“Ministers of the gospel follow the example of their great Master, in the manner in which they seek the salvation and happiness of the souls of men. They should follow his example of love to souls. Though it be impossible that they should love them to so great a degree, yet they should have the same spirit of love to them, and concern for their salvation, according to their capacity. Love to men’s souls in Christ was far above any regard he had to his temporal interest, his ease, his honor, his meat and drink. And so it should be with his ministers. They should have the same spirit of compassion to men under their spiritual calamities and miseries that he had, of whom we read, Mark 6:34, “That when he came out and saw much people, he was moved with compassion towards them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” The word translated moved with compassion, signifies, that he was most sensibly affected, and his inmost bowels moved with pity. And again we read, Luke 19, that when Christ was riding to Jerusalem, that wicked city, but a few days before his crucifixion, and was come to the descent of the mount of Olives, where he had a fair view of the city, when he beheld it, he wept over it, on account of the misery and ruin they brought themselves into danger of by their sin. Although the sin by which especially they had made themselves thus miserable, was their vile treatment of him (for Jerusalem was a city that had been peculiarly injurious to him). And though Christ knew how cruelly he should be treated in that city before that week was past, how he there should be set at nought, and with great malignity bound, falsely accused and condemned, reviled, spit upon, scourged, and crucified; yet all does not prevent his most affectionate tears of compassion towards them. “When he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst know, even thou (thou, as wicked as thou art, and as vile as thou hast been in thy treatment of me; even thou), the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes.” (Compare Mat. 23:37, and Luke 13:34). One would have thought he would have been more concerned for himself than Jerusalem, who had such a dreadful cup to drink, and was to suffer such extreme things by the cruelty of Jerusalem that week. But he, as it were, forgets his own sorrow and death, and weeps over the misery of his cruel enemies.” Jonathan Edwards
“. . . let us also observe that kindheartedness is the mother of patience and continually produces that fruit, and that if we are too stern, it is a sign that there is cruelty in us and that we are like wild beasts. . . It is true that we ought to be grieved at the faults of our neighbors, and we must not feed them by our flattery, as the common fashion of the world is. But yet our zeal must be so moderated that we forgive a great deal, for we ourselves also have need to be forgiven; we must not be more exorbitant with other people than we would they should be with us . . .” John Calvin
“The man that understands the evil of his own heart, how vile it is, is the only useful, fruitful, and solid believing and obedient person. Others are fit only to delude themselves, to disquiet families, churches, and all relations whatever.”John Owen
“For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation…” Habakkuk 1:5
Martin Lloyd Jones writes,
“Every nation on earth is under the hand of God, for there is no power in this world that is not ultimately controlled by him. Things are not what they appear to be. It seems to be the astute military prowess of the Chaldeans that had brought them up into the ascendancy. But it was not so at all, for God had raised them up. God is the Lord of history. He is seated heavens, and the nations to him are as ‘grasshoppers, as a drop in a bucket, or as the small dust of the balance.’ The Bible asserts that God is over all. He started the historical process, he is controlling it, and he is going to end it. We must never lose sight of this crucial fact.”
It is not easy to love people well over a long period of time.
Even though we know the importance of love, we often have many excuses for giving up.
Perhaps this is why the apostle Paul gives us so many different motivations for persevering in love.
We’ve noted one.
We are forgiven.
Now, let’s think about another.
We’ve been adopted.
Paul says, “Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children.”
And I think we would be foolish to run by that because it is really a remarkable thing Paul is saying. He is saying we are children of God. And the reason that is a really remarkable thing for Paul to say is because of what he’s already said to be true of us before salvation. Before we were believers Paul describes us not as children of God, but Ephesians 2:3, instead “we were by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind.”
And how did we go from being children of wrath to being children of God?
The answer to that question is found in the biblical doctrine of adoption.
You see God’s design in saving us was bigger than just forgiving us, it was to actually bring us into his family as children. This is one of the fundamental salvation realities we find running throughout the book of Ephesians.
Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:5 that God predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ and in Ephesians 2:19 that we are no longer strangers and aliens now that we are Christians, but we are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.
And household is what?
What Paul is saying is that as a believer you have been given a new identity as a child of God.
And while there are many great privileges in salvation, this has to be one of the greatest of them all. And it is the basis for this call to imitate God, as children of God. As God’s children we should want to become more and more like our father.
When there is and I am sure you have probably noticed this that very often when there is a good relationship between a father and his child, especially if that child respects his father, what happens is that child imitates his father.
They walk the way they walk, they talk the way they talk, they joke the way they joke. There is a family resemblance in more than just looks, but also in actions.
And of course, Paul’s point is that there should be a family resemblance between us and God, especially in this matter of forgiving love.
Now, the problem is and this is where we really get things wrong.
Because we are good at imitating, that comes natural, we are always imitating, but we all too often we are imitating the wrong people. We often imitate whom? We imitate the person in front of us. They are friendly to us, we are friendly to them. They are unkind to us, we are unkind to them.
What are we doing?
Instead of focusing on that person though, you know who you should be focusing on in that moment, not the person in front of you, and how they are treating you, but God. Imitate Him!
You are His child.
Now and I think here’s the problem for us when it comes to loving others.
It’s that we think we deserve to be God’s child. We don’t get what a great privilege this is. Whenever there is a lack of love for others, mark it down, there is too much love for ourselves. Whenever I am having a hard time loving someone else, I need to spend less time thinking about what they did to me and more time thinking about what I did to God and what I deserve.
That’s part of why relationships with difficult people are so good for us and why we should be thankful for these relationships, because you know what a relationship with difficult people does? It can drive you back to your relationship with God! Because you know what? You are difficult people.
Can you imagine a friendship with someone who was:
* Glory seeking
And yet that’s exactly the way we are so often with God, and yet how has God treated us? He hasn’t only forgiven us, he’s adopted us! He’s not only visited the orphanage and handed out some food, He’s brought the orphan into His family. And you know that illustration is too small, because we were not simply orphans, we were enemies of God and what I am saying is really loving other people sacrificially begins with believing that.
I am a child of God, and as His child, I want to be like Him in all the ways I can, as I grow up!
You don’t meet many parents who would say they struggle to love their children.
But, sometimes that’s only because they aren’t really thinking about what it means to love.
Love is not just a word in the Bible. It’s defined by Christ. In Ephesians 5, Paul tells us that Christians should imitate God in the way they love others, and the specific example God gives us of love, is found in the way He’s loved us through Jesus Christ.
And the truth is we often struggle to love our children like that.
All too often we would rather serve our children when it suits us, when it is not so tiring, when it doesn’t impact our schedules, when it makes us look good, when it is comfortable.
But that’s obviously not the way Christ loved us, and so I thought I could give you some encouragements as to why you should pursue this radical, sacrificial love in your family relationships. I want to give you encouragements to think about so that you don’t give up, working hard at imitating God and Christ as husbands, fathers, wives and mothers.
- We need to be loving people because we are forgiven people.
One place Paul encourages us to love others is in Ephesians 5:1 and 2 where he writes, “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children.” You’ll notice, this passage begins with the word therefore and whenever you read a word like therefore it is obviously pointing you back to what goes before it.
“Because of what I just said, therefore.”
That means this command to imitate God by walking in love is based on what Paul has just said in Ephesians 4:32. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
In other words, because God in Christ has forgiven you, therefore, you should seek to imitate God in your relationship with others by forgiving them and loving them sacrificially. And the key idea that I want to rivet in your minds as you think about that is the fact that forgiveness and love are tied together.
Obviously one way they are tied together is when you really love someone, you will show it by forgiving them.
Forgiveness is a way you show love.
But more than that, it is also deep gratitude for being forgiven that produces love. Being forgiven produces love, or at least it should. And that I think is Paul’s point here, because you have been forgiven by God in Christ, therefore, be like God and show that same kind of love to others, which means, when you meet someone who has a hard time loving others, you usually are meeting a person who doesn’t appreciate the greatness of God’s forgiveness.
Jesus himself puts it like this in Luke 7:47, “he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
Now since there is no one who has been forgiven by God who is forgiven little, Jesus has got to be talking about a deep gratitude and appreciation for forgiveness and what he is saying is that the person who lacks a deep appreciation for forgiveness, lacks love, which means if you want to grow in your love for God and others, one place to start is to get on your knees and ask God to help you grow in your gratitude and thankfulness for how much He has forgiven you.
And we can take that a step further and say if you want to grow in your gratitude and thankfulness for how much God has forgiven you, you need to get on your knees and ask God to help you grow in your understanding of your own sinfulness. When we don’t understand how sinful we are, we don’t appreciate how much we have been forgiven, and when we don’t appreciate how much we have been forgiven, we are cold and hard towards others. You simply will not find people who are gripped with a sense of their own unworthiness before God and are overwhelmed with gratitude for their forgiveness by God who are not at the same time extremely gracious and forgiving and loving people themselves.
This is why Paul calls our attention back to God’s treatment of us as he challenges us to show forgiving love. God’s forgiveness of us and our love for others are tied together. If we want to become a truly sacrificially loving church, we will find motivation not by looking first and foremost at the people around us but instead by continually looking up to God.
It’s good theology that drives biblical mercy.
I love how Paul puts it here in verse 1, “Therefore be imitators of God.”
Because how do you imitate someone?
To imitate someone you have to watch them. You have to study them. You have to know them! We must not talk about sacrificial love and forgiving love as if it were somehow something disconnected from our knowledge of God. To love other people the way we ought, we have to know God so well, that we understand how to imitate Him in the nitty-gritty issues of our daily lives.
One thing that can so easily happen when you begin to develop a relationship with someone else is that you begin to see that they are sinners and when you spend too much time with them you can easily come up with all sorts of reasons why they are undeserving of your love.
This is part of why we often give up on really serving others.
When we look straight at people we can find all kinds of reasons not to reach out to them in love, but when we are looking up to God, the point is all of those same reasons quickly disappear. Because you will never have to love anyone who deserves your love less than you deserve the love of God. You will never have to forgive someone more than God has already forgiven you. And that’s why forgiveness and love towards others is such a test of how well you as a church are understanding the gospel and maturing in the gospel because it reveals what you really believe about how holy God is and how sinful you are and how much you need Jesus.
It may be that we think of ourselves as really spiritual and it may be that even others think of us like that but if we have a hard time putting up with other people, it is because we are ungrateful for the goodness God has shown us and we really need to go back to the basics again and better appreciate forgiveness.
Forgiven people are loving people, or at least they should be.
That’s why Paul begins this passage with the word therefore, and if we want to grow in our love for children, we should begin there as well, by making it a daily priority to enjoy how good God’s been to us through Jesus Christ.
I am good at making simple things complicated.
There are a lot of us who have the ability to take something that is straightforward and making it confusing and complicated.
It is definitely possible to do that when it comes to marriage and family and parenting. This is one of those subjects that books and books have been written about, sermons and sermons have been preached about, I mean, we could fill up a library with all the material that has been written or taught regarding having a successful marriage and family.
But with all that has been said, there is a sense in which what God wants from us as husbands and wives and as fathers and mothers is not all that complicated.
And that’s biblical love.
“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.”
If you ever have the chance to study the book of Ephesians you will see that Paul throughout the first several chapters shows us just how big it is to really be a Christian.
People sometimes talk about it as if it were just believing a set of facts. But Paul’s like, no, it actually involves God in His grace radically transforming us.
It’s a miracle.
In chapters 4 and 5, Paul turns a corner and begins trying to help us work out the difference this miracle should make on the way we think and act. Because even though we have been changed in a big way, we have all developed ways of thinking and living over the years that don’t match up with this great change that has taken place in our lives, habits, and those habits die hard and so Paul says part of what is required now that we are believers is that we work on turning from those old ways of living that we had as unbelievers to a new ways of living that go along with what God has done in our lives through Jesus Christ.
And if you check out the end of chapter 4, you see that he gets pretty specific.
He talks about stuff like putting off lying and putting on telling the truth and putting off sinful anger and on and on he goes until here, he comes in this passage that we are looking at together, to what we might call a or what should be the summarizing characteristic of genuine believers and that is radical and sacrificial love.
Therefore, Paul says, walk in love.
Live a life of love.
It is like he is wrapping everything up.
If you want to know what the Christian life is about, it is about love. Not love in the way the culture defines it of course, but true love.
This is what should set Christians apart.
And it is what should set Christians families apart as well.
One of the key distinctives of a truly Christian relationship is its commitment to God like, Christ like love.
It’s difficult for me to overexaggerate that.
We can have everything right in our families, money, homes, good educations, vacations, you name it, but if our relationships aren’t characterized by Christ like love, then it’s all pretty worthless.
This is not just here in Ephesians 5, obviously.
Jesus once put it like this,
It is near the close of his ministry and he is instructing his disciples and he wants them to understand what is to be the distinguishing characteristic of their lives as his followers.
“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Paul would have agreed.
He explains in 1 Corinthians 13, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
If I met someone who spoke in the tongue of an angel, could tell me what was going to happen in my future, understood everything that the Bible had to say, someone who knew it all, no kidding, knew it all, had this major faith that just was like a rock, so much faith that he actually gave it all way and died as a martyr, I would be tempted to say that he was a pretty good guy. But Paul says if he does all that but doesn’t have love, he’s absolutely nothing.
And Paul is not alone in thinking like that. There are plenty of statements from others throughout Scripture that make a similar point. For example, Peter says in 1 Peter 1:22 that we have been saved to love, “since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren…” and then exhorts believers in 1 Peter 4:8, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” John kicks it up a notch in 1 John 4:8, “The one who does not love does not know God.” He says flat out in 4:20, “If someone says, ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar, for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” And then concludes in 5:7-8, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love.”
I am not sure how it could possibly get any clearer than all that. It is not like you need a Ph.d in Greek to get the point. What God wants from us as Christians, as husbands and wives, as parents can be summed up in love.
The foundation for God honoring relationships, for family relationships that make a lasting impact, for parenting that transforms, is not complicated.
It’s biblical love.
The problem is and this is I think is where we get stuck as parents is that biblical love is hard.
It doesn’t take a genius to say that love is important for families and that our families need to be characterized by love, but the problem is the kind of love that God’s calling us to, is demanding.
It’s a call to die really.
We see that here in our text.
“And walk in love as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us…”
This is where we get stuck.
Because we know about the importance of love, and we agree about the importance of love, but really in practice we want a love that isn’t so hard and that doesn’t require so much sacrifice.
As fathers, (as someone has said)“We would prefer to lob grenades of truth into family’s lives rather than lay down our lives for them.” As husbands and wives, we would prefer if every time we communicated, people responded exactly as they should without us having to be patient and to change the way we talk. As parents, we would rather serve our children when it suits us, when it is not so tiring, when it doesn’t impact our schedules, when it makes us look good, when it is comfortable. But that’s obviously not the way Christ loved us, and it’s obviously not the kind of love that God’s calling us to here in Ephesians 5, and so what I want to do in the next couple of posts is encourage you as to why you should pursue radical, sacrificial love in your family relationships.
In other words, I want to show you why this loving, sacrificial, forgiving lifestyle is so important for us to pursue as parents and give you encouragements to think about so that you don’t give up, working hard at imitating God and Christ as husbands, fathers, wives and mothers.