Ephesians 4.25-5.2: Living a life of love

It’s been an interesting two weeks. We’ve seen Olympic and world records broken, new personal bests set, amazing and outstanding performances by so many athletes in a variety of different sports. Who can fail to admire the likes of Usain Bolt, Sir Chris Hoy, Ben Ainslie, Jessica Ennis, Mo Farrah and all the others? The bar has certainly been set very high. Human sporting achievement seems to know no limits.

 

And how do we personally respond from our armchairs? Some of us may decide to do a bit more exercise. Athletics and cycling clubs will see an increase in membership as people try to imitate their respective heroes. But for many I suspect, the enthusiasm may be short lived as they see the amount of effort, commitment and personal discipline that is involved! Maybe I’m being cynical - but I doubt it.

 

In today’s passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians the bar is also set very high – an appropriate possibly for the culmination of the Olympic Games. I don’t know if you heard a particular phrase as it was being read? 5.1 says – very starkly and quite amazingly really when you think about it – ‘Be imitators of God.’ And that short phrase is unpacked by St Paul and paraphrased in another pithy phrase ‘Live a life of love’. For ‘be imitators of God’ I think we can read ‘be imitators of Jesus Christ’.

 

Well, the bar is indeed very high. We may think it is beyond our reach. ‘Be imitators of God’ and ‘live a life of love’? It’s OK for the Pope maybe or the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was OK for the great saints of history like Mother Teresa, John Wesley and St Francis of Assisi – but for us? Imitators of God? Maybe a few keen people can have a go but for the rest of us? No, we’ll just watch from our armchairs and cheer on the spiritual superstars. At first sight there seems to be a quite striking parallel between these verses from Ephesians and the Olympic Games.

 

However, I’m sure that if we were offered a brand new body with new bones, muscles and joints or with a new heart to pump the blood more efficiently or with new lungs to breathe more deeply we might think that becoming another Usain Bolt or at least becoming a proficient athlete was a real possibility. If I could exchange this old worn out shell for something new then I think I might be more willing to have a go!

 

Well actually, that’s pretty much what St Paul says too in the context of being imitators of God and living a life of love. Perhaps it’s best to go back a few verses to something that St Paul reminds his readers – just before the point where this morning’s reading began. We started with 4.25. In 4.22-24 we read this:

 

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds;

24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

 


Put off your old self and put on the new. That’s pretty clear. Put on the new self created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. That image of exchanging the old for the new is something that comes up again and again in the New Testament especially in the letters of St Paul. And it’s the key to understanding just how much is possible for us. Let me take you to a few other places.

 

Colossians 3.8f for example:

But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language from your lips.9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

 

Also 2 Corinthians 5.17:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

 

And lastly 2 Corinthians 4.16:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

 

That’s all pretty clear. Maybe you can remember a specific day when you were converted and everything changed for you and you put off the old and put on the new. Or maybe for you it’s been more of a gradual journey. It doesn’t really matter. The thing is that we are called to something new – to something different. We are called to live a life which is distinctive both individually and together. That message has come across very clearly as we’ve been working our way through the letter to the Ephesians. And this morning it’s clear again. Live a life of love. Be imitators of God.

 

Following on from this ‘off with the old and on with the new’ in verses 22-24, we have a ‘therefore’ at the start of verse 25, the start of today’s reading. Because we have put off the old and put on the new we can expect a whole load of different things to be happening. If the new self is really created to be like God – then it’s quite in order for St Paul to encourage us to ‘be imitators of God’. And in practical terms to ‘live a life of love’.

 

Then come a series of goals to aim for. It’s not just a series of ‘don’ts’ but each is paired with a very positive ‘do’.

1.     Put off falsehood and speak the truth to each other.

2.     Do not let your anger lead you into sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.

3.     Do not steal but share what you have with others especially those in need.

4.     Do not allow unwholesome talk to come out of your mouths but only that which encourages others and builds them up.

5.     Do not grieve the Holy Spirit – you have his seal or stamp upon you.

6.     Get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling and slander and every form of malice and replace it with kindness, compassion and forgiveness.

 

In other words ‘be imitators of God’ and ‘live a life of love’. Because Jesus Christ loves you.

 

There’s nothing spectacular here. Nothing about public preaching or miracles or unusual supernatural gifts. No secret knowledge or magic buttons that will lead to a successful spiritual life. Just the ‘nitty-gritty’ of everyday life – what we do and what we say and who we are in relation to those around us.

 

It does sound hard. The bar is high. But we have been made new and God has done so much for us. As we look back over the last few weeks of our readings from Ephesians we see this so clearly.

 

·      In Ephesians chapter 1 we had a long list of all that God has done for us – remember that explosive never ending sentence about the extravagant grace and love of God?

·      In Ephesians 3 we saw how God wants to strengthen us in our inner being.

·      We have seen in Ephesians 2 and 4 how we can support each other as living stones in the wall or as different parts of the body.

 

So with all this support and assistance the high bar becomes at least within our sights. We can have a go. We can try. We are not on our own. It will need courage and determination and self discipline. But we have put off the old and put on the new! And next week we will see how we can be continually filled with the Holy Spirit who gives us the power and resources to live this out.

 

Usain Bolt said something very interesting earlier in the week. Actually to be precise he tweeted it!

 ‘I want to thank God for everything God has done for me because without him none of this would be possible.’

 

Similarly, with God’s help and each other’s support and encouragement we can be imitators of God and live a life of love.
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