I have a friend who works as a house painter. He is the kind of guy who is not afraid of confrontation, especially when he thinks that shocking someone might be the best way to bring a reality check. One day on the job site he met another guy who claimed to be a follower of Jesus.
My friend: “Really? Where do you go to church?”
New Guy: “Everywhere. I want to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying, so I go to lots of different churches—I don’t want to be tied down.”
My friend: “You know, you ought to go to one church and stay there long enough until you get offended by the people in the church. I think that’s what God wants for you.”
New Guy: “You think God wants me to be offended?”
My friend: “Oh yeah, there’s no question about that, but I think He really wants you to be offended by people that you go to church with regularly.”
My friend was trying to illustrate an important point: We can’t really claim to be the kind of person who loves God unless we learn to love others. We hear it all the time: God loves everybody. Well, that may be fine for God, but for most of us love is a good idea in the abstract and nearly impossible in the everyday world.
We don’t have very many people we could claim as close friends, much less as people we love. The pace of our life does not provide many places where we can really get close to others. There are even fewer settings where we can learn how to love others.
Learn how to love? Isn’t love supposed to just happen? In romance, in friendships, in finding a community that feels “safe,” most people expect that love will be organic, natural and self-generating. We would like to think that if we walked into Central Perk as a complete stranger, we could walk out with a whole new set of friends. But Central Perk closed down when Friends did, and we’re not in Manhattan anymore. Love is a great ideal, until we have to work it out with other people, then we begin to wonder if love is worth all the grief. It’s time-consuming, expensive and, worst of all, it’s not all-about-me.
But love is a way we can imitate God:
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children, and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1
The Apostle Paul called for followers of Jesus to live a “life of love,” which sounds great until you actually try to do it. Jesus lived a life of love, and it got him killed. Wanna try to be like Jesus?
The word “therefore” indicates that Paul was reaching a conclusion, not starting something new, and the stuff before Ephesians 5:1 provides a not-so-easy road map to living a life of love that imitates Jesus Christ.
Not-So-Easy Step One: Give up your life as an individual (Eph 4:17-19).
These verses describe a life lived for the self. If ever there was a futile way of life, it is a life lived for ourselves alone. Living for ourselves hardens our hearts, and brings us into darkness. If our goal is a new kind of community, then living for ourselves really is futile. Many people long for community but live for themselves. When we are separated from God, the only things we become sensitive to are our own desires.