Loving as God Loves – August 13, 2006

Psalm 138, Ephesians 4:25-5:2

August 13, 2006

Last week, we talked about being the Body of Christ. We read the first part of Ephesians 4, and we saw how Paul used the human body and it’s “members” to describe the Church. We talked about how that gives us a sense of unity, much like the “members” of a human body are part of the one whole, and no part is unimportant.

It is my prayer that we see ourselves that way. We are the Church. In Greek, the great “Ecclesia.” We are, more literally than we might think, the Body of Jesus Christ here on earth. This is an organization unlike any other in history. We in the Church are the hands and feet and voice of Jesus.

If you think about what that means, it’s staggering! Being the body of Christ isn’t just some distinction we have. It’s not just a matter of membership. Being the Body of Christ here on earth means that we are the continuation of his ministry! His actual, physical ministry ended some two thousand years ago on the cross. But his Church has continued that ministry throughout the ages.

That’s us! We do Jesus’ work! Do you get that?!?! I’m not sure some people do. The people who we’ve talked about before, the people who are in the “Fire Insurance” mode of Christianity – I don’t think they get it. Remember, they’re the ones who want to do just the minimum that will “get them into heaven,” – you know, instead of “that other place.” They don’t get it. They end up thinking, like too many other people, that Church is something you come to and watch other people doing things.

The Church is here, the Church exists, to continue the work of Jesus Christ on earth. How do we do that? One way is by being the kind of people God calls us to be. Last week we talked about that in terms of practicing Christian unity. For those of you who weren’t here, that involved some very important words – words like “lowliness, meekness, patience, and forbearance.” God back and look at those when you get a chance.

This week I want us to think about this idea of “Loving like God Loves.” If we are going to continue the work of Jesus Christ on earth, we need to love like he loved. As we look at this passage, I want you to see how all these things lead up to this verse in Chapter 5, where Paul writes, “Therefore be imitators of God, (!) as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us…”

I think by now you’ll agree that “loving like God loves” is different than the way many people understand and practice love in our world. Loving like God loves makes us different people. As we practice the love of God – and it is a practice. It is a matter of making choices – as we practice the love of God, we will be modeling those things we talked about last week – lowliness, meekness, patience, forbearance. And we will be doing these things Paul tells us about in this passage.

This is one of those places where Paul is giving more “practical” advice. He often does that. He writes for a while about the wonder of God and our place in his kingdom, and then he switches to the practical and says, “And here’s how you do it.” I love that. Well, this is one of those times. And here he’s giving them some very specific advice – even advice to specific groups of people.

Now, before we get into those specifics, let me say something important about the teachings of the Christian faith, these things Paul is so wonderfully explaining. I heard it said years ago that a very large percentage of the things Jesus taught were not new. They were things the people “should have known anyway.” Remember their reaction to Jesus. When they were “amazed at his teaching,” it was often not so much a matter of what he said, but rather that he spoke “with authority,” and not as their teachers did. But he was often telling them things they should already have known.

Sometimes growing in our Christian faith is not so much a matter of “learning new stuff.” We often think it is. But often it is more a matter of doing a better job of putting into practice what we already know. Isn’t that right? And isn’t that the tough part of the life of faith. Even Paul himself struggled with that. He once said, “I find I do not do the good I want to do, but rather the evil I don’t want to do.” This is the struggle we all have, isn’t it? I loved the part in Rick Warren’s book “The Purpose Driven Life” where he said, “What we don’t need is another Bible study. We already don’t put into practice so many of the things we already know!” And isn’t that true?!

So we may have heard these things before, but it they are important to hear again and again. Because it’s the practice of our faith that’s hard. In fact, I think if it isn’t hard sometimes, if we aren’t called upon to make difficult choices, then maybe we aren’t taking it seriously enough. Often faith is much easier to talk about than it is to live! It’s easier to “talk the talk” than it is to “walk the walk!” And when we talk about loving like God loves, let us recognize that it’s hard! Because it’s not just words. It’s actions!

I love the story Tony Campolo tells about the time he went to speak at a women’s missionary conference. And only Tony could have done this! It was somewhere in Philadelphia, and he was dead tired after a long “red eye” flight from the west coast. And at the beginning of the meeting, one of the ladies stood up and told about a missionary doctor in Venezuela who needed $5,000 to build an addition to her clinic so she could handle the large number of poor people who were coming for treatment. Then she turned to Tony and said, “Would you lead us in prayer that God would provide the money that was needed by this doctor.”

Tony said, “Before I could stop myself I said, ‘No. But what I will do is take all the money I’m carrying on me right now and put it on the communion table. Then I’m going to ask everyone here to do the same… Then when we’re done, we’ll count it up, and I’ll pray for God to make up the difference.’” Tony said, “It was a good day to pull this off, because I was only carrying $2.25.”

Well, the leader of the group smiled benevolently, looked around the room and said, ‘We’ve all gotten the point, haven’t we?’ And Tony said to her, “No! I don’t think we have! My $2.25 is on the table. Now it’s your turn!” He said, “She was somewhat taken aback by my aggressive request, but she opened her wallet and took out $110 and slapped it down on top of my meager offering. Then he said to the group, “We’re well on our way! We’ve got $112.25. Now it’s your turn!” pointing to the woman in the first pew, who hesitatingly walked up put her cash on top of the pile.

“One by one,” he said “I got each woman there to do the same. It took over 25 minutes to take up the ‘offering.’ When we were done we counted it, and we had more than eight thousand dollars!” “And” he said, “I knew I hadn’t gotten all of the money. I could see some of them putting in only a small portion of what they had – and giving me dirty looks.”

He ended the story saying, “After that, there wasn’t any time left for me to preach, and I didn’t think they wanted to hear from me anyway! So I simply said, ‘Think about it. You wanted me to pray for $5,000 and God had already provided it!’”

Now, isn’t that a great story? And only Tony Campolo could have gotten away with something like that! But his point is clear. And I’m not proposing we empty our pockets. But what I am suggesting is that we see that it’s not easy to do the practical work of faith. It’s not easy to take the actions and make the choices. It’s not easy to love like God loves. Often it is easier simply to talk about it. And I’m suggesting today that you look at your life, and that you think about those things that you believe, but that you might be having a hard time actually putting into practice.

Paul is giving us some important ones here in this passage. He tells them about “Putting away falsehood,” “Speaking the truth in love,” and “Being members of one another.” We know them, don’t we? But do we choose to do them?! Do we love one another like God loves us? Do we “Walk as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us?!”

Look at verse 29. “The way you talk,” he says, “Let it not be evil, but instead let it be talk that meets these three criteria. 1) It is edifying. In other words, it builds people up? 2) It fits the occasion – in other words, it is talk that is “appropriate.” And 3) it “imparts grace” to the listeners. Remember, Grace is something that is undeserved. Do we speak the love of God always, or do we wait until someone deserves it? If we love in the ways of Grace, how different would our conversations and relationships be?!

He goes on. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander and malice be put away.” Let them go! Choose to let them go! “Instead,” he says, “Be kind to one another. Be tenderhearted, forgiving one another as Christ has forgiven you.” And by doing all these things – by choosing to do these things – be “Imitators of God.” Be imitators of the way God loves us. May we do that!

We are the Body of Jesus Christ here on earth! That is a huge privilege! And it is an awesome responsibility!! I challenge you today to think about what that means in your life. What kinds of things will you choose to do, or choose not to do, in order to be the Body of Christ? Will you choose to love like God loves? And what will that look like?

Prayer.

Eternal God, we thank you for your steadfast love for us, and your faithfulness to all generations. Help us to reflect that love to the world. As we strive to be your people, your body here on earth, give us the strength we need to make the hard choices, and give us the guidance we need to know how we are to live your love. For we pray these things in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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