Ephesians 4: 32-5:2 “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 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.”
What does new-life, Christian behavior look like? “kind…compassionate…forgiving.” Notice that Paul does not focus on the kind of behavior that is mainly concerned with my personal purity. These are not the kinds of things we can practice if we withdraw from the world with all of its corrupting influences. We can’t practice these things if we lock ourselves in our rooms. These all have to do with relationships. These all deal with the way we treat others. You can’t be kind, compassionate, or forgiving when you are all alone.
There is no secret, no mystery, to what these words mean. We know what kindness looks like. We see it when someone makes himself useful, when he goes out of his way to help, to relieve suffering, to fill a need.
We know what compassion feels like. We see the pictures of people suffering some tragedy on the news. We listen to a friend tell us about his or her pain or grief. We don’t just sit there like a stone wall. We get a knot in our stomach. A tear wells up in our eye. We are moved to make a donation or offer our help in some way.
We understand what forgiveness is all about. We have received it often enough ourselves. It doesn’t mean that the offense or injury was unreal or acceptable. It was horrible. But we aren’t going to hold it against someone for as long as they live. We are releasing them from living under our anger and judgment. We are setting them free. And in doing so, we are setting ourselves free from the burden and misery of living with a grudge as well.
Our new life has a gracious model to consider: “Just as in Christ God forgave you.” Whether our sin was big or small, God has forgiven it. Whether our sin was mean and malicious, or thoughtless and careless, God has forgiven it. Whether our sin comes from pride, or whether it comes from moral weakness and a lack of discipline, God has forgiven it. Whether our sin was premeditated, or whether it was a passionate outburst, God has forgiven it. Whether our sins are many or few, God has forgiven them all.
This is not a guilt trip to manipulate us into forgiving. It is not even so much a roadmap to follow, or a checklist to work through. It is the gracious gift that God has used to release us, to set us free from his judgment. And when we are free, we are changed, we are transformed, into kind, compassionate, and forgiving people ourselves.
In this, we are children who resemble our Father. “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children.” When you were little, did you like to imitate your parents? When I was a little boy I had a plastic lawnmower and a plastic tool set. When I was a little older my dad would let me make things with the bent nails and scrap wood in his workshop. My cousins who grew up on farms had huge collections of toy tractors and wagons and farm machinery. We were imitating our fathers with our play. We wanted to be like them when we grew up.
You and I are children of the heavenly Father. More than that, we are dearly loved children. He isn’t a neglectful father who starves us for his love. He isn’t an angry and abusive father who beats us into behaving ourselves. He loves us lavishly. He dotes on his children. He is always taking care of us.
So how do dearly loved children imitate their Father? “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.” Love led Jesus to give up his life for us as the full payment for our sins. You and I cannot repeat that sacrifice. That was a “one-time-only” act of love. But God’s love will lead us to give ourselves up for other people in other ways, because that’s what love does. We imitate the gracious model our Father gave us in Christ.