Imitating the Love of God (Ephesians Sermon 32 of 54)
March 20, 2016 | Andrew Davis
Sanctification, Fruit of the Spirit, Thankfulness, The Purity and Unity of the Church, Love of God
Who Is Our God?
So we come to Ephesians 5:1. We come to one of the most remarkable commands that the Apostle Paul ever gave to any group of Christians. There, in these verses, we're commanded to “be imitators of God.” Maybe you've read that for many years, or even just now as you heard Tom reading it, it just washed over you and you didn't realize just how remarkable that is. The Bible says that “God created the heavens and the earth by the word of His power,” that, “He sits enthroned above all the surface of the earth, and all the nations before Him are like a drop from a bucket and like dust on the scales compared to His majesty and His great power,” Isaiah 40:22. Psalm 99:1 says, "The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble. He sits enthroned upon the cherubim. Let the earth quake." Moses records that Almighty God, the creator and sustainer of heaven and earth, descended on Mount Sinai in fire and spoke out of a cloud and out of fire, and the ground beneath their feet shook as God spoke these words, "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me," and the sight was so terrifying that Moses said, "I'm trembling with fear."
The holiness of God caused the seraphim in Isaiah's vision in Chapter 6 to cover their faces, not daring to look upon the glory of God, though they had never committed any sin, and they weren't defiled in any way or they had never been rebellious. And yet, they were covering their faces and their feet in the presence of the holiness of God, the infinite gap between God, the creator, and all of us, his creatures. No one has captured it better than A.W. Tozer in The Knowledge of the Holy. He said, "Forever God stands apart, in light unapproachable. He is as high above an archangel as He is above a caterpillar, for the gulf that separates the archangel from the caterpillar is but finite while the gulf between God and the archangel is infinite. The caterpillar and the archangel, though far removed from each other on the scale of created things, are nevertheless one and alike in that they're both created. They both belong in the category of that which is not God and are separated from God by infinitude itself." And we're commanded to imitate God.
The Westminster theologians who gathered together. They wrote these words about God: "There is but one only living and true God who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit without body, parts or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will for His own glory. God has all life, glory, goodness and blessedness in and of Himself. He is alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which He has made, not deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting His own glory in, by, unto and upon them. He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom and to whom are all things, and has most sovereign dominion over them to do by them, for them and upon them whatsoever Himself pleases. In His sight, all things are open and manifest. His knowledge is infinite, it is infallible and independent upon the creature and to whom is due, from angels and men and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service or obedience He has pleased to require of them."
We Are Not God
Well, we are not God We are not God. These things cannot be said in total of us. Theologians have tended to divide the attributes or the descriptions of God into two categories: communicable and incommunicable. Incommunicable are those things that are true of God but will never be true of us, cannot be true of us, and communicable attributes are those things that are described of God, and we can in some way reflect them. For example, we are not self-existent. God exists in and of Himself and He needs nothing created from the outside to come in, like we need food and air and water to stay alive. God doesn't need anything created to come into Him to sustain His existence. He is self-existent, but we are not, for “in Him we live and move and have our being.” We are dependent on God for our existence. We are not immutable. God never changes. Malachi 3:6, "I the Lord do not change." But we are constantly changing. Indeed, we must change. Actually, the text in Ephesians 5:1 says, "Become imitators of God as dearly loved children." We are not immense, omnipresent beings that fill the universe with our existence, but God is. Jeremiah 23, he says, "'Am I only a God nearby,' declares the Lord, 'and not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?' declares the Lord. 'Do I not fill heaven and earth?' declares the Lord."
But we are not sovereign. We don't get to do whatever we please and be accountable to no one for our decisions as God is. In Daniel 4:35, Nebuchadnezzar said, "He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him, 'What have you done?'" We are accountable to God. We are totally under his sovereign will. So there are these incommunicable attributes of God and many others, but there are also communicable attributes.
There are ways in which we are commanded to be exactly like God, and as we come to Ephesians 5:1 and 2, we come to the centerpiece of that communicable attribute, and that is love. We are commanded to love, to live a life of love, to walk in love as God has loved us in Christ. We are commanded to be like God, and this makes sense, for in creation, in Genesis 1:27, we were all, as human beings, created to be like God. We are created in the image of God. And again, in salvation and earlier in the last chapter, in Ephesians 4:24, it says, "Put on the new self created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." So we are to imitate God.
Now, this is amazing because the Apostle Paul in other places tells people to imitate him, and we need role models. We need men and women to stand up in front of men and women in the Body of Christ and say, "Imitate me." We need mentors. And Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 4:16, "Therefore, I urge you to imitate me." That takes a lot of boldness, doesn't it? "Imitate me. Be like me." In another place, he says, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ." So the implication is we're seeking to imitate Christ. Christ is our role model. We want to follow after Him, and so in the text as well. But here we're commanded to imitate God. And how is that? Well, in an immediate context it is that we are to walk, or to live a daily life that's characterized horizontally to other people with self-sacrificial love, especially in forgiveness of those that sin against us. Sometimes I think the chapter divisions hurt the flow and we don't fully understand the context, so I think it might be better to just remove the chapter division from Chapter 5 and just flow on from Ephesians 4:32 on to 5:2. "Be kind and compassionate to one another," it says in verse 32 of chapter 4. "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God has forgiven you. Be imitators of God, therefore as dearly loved children and live a life of love [or walk in love,] just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."
Now I never tire of saying exactly where we are in the book. It's important for us to understand context. And so we're in the middle of an ethical or moral imperative section of the book of Ephesians in which we Christians are told how we are to live. This is built on the foundation of the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. We're going to talk more about that later in the sermon, but on the foundation of Christ’s blood atonement for us and the foundation before that of God's sovereign grace in choosing us before the foundation of the world, to be adopted as His sons and daughters, and the foundation of the saving work of Christ and then this vision of a holy temple rising to become larger and larger with living stones quarried from Satan's dark kingdom from all over the world, every tribe and language and people and nation, we the living stones built into this spiritual house to be a temple, a spiritual house in which God lives by His spirit, on the foundation of that, Ephesians 1-3, we have Ephesians 4-6.
Beginning in Ephesians 4:1, it says, "As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received." Then one chapter later, now in this verse, Ephesians 5:1, "Live a life of love. Imitate God and live a life of love or walk in love as Christ loved us and gave Himself." This is the kind of life we should live. Now this morality, this Christian ethic, flows from the Gospel. We are commanded in chapter 4 verses 17-24, "I tell you this and insist on it in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They're darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity with a continual lust for more." That's the nature of the darkness that was in us apart from Christ. That's the nature of the darkness of the people we're going to try to reach with the Gospel as Nathan was just talking about, our neighbors, our co-workers. Their hearts are hardened. They don't walk in love. They don't live a life of self-sacrificial love. They're filled with bitterness and unforgiveness toward people who have sinned against them. They harbor that bitterness. They feed it. They nurse their grievances and I think often about them. But he said, "You didn't come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard him and you were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught with regard to your former way of life to put off your old self which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires, to be made new in the attitude of your minds and to put on the new self," as we've already said, "created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." And so, then that flows out into morality in all areas of life.
In verse 25, "Put off all falsehood and instead speak truthfully to your neighbor." Verse 26, "Put off sinful anger. Don't let the sun go down while you're still angry." And verse 28, "Put off stealing, but instead work hard and bless and benefit your neighbor by your labor so that you can share with those in need." And then verse 29, "Put off all corrupting speech, [anything that's corruptible and wicked] and instead speak only those things that build up your neighbors and give grace to those who hear that it might benefit them." And put off this unforgiveness, this wickedness, this anger of all level, any kind of malice or anger or brawling or any of these things. Be kind and compassionate to one other instead, forgiving one another, just as in Christ, God has forgiven you.
Imitating God’s Love
And so, these moral imperatives I think, atheists that want to be moral, or Greek philosopher types that want to live an upright life, Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard Almanack-type morality, they can do that, the horizontal thing, and we can imitate some of that, but for us, it's all founded on our vertical relationship with God, on the fact that we have the indwelling Holy Spirit, whom we are not to grieve, and how we are to imitate our adoptive Heavenly Father and walk like Him. It's a whole different type of ethic. And so, we're told here to imitate God or be imitators of God in His love. Look at verse 1 and 2, "Be imitators of God therefore as dearly loved children and walk in love."
God is Love
Here, we are to imitate, I think, the central attribute of God as He presents Himself to us. God is love. 1 John 4:16, "God is love. Whoever lives in love, lives in God and God in him." This is the strongest statement about love in the Bible, 1 John 4:16. “God is love.” God certainly commands love and He exemplifies love and He teaches us about love, but 1 John 4:16 says God actually is love, and from this, as I meditate on it, I see He's the source of all love there is in my heart. He's the source of everything, and as I come to this ethical command that I'm to live a life of love or walk in love, it's not long before I realize that I don't, that there is still some of that residual darkness in my heart, a hardness in my heart, and that I don't love my neighbor as I should, as myself, and so to know that God is love, that if I want to be transformed, if I want to live a life of love and walk in love, I need to get closer to God. He is the source of all love.
Now, what do we mean by love? Well, I've come to see it this way. It has to do with our heart, the essence of our, the centerpiece of our being, our minds, our hearts, our souls, and their ability to either be attracted to something or repulsed from something to a greater or lesser degree, like magnetic attraction or repulsion such as we talk about liking or loving something, being attracted to it, or disliking, or hating something. We all have that nature created in the image of God. We can be attracted to or repulsed from something to a greater or lesser degree. We're made like this. And so, love is on the positive side of attraction. It's that my heart is drawn to something, attracted to it, but then this ethic, this morality of love, moves beyond heart attraction into cheerful sacrificial action that benefits the person that I'm loving. So, it's heart attraction resulting in cheerful action. That's the essence of love, and God is the source of all of that love. God's heart is attracted to all that He has made. He is attracted to His universe. He's attracted to the things that He shaped and molded with His own hands. “So, after God had created everything in six days and looked out over everything that He had made, and behold it was very good, and you see a sense of God's attraction to the works of His hands, and even after the fall, even after sin entered in, there's still that love of God toward His creatures, all of them.”
And so, in Psalm 145, verses 13-17, it says, "The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made. The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up those who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you O Lord, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and you satisfy the desires of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all He has made." So God's heart goes out toward His creation and He is delighted. He finds personal joy in doing His creation good. So that's the essence of love. We are commanded to have our heart go out horizontally toward others, and to find personal delight in doing good to people around us. It's not enough to just do good, we have to find personal delight or joy in it. “God loves a cheerful giver.” He wants us to love loving one another, if we could use that redundant expression. He wants us to be cheerful in giving to one another.
So God's love is on display every time He feeds one of His creatures, every time the sun rises and then warms a field of wheat or barley, every time there's a feeling of a breeze on your face or the rain soaking the earth and sustaining life. All of these things are gifts from God, and God gives it to people whether they love Him or not. He gives it to His enemies. “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” He is generous toward everyone that He's made whether they acknowledge Him or not, and God overwhelmingly has loved His enemies, human beings who do not acknowledge His gifts. They owe him thanks. They ought to be thankful. They ought to worship Him and glorify Him as God and give thanks to Him, but they don't, and yet God is generous to them.
It says in Psalm 103:5, "He satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagles." Well, God has loved us, we who are Christians, at an even infinitely higher level. Even before we were born, even before the creation of the world, God set His love on us in Christ. Look again. Go back at Ephesians 1:4 and 5. It says, "He chose us," He, God the Father, chose us, in Christ, "in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight." “In love, [in love,] He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will.”
God Loved Us Before We Were Born
So what I'm saying is that God's heart went out toward us by name before the creation of the world. And He set His affection on us and delighted to do us good. He delighted to do us good. And so He loved the world like it says in John 3:16, "God so loved the world" or in this way, "God loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." And so He loved His elect by setting His electing love on them, and by sending Christ in the world, and by offering His Son as an atonement for our sins. As Romans 5:8, says "God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners...", and again, 1 John 4:10, "This is love, not that we love God, but that he loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sin.” So God loved us directly in saving us. God put up with all of your sins for the days, weeks, months and years before you were regenerated, covered them.
He was gracious and patient to you in all that time and He loved you by sending the Gospel to you, maybe again and again, He sent messengers of the Gospel to you, who sought to persuade you to trust in Christ. Maybe it was your parents, maybe a brother or a sister, maybe it was a friend, someone in college, maybe a co-worker. And God reached out to you again and again, and then if you're a Christian, He loved you, ultimately by sending the Holy Spirit to take out that heart of stone, and give you the heart of flesh, so that you would love Jesus and believe in Him, and trust in Him. It's because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, it says in 1 Corinthians 1, "It's because of the Holy Spirit's work on you that you believe in Jesus." God has been so loving to you and in all of this, God was delighted to do it.
It's something that's hard for us to understand, but God really enjoys saving people. I love what Jesus says in Luke's Gospel, He says, "Fear not, little flock, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom." It's been one of the most fruitful verses I've ever meditated on, on the pleasure of God in saving me. He enjoys saving me, He enjoys forgiving me, He enjoys “washing me with water through the word.” He enjoys presenting me to Himself as holy and blameless. And He will enjoy raising my corpse from the grave, and making it glorious and radiant in His glory. He enjoys creating a Church and then He will enjoy creating the New Heavens and the New Earth as a home for His bride to live in forever, He enjoys this, He delights in it.
Now: God Commands Us to Imitate His Love
And so, we are called on to imitate God in His love, this lavish display of God's love comes with an inherent command, “if God has so loved us, we ought to love one another.” That's what's going on in Ephesians 5:1. 1 John 4:11, "Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another," and this is especially poignant, when it comes to the issue of forgiveness of sins.
We saw this last week, but I don't think I can say it too much. We are commanded to be gracious and merciful and forgiving to people who sin against us. Whether they're Christians or non-Christians. But especially within the Body of Christ, we are commanded to be gracious and to be forgiving toward those who sin against us. As we saw last time, God is likened to a king to whom we owed an incalculable debt. The 10,000 talents, and God forgave all of that debt just out of His grace and mercy and with it, comes an obligation, the vertical relationship of forgiveness carries with it a horizontal imperative, we ought to so love one another. We ought to forgive one another. We ought to not find some fellow servant who owes us a third of a year's wages, and choke them and say, "Pay me what you owe me." This life of love should be one of tenderness and compassion to other sinners, we should feel the weight of their misery in sin and yearn to set them free.
The love of God in Christ should constrain us to reach out. Like Nathan was saying, like we've been saying, we want to reach out, not just this week but throughout the year, to people who are in bondage, to people who are without hope and without God in the world, to show mercy to them and show compassion, even if they treat us very poorly. Let me tell you, throughout church history, Christians have amazingly loved their enemies in ways that has had converting power. So actually, it might be better if you ventured out in evangelism in the workplace and get smacked down this week. Or by your neighbors and get badly treated. And then love and forgive, and who knows but a month later, they might be in some medical emergency, and you'll be the only one that shows any consideration for them, or maybe their spouse, or their child, and they'll remember how badly they treated you and how gracious and loving, you're being toward them. I was incredibly rude to Steve Chamberlain who led me to Christ and the Lord never lets me forget it. So don't tell me you don't want to witness remember how you treated Steve, now go out and share your faith.
But it actually was instrumental it doubled back on itself because I realized, “Why was I being so rude to this guy. What did he ever do to me, he's actually only been kind to me.” That was the beginning of seeing my own sin, and the need I had for Christ, actually the way I treated him so badly, and the way he was so kind to me, was actually instrumental to my salvation. So we see this again and again, Stephen as he is being stoned to death cries out saying, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." You must believe that that had an impact on Saul of Tarsus, who heard him say those words.
An Anabaptists Self-Sacrificial Love
There's a story of an Anabaptist man named Dirk Willems, Anabaptists were persecuted by almost every authority in Continental Europe, back then, and this godly man, Dirk Willems was fleeing for his life, across a frozen lake, and suddenly his pursuer, he heard his pursuers getting closer and closer, but he heard a crack in the ice and then the unmistakable sound is that man fell through the ice, and Dirk Willems stopped, he was free now, he could get away, but he went back on the clearly dangerous ice, and got close to where he'd fallen in and he rescued this man and saved his life pulled him out, but the time he took to go back and pull that man back out of that freezing water, allowed some others that were chasing as well to lay hands on him. And though this man that Dirk Willems had pulled out of the freezing water, pleaded with them to let him go, and he eventually came to faith in Christ at any rate, Dirk Willems was burned at the stake for his heterodox beliefs according to them. So he basically traded his own mortal life, so that at least one man could have eternal life. Just the forgiveness that is shown.
Burdened to Forgive: Corrie ten Boom
I read an account and some of you have read it too of Corrie ten Boom, who is a Dutch woman, who with her family risked much to protect the Jews during the Nazi occupation during World War II. Eventually, they were discovered and they were arrested and they were put in the concentration camp at Ravensbruck, and it eventually led to the death of her sister, Betsie. She never forgot that, obviously, it was on one of most terrible experiences of her life, but in the years that followed God gave her a ministry of speaking about her experiences in the concentration camp, and her experiences in her Christian walk, and the amazing forgiveness that God gives In Christ and how God takes our sins and throws them into the depths of the sea. And we never see them again. Well, to her horror at one particular church service, after it was done, a former SS guard came up, and she recognized him and he came up smiling and said, "Isn't it wonderful how God takes all of our sins and throws them in the depths of the sea, and we see them no more? Well, I've become a Christian and I want to say will you please forgive me for what I did to you and your family?" And he stuck out his hand like that.
Well, she stood there looking at his hand and this is what she said, she said "I knew I had to forgive him. The message that God forgives has a prior condition that we forgive those who have injured us. Jesus said, "If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father in Heaven forgive your trespasses." I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but I saw it as a daily experience since the end of the war, I had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality, and those who were able to forgive their former tormentors were also able to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what their physical or emotional scars. But those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and horrible as that, but now there I stood. And as I looked at that man's hand extended toward me, there was a coldness clutching my heart, but I realized that forgiveness is not first of all an emotion. I knew that too forgiveness is an act of the will, it's a commitment, and that the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.
So I prayed, "Jesus help me," I prayed silently. "I can lift my hand, I can do that much. You must supply the feeling." And so, she said, "woodenly mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me, and as I did something incredible took place. There started to be a feeling in my shoulder like electrical current that flowed down my arm and sprang into our joined hands and then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being and it brought tears to my eyes. "I do forgive you brother, with all of my heart." For a long moment we grasped each other's hands. The former guard and the former prisoner I have never known God's love so intensely as I did at that moment.”
Now, by the way, I think that is exactly why we will remember everything that happened on earth. Because we will feel God's grace and power and forgiveness and saving work of Christ far more powerfully when we remember the details of the stories or the things that happened here on earth. Apart from that, how can we celebrate God's grace? What would it even mean if we have no memory of all the sufferings that sin caused in this world? So, we are to walk in love as God has loved us. Is there someone you need to forgive? I asked you this last week, you had a week to think about it. Is there someone you're still bitter toward?
As Beloved Children
We Imitate God Because He Adopted Us
God is commanding you in Ephesians 5:1 to imitate God in His loving forgiveness of those that have sinned against you, and He's commanding you to do it as beloved children, as dearly loved children, He says. We are the adopted children of God. “In love, He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ.”
1 John 3:1, "Behold what manner of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God", and that is what we are. This is a motive for our walking in love because we bear the family likeness. More than that, we bear the family name, and Jesus said, "By this will all men know that you're my disciples, if you love one another if you walk in love in this kind of forgiveness, then everyone around will know what it means to be in the family of God. You're putting the Father's name on display, His reputation, by how you live, and we are to imitate Christ's love." He goes from the Father to the Son. "Be imitators of God, therefore as dearly loved children and live a life of love or walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." So ultimately, Christ is the example of walking in love.
Imitating Christ’s Love
Christ is the Greatest Example of God’s Love
At every moment, He loved the Lord his God vertically with all of His heart, soul, mind, and strength. And then horizontally, loved His neighbors as Himself. Think about His healing ministry, His healing ministry, was so successful and so famous so pervasive that huge crowds from multiple cities around wherever He was poured out every day to be healed by Jesus, it was so much and so overwhelming that people couldn't even get physically near Jesus, even to touch Him. He did this out of compassion, out of love. How do you know that? Well, in Mark 1: 40-42, it says "A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees. If you are willing, you can make me clean. Jesus filled with compassion, reached out his hand and touched the man. I am willing, be clean and immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy." You know, Jesus could have healed 10,000 people with a word, you know that, don't you? 10,000 people, “You're all healed go home.” But Jesus wanted to be able to look people in the eye and say, "I love you, I want a relationship with you. I want to touch your hand and heal you. I don't have to touch your hand, but I want to. I want to look you in the eye and I want a relationship with you." It was out of love that he did those healings, same thing with his teaching ministry.
And one of the accounts in Mark chapter 8, Jesus landed and when he saw a huge crowd that they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd, He had compassion on them, and taught them many things, so His teaching ministry, was an evidence of His love for other people. So also His feeding ministry in Mark chapter 8. He said, "I have compassion with these people. They've been with me many days, three days now. And if they go home, they'll collapse on the way, feed them." Everything Jesus did was motivated by love for God and others, He walked in love, He lived a daily life of love and especially you see that in His sacrificial love on the cross, and not just this time of year, not just holy week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, leading up to Easter Sunday.
Sacrificial Love at the Cross
Do we Christians contemplate the death of Jesus? Jesus gave Himself up for us, as a fragrant offering, it says, in sacrifice to God. Have you noticed how similar this verse is to Galatians 2:20? Galatians 2:20 says, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me, and the life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me, and gave Himself up for me." But this verse says that “Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us. I think both of those things are worthy of meditation.” There is an intensely personal love that God has for each of His sheep. He knows us by name and we can say honestly from Galatians 2:20, "He loved me, and gave Himself up for me, so I should love others and give myself up for them." But then we can expand and say, "Well there's a lot of us, there's a multitude greater than anyone could count. He loved us and gave Himself up for us, as well. And it says that He gave Himself up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
As a Fragrant Sacrifice
The Atonement: The Centerpiece of Salvation
The Old Testament again and again, animal sacrifices were spoken of as a fragrant offering well pleasing to God. Like Noah, remember when he took some of the clean animals and he offered them up and the aroma of the pleasing sacrifice went up to God, the pleasing aroma. Now, you shouldn't imagine that God just has a taste for meat. God doesn't have a taste for meat. He just loves the smell of a barbecue, just oh God, no that's not it. He's looking at the heart of Noah and his faith, and the sacrifice and his willingness to give at that point, and that's the offering of Jesus. Jesus gave Himself up to the Father on our behalf, the fulfillment of all of the animal sacrificial system. He gave Himself up. He died in our place that we sinners trusting in him might have forgiveness of sins.
The Aroma of a Pleasing Sacrifice
Now that's an aroma wafting heaven-ward from what Jesus did, the life He lived and the death He died. It's an aroma, a fragrant offering to God. What is the aroma wafting heaven-ward from your life? What does your life smell like to God? Let's put it that way. Is it fragrant? There are a number of things that are said to be wafting heaven-ward like our prayers are caught in a ball, they're like incense that goes up. Our prayer life can waft heaven-ward. Revelation 5:9 says, "The prayers of the saints are caught like incense. And our service to other sinners." It says in Hebrews 13:15, "Therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips that confess His name and do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices, God is pleased."
So there you have two-fold sacrifice. Vertical, praising His name, it's like a fragrant offering, a heart of worship, and then horizontally, doing good to others, whatever that means, is a fragrant offering and sacrifice with which God is well pleased. Even money given to missionaries is spoken of in Philippians 4:18, He talks about the money that Epaphroditus brought and he said they're a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. So the money you give to church workers, to mission workers, or to any other brother and sister in Christ, is doing some kind of ministry is a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God and our evangelism. 2 Corinthians 2:15 and 16, "For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and to those who are perishing, to the one we are the smell of death, but to the other the fragrance of life."
How Then Shall We Live?
So, we are called on to live a life of love. What is the fragrance that floats from your life? What's the fragrance of your home life? What's the fragrance of your marriage? What's the fragrance of your parenting? What's the aroma of how you live towards the poor and needy, toward lost people? What about toward those who sin against you, hurt you, in some way? What is the fragrance wafting from your life?
As we come to this text, this is a very plain, straightforward text but it challenges me. Do I find my delight in blessing other people? Am I a cheerful giver? Something that my son Calvin and I were, we've been talking about, we were going through discipleship and we've been talking about love and it's something that I said, "Pray for me, I want to pray for you too, but I want to find my joy, my delight in blessing others. I don't want to complain when serving others, I don't want to be negative. I want to be joyful and delight in forgiving others, that's the kind of life I want to live, and that's the kind of life I want this church to live. I want us to be a beacon of hope in this community. I want us to live a life of love just as God loved us in Christ and gave His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Close with me in prayer.
Father, these words will continue to challenge us the rest of our lives. We know that you have loved us and we know that you have forgiven us through Christ, and you loved us when we are most unlovely, when we were in some ways repulsive. Father, thank you for that love, and I pray that now you would do a work through the Holy Spirit of God, of love in our lives. Help us to love one another, to find joy and delight in blessing others, to find personal happiness in alleviating other people's suffering, whether that's through evangelism or through mercy ministry, or through simple forgiveness, I pray that you would enable us to alleviate the suffering of people that we find around us. Help us to live a life of love, to walk in love, just as Christ did. In Jesus' name, Amen.