“Walk in Love, As Christ Loved Us”
A Sermon on Ephesians 4:17-5:2
We are on a journey through this life. Like ancient Israel in the Old Testament, we are on our way to the Promised Land, on our way to the new heavens and new earth. And, like Israel, we have to travel through the wilderness of this fallen world. Dangers lurk on every side. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh all strive to do us in and make us fall. We need protection; we need help; we need strength for the journey.
Today we hear of a low point in the life of Elijah, the great prophet of God. Elijah is fleeing for his life. Things are not going so well. He journeys into the desert and finally sat down under a tree and prayed that he might die. “I’ve had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take away my life.”
Elijah was struggling in his faith. “I’ve had enough,” he said. “I can’t go on.” Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever felt like life was not worth living anymore?” “What’s the use?” we say. “Why go on?”
All of us struggle with depression and feelings like this. All of us deal with our pain and loneliness and fears. We are no better than Elijah. We are no different than the people we see in the Bible. We, too, have our low points.
But watch what happens now. An angel of the Lord comes and feeds Elijah. “Get up and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” So Elijah ate and drank, and he was strengthened by this miraculous food the angel provided. Though this food, Elijah discovered he had the strength to go on. God had graciously renewed his faith.
We see that so many times in the Old Testament, but most especially in the story of the exodus. When the people of Israel left Egypt, they found themselves out in a harsh wilderness. Things didn’t look so good for them, especially when they ran out of food. The people finally turned against Moses and said, “You have brought us out in this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” That’s when the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you.” And so it came to pass that God fed his people everyday with the manna, the bread from heaven.
I have always found it surprising that the people of Israel would complain so much after being rescued from a life of slavery in Egypt. God had rescued them from their old way of life and had brought them into a new life of freedom. But that new life now seemed too hard and difficult.
Bit that’s how it is, isn’t it? You and I can understand these Israelites. We are just like them. Like Israel, we want to just stay put in the old ways of the sinful flesh. God calls us to a new life in Jesus Christ, we draw back and hesitate. We don’t want to follow God’s way.
For example, in our epistle reading, we hear Paul say, “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life. Be renewed in the spirit of your minds, put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Put away falsehood. Speak the truth. Do not be angry. Do not steal. Share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth. Do not grieve that Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
Then Paul says, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Be imitators of God. Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Paul here describes the new life of a Christian. This is what it means to walk in love, as Christ loved us. This is how we are to live. But the truth is we often walk the other way. We often grieve the Holy Spirit of God. We find it very difficult to follow God’s way.
It seems much easier to follow the old ways of the sinful flesh. It’s easy for us to lie and deceive others. It seems natural to curse and swear and use profanity. We seem to enjoy being angry and bitter and carrying a grudge against those who hurt us.
Let’s be honest, it’s hard to forgive someone who sins against us. It’s hard to kind and compassionate to people who hurt us. It’s much easier to become angry and upset. It’s much easier to be filled with bitterness and wrath. Maybe that’s why we see so much fighting in our marriages, in our family, in our workplaces. The problem is that we are all sinners. That’s why we fall back into the old ways of the sinful flesh.
But our God is kind and compassionate. Just as God was merciful and patient with the people of Israel, so, too, God has mercy upon us. We see this so clearly in what Christ says to us today.
In today’s gospel reading, we see some people arguing with Jesus. They were offended by his teaching. “Is this not Jesus, son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Furthermore, these people were looking for a sign. They wanted to know if Jesus was really sent by the Father. So they offered him a test: Moses had supplied their ancestors with manna from heaven; how about if Jesus providing them with a similar miracle?
But Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Here, Christ clearly points to himself as God’s way of salvation. He says, “For this is the will of my Father that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
This is God’s will - we need to look to the Son of God and believe in him. And when we look to Jesus, we see how he hangs on the cross for us; we see how Christ loved us and how he gave himself up for us; we see a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God
Christ was a “fragrant offering.” That is an Old Testament reference to a sacrifice that is well-pleasing and acceptable to God. Christ is that perfect sacrifice for us. He completely pays the price for all of our sins. That is why the Father declares, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well-pleased.” For this is the will of the Father, that everyone who looks on Son and believes in him should have eternal life.
You see, God’s way goes directly through the cross and resurrection of his Son. Our new life begins at the cross and empty tomb. This is God’s will that you believe in Christ with all your heart and soul. Believe in Christ! Trust in him! Know and accept his forgiveness. God in Christ forgives you. His sacrifice is perfect, final, complete.
And once we receive this gift of forgiveness, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit of God. Our new life begins. We now start to walk in love as Christ loved us. But again, this is difficult thing to do. We need God’s help to keep us on track. We need the Holy Spirit to empower us and direct our footsteps.
I’m sure everyone’s been watching the Olympics. It’s amazing to watch some of these athletes perform. I am especially amazed by the competition of the gymnasts. They have to be almost perfect in their routines. Just one little misstep or miscue can ruin everything.
For example, consider the balance beam. The margin for error is so small, and the danger of falling is compounded because there are two directions in which to fall. A little mistake either to the right or left can result in a devastating tumble. You have to keep your focus and stay centered and keep your eye on the beam.
Our Christian life can be compared to walking on a balance beam. If we lose our focus on Christ, we may lose our balance. If we take our eyes off the beam of his cross, we are going to take a fall. If forget about the Word of God, we are going to end-up flat on our back.
We need to keep our eyes on the cross and resurrection of Christ. We need to be in God’s Word everyday. We need to be in worship. We need to pray, praise, and give thanks to God.
And when we fall, we need to repent of our sin and realize we lost our balance. But then, we get back up on the balance beam and we continue on. Now, it’s easy to become discouraged here. We fall and we just want to stay flat on our back. We feel like giving up.
Like Elijah, we need strength for the journey. Life is hard and filled with many falls. We need some spiritual food to keep us going. “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you to do by yourself. You need some help. You need the bread of life.”
You need Christ because your faith is going to be challenged. You are going to be tempted. You are going to struggle against the urges of the sinful flesh. And you will also continue to struggle with your pain and loneliness and fears. You are going to battle against depression and low points in your life. That’s why we all need help. We need nourishment and strength.
We all need the living bread that came down from heaven. We need God’s forgiveness everyday of our life. And with the Lord’s help, we can start to live the new life that God calls for us to enjoy. We can put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. We can walk in the ways of the Lord.
With God’s help, we can learn to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave us. Then, we will be imitators of God. We will walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Amen!