Imitating the Love of Jesus
Ephesians 4:31 - 5:2
We have friends who are missionaries in Africa. They are in a very remote village. It takes them a whole day to get to the major city where they need to conduct business. They have five children and they need to home school their children while they carry on a ministry of discipleship. It is hard work and often discouraging, but they continue to do so faithfully. What an amazing love they have for the people of that land as they learn their language, live among them and serve them.
We have friends who have a severely handicapped daughter. She cannot walk and has limited mobility and can only move her arms a little bit. The parents, particularly the mother needs to do almost everything for her. She is in her early 20's and her mother has been doing this for her whole life. What an amazing love they have for their daughter.
In October 2006 near Lancaster, Pennsylvania a gunman walked into an Amish school and killed several girls. Francis Chan reminds us of that incident in his book "Crazy Love" and writes, "Amish people visited the shooter's family to say they had forgiven him. That sort of forgiveness is incomprehensible to the world."
Frederick Buechner writes, "The love for equals is a human thing…The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing…The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing…And then there is the love for the enemy…This is God's love. It conquers the world."
These kinds of love seem unusual and amazing, but for those who belong to Christ it is valid to ask, "Is this extraordinary or expected?" A moment ago we read in Scripture, "…be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us…" When we read that we must realize that these kinds of love are not to be the exception, but the norm among those who have given their lives to Jesus.
If we are to make the gospel of Christ known in the world, we have already talked about the fact that we need to be imitators of the holiness of Jesus. This portion of the text indicates that we must also be imitators of the love of Christ. Are you seeking to learn what it means to imitate the love of Christ?
I. We Are God's Beloved Children
There is only one reason why we can even entertain the notion that we are to imitate the love of Christ and that is because, as the text says, we are God's "beloved children."
A. We Are Children of God
How can we dare to claim to be the children of God? The truth is that we do not dare to claim to be the children of God. It is God Himself who declares that we are His children. When we stop fighting God and rest in Him by faith, He makes us His children. The thing that prevents us from being His children is sin but because Jesus died on the cross, our sins have been removed. Just as we did not become children to our parents by obeying them, but by birth, so we do not become God's children by obedience, we become God's children by a new birth. When we put our trust in Jesus, we are welcomed into the family of God and God calls us His children. Because we are His children, we are given permission to call Him "Dad." Because we are His children, He comes to live within us by His Spirit. When we die, we are invited to go home and live in His house for all the rest of eternity.
B. We Are Dearly Loved
As children of God, we are loved by Him. I like the New International Version translation of this verse which says that we are "dearly loved children." We know that the love God has for us is amazing because it pre-dates our relationship to Him. In fact, John 3:16 and Romans 5:8 both tell us that love was the foundation which caused God to reach out to us with salvation.
When I was in boys club we took an outing to the Whiteshell. On the way home, we were fooling around in the back seat of the car of whoever was driving us home. One of the older boys who was a junior leader was funny and I liked him. I remember thinking, I am going to be funny so that people will like me. We all have a need to be loved and if we do not feel loved, we do different things to try to get people to like us, some of them are not very good. However, the need to do that disappears when we understand how much we are loved by God. One of the lies which Satan tells us is that we are not loved. The truth which will set us free is the truth that God already loves us. He loved us before we knew Him. He loved us enough to send His only Son into the world to die for us. He loves us enough to forgive our sins. He loves us enough to call us His children. He loves us enough to live within us. The love God has for us is incredible and we need to know that, understand it deeply and rest in it.
The instruction in this passage to imitate God in loving is only possible when we know how much we are loved by God. Unless we understand the depth of His love for us we will continue in self centeredness. When we know that we are loved, we can give up self centeredness, grasping for attention and seeking for affirmation because we know we are loved by the creator of the world. This gives us the freedom to give away love because we understand that we have everything we need.
Francis Chan writes, "The very fact that a holy, eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, merciful, fair, and just God loves you and me is nothing short of astonishing."
II. How Christ Loves
If we would each take a quarter out of our pocket and compare them, we would find that they are almost exactly the same. The reason they are the same is that they were all impressed by the same master. As Christians, we also ought to look the same as every other Christian because we also have been impressed by the same master. Of course a coin has no choice in the matter, but we do. Therefore, the text calls us to imitation. Yet we are all called to imitate the same thing. We are called to imitate God and to love as Christ loved us. So if we are to understand how we are to imitate God's love, we need to know how that love works and what it is like. The master we are to imitate is none other than Christ Himself and Paul tells us exactly what that love looks like. So let us take a careful look at the love which Christ has demonstrated for us.
A. He Gave Himself for Us
The text says that "Christ loved us and gave himself up for us." Philippians 2:6 says, "who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited," or NIV has "something to be grasped." There was a time when Jesus made a decision and the decision was to offer Himself in order to come to the earth and to make the sacrifice that was necessary in order to redeem people from their sins. He was in heaven reigning with God as His Son, but made the choice to give up all that power and position in order to come to this earth on our behalf. That is what it means that He gave Himself for us.
When Jesus was about to be put to death, he was in the Garden of Gethsemane and was fully aware that his life was about to end in a terrible way. He was about to be hung on a cross, but not only that, He was about to be held guilty for the sins of the whole world. At that moment, he once again had to make a choice. His prayer to the Father at that moment was one in which he sought a way out of the terrible suffering He was about to endure. This tells us that it was terrible indeed, more terrible than we can imagine. Yet at that time Jesus said, "Not my will, but yours be done." That is what it means that He gave Himself for us.
The love of Jesus was self giving and sacrificial. Wood says, "The model of love is Christ himself. It is because he laid down his life for us that we are to love others to the point of sacrifice." Therefore, when we consider how we are to imitate the love of Christ, we understand that imitation of love involves sacrifice. We must learn what it means to give our life for the sake of another.
B. He Gave Himself to God
The other phrase we notice here is that Jesus "gave Himself up…a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." The sacrifice which Jesus made to show His love was not only "for us," but also "to God." Jesus didn't only offer Himself on our behalf. He offered Himself to His Father. His death on the cross was God's idea and He loved God so much that He trusted that God's plan was the right one and the one which He should follow. Therefore, because He loved and trusted God, He was willing to give Himself to God. The direction of His life was towards God. The direction of His sacrifice was towards God. He gave who He was and what He had to God.
The language used here, "offering and sacrifice" comes from the language of Old Testament offerings. There were different types of offerings and sacrifices which were common in the Old Testament times. The offerings indicated that a sacrifice had been made. Someone had dedicated some animal or some grain to God. It indicated a dedication to God which was made with gratitude. This tells us that, following the example of Jesus, our love must also be offered to God as a sacrifice to Him, something that is dedicated to God.
The Old Testament speaks of such a sacrifice as "a pleasing aroma" in such passages as, Exodus 29:41 which says, "And the other lamb you shall offer in the evening, and shall offer with it a grain offering and its drink offering, as in the morning, for a pleasing odor, an offering by fire to the LORD." Sometimes when I ride my bike between 5:30 and 6:30 in the evening, I get whiffs of BBQ. It smells good. But that was not why God called sacrifice a pleasing aroma. God was not impressed with cooking meat. God was impressed with the willingness to obey Him. That was what the pleasing aroma was. Because Christ chose to obey His Father and offer Himself for us, God was pleased with His sacrifice.
In the same way, God will be pleased when He sees in us a willingness to offer our lives to Him as people who love. Therefore, if we are to imitate Christ, we must imitate Him in offering ourselves in love to God because He first loved us.
C. He Forgave Us
The third example of love demonstrated in this passage is found in Ephesians 4:31 when it says, "as God in Christ has forgiven you." All our sin was against Christ. He died for us and so took the offence upon Himself and did not hold it against us. In the same way, we are called to imitate His forgiveness by loving others and showing that love by forgiving them.
One of the ways in which we often get into relational trouble is when we take offence at what someone has done to us. When that happens, we often assume malicious intent on their part and we hold it against them. If we are to imitate the love of Christ, we must imitate His readiness to forgive.
The love which Christ has is sacrificial, offered to God and forgiving. That is the kind of love we are to imitate.
III. Imitating the Love of Christ
Because we are deeply loved we are able to love and because Christ has demonstrated what love looks like, we know what it means to love. Having this foundation we are called to love.
A. Imitating God
We are called to imitate God. In Ephesians 4:17 we were told that we are not to walk like the Gentiles walk. The opposite of walking like the Gentiles, however, is not walking like a nice person. The opposite of walking like the Gentiles is imitating God Himself.
A few weeks ago our son Joel and I worked together with Jonathan to build a fence and a deck in their yard. Haven was watching and playing in the area for most of the day and I am told that since that day he calls himself "Uncle Joel." He plays with wood and tools and wants to be like Uncle Joel. This is what children do. They imitate and by imitation they learn.
When the text calls us to "be imitators of God" that is the kind of idea that is in mind. The Greek word for imitation is μιμηταὶ from which we also get our word "mimic" which gives us the idea of doing what we see done. Yet when we think of imitating God, we know that there are some ways in which we cannot imitate God. Barth says, "Men cannot copy the essence of God, e.g. his work as creator or redeemer, or his trinity, but they are called to imitate his love and make progress on the way of love."
We were together with extended family, some of whom hadn't seen each other for a long while. We saw a man, who is probably in his 70's, whom we hadn't seen him for a long time. Someone remarked that he looks just like his father used to look. When we obey this command, we will look like our Father, not in physical appearance, but in behavior. We will love in imitation of the one who loves us.
B. Walking in Love
We are also called to "live" in love or as NASB puts it to "walk" in love. The idea communicated here is that love is to be a lifestyle. We may feel love when we hold a newborn baby, but we will walk in love when we pace the floor at night holding a colicky baby. We may feel love when we stand with our fiancé at the altar on our wedding day, but we will walk in love when our spouse gets a life altering disease and we continue to care for them. We will have warm feelings towards our neighbor when they invite us to come over to use their swimming pool, but we will walk in love when we decide how to respond on the early morning when they start their snow blower and blow all their snow onto our driveway. The Message puts it this way, "Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that."
Penner says, "…the life of love is always active and outgoing to those who need that love. That is how God acts and how we, his dear children, must act."
C. Putting Off "Un-love"
As I was studying this passage, I noticed that the call to love in Ephesians 5:1, 2 is preceded in Ephesians 4:31, 32 with some very specific and practical details about what it means to love. The pattern followed in these verses is that which we have already noticed in earlier verses which talk about putting off a particular way of living and putting on a transformed way of living. Verse 31 calls us to put off those things which are not loving. We will learn love when we put off "all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice." I like the way Stott puts it. He calls us to put off "the ill-willed plotting of a malicious spirit."
It is possible that the writer intended a progression in this section. The first step of not loving is to feel bitterness. Bitterness can progress to anger, loud protestation, speaking ill of someone else and ends in a settled anger called malice.
So if we want to avoid all of these unloving things, we must stop them at the first step. We must choose not to allow a root of bitterness to grow up. How do we remove bitterness from us? The best defense against any manifestation of lack of love is to understand that we are loved by God.
D. Putting On Love
We will also learn love when we replace these things and instead put on the things mentioned in verse 32.
Kindness reflects that which arises out of a gentle and good heart.
Compassion is an interesting word. The Greek word comes from a word that originally referred to the internal organs or as Wood says, "the liver, kidneys and larger viscera." This is a concept that should be somewhat familiar to us. When we talked about being excited we used to say "I have butterflies in my stomach." Emotions, according to the Greeks were located in this region. We have more often thought of the emotions as residing in the heart. It is a similar concept and communicates the feelings of caring for another from deep within our being. It is this kind of love that we are to put on.
Furthermore we are also to put on forgiveness. Once again Paul points to the forgiveness of Christ as our model. Jesus, of course, tells the great story in Matthew 18:23-35 to help us understand just how important forgiveness is in our love for others. In that parable, the king forgave a man his massive debt. Yet the man was unwilling to forgive someone else who owed him a relatively small sum. It is obvious to us that there is something very wrong about this. God has forgiven us all our sins, how can we not forgive the things done to us. Barth says, "'Live as people who are forgiven!' – this is the sum of Ephesians 4:31-32." He also reminds us that forgiveness is always and only practiced in specific situations when he says, "No man can really forgive a man whom he does not personally know."
Is there anyone who hasn't heard this before? I didn't think so. Is there anyone here who is able to imitate the love of Jesus effectively? I kind of suspected that. How will we make progress? We know that we are deeply loved by God and that He calls us His children. We have a very clear example of love in Christ. We understand that we must respond to God's love by loving Him and others. We understand that in order for the good news about Jesus to be made known in the world requires that we love God, love one another and love the other. But how will we make progress in imitating the love of Jesus?
Let me suggest several practical acts of love:
1. Identify someone you don't know very well in the church or in your neighborhood and go talk to them.
2. Think of a person you don't like very well and without telling them you don't like them or making a big deal of it, do something kind for them.
3. Listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit in order to hear how you can show love and to whom you can show love.
If we are willing to imitate the love of Jesus, there is no telling what God will do in us and through us.