What a precious text is Ephesians 5:25b: “Christ … loved the church and gave himself for her.” Before time began or space was formed, the One we know as the Lord Jesus Christ had set his heart on dying for those human sinners who would one day make up the church, the Bride of the Lord Jesus. Not out of necessity or from need, not by constraint or grudgingly, but from a heart of love, out of mercy and kindness, freely and willingly, Christ came into this world to die for the church. It is unfortunate that our word “church” is commonly used as a description of the building in which God’s people meet to worship. We thus talk about “going to church.” Early Christians, of course, were spared such confusion, for until the late third century believers did not have distinct buildings set apart for worship. Instead they would meet in Christian homes and for them the church easily had the quality of a family. And it was in the intimacy of this setting that they learned to truly love one another. So the Apostle refers to fellow-believers in the church at Rome as “my beloved Epaenetus” (Rom 16:5), Amplias, “my beloved in the Lord” (Rom 16:8), and “Stachys, my beloved” (Rom 16:9).
And earlier in the chapter, Paul shows us true love in action. Aquila and Priscilla, husband and wife, loved Paul so much that they were willing to risk their very lives for the Apostle. Literally, they put their necks on the line for Paul (Rom 16:4). When this happened we do not know. But that it happened spoke volumes for Paul about what it means to be in Christ. He never forgot what could have been a very costly display of love. He treasured the memory of the incident and the love that lay behind it. The love of Aquila and Priscilla powerfully illustrated genuine Christlikeness.
If we love Christ we cannot but love what he loves and be filled with the sweet love he has for his church.