Be imitators of God, therefore, as beloved children, and walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant sacrificial offering to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2 BSB)

Chapter four of Ephesians ends by warning us not to grieve the Spirit of God, and by stating two primary ways we grieve the Spirit: (1) by holding on to bitterness, rage, anger, and plain old sinful meanness; and (2) by not being tenderhearted toward one another. 

We tend to think we have done enough if we only do not get angry with one another too quickly, that to simply leave one another alone is the fulfilment of all the social commands of scripture. But this is utter nonsense. Christ taught us, “As you would that men should do to you, do you even so unto them” (Matt 7:12). This calls not for passive indifference but for positive action. Granted that sometimes our most earnest desire is to simply be left alone, and we should respect people’s privacy, but we also desire company, understanding, and compassion. 

Giving oneself up

The first nature of this command in Ephesians 5 is to approach one another with unselfish and sacrificial willingness. To walk in love, like God in Christ loved us, means this nature of selflessness should permeate our relationships with one another. Love, if our actions are to be worthy of this word, must have someone else’s best interests at heart, and in order to do this our own selfishness must be laid aside.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan tells us that love is costly and risky. We often invest in someone only to see them not respond with the way they should. But true love is not deterred and just keeps on no matter what. Quite often the seed we plant does not germinate until after we are gone – just as the martyrdom of Stephen impacted Paul the Pharisee, being one more prodding from God that lead to his salvation. 

Are there no boundaries?

I would not say that we should lay aside our responsibilities for caring for our families and even for ourselves. We may sacrifice comforts and necessities for a period, but eventually we will need sleep, healthy food, and good friends. Though our passage is about love and how the Spirit produces this in our hearts, the Spirit also produces wisdom. And He leads us to understand – if we will ask Him and follow Him – when and how to sacrifice ourselves.

Early in his public ministry in his city evangelistic outreaches, Billy Graham would go all day long meeting with civic and church groups, coming to the evening meeting tired from the day’s events. A godly pastor advised him that people do not come to the meetings at night to see tired young men.

Nor should we willingly empower the abuser or enable the manipulative evil person. Christ said, “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16), meaning that we should not be naive about what might be in the hearts of others – no more than we should be constantly suspicious and cynical of all. 

I can think of a few former missionary colleagues who in the name of openness and compassion to the people they were seeking to reach acted with foolish ignorance and entrusted their children’s safety into evil hands, allowing them to be abused.  Many Christians – not just missionaries – have not balanced these boundaries and have been hurt and have become jaded in heart, not caring to reach out in compassion anymore. There are users and abusers in the world, and they even find their way into churches. Though we still should be compassionate toward all, we dare not be naive. 

Channels of God’s love

We love as God loves us. Paul wrote that it was the love of Christ that compelled him (2 Cor. 5:14). John wrote:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God’s love was revealed among us: God sent His one and only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him if we love one another, God remains in us, and His love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7-12 BSB)

Our “love” is tainted with self-interests and blinded by pride or maimed by fear and pain. Our “love” is often love for self first and love for others only so that they will love us back. 

God’s love, however, is pure and wise and considerate: “But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, accommodating, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere” (James 3:17). If we love as God loves us, if we love under His Lordship, if we love as His instruments, if we love as He loves others through us, then our love will be wise and helpful. And we will live in peace.

The command of scripture is: 

Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be sober-minded and alert. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:7-8 BSB)

We should live in the spirit of sacrificial love constantly, and that spirit includes the heart that trusts in Christ in all circumstances and rests in the peace that trust affords. But also is aware of the evil in the world and does not foolishly drop its guard. 

 

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