Think for a moment about who has had a lasting influence on your life or your generation. What was it about them that left a mark on your life? Their dynamic personality? Some impressive words or inspirational insight? Influence comes in many forms, but the Bible says that what makes a lasting difference is love. We desire to be an influential community, but only through the means of loving others as God loves us.
“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.”
To look like God in how we love is no small task. What does His love look like? And how do we actually walk in that love?
God’s love is sacrificial.
When we want know what God’s love is like, first we look to the sacrifice of His Son. When the Bible talks about love, it’s almost always tied to the sending of God’s Son and His sacrifice on the cross. Jesus calls us to imitate His love when He said in Matthew 16:24 “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” His cross isn’t just an example of sacrifice, but of sacrificial love. God’s love is a giving up of one’s self for another. This means we aren’t just let off the hook when we think, “Well I don’t hate anyone, so I must be loving!” Love is selfless. As a community, if we’re entitled or self-centered, we’ll disrupt the love of God. May we, as Paul described in Ephesians 4, “give ourselves up” not to our own desires, but to the sacrificial love God pours out through our selflessness.
God’s love is forgiving.
God’s love is so unique because it’s a forgiving love. Sacrificial love isn’t totally unique – look at parents and how they sacrifice on a daily basis to care for their children. But God’s love goes one step further from being sacrificial to being forgiving, especially to the undeserving. Think about what happens in your heart when you’ve been hurt or judged or maligned. It’s easy to love those who love us (Luke 6:32), but Jesus challenges us to love our enemies, and He embodied this on the cross: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) If we want to represent God as His sons and daughters, our love will start to look more like mercy, forgiveness, and love for those who don’t seem to deserve it. We can have boundaries, but we refuse to get bitter. We don’t act as if forgiveness is a one-time event, but engage in it as an ongoing process. We have to ask ourselves: will the church look like the world, or will it look like Jesus? Because we have the power in us to love even our greatest enemies.
God’s love is full of truth.
A very important aspect of God’s love is that it’s grounded in reality and honesty. We have to be careful to not confuse sacrificial, forgiving love with denial, enablement or silence when the truth should be spoken. Truth is actually a vital part of forgiveness! When we’ve been wronged and we’re honest about the anger we feel, righteous anger can lead to a deeper forgiveness. Yet Paul warns us to “be angry and do not sin.” We all know that anger can quickly tumble into unrighteousness; we can become unwilling to reconcile, speak slanderously, harbor malice or nurse our anger. This is why Paul encourages us to “give no opportunity to the devil” (Eph. 4:27), but instead continuously invite the Holy Spirit to convict us of unrighteous anger and lead us to repentance and healing. God’s love is truth, for God always speaks the truth; we hope to be a community that walks in God’s truthful love.
God’s love is joyful.
Because sacrifice, forgiveness, and truth can be heavy topics, it may come as a surprise to some of us that God’s love is also joyful! Paul encouraged the Ephesian church to “Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (5:2). The way that Jesus loved us on the cross was a joyful act of worship. “For the joy set before Jesus, he endured the cross and scorned it’s shame” (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus didn’t go to the cross begrudgingly! It was an expression of joy-filled love, a choice made to adore God. So if we’re going to love boldly, it must be tied to an act of worship. And when we become so enamored with God, we’ll love others no matter what the results. If our love gets rejected and we’ve made it about the end result – we’re in trouble. If we’re loving so that others will see our good works, that won’t last. But when we’ve got a greater purpose for our love, if worship is our goal, then our community will be unstoppable. Our aim for love is higher than results; it’s worship.
We want to be an influential church, but our task is to walk in the way of love. How? For one, we follow Paul’s guidance to put away our old selves (Ephesians 4:22). We don’t try and add love to these old things; we take them off and ask God to help us put on our new self that is driven by His Spirit. And, we get honest about where we need healing. We’ve probably all been hurt in our attempts at loving people, and we need God’s love to renew us so that we can love again. May we be a community that allows the Spirit to pour Christ’s love into our hearts, that we may truly shed the garments of the old way of life and in every area of our lives, walk in the love of Jesus.
This is the third blog post in a series to accompany our vision series, “For the Glory.” We’ll recap and further unpack each week’s sermon. If you want to listen to each full-length sermon, head to our podcast page. Read along with us each week as we explore God’s vision for Central Community Church. Follow along in Ephesians 4:17 – 5:2.