2013-03-17 Loving One Another Acceptably | Ephesians 5:2c
Eph.5:2 ” 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
In our passage today we are told that Christ gave himself, not only as an offering and a sacrifice to God, but is also a fragrant offering to God, that is, an acceptable to God. Since we are to love one another as Christ has loved us, we should therefore love one another in a manner that is also fragrant or acceptable to God. I suggest that we do so when our love for one another conforms to God’s word and thus points back to Christ’s once for all sacrifice.
In order to learn how to love one another in a way that is acceptable to God, first let us learn how Christ’s sacrificial offering was acceptable to God. I suggest that Christ’s sacrifice pleases God because it conforms to God’s word by satisfying God’s wrath against sin for all time.
God prescribed acceptable and unacceptable sacrifice in written form in Exodus 30 and Leviticus 9. For example, in Exod. 30:1, 7, 9-10 The Lord told Moses, “You shall make an altar on which to burn incense;” 7 And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it. 9 You shall not offer unauthorized incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering, and you shall not pour a drink offering on it. 10 Aaron shall make atonement on its horns once a year. With the blood of the sin offering of atonement he shall make atonement for it once in the year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD.”” An acceptable or fragrant offering first of all conforms to God’s word.
Acceptable sacrifice also points to Christ. Christ’s sacrifice is acceptable to God because it satisfies God’s wrath against sin for all whom God has called. In Heb 10: 11-14 we are told, “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” That after his sacrifice of himself Christ was resurrected, ascended to heaven and sat down at God’s right hand demonstrates God’s acceptance of his offering and its efficacy on behalf of those who look to him in faith for salvation. Because Christ’s sacrifice conformed to God’s word and satisfied God’s justice against sin it became a fragrant or acceptable offering to God and a dramatic demonstration of Christ’s love to us.
So How do we distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable acts of love to one another in our own lives?
I suggest we can know whether or not our offerings of love are acceptable to God and one another by examining the object of our faith and the attitude of our heart according to Scripture.
The first issue is a matter of faith, a choice between belief and unbelief in the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. The first question we need to consider is whether our actions toward others in the church flow out of faith or unbelief, because offerings from unbelief are condemned while those from faith are commended. As we will see, it is possible for even unbelievers to bring offerings to God, and, likewise, what appear to be expressions of love to people in their church.
Most of us know people who are naturally kind and good and loving by temperament. But that’s not enough. To serve God and to love others truly as Christ has loved us, our love for one another must flow out of saving faith. Otherwise our actions are not acceptable to God, even condemned by him.
For example, we mentioned Cain and Abel in a previous sermon. Abel’s sacrificial gifts were accepted by God while Cain’s were rejected. God accepted Abel’s gifts because they were offered in faith – in obedience to bring an offering in blood. But God did not accept Cain’s gifts because they were not offered in obedient faith because he chose instead to bring an offering of the fruit of the ground. Cain was offered a second chance to make the proper offering, but angrily declined it and subsequently murdered his brother, indicating that his was a persistent disobedience flowing out of unbelief.
This is equivalent to persons in the modern church and theologically liberal college and seminary professors of religion who see no need for Christ’s sacrificial death on their behalf which is God’s only means of forgiving their sins. They are embarrassed to be associated with those who insist on such a “bloody religion.” They are disgusted by and scoff at such a “primitive ideas”as sin and trusting in the necessity of a sacrificial death by one they consider to be a mere man to expiate sin. They choose instead to offer a sacrifice of their own making, that of their own good works or merely intellectual denial of their utter corruption in sin.
A New Testament example of an unacceptable offering because of persistent unbelief is found in Acts 5. The couple named Ananias and Sapphira conspired together to bring an offering of money from the sale of one of their fields to the disciples, but secretly held back a portion of it for themselves. Peter discerned their deception saying, “you have not lied to man but to God” (5:3). And God indicated his rejection of their deceptive offering by striking them dead on the spot. By maintaining their lie when Peter offered the opportunity to come clean, they demonstrated their persistent unbelief, and brought about their own downfall.
There are those today who would knowingly purchase their way into the fellowship of the church or into a position of influence or power for their own purposes. They give what they have not because the love of Christ has been spread abroad in their hearts, but so they might receive something in return. They do not wish to honor the fragrant sacrifice of the Savior. They would instead receive accolades for their own good works. However, if they persist in lying to themselves and others, their end will be eternal destruction like that of Ananias and Sapphira.
Similarly, there is no shortage of false teachers inside and outside the church today who offer their brand of spirituality seeming to help others but whose true purpose is to deny the necessity of faith in Christ, to gain power over others and to fill their own pockets, but whose end is eternal destruction. We are told in 2 Pet.2:1 there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.”
The point of these examples is to show that an unbeliever can bring neither an acceptable offering to God nor an acceptable offering to believers. If this might describe your condition today, the only way you can be rescued from eternal destruction is to do what Cain and Ananias and Sapphira failed to do, repent of your rebellion toward God and self-sufficiency in your own self-contrived and self-serving offerings and instead trust in Christ’s all-sufficient once for all offering on your behalf. God will accept only the offerings of Christ and those who put their faith in him.
Once this first issue is settled – and it is for many of you – so can move on to the second. The second issue is a matter of the heart, a choice between the right attitude and the wrong attitude in our offerings to one another.
It is not a matter of whether or not one brings the proper offering but whether or not one does so with the proper attitude of the heart. We are told in Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
We will see that God corrects true believers when our hearts temporarily stubborn, but he commends those who bring acceptable offerings out of a contrite heart.
Sometimes our offerings to God and to one another are not acceptable because of sin in other areas of our lives, and God seeks to correct these other areas so that our offerings to one another might come once again from a pure heart. We find examples of this especially in the Prophets. God sent the prophets to warn his people of their sin in order to bring bring about repentance and restoration to spare them from even greater discipline.
[Similar to what we read earlier in Jeremiah] In Isaiah’s day, God would not receive Israel’s fasting as an acceptable offering because of their sin in other areas. In Isaiah 58:1-4 Israel asked the Lord, “Why have you not paid attention to our fasting?” To which He replied, because on the same day you seek your own pleasure, you oppress your workers, and you quarrel and fight with one another. Though you bow your head, though you spread sackcloth and ashes under yourselves, it is not an acceptable day to the LORD.
God points out our sin in order to bring us to repentance, and then shows us a better way. And so God instructed Israel in the proper fast – one which exhibits the right attitude of heart, in Isa.58:6-8, ” 6 “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; and when you see the naked, to cover him,? Then follows God’s offer of forgiveness and restoration in verse 8 “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.”
Likewise in the modern church, our well-intended worship and fellowship become hypocritical if we are in disobedience in other areas of life – if we are at odds with our brothers and sisters in Christ, or if we refuse to give a helping hand to those who are more unfortunate than ourselves, or if we refuse to offer the Gospel to those who have not yet heard it.
But we are not condemned for our sin or neglect. The Lord offers forgiveness and a better way to those who will turn back to him. As our friend Pastor Jim has often said, “I’m not so concerned with a person’s first response as with their second response.” What he means is, since we live in a fallen world, and are not yet perfected in sanctification, we are going to sin against one another from time to time. The question is, “Will we admit our part in the sin, seek forgiveness and restoration and move on or not?”
I think of believers like you and me, who have in the past done who knows what to who knows who, but because of God’s gracious gift, have been enabled to turn – once again – to love and serve one another. We can have hope for our relationships with one another no matter how broken they might become at times.
We can gain hope first, by remembering that since Christ’s offering of himself was acceptable to God, we are freed from bondage to sin – against one another. We are no longer slaves of sin, compelled to to do to one another whatever has been done to us – by our parents or our siblings, or our bosses or the devil – or to copy what we may have seen others do to each other – in person, or on the news or on the internet.
We can gain hope second, by remembering again the lives of the saints who have gone before us. We are like many of the heroes of the faith, whose names are written in Hebrews 11. Initially, many times, they chose a path that was sinful, but later repented of their initial response and made the right choice. I think of Abraham who twice denied Sarah was his wife, but later admitted his fault, who is called the father of faith. I think of Jacob who stole his brother’s birth-right, but who later wrestled with God in order to receive His blessing and was given the new name, Israel which means “God will prevail.” I think of David who after committing adultery and murder, but when confronted by the prophet Nathan, admitted his sin, and thus was called “a man after God’s own heart.”
I think of Peter who denied our Lord three times, but who was enabled by the resurrected Christ to “turn again,” who became the apostle to the Jews.
Because Christ always made the right choice, and because his sacrifice was acceptable to God, we are enabled, by faith in him, to present acceptable offerings to God and one another.
Finally, and much more briefly, God commends those who give to one another from a right heart. Hear the words of Paul to the Philippian church in chapter 4:14, 16, 18 14 It was kind of you to share my trouble. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. May our gifts likewise be a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God in order that we might demonstrate to one another the love that was demonstrated by Christ to each of us.