) sensibly, righteously and godly. Paul doesn’t use fuzzy thinking to describe our conduct. His advice is practical. Live sensibly, that is moderately; in self-control is the sense of the Greek text. In a world filled with excesses and determined to behave excessively, moderation is the biblical parameter. Living righteously simply means to live uprightly, justly. A common theme throughout the Old and New Testaments is a sovereign God’s concern for just living, i.e. not taking advantage of the poor, weak, invalid, widowed or orphans. Once again, there are no spiritual tricks or mirrors here. To be godly is to have a godly life, to live in a godly manner. Would the character of God be an apt description of your life?
How shall we (the bride) then live? We should live as a lover deeply committed to her husband. We should live as if the only person that mattered was the Lord Jesus Christ. We should live with an eye to the heavens to wait for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus. As we wait for His return, we should be wearing garments that are clean, bright and attractive. We should live with an expectant, radiant and committed love that will bring honor to the Lord of the church. We should live sensibly, godly.