Daniel L. Sonnenberg | March 3, 2013
This is the first of three sermons in the mini-series on this verse. Pastor Dan was back today with a sermon on Ephesians 5:2. “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” The Apostle Paul pleads with us to:
- Loving one another voluntarily,
- Loving one another sacrificially, and
- Loving one another acceptably.
What a challenge. One we simply cannot do without the help of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
1Eph 5:2 “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
God has placed believers – by means of the new birth – into a new spiritual family with God as our Father and other believers as adopted fellow members of our spiritual family, and with Christ as our elder brother and head of the body. In order to live together in unity and purity – to live worthy of our new calling – we are not only to imitate our Father, but we are also to imitate Christ. We were commanded in verse 1, “Be imitators of God as beloved children,” so in verse 2 we are commanded, “walk in love as Christ loved us…” We love God because he first loved us – but also, we are enabled to love another because God loved us first.
In this passage we find three ways that Christ has loved us and that we are in turn to love one another. There are three overlapping aspects of Christ’s love here that we should imitate. His love for us was voluntary, His love for us was sacrificial, and his love for us was acceptable to God. Therefore, we should love one another as he loved us – voluntarily, sacrificially and acceptably. However, today we will have time only to consider the first of these three.
Loving one another voluntarily
The first aspect of Christ’s love for us is that it was voluntary. This verse says, “Christ gave himself for us as an “offering.” An offering in Scripture is a gift or present or sacrifice given as a physical expression of a person’s devotion to God or to another person. We are told here that Jesus gave himself as an offering to God on our behalf. In Hebrews 9:14 remind us, “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God,” as does Hebrews 9:28 “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
But how did Jesus become an offering to God, and similarly, how do we become an offering to one another? Jesus became an offering first by God’s sovereign choice before the foundation of the world and second by Christ’s voluntary obedience to that choice.
The Westminster Confession tells us (in 8.1) “God chose the Lord Jesus, his only begotten Son, to be the mediator between God and man.” In response, (8.4) “The Lord Jesus undertook this office completely voluntarily” by means of his perfect life, sacrificial death, glorious resurrection and ascension to heaven. The Son of God was chosen by his Father to be the mediator between God and man, and he willingly, voluntarily agreed to accomplish God’s will and work, compelled only by love for his Father and those he came to save. The proof of this is found in Jesus’ own words. In John 4:34 Jesus says to his disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” In John 10:17-18 Jesus says, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord… This charge I have received from my Father.” Finally, in Hebrews 10:7 Christ is quoted as saying, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”
Christ’s work of love on our behalf began with the sovereign choice of God, that he should be the mediator between God and man. Likewise, ourlove for one another began with the sovereign choice of God, that we should called fellow sons and daughters of God and fellow members of the body of Christ as we saw in Eph 1: 3ff “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”
Like Christ’s love for us, our love for one another should be an offering – voluntary, willing compliance to Christ’s plan to love his people through us. Paul reminds us in Philippians 2, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who…emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, …he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (5-8) Likewise, each of us should take the form of a servant to one another, humbling ourselves in obedience to Christ, voluntarily, willingly, loving one another as he has loved us.
But how should we do this? Well, we can’t force ourselves upon one another, but I believe, that like Christ, we should be proactive in offering ourselves in love to one another according to God’s Word. For example, Hebrews 10:24 tells us “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” In 1 Peter 4:10 we are told, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace. 1 Thess 5:15 tells us…always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” And in 1 Cor 13, we are told, 4 Love is patient and kind; love rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. Sometimes, others will ask for our help, but other times, we should not necessarily wait to be asked because God has already been given us our marching orders in his Word. We should earnestly seek to find ways to demonstrate our love for one another as Christ has done for us. We can never outdo our Master.
However, if you’re like me, sometimes what should be a voluntary offering of love for others, comes out more mechanical or selfish or angry than loving. These are some things we should guard ourselves against. And we find examples of each of these in Scripture.
Sometimes what should be expressions of love for one another are more mechanical than devotional. We are merely going through the motions because, at least for the time being, we are more concerned with external issues than issues of the heart. Sometimes we are tempted to become more concerned with maintaining an outward appearance of holiness than in demonstrating its true nature in love for others. That’s what the Pharisees were doing in Mat 9. 11 When the Pharisees saw [that Jesus was eating with Matthew and his friends] they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But [when Jesus] heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”” Jesus was not into appearance management. In spite of their bad reputation, he demonstrated love to Matthew and his believing friends. Because Jesus perfect life and sacrificial death fulfilled the Mosaic laws that separated the Jews from Gentiles and sinners, he – and therefore we – can offer our fellowship to believers who may have also a bad reputation or bad habits but are willing to admit their sin. That’s the example our Lord gave us.
At other times we may become tempted to be more concerned with maintaining external rules than we are about the people for whom the rules were made. In Mat 12, the Pharisees confronted Jesus for breaking the law because his he and his disciples were gathering and eating grain while walking through the fields on the Sabbath. But He reminded them that David’s men had done much the same thing in his day to prevent fainting on their journey and that the priests eat the shewbread in the temple every Sabbath. He concluded by saying, 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.””
The point of both illustrations is that what’s in our heart – our love for one another motivated by Christ’s voluntary love for us – is more important than any merely going through the motions or maintaining external rules.
I remember a time when I found myself merely going through the motions. In a former church, after one of our co-pastors left and formed a competing church down the street and many of my music ministry leaders followed, I became discouraged thinking, “Why should I spend my time training and equipping people if they’re just going to leave us.” As a result, for a number of months I did not go out after the services to welcome new people or seek to train them for ministry. I was merely going through the motions of being a leader in the church. My heart was no longer in it. But soon I realized that I had hardened my heart toward new people through no fault of their own because of what others had done. I confessed this to the staff and began to forgive those who had left, and began once again to reach out to the new folks who were coming in. It also occurred to me at that time that we may have only months or a year or two to welcome and train people before God calls them elsewhere, and that I had better get busy and do what God had called me to do – and from the heart. The question we must ask ourselves is, “Do I really care about these people – or this person – or am I just going through the motions – putting on a good front, but empty of Christ’s love on the inside?
Another way we are sometimes tempted to serve others is neither loving nor mechanical, but rather selfish. We are tempted at times to offer our help to others not out of love, but to get something in return. We can be like the money-changers in the temple who were more interested in material gain than in the welfare of the members of their community. They offered a service to those who needed to purchase animals and birds to sacrifice at the temple, but because of their greed, were charging extravagant prices. That is why Jesus drove them out saying, Mat 21: 13 saying, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” Like the money-changers, some people are tempted to join or attend a church because they can use it to meet new business contacts there or somehow improve their level of prestige or financial well-being. As we see also in the book of James, others of us are likewise tempted to show favoritism to those who are more wealthy or influential in the church in order to gain a material or influential advantage. Pastors can be tempted in this way in order to attract wealthy givers or influential persons into their churches. We all must ask ourselves, “Am I spending time with these people because I will receive some material or political benefit, or because of the love of Christ?”
Finally, sometimes what should be offerings of love to one another are neither mechanical nor selfish, but instead are belligerent or angry. A belligerent person is eager to fight, hostile or aggressive toward another. Let’s face it, sometimes people in the church make us angry, and when that happens we can be tempted to withhold our help from them or strike out at them in some way. In Genesis, Cain first became belligerent toward God because his improper offering was rejected. In Gen 4:3 we read, In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. 6 The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”” What God meant here was, if you repent of your rebellion and bring the proper offering, I will accept it, but if not, your rebellion will overpower you and you will become its slave. Unfortunately, Cain chose to maintain his belligerent attitude and to direct some of the anger he felt for God onto his brother Abel. Verse 8 says, Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.
Have you ever become so angry with a person or a group of persons, or with God that you were unwilling to forgive them for a period of time? What once was love has turned to anger. That has happened to me. I was hurt because of what a particular senior pastor did to me, to the staff and to the whole church, and for a time I stayed angry with him, angry with the leaders who let it go on as long as it did, and angry with God for letting it happen – to me! “Sin was crouching at my door!!” Thankfully, with God’s help over a period of time through studying the Scriptures and help from friends, I was finally able to forgive everyone involved – and get myself unstuck from the tar-baby! I was able to say in my heart to the pastor, “Father forgive him for he knows not what he does.” I was able to forgive the leaders who let it go on so long, realizing that I couldn’t have done any better, and able to “forgive” God realizing that if he was working all things for his glory and my good simultaneously, I could trust him with whatever happened even as badly as it hurt.
At times we will be tempted, and at other times we will fail, but but because God has chosen us as he has chosen Christ, we should earnestly seek to love one another freely, willingly, obediently and voluntarily, just as Christ has done for us when gave himself as an offering on our behalf.