Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
Ephesians 5:1-2 (NASB)
As we celebrate Independence Day here in the United States of America, we are reminded of the wars that we have fought to win and to keep our independence from other countries. These wars serve to remind us of our need to be vigilant in order to remain a sovereign country, both to remain independent of other governments, and to remain loyal to our own.
This morning we were reminded by Rev. Singleton that our independence as Christians does not depend on independence from foreign governments, but independence from sin, and that our loyalty is to God.
The scripture quoted above is from Paul's letter to the church at Ephesus. In this letter, Paul exhorts the church to "be imitators of God." He also calls us "beloved children." Children learn by imitating their parents. This is easy and natural. We can see our parents and do what they do. But how do we imitate God?
Paul gives us a hint: walk in love, as Jesus did. Jesus is God's son, and became the sacrifice for our sins. He gave up his very life for the love of us, God's creation. Through Him, we are called sons of God. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, who was given to us, God's creation and adopted children, so that we could live the same life of love that Jesus did. But what does that love look like?
God's love is Costly - He gave his son so that we could have life. We need to lay aside our selfishness and pride to love even those who are hard to love.
God's love is Caring - He has compassion on us. We need to have compassion on other people. If we don't care what happens to them, we aren't loving them.
God's love is Committed - Jesus went to the cross because he was committed to doing His Father's will, to rescue us from sin. We need to be just as committed to do whatever it takes to love others.
God's love is Noticeable - Jesus loved people in a visible way, healing the sick, casting out demons, touching the untouchable, hanging on the cross. We cannot hide away in our houses or churches and love people from afar. We have to be willing to be seen.
God's love is Consecrating - Jesus sanctified us - cleaned us up and set us aside for God's purpose. Our love has to seek the highest good for others.
This is a journey of love. Paul exhorts us to "walk in love." We are not standing still. We should be growing in the love of God. We have to become more and more loving as we grow in God's love. We have to make a choice to do what God has commanded us to do. We can't be tossed back and forth. We have to be committed. We have to love as Jesus did. He was kind, gentle, and forgiving to those who were downtrodden. It is not loving to allow people to remain in misery when you have the means to lift them out. He was forceful to his disciples and the religious hypocrites of the day. It is not loving to allow people to go on living a sinful life when you can help them to live according to the Holy Spirit.
It is also not loving to allow people to believe that God reflects hypocritical behavior. We are imperfect imitators of God. He is not a reflection of our imperfections. We need to step it up, church. We need to work hard to be more perfect, not to let ourselves become complacent. I keep seeing bumper stickers and memes saying "I'm not perfect. I'm a sinner saved by grace." Yes, this is true. But somewhere along the way this has become a license to live in a sinful manner. Jesus gave his life so that you could be saved. He didn't give his life so that you could go on living however you wanted and get a free ticket to Heaven. Matthew 5:48 says: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (NIV). This is part of Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount," and comes just after he tells his followers to love their enemies (Matt. 5:44). No one can do this on their own, but with God, all things are possible (Matt. 19:26 and Mark 10:27).
"Love" is an action word. Our culture would lead us to believe that it is based on emotions. We love people who are nice to us. We love pizza and ice cream. The problem with this kind of love is that when our emotions change, so does our love. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:8 that "Love never fails." Verses 4-7 in the same chapter read:
Love is patient,
love is kind.
It does not envy,
it does not boast,
it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others,
it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered,
it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
I think we could interpret this to mean "a loving person." Talking about love as a separate entity can allow us to detach from it mentally. This was not meant to be a picture of unattainable perfection. We are commanded to love, and commanded to be perfect. Turn it around:
Being impatient with others is not loving.
Being unkind to others is not loving.
Envying others is not loving.
Boasting about ourselves is not loving.
Being prideful is not loving.
Dishonoring others is not loving.
Being self-seeking is not loving.
Being easily angered is not loving.
Keeping a record of wrongs is not loving.
Delighting in evil is not loving.
Lying is not loving.
Allowing people to be in danger, being mistrustful of people, and giving up on people are not the ways of love.
These unloving ways will fail us and others.
In our striving for independence, we need to remember to be dependent on God. And if we are dependent on God, we will imitate him, and walk in sacrificial love, just as Jesus taught us.