Imagine a single mom with one child who pours out her life to see her son have a chance at a better life. She works two jobs, scrimping and saving to keep him clothed and fed. She teaches him honesty, hard work and charity. And when he comes of age, she scrapes together her meager savings and puts him through college.
He graduates, gets a great job and never talks to her again.
But, he reminds himself, he’s “good.” He tells the truth, he works hard and he cares for the poor, just like his mother taught him. He thinks, “I became the man she wanted me to be—isn’t that good enough?”
Of course, we would say “no.” It’s not acceptable to simply live a good life and ignore a relationship with the one person to whom you owe everything.
Yet this is what is missing from many of our spiritual lives. We do a lot of right things for God, but we are not passionately in love with him. And if we aren’t passionately in love with God, we’ll never have the motivation to love as he loves.
When Paul told the Ephesians to “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2 ESV), he was speaking of two inward compulsions to love:
1. Do for others what Christ has done for you.
Several years into our marriage, my wife, Veronica, and I were having a hard time because we were both focused on how the other one had hurt or disappointed us. I responded to her based on what I thought she deserved (according to her treatment of me), and she responded to me based on what she thought I deserved (according to my treatment of her).
One day a counselor told us that our problem was that neither of us was living like we believed the gospel. We were both acting like we were primarily righteous people who were being asked to forgive someone who had wronged us, rather than like sinners who had been forgiven of far more by God than we would ever be asked to forgive in each other.
He taught us a phrase that transformed our marriage: “First sinner, second sinned against.” We had it reversed—we each thought we had been mainly sinned against, and that kept us from loving each other like God has loved us.
What would your life look like if this became the standard for how you related to people in your life? What would your marriage look like if you regularly forgave your spouse the way Jesus forgave you?
2. Love others as a “fragrant offering and sacrifice” to God.
The one we’re ultimately loving when we do these things is God. Paul says it’s like a sacrifice we make to him.
Sometimes we feel like the person we’re being asked to love is not worthy of our love. Maybe that person doesn’t even recognize what we are doing or appreciate it.
I, for instance, don’t mind loving my wife like Christ loved the church, but doggone it—I want her to recognize that and praise me for it to her friends and her mother!
But I’m not just being kind to my wife out of love for my wife; I’m being kind to her out of love for Jesus.
What if you looked through whomever you were being asked to love and saw Christ standing behind him or her—and you looked at whatever you were doing for that person as first and foremost to Jesus?
The best biblical illustration of this is the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet with a bottle full of expensive perfume. Everyone in the room is taken aback, because it seems like such a waste of really expensive perfume. But Jesus was so moved by it, he said the woman’s story would be told everywhere the gospel was preached from that point on, because it so perfectly represented the right response to the gospel: extravagant love toward Jesus.
Your acts of love toward others are ultimately for Jesus, even if they seem like they are being wasted on the person you are pouring them out on.
As we walk in love, we give ourselves for others as an outpouring of passionate love for Jesus and in response to what he has done for us.
For more, be sure to listen to the entire message here.