Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 March 13, 2016
“Walk in Love”
Text: Ephesians 4:31-5:2
For the past few weeks, in our punctuated sermon series through Ephesians, we have slowed the pace. It has been healthy for our souls to consider the specific ways in which we are to put off the old nature and to put on the new—and both by the effective ministry of the Holy Spirit. Now we begin to quicken the pace again; these four verses form a coherent Scripture portion—and they give us a timely, welcome word. Here is that word, in brief: By the grace of God, we can walk in love—toward God and toward each other. Let’s look at this now in today’s text—as we have it from the Holy Spirit via His inspired penman, the Apostle Paul.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
We begin today with something else to put off, and then we continue with other things to be put on in place of the things cast way. In the list of things to be put away from us (namely, bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice), we see a common theme—to wit, these are expressions of personal hostility. The Lord tells us, then, that we are to let all personal animosity—as described in verse thirty-one—be put away. The thrust of this, admittedly, is somewhat passive—and this is true both in Greek and English. We are not entirely inert regarding compliance with this command; we are, after all, to exert ourselves to comply with the Lord’s command. Yet the Holy Spirit’s construction here, as always, is intentional. The primary agent in our compliance with God’s commands, including these, is the Holy Spirit. Not only does the Spirit convince us of the Gospel’s truth, but He sanctifies us increasingly in this life—wherein we die more and more unto sin and live more and more unto righteousness. Let us then be delivered of any personal animosities, should they exist, and may the Spirit make us favorably inclined toward folks.
The Lord, through the Apostle Paul, enjoin us to substitute other qualities in the place of animosity—and that especially within Christ’s Body, the Church (4:32). First, let us show kindness—or, let us be benevolent to one another. Inasmuch as God is good and does us good (Psalm 119:68), let us seek to do good unto all—and especially unto the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). Let us also receive the goodness that God has for us from others. Second, let us show tender-heartedness—or, let us be compassionate toward one another. The New Testament words rendered compassion or show compassion or compassionate rise from common root word that refers to the abdominal organs. Let us then feel this affectionate concern for others, especially our fellow Christians, in the difficulties they may face—and, if such be not overwhelming, let us feel it abdominally. More than this, let us receive from others those expressions of compassion which they tender toward us. Third, let us show forgiveness—or, let us be gracious to one another. Paul, led by the Spirit, appends a reason for this—namely, that God in Christ forgives us. For this reason, and also in view of how much He has forgiven each of us, let us give grace and extend mercy toward one another. Let us also receive such as He leads others to extend this to us. Doubtless these are much better than the aforementioned expressions of personal hostility given and received. Let us then, by the Spirit’s power, be delivered from the one unto the other.
In short, the Lord calls us to walk in love (5:1-2). One way we do this is to imitate God, for we are His beloved children, being remade in His image to conform more nearly to that of Christ Jesus. Note, however, that we cannot do this in like degree as God is in Himself; He is perfect and we are not. Yet we can do this to a certain degree—and more and more over time—and all by the Holy Spirit’s power.
Think also of our orientations for walking in love. First, we walk in love toward God, Who first loved us (1 John 4:19) and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice (or propitiation) for our sins (1 John 4:10). Second, we walk in love toward one another in Christ’s Church—and this sentence is the thrust of today’s text. We love one another, moreover, as Christ loved us—that is, sacrificially. Again, we cannot love sacrificially as Christ loves us. He is both perfect and infinite, and we are neither. Yet we can follow Christ in like manner by loving our fellow Christian to the level of sacrifice consistent with our frame. This is a great way to live; it is so much better than the stuff out of which God calls us. How gracious He is both to teach us His ways and to empower our walking in them.
If the Holy Spirit deepen our conformity to this word, then what blessing we would enjoy in a number of spheres. Many a home, and many a family, contains much strife—and its members both give and receive expressions and evidences of deep-seated personal animosity. What difference would a substitution of kindness, tender-heartedness, and forgiveness make here? The situation within some local churches, and between groups of Christians wherever they may be found, at times is similar. Animosity reigns, and Christ’s love does not. What difference would the substitution of the qualities in verse thirty-two for the ones in verse thirty-one make in the Church’s life—both local and otherwise? What difference would such benevolence, and compassion, and grace make to those yet outside the fold of God? What would they think if they saw us loving one another well? What would they feel if we loved them well directly? Perhaps only eternity will tell the full story. Thus armed, and thus encouraged, may we, then, each and all, walk in love toward God and each other.