Two weeks ago, a couple of dear friends and I spent a few days at a lake in northern Minnesota. This was our third year, and what a sweet time it was. Not much compares to living life with people you deeply love—and I will always treasure the times we spent talking and listening, worshipping Jesus, praying for others and each other, and simply being together.
But another precious aspect to these trips to the cabin have been the concentrated times with Jesus. When time has lost its usual meaning and there is more than ample time and space to just be in prayer and in the word with Jesus, the times with him are richer and deeper. Perhaps, one of the reasons he urged his disciples to get away to quiet places was simply to give them time to rest and be with their God.
God has kindly used these few days out of the year at the cabin to faithfully speak to my heart and I always leave so grateful for his overwhelming generosity in pouring out so much of himself into my soul. And sometimes I am simply surprised at the places he takes me in his word and how that affects my heart and life.
Last week, one of the places I was reading was in Ephesians and I was sweetly stunned by what Ephesians 5:1-2 did to me.
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
Paul could stopped after telling his readers to imitate God and that would have been sufficient. But rather than stopping at a call to obedience, he takes it farther and includes the relationship this imitation should flow from. We are not simply called to imitate God, we are to do this from the relationship of his beloved children. We obey and follow Christ because of what he did for us, but we should be doing it from a place of deep love—deep love of Christ to us and deep love from us to Christ.
Walk in Love…Like Jesus
Paul doesn’t give his readers any way out of the path of love, as he uses this second verse to further explain the first. We are to imitate Christ and we are to imitate him in the walk of love. Sometimes, it can be easy to follow Jesus if it doesn’t have to reach to the heart level. But in order to truly and fully follow King Jesus, it must be about genuine love.
This love is costly and painful. This love is a love that gives to the death. It is a love that is poured out and spent for the sake of and in service to others and our Savior (2 Tim. 4:6). When the bottle is tipped up, the very last drop of love is shook and spilled out. This love knows that it is called to die and give itself away, and it is not done in a grudging or forced manner—it is poured out in real love, resulting in it being a fragrant offering in the presence of God.
Our very lives are being demanded in this deep love. At times, this love will hurt because part of us will be dying in the process of loving and helping others live. But in losing, we will also find that our realest, truest selves have already been hidden with Christ, in God (Col. 3:3). There is no need to fear that we will entirely disappear in this “offering and sacrifice to God,” because we are already at home and hidden in our Savior. Safe. Jesus is our life, and because this is sure and true, we can love to the death and give the last pieces of ourselves away as a beautiful offering to King Jesus (Col. 1:24).
This love forces us to lay our pride, honor, and our very selves in the dust—where we may be trampled and crushed. This love may look and feel a lot like death, but it is actually working life in us and others (2 Cor. 4:7-12). This love will look and smell a lot like Jesus, because it is him that we are pouring out in our loving. As his bloodied, broken body was suspended between heaven and earth, his Father beheld a picture of beauty and inhaled an infinitely pleasing aroma from him offering of himself for the sins of the world (Isaiah 53).
But Only Because of Ephesians 4
Keeping in mind that chapters were added at a later time, we must read the previous verses to grasp the context that 5:1-2 is coming out of. Right before Paul calls his readers to this walk of love in imitation of Christ Jesus, he gives them a command, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (4:31-32). At the beginning of chapter 4, Paul urges the Ephesians to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” and then lists attributes that should characterize their lives. Throughout the following verses, he reminds his readers of who they are in Christ and what their new lives should look like as followers of Jesus. And this life is a life that covered in love and truthfulness.
This love Paul talks about in 5:1-2 can only take place if 4:31-32 are also occurring in our hearts and lives. We cannot be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving, if we are still tightly clinging to bitterness, anger, slander, and malice. There is no hope for love to pour out of a fountain whose well is full of darkness and evil (Matt. 7:18). It just will not happen. Goodness cannot come from a heart of evil—unless God works in it to make it like his Son.
This life of love that we are called to is a hard road but a beautiful road. The love of Jesus is all and this love of our Savior is able to sustain us with real joy and grace as we pour ourselves out as an offering to God for the sake of people.
As way of closing, I leave you with this quote from Shauna Niequist, “Whatever I build from here on out, whatever I make, whatever I write, whatever I create, I want the fuel that propels it to be love—not competition, not fear, not proving.”