Song of Songs 2:2
Like a lily among thorns,
So is my love among the daughters.
I will admit that Solomon’s Song of Songs is tough for me to understand. I will likely spend the rest of my life delving the depths of its imagery and poetry. But, reading in the Song this morning, I was reminded of something: today we hardly ever hear people speak about the church’s relationship as the bride of Christ. It’s as if this communal relationship with Jesus gets glossed over as we focus on “a close personal relationship” with Jesus. In our push to get individual people closer to Christ, I think we have neglected to bring the CHURCH closer to Christ, that we have forgotten that Jesus founded this church, that He is the head of this house of God, the Shepherd of both the worldwide flock of individuals AND the local flock who gather in His name. We are the ekklesia–those who are called out from among the multitude, those who assemble to worship Him. We are the church, and our relationship is not just personally one-on-one with Jesus but communally One-to-many with Christ.
22 And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church,
23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
In our modern age, we are prone to rampant individualism. As I heard someone once say about church, “I don’t need someone telling me what to do.” Sadly enough, the very person who says such a thing is the person who most needs the church, who most needs immersion in the Word of God, who most needs to be tended as part of Jesus’ flock. The “independence” that causes us to rebel against the church also causes us to rebel against God and His commandments. The fact is that NONE of us is so independent as we like to think. We buy food and clothes made by others, drive cars built by others, use telephones created by whole teams of people, and so forth. We are in a global web of commerce and service and production, and we truly do depend on others for almost everything in our lives. So much for our vaunted independence! Why then do we pretend we can have spirituality all on our own, separate and apart from other people?
“Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”
Paul called upon those elders from Ephesus to “shepherd the church of God,” to tend to those called out and who assemble in the name of the Lord God–those whom Jesus purchased with His own blood. Paul did not call them to shepherd individuals but the flock, the gathering of the called, the ekklesia.
In today’s verse from the Song of Songs, the Beloved speaks to the Shulamite woman and compares her to “a lily among thorns.” We should understand something about the Song of Songs: this is Jesus speaking to His church. So, in today’s verse, Jesus is telling us that the church AS A BODY OF BELIEVERS is fair and fragrant to Him, that we are different from the thorns and thistles of worldly people. Yes, our individual love is pleasing to the Lord, but more pleasing still is the love of the whole body, the love of the church. As David sang, “Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful.” (Psalms 33:1)
We are the called, the ones chosen to be the one lily among many thorns, the one body that stands apart from the daughters of men. We are the believers who gather together as one to worship our God and King. We can and should love Him as individuals, but more so, we should express His love by being together.
Will we continue to be individuals who just happen to be in the same place together on Sunday mornings? Will we face the altar of God and never look at nor speak to those standing next to us? Will we shut ourselves off for the rest of the week, as if those we see on Sunday are not part of our interdependent communities?
When Jesus told us to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12), He wasn’t just talking about charities and missions offerings, nor was He talking about soup kitchens and clothing drives. He was talking about a FAMILY, a group of true friends who know and love one another as a group. He was talking about those who are called out from the individualism of the world to join together in community as one body to be the one sweet-smelling lily in a world of thorns.
What is your relationship like to your local church? Are you lost in a sea of faces, with few real friendships or connections to the people you see every week? Do you even HAVE a church you regularly attend?
Keep in mind that we are not called to individual worship but to corporate worship, to corporate belief, to corporate living as the church of God. Jesus said of Peter “on this rock I will build My CHURCH.” (Matthew 16:18) Jesus did NOT say “On this rock I will call people to individual close personal relationships with Me.” No, Jesus knew that we would be His people, that we would need to be set apart (holy) from the rest of the world, and in order to do that, we would need to gather as one body in His name. That gathering together, that unity of mind and spirit and love, is what is so sweet to our Lord. That is why He called us “a lily among thorns.”
Brothers and sisters, none of us is so perfect that we do not need each other, and no church could exist without people. Whether we gather in the open air or a tiny room or a basement or a grand meeting hall, WE are the church whenever we gather in love and fellowship to praise and worship our God. We are NOT the church when we separate ourselves from each other and pursue our faith privately. We are the church when we love one another as Jesus loved us–as friends and neighbors and families, joined together in one body with Christ at our head. We are the “lily among thorns” when we present ourselves holy and whole, one bride for Christ the groom, married to Him who gave His life for us.
Gracious Lord God, thank You for calling us apart from the world. Were it not for Jesus Your Son, I would still be among the thorns, still tormented and unfruitful. But because of Your Christ, I can gather with others and sing praises to Your holy name. Because of Jesus, I know I am now married to the One who has given His life for me. All praise and honor and glory be for the One whose name is above all other names, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.