Love's Reference Point (Ephesians 5:1, 2)
Topic: Ephesians Passage: Ephesians 5:1–5:2
The Jewel: Understanding the Beauty of the Cross
Love’s Reference Point
Ephesians 5:1, 2
April 28th, 2013
Way of Grace Church
I. Capturing the Essence of Love
The other day I was looking at entries for an online photo contest in which the theme was “the essence of love”. Each photo submitted was an attempt to capture the essence of love in an photograph, in an image.
The entries included things with animals: a mother duck and her ducklings cuddling in the rain, two kittens sleeping side by side, and a variety of children and adults nuzzling puppies. Another group of photos showed people on the beach: a couple walking silhouetted by the setting sun or a man kneeling down in the sand to propose to a surprised looking woman. There were grandkids hugging, a little girl holding up a construction paper heart, and couple quietly embracing, eyes closed, lost in the moment.
If you were to enter that contest, what would your entry look like? Who or what or what kind of scene would you photograph?
This morning, God is going to remind us through His word that there is only one image in the universe that can truly capture the essence of love.
Turn with me this morning to Ephesians 5:1, 2.
II. The Passage: “And Walk in Love” (5:1, 2)
As we conclude our study entitled “The Jewel”, let's see what Paul wants to teach us about the cross in these verses:
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.
Now, I think we can break this down into three parts, three parts in which we see Paul's logical progression from the general to the specific.
A. Your Example: Look to God (5:1)
The first thing we see here, in verse 1, is that Paul wants his readers to look to God. In what way are they supposed to look to God? There are to look to God's example in order to imitate him. Now wait a minute! Is Paul saying that we should try to create our own universe, or try to rule over the world, or to know all things like God? Of course not. Those are what are called incommunicable attributes of God. Those are qualities that only God possesses.
No, Paul is calling these Christians to godliness. And godliness, to be godly, means imitating God or being like God in terms of things like patience and kindness and faithfulness and honesty. As God told the Israelites in Leviticus 11:44...be holy, for I am holy.
But notice what else we learn in verse 1 about the “why” of this imitation: be imitators of God, as beloved children. If you are part of the family of God this morning, if you have been adopted into God's household, then there should be a family resemblance between you and your Father. Like so many young boys, you should want to grow up to be like your Father.
B. Your Example: Look to Christ (5:2a)
But notice how the beginning of verse gets even more specific about our imitation of God. Be imitators of God, as beloved children. AND walk in love, as Christ loved us...So in this part of verse 2, Paul is encouraging us to look to Christ.
Do you remember what Jesus told His disciples in John 14: Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”  Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:8-9)
If we are serious (as we should be) about imitating God, then there is no better reference point than Jesus Christ. As God in human flesh, Jesus gives us the best picture of what it looks like for a human being to walk in godliness.
And as we see here, Paul locks in on just one of God's communicable attributes (those are the kind of attributes that can and should characterize us, as those made in God's image). Which attribute does Paul focus on here? Yes, it's love: And walk in love, as Christ loved us.
Do you see that word “as”, or we might say “just as”. That's the language of imitation, isn't it?
This should instruction from Paul should take us back, once again, to the gospel of John, and to the instruction that Jesus gave us in John 13:34: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
And if you know that verse, you might also remember the context of that “new commandment”. Jesus gave that instruction to His disciples right after He washed their feet. Why was that so profound? Because Jesus was the Master, and yet He assumes the posture of a slave and performs one of the most humiliating tasks a household slave was given.
Can you picture that in your mind? Jesus kneeling before His disciples, one by one, gently taking each foot, pouring the water, wiping off the dirt and grime, and then rinsing and drying each foot. That picture alone should win the photo contest I mentioned earlier. Of course, Jesus walked in love throughout His ministry, didn't He? From welcoming the outcasts and healing the seek, to blessing the children and eating with sinners, the life of Jesus provides us with wonderful pictures of godly love.
But wait a minute. We haven't finished verse 2, have we? Look at how Paul continues to unpack this idea of imitating God in the second half of verse 2.
C. Your Example: Look to the Cross (5:2b)
Paul first says...be imitators of God, as beloved children. He then adds a level of specificity to that when he says...And walk in love, as Christ loved us. But he gets even more specific when he adds...and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Do you see how the Apostle is encouraging us there? Yes, he wants us to look to God. Yes, he wants us to look to Jesus Christ. But even more specifically, he wants us, he wants his readers to look to the Cross.
The cross of Jesus was where “He gave himself up for us”. The death of Jesus Christ was that “fragrant offering”. It was a “sacrifice to God”. Isn't this what we've seen in the past weeks? Like a beautiful jewel, the cross of Jesus has many radiant sides. As you turn it in the sunlight, you can see how the light dances off of these many facets.
Three weeks ago we saw the beauty of substitution, that Jesus died for us; that Jesus died in our place. Two weeks ago we learned that He died in our place in terms of accepting the punishment we deserved from God because of our sin. And last week we unpacked that word redemption and saw how the cross was the payment, the ransom, that secured our release from the power and penalty of sin.
But this morning, Paul is, God is reminding us of the heart behind all of those amazing realities. Jesus took our place, and offered himself up, and paid our ransom because of His love. It was the fragrance of love that rose up from the cross: And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
His healing ministry, His inclusiveness, His washing of the disciples' feet, all of these are beautiful examples of Christ's love that should inform and inspire us. But there is only one image in the universe that can truly capture the essence of love, in all its fullness. That image is the Cross. Love’s ultimate reference point should always be the cross of Christ. Listen to how another Apostle, John, expressed this:
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (I John 4:10, 11)
The death of Jesus is the image that Paul wants us to be informed and inspired by above all others. We are called to “walk in love, AS Christ loved us AND gave himself up for us”. You see the cross does provide us with salvation. But it also provides us with a standard, with an example that we are called to follow.
III. The Look of Cross-Inspired Love
But what does it mean to follow Christ's example of love as expressed at the cross? None of us can die for the sins of the world in the same way Jesus did. So how can we express the same kind of love? Well, we have to make sure we understand what the Cross tells us about love.
Consider this definition of love in light of what The Jewel teaches us: I think we could say that...Love is a passionate concern that gives, to whatever extent is necessary, in order to see God's best accomplished in another's life.
Is this how you would define love? Is this the definition you work from when you love others? The world offers us many definitions of and examples of love, but oftentimes they are more self-grasping than self giving.
Listen to what the French pastor and theologian John Calvin said about the cross. He wrote that it was a remarkable proof of the highest love. Forgetful, as it were, of himself, Christ spared not his own life, that he might redeem us from death. If we desire to be partakers of this benefit, we must cultivate similar affections toward our neighbors. Not that any of us has reached such high perfection, but all must aim and strive according to the measure of their ability.
As we think about how the Cross should inform and inspire us, we can thank God that He has given us a handful of verses from Paul that help us understand what this looks like. Let's consider some of these.
The first one is right here in the immediate context. Look at the last verse of Ephesians 4, verse 32: Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. And so if our heart has been made tender by the love that God showed us at the cross, if we are informed and inspired by the cross, then we should be forgiving others, just as God forgave us through Christ's death.
A second expression of this cross-informed love can also be found in the context, a little further into chapter 5. Paul writes this in verse 25:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,  that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,  so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27)
And so, this kind of love should be expressed in our marriages, as husbands give, to whatever extent is necessary, in order to see God's best accomplished in the lives of their wives. Our ideas of romantic love must always be grounded in God’s love.
We find a third expression of this cross-informed love in Philippians 2. Look at what Paul write there:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 3:5-8)
What we see here is that cross-informed love must always be expressed through or go hand-in-hand with cross-informed humility. If my life is marked by “selfish ambition or conceit”, if my life is characterized by me only looking to my “own interests”, then I cannot walk in love as Christ walked in love.
We find another expression of this kind of love in II Corinthians 8:7-9. Paul writes:
But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.  I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.  For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (II Corinthians 8:7-9)
It might not be immediate clear what Paul is talking about here, but the larger context tells us the “this act of grace” that Paul is talking about is an offering of money for the poor living in Judea. So in light of the poverty of Christ, in light of the fact that Jesus gave up everything for us, Paul wants his readers to remember that love informed by and inspired by the cross is always a generous love.
A forgiving love, a marital love, a humble love, a generous love. This is the beauty of the Jewel! Do you see how dazzling it is? Does it inspire you to live differently?
But as we mediate on the cross as love’s ultimate reference point, we need to be careful to keep the whole Jewel in view. Listen to what Mahatma Gandhi said about Jesus' death:
“For, he [Jesus Christ] was certainly the highest example of one who wished to give everything, asking nothing in return...The virtues of mercy, non-violence, love and truth in any man can be truly tested when they are pitted against ruthlessness, violence, hate and untruth...He who when being killed bears no anger against his murderer and even asks God to forgive him is truly non-violent. History relates this of Jesus Christ.”
Gandhi drew inspiration from the cross, but sadly, he rejected the gospel. And there are many today who want to present the cross in just this one way, as simply an inspiring picture of love. But as we turn that Jewel in our hands, we should remember that God's love through us is simply not possible without first receiving God's love to us.
Unless we truly accept that Christ bore our sins, we cannot truly bear His love to others. Unless we truly accept that Jesus was punished for our sin-stained hearts, we cannot truly receive the new heart he wants to give us. Unless we truly accept that Jesus died to pay our ransom, we cannot truly be set free to love others with His love. One jewel, many sides.
And those sides cannot be separated. Can you imagine a dealer auctioning off just one facet of a priceless diamond or ruby? No, the beauty of the jewel lies in its wholeness. And God has used, is using, and will use the whole Jewel to make us more like Jesus.
A definition: treasure (verb): to hold or keep as precious; to cherish; to prize. Have you received the Jewel? If you have then, each day, hold it up. Turn it. Consider it. Study it. And above all, treasure it. Treasure the cross. Treasure the One who died there in your place, to accept your punishment, to set you free, to show you what love looks like.
More in The Jewel: Understanding the Beauty of the Cross
April 21, 2013The Brilliance of Redemption (Colossians 1:13, 14)
April 14, 2013The Wrath-Bearer (Romans 3:21-26)
April 7, 2013In Your Place (I Peter 2:22-25)