“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV
When you read “walk in love” do you imagine a couple strolling on a wooded path, the sun filtering through the trees, a soft breeze blowing, silence except for the crunch of leaves beneath their feet? Or do you imagine a father pushing his child on the swing at the park, that smile of love and pride on his face and the happy giggles of a child feeling completely loved?
Wonderful imaginations, aren’t they? So satisfying when they happen to us. However . . .
The example the apostle Paul gives for what it means to “walk in love” is tremendously different from the above scenarios. “Walk in love as (in the same way as) Christ loved us . . .” and then, just in case we might miss the point, Paul explains — “and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
“gave himself up . . fragrant offering . . . sacrifice. . .” I thought of these two passages of Scripture —
Jesus is in the upper room with his disciples. His arrest and trial and crucifixion is close at hand. As he institutes what we now call “communion” he uses common items — bread and wine — to illustrate a very uncommon idea and example. Matthew 26:27-28 “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Under Jewish Law, the priest would pour out a drink offering on the altar as a sacrifice. When an animal was slain for an offering, the blood was poured out on the altar. Jesus was using a word picture familiar to everyone in the room. It was a radical love. It was offensive. It was ugly. Jesus was saying, “I am going to lay down my life as a sacrifice — bloody, gruesome, awful — me, who has no sin, for you — for every sin you have committed or will commit. And not just you, my disciples; for “many” — for those who hate me now; for those who have never heard of me yet. I don’t give myself as a sacrifice as a response to something; I take the initiative.
Isaiah 53:12 “. . . he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” Isaiah prophesied of the “suffering servant” who would be the Savior. Again, the phrase, “poured out.” The phrase is not a half-hearted action; it is “all in,” complete.
So this is our example of how to “walk in love.” Because we are beloved children. Because “God in Christ forgave us.” (Ephesians 4:32)
Walking in love means that I die to my own ambitions, and adopt Christ’s mission. “. . . the son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45 ESV
Walking in love means that I don’t expect people to be perfect or to treat me perfectly before I extend love and grace to them. “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 ESV
So, how will I “walk in love” in my day-to-day life? I debated between Romans 12 and 1 Peter 4, and chose 1 Peter 4 for this time (but I encourage you to read Romans 12 as well). . .
verse 1-2: don’t approach trials and obstacles with a “why me” attitude. Christ suffered in the flesh, so why do I think I should be exempt? Look for ways that I can display the love and mercy and grace of God in the midst of my trial. Don’t adopt a “look at me, I’m such a martyr” attitude either; but seek to do God’s will, even if that means being uncomfortable, or in pain, or not getting everything I want.
verse 3-6: don’t see how close to the fence I can be regarding sin without going over. Don’t be a Pharisee, either, just keeping rules but having a self-righteous, sinful, hating attitude toward others. It’s in the attitude, more than the action. Don’t be self-serving (just because I can, I will), but consider how my actions will affect those around me.
verse 7: I don’t have “all the time in the world.” I don’t have “later, when I feel like it.” Be disciplined. Do what I know God has told me to do. I can still have fun. I can still enjoy life. Remember, true freedom lies in living my life the way my Creator has designed me to live. I want to live in constant communication with God. That means listening to Him as well as talking to Him. That means confessing sin when He shows it to me, not waiting until “prayer time.” And, why can’t “prayer time” be throughout the day, and not just a specific line on my day planner?
verse 8: love my brothers and sisters in Christ genuinely. Don’t be “fake polite” or a flatterer. Don’t be easily offended. Don’t assume that everyone is out to get me.
verse 9: be friendly. Seek to be hospitable. Don’t gripe about it. Don’t grumble that “why do I always have to make the first move? Why doesn’t anyone notice me?”
verse 10 – 11: use the gifts God has given me to serve others. Don’t feel “entitled” or be jealous of the gifts God has given others. Don’t use my gifts to bring attention or applause to myself. Remember they are gifts from God, and they are to be used to glorify God, not me.
What does “walking in love” look like to you?