Sometimes when people hear me talking about mercy, they will say something like you are really into that mercy stuff or you are a mercy guy, aren’t you?
Whenever people say things like that, one of the first things I usually think is that I wish, I wish that our lives would really match up to that, where we were consistently and radically loving people in true shocking ways. It would really be awesome to actually be a mercy guy.
Because really isn’t that kind of how we all should be known as believers and as a church? Wherever a church is located and whatever our abilities are as individuals, it seems to me that we all should be known for our commitment to radically and sacrificially loving the undeserving.
In fact, that is I think, Paul’s challenge to us in Ephesians 5:1 and 2.
He writes, “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.”
As you study Ephesians you see that Paul throughout the first several chapters shows us just how big it is to really be a Christian.
People sometimes talk about it as if it were just believing a set of facts. But Paul’s like, no, it actually involves God in His grace radically transforming us.
It’s a miracle.
In chapters 4 and 5, Paul turns a corner and begins trying to help us work out the difference this miracle should make on the way we think and act. Because even though we have been changed in a big way, we have all developed ways of thinking and living over the years that don’t match up with this great change that has taken place in our lives, habits, and those habits die hard and so Paul says part of what is required now that we are believers is that we work on turning from those old ways of living that we had as unbelievers to a new ways of living that go along with what God has done in our lives through Jesus Christ.
And if you check out the end of chapter 4, you see that he gets pretty specific.
He talks about stuff like putting off lying and putting on telling the truth and putting off sinful anger and on and on he goes until here, he comes in this passage that we are looking at together this morning, to what we might call a or what should be the summarizing characteristic of genuine believers and that is radical and sacrificial love.
Therefore, Paul says, walk in love.
Live a life of love.
Now there’s a message here, on the kind of love that should characterize our lives as a church.
Because of course Paul doesn’t just tell us to love, he defines the way we are to love, and that is by loving others just as Christ has loved us.
We as believers are to live a life of risky, radical, sacrificial love.
And what I want us to focus on is meditating on exactly why. If we really are Christians, I want to show you why this loving, sacrificial, forgiving lifestyle is so important for us to pursue together as a church.
I think we find in Ephesians 5:1 and 2 four reasons we Christians need to become more forgiving and more sacrificial and more loving. Four truths to think about and meditate on, which I really believe will strengthen you and enable you to become more and more loving to others here at church.
We can just look at the first today.
1. We need to be loving people because we are forgiven people.
This passage begins with the word therefore and whenever you read a word like therefore it is obviously pointing you back to what goes before it.
“Because of what I just said, therefore.”
That means this command to imitate God by walking in love is based on what Paul has just said in Ephesians 4:32.
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
In other words, because God in Christ has forgiven you, therefore, you should seek to imitate God in your relationship with others by forgiving them and loving them sacrificially. And the key idea that I want to rivet in your minds as you think about that is the fact that forgiveness and love are tied together.
Obviously one way they are tied together is when you really love someone, you will show it by forgiving them.
Forgiveness is a way you show love.
But more than that, it is also deep gratitude for being forgiven that produces love. Being forgiven produces love, or at least it should. And that I think is Paul’s point here, because you have been forgiven by God in Christ, therefore, be like God and show that same kind of love to others.
Which practically speaking helps understand that when you meet someone who has a hard time loving others, you usually are meeting a person who doesn’t appreciate the greatness of God’s forgiveness.
Jesus himself puts it like this in Luke 7:47, “he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
Now since there is no one who has been forgiven by God who is forgiven little, Jesus has got to be talking about a deep gratitude and appreciation for forgiveness.
And what he is saying is that the person who lacks a deep appreciation for forgiveness, lacks love.
Which means if you want to grow in your love for God and others, one place to start is to get on your knees and ask God to help you grow in your gratitude and thankfulness for how much He has forgiven you.
And we can take that a step further and say if you want to grow in your gratitude and thankfulness for how much God has forgiven you, you need to get on your knees and ask God to help you grow in your understanding of your own sinfulness.
When we don’t understand how sinful we are, we don’t appreciate how much we have been forgiven, and when we don’t appreciate how much we have been forgiven, we are cold and hard towards others.
You simply will not find people who are gripped with a sense of their own unworthiness before God and are overwhelmed with gratitude for their forgiveness by God who are not at the same time extremely gracious and forgiving and loving people themselves.
This is why Paul calls our attention back to God’s treatment of us as he challenges us to show forgiving love. God’s forgiveness of us and our love for others are tied together. If we want to become a truly sacrificially loving church, we will find motivation not by looking first and foremost at the people around us but instead by continually looking up to God.
It’s good theology that drives biblical mercy.
I love how Paul puts it here in verse 1, “Therefore be imitators of God.”
Because how do you imitate someone?
To imitate someone you have to watch them. You have to study them. You have to know them!
We must not talk about sacrificial love and forgiving love as if it were somehow something disconnected from our knowledge of God. To love other people the way we ought, we have to know God so well, that we understand how to imitate Him in the nitty-gritty issues of our daily lives.
One thing that can so easily happen when you begin to develop a relationship with someone else is that you begin to see that they are sinners and when you spend too much time with them you can easily come up with all sorts of reasons why they are undeserving of your love.
This is part of why we often give up on really serving others.
When we look straight at people we can find all kinds of reasons not to reach out to them in love, but when we are looking up to God, the point is all of those same reasons quickly disappear.
Because you will never have to love anyone who deserves your love less than you deserve the love of God. You will never have to forgive someone more than God has already forgiven you.
And that’s why forgiveness and love towards others is such a test of how well you as a church are understanding the gospel and maturing in the gospel because it reveals what you really believe about how holy God is and how sinful you are and how much you need Jesus.
It may be that we think of ourselves as really spiritual and it may be that even others think of us like that but if we have a hard time putting up with other people, it is because we are ungrateful for the goodness God has shown us and we really need to go back to the basics again and better appreciate forgiveness.
Forgiven people are loving people, or at least they should be.