The first church began in the Garden of Eden. The first church began on the sixth day of the history of the world. The first church, the first gathering of worshipers of the God of heaven had a membership role of two people. The first covenant of marriage was simultaneously the first membership covenant of the first church in the history of the world.
Think about it: the first sermon was preached by Adam when he broke into poetry and song at the sight of his beautiful bride, newly fashioned for him.
The first kiss of peace was also simultaneously a kiss of love.
This works in the other direction as well: the first church fight was also a marriage squabble.
The first worship war ended in the murder of a brother.
The first church was also the first family, the first marriage.
And this is why Paul quotes Genesis: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” And then he immediately says: this is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
Paul recalls the creation of Adam and Eve and sees Christ and the Church, joined into one body, one flesh.
Paul reads Genesis and immediately sees the body of Christ, one flesh, all mysterious.
Of course haunting the early chapters of Genesis is the first sin, the first act of church discipline, the first curses hurled into the world from the mouth of God. And Genesis says that God “drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” (3:24)
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul describes the glory of the body of Christ, that it is made up of many different members with different gifts, but it is the same Spirit that fills the whole body, enlivening it, equipping every part to fulfill its calling in the body. This happens in such a way as to make the many members work together, caring for one another, rejoicing with one another, and even suffering with one another. But Paul emphasizes the fact that it is the glorious differences and wonderful diversity in the body that makes it a body. If everyone were a hand, where would the body be? God has fashioned the body with many different parts so that there might be no schism, so that it might be one flesh.
Paul closes chapter 12 by saying: “But earnestly desire the best gifts and yet I show you a more excellent way.”Paul says that he wants this body of Christ to pursue the “excellent way” in order to grow up into this unity, into this one flesh.
The “excellent way” ought to remind us of other places where the gospels describe the “way of the Lord.” Remember how John the Baptist comes preaching, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’ And that declaration is an echo of several Old Testament stories. The way of the Lord was the dry path through the Red Sea. The way of the Lord was following the angel of the Lord through the wilderness to the Promised Land. And Malachi picks up on these types in his prophecy, declaring that the Lord will once again be on the move, and His messenger will prepare the way before Him. God is preparing a new Exodus. He will lead His people out of bondage into a land flowing with milk and honey.
But all of these paths, these roads, these excellent ways are but the birth pangs of what Jesus came to accomplish. And what Jesus came to accomplish goes back to Genesis, back to the garden, back to the way guarded by cherubim where the first wedding was seemingly interrupted by disobedience and cursing. That way is the most excellent way, the way back into the presence of the Father.
In the gospels, John comes to prepare the way, and Jesus comes and walks through Israel embodying and enacting this way of the Lord, delivering the sick and the oppressed from slavery, and showing the way to the new Canaan, the way of the Kingdom. And in each of the gospels as Christ’s identity becomes more and more clear, this way of Christ takes a turn. He turns His face toward Jerusalem. His way, His path is aimed at Jerusalem and the cross. And on this path, He repeatedly explains that He is going to Jerusalem and there he will be betrayed and handed over to the priests and scribes and then the Romans and ultimately he will be killed and after three days He will rise again.
In John’s gospel, Jesus explains that He will not be with the disciples much longer, but He says, “where I go you know, and the way you know.” And when Thomas asks ‘how can we know the way?’ Jesus says, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
Jesus turns His face toward Jerusalem, the way to the cross. But this way doesn’t end at the cross; the cross is the way to the Father. And as Jesus walks this path to the cross, He is the Way to the Father. He is the way through the sea, through the wilderness into Canaan. His death and resurrection re-opens the way into the garden where the wedding feast can resume, life in communion with the Father, Son, and Spirit.
Early in 1 Corinthians, Paul identifies himself as a “wise master builder” (1 Cor. 3:10). The word “master builder” is the same word used in the Septuagint to describe the work of Bezalel and Aholiab in constructing the tabernacle (Ex. 31:4, 35:32, 35). Paul insinuates that he is Bezalel and Apollos is like Aholiab (cf. 1 Cor. 3:5-6). There’s no reason to start rival parties following Paul or Apollos since they are both working on the same building project.
As Bezalel and Aholiab were filled with the Spirit in order to construct the tabernacle and lead the artisans in building according to the Lord’s design, so too Paul says in chapter 7, as he is sorting through issues related to marriage, “I also have the Spirit of God.” Paul is Bezalel seeking to piece the Corinthians together with the rest of the body of Christ into that one tent, that one body, that one flesh.
As the tabernacle is filled with the Spirit, so too Paul says that the Church is a body filled with the Spirit. Pentecost was the dedication of the new tabernacle, the new temple. And the “gifts” of the body are the pieces of this new tabernacle/temple. But it is not enough to have gifts; it is not enough to be curtains or hooks or even an altar. Tongues and prophecies and even understanding great mysteries are not sufficient. The house must be constructed through the “excellent way,” the way through the sea, the way to the cross, the way of love.
Notice how many of these “gifts” are ones frequently mentioned in marriage advice manuals and books. In order to have a happy marriage, you must learn to speak different languages. What’s your love language, CJ? But Paul says that even if you learn all the languages or even an angelic language, and you have not love, it will sound as romantic as a bustling tuba.
Or others may inform you that men and women are aliens from one another. They are from different planets, right? And so, you need to explore the deep mysteries of Venus and Mars. But Paul says that even if you have the gift of prophecy and understand all the mysteries and knowledge, without love this is nothing. Even faith that can move mountains is not sufficient. Faith by itself is not sufficient to bind this body together.
Love is the more excellent way, but ultimately this love that suffers long and is kind, this love that is sinless and perfect, this love that never fails is Christ Himself. Just as Jesus is the way of the Lord, the way to the Father. He is the more excellent way; He is the love that never fails. He is that which is perfect, the end to which all things point. Prophecies will fail, tongues will cease, knowledge will vanish away, but all these things are just glimpses at Christ. In Christ, we are mature sons and heirs of the promises. Becoming this mature man means putting aside childish things.
Now we see in a mirror dimly. The mirror reflects the body of Christ. When the Church looks in the mirror, we ought to see Jesus since we are his body. But this is still dim and mysterious, hard to make out. But the promise is that we will be conformed to the image of Christ. We only know in part now but love is the way in which all the parts of the body cohere, the way the gifts are used for the edification of the body. Love binds the body together and makes the image in the mirror a little clearer.
CJ and Lisa, your marriage today is one small but significant part of the body of Christ. Your marriage is not irrelevant to the Body. In so far as it is the Spirit binding the two of you together into one flesh, the Spirit filling you with the love of Christ that it might spill out of each of you for one another and for those around, in so far as Jesus said that they would know us for our love for one another, your marriage today is every bit a part of that as evangelism or mercy ministry or hospitality. In fact, Christian marriage is one of the most strategic places for your gifts to be used to build up the Body.
Your marriage is not something different, something outside of the body of Christ. Marriage is part of the mirror that God has given us to look into. And as we love one another, God invites us to see the face of Christ in one another, and in the rest of the body.
Now, we know in part, we see dimly, but Love is the perfection of this mystery. Love is God come in human flesh to walk the way to the cross, the way through the sea and wilderness of death, the way back into the garden, the way to the Father.
The first church began with a wedding feast and a worship service all bound up into one.
The first church was composed of a husband and wife enlivened by the Spirit, bound together in Love, one body, one flesh, with glorious differences and wonderful diversity so that there would be no divisions in the body.
And you have the Spirit God, CJ and Lisa, you have the wisdom and skill of Bezalel and Aholiab, and as you build your house together in the wisdom of love, remember that your house is part of an even greater body, an even greater house. And this, your wedding in the presence of God, is in some small way a return to the original wedding in the garden which will one day burst out into the great marriage supper of the Lamb.
So CJ, I call you to preach like Adam. May your songs of love for Lisa always simultaneously be sermons declaring the gospel of the love of God in the cross of Christ. And Lisa, may your kisses of love always be kisses of peace.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!