God is seeking to reconcile the people of earth to himself and to each other. He wants to create one new humanity, and he wants to do this through Christ. In addition to remembering where we came from, discussed last post, another way we can cooperate with God’s purpose is to learn to live in love.
Christian love (agape) is a feeling of positive regard that is expressed in tangible actions (1 John 3:18). The emphasis on the action part of love is so strong in the New Testament that Christians sometimes overlook the necessity of having the positive feelings of love. 1 Corinthians 13:3 shows that doing the deeds without having love is worthless and so also shows that love is not synonymous with the good deeds. There is a feeling component as well. It is true that we should act in love even if we’re not feeling it at the moment, but it is so much easier to act in love if we have allowed God to cultivate the feeling of love for others in our hearts. Both the positive feeling and the tangible expressions are integral to true Christian love. God did not send his only Son into the world out of duty but out of love.
The good deeds we do in love are beneficial to other people, and we do them regardless of whether they deserve it. This is the way God loves us, and we are called to love others in the same way (Romans 5:6-8). Further, we have and show this kind of love even if it costs us. Jesus shows us that true love is sacrificial (1 John 3:16; Ephesians 5:25).
If people have such positive regard for others that they choose to sacrifice in order to do what is best for others, regardless of whether they deserve it, it is not surprising that people will be unified. We need to learn to live in love like this.
One aspect of learning to live in love is knowing how love rightfully expresses itself. Ephesians has much to teach us about this. For example, love is to be for all the saints (1:15), not just our friends at church. Love shows equal interest and concern for all the parts of the body, including those we may deem less important from a secular point of view (1 Corinthians 12:21-26).
We are to bear with each other in love (4:2). True love causes us to be patient and forebear others in their weaknesses in sins. It is not enough, however, simply to tolerate other believers with our hands on our hips. Instead, we must do so in love.
We are to speak the truth in love (4:15). “Speaking the truth” is probably better translated “truthing” in love, that is, living God’s truth. That would include our speech to be sure but also our whole manner and way of life. We are to live, act, and speak in truth and make sure we do all that in love. Some people focus on truth but are woefully absent in love. This is not even real truth. Others focus on love but are very loose with truth. This is not even real love. Both are needed (cf. John 1:14, 17).
We are also called to exercise our spiritual gifts in such a way that the body is built up in love (4:16). The sin of using one’s spiritual gifts for self-gratification is not limited to first century Corinth (1 Corinthians 14:4). Still today people are sometimes more concerned about their right to use their spiritual gift and what they think their gift says about their own importance than they are for the building up of the body of Christ in love.
Both God and Christ serve as models of Christian love. Since God loves us, we are to be imitators of him by walking in love like his Son did (5:1-2). Jesus shows clearly that such love entails giving ourselves up for others, as he did (v. 2).
An important, specific example of sacrificial love is that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (5:25; cf. vv. 28, 33). Perhaps you’ve been startled to discover that sometimes people are not the same at home as they are at church. Yet our calling is to love our spouses and family members with the same rich love that we sometimes seem to show more readily to others on Sunday mornings.
If we would all love all the saints, are lovingly patient with each other, live and speak truth lovingly to each other, exercise our spiritual gifts with true love for each other, lovingly sacrifice ourselves for each other at home and at church and all during the week, what affect do you think that would have on our unity? When churches are feuding, however, love is scarce. No one is particularly feeling the love and no one is expressing it in the ways mentioned. We seem to think that arguing harder about the matters that divide us will somehow bring unity, but there will be no unity where love gets marginalized. Love and its appropriate expressions need to be deeply engrained in us individually and collectively before dissension arises so that they can ward off any threats to our unity that sin and Satan assault us with.
If we want to learn to live in love, perhaps even more pressing than the need to learn how love expresses itself is the need to actually develop love in our hearts. The power and basis for the love we have been describing is that God first loved us (1 John 4:10). Love is also a fruit of the Spirit working in us, so we need to go along with the Spirit’s desires (Galatians 5:16-18, 22-23, 25). In these ways, God himself produces love in us. Ephesians teaches us to depend on God to develop love in us in yet another way.
Near the end of Ephesians 3, Paul acknowledges that the Ephesians have indeed begun their lives in Christ with love. They are rooted in love like a newly planted plant, and they have a foundation of it (3:17). They need much more love, however, so Paul turns to God in prayer for them (“bow my knees” v. 14).
It is significant that Paul’s prayer here is to the Father “from whom every family in heaven on earth is named.” Whatever the exact meaning of this difficult phrase (literally “from whom all fatherhood”), it seems clear that his concern is still on the unity of the family of humankind who are all children of one Father. This same concern for community is also present later in his prayer when he refers to “all the saints” (v. 18). Paul’s focus on oneness that we have seen previously in Ephesians is still at the forefront of his mind as he prays.
What is his prayer for these Christians? It is that God would strengthen them with power through the Holy Spirit, so that Christ would dwell in their hearts and so that they would be able to grasp the enormity of Christ’s love. He wants them to know Christ’s love even though it is beyond knowing (16-19). I am still humbled when I compare the rich content of Paul’s prays to my own typical “wish list” approach. More specifically, I have not spent nearly enough time praying that I will grow in the grace of love like he prays here.
Paul’s purpose is not merely that these believers would grasp and know the love of Christ, however. His ultimate purpose for them is that they may be “filled with all the fullness of God” (v. 19). The reason he wants them to have power through the Spirit, to have Christ dwell in their hearts, and to thoroughly comprehend Christ’s enormous love is so that they may be filled with all the fullness of God. We may not understand precisely what this last phrase means, but the gist is that we will be like God. Only God is fully God, of course, but we are to stive to be like him (5:1). In the immediate context it would seem this has to do especially with our becoming more loving. God is love (1 John 4:8), after all, and so should we be. Knowing Christ’s love is not a mere intellectual exercise then. Rather, as was true with hope and power mentioned previously, so now with love, we need to have the eyes of our hearts enlightened so that we can know it in an experiential sense and actually possess it in our lives (cf. 1:18-19).
Since prayer is the approach Paul uses here to develop authentic love in the Ephesian Christians, we should not think this is something we can accomplish on our own. Yesterday I was startled to hear a radio preacher say that Jesus’ teaching about the two greatest commandments (love God, love neighbor) doesn’t really apply to Christians since those were the two greatest commandments in the law. That struck me as truly odd. Listening longer, though, I think his real concern was not about those two great commandments per se but about Christians trying to live and perform any of God’s commandments by their own power and as a means of gaining acceptability to God. Instead of questioning the enduring significance of the two greatest commandments, however, I think it is better to simply emphasize what Paul does in Ephesians 3—we must depend on God in prayer to develop love like his.
I don’t know whether you feel like a loving person. Sometimes I do; sometimes I don’t. The rest of the passage helps with any inadequacy we may feel about it. It tells us that God can do way more than all we ask or imagine, by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us (Ephesians 3:20, 16). That means that however loving you may think he could make you, you’re wrong—he can do way more! Whoever you are asking him to help you love or whatever aspect of love you are asking him to develop in you, he can do it plus way more! We are not capable of Christlike love on our own. We are dependent on him. Because of this, we also give God the glory (3:20-21).
Our natural selves seem to be strongly drawn to disagreements and arguments. We feel compelled to push hard for what we want or what we think is right. Such behaviors are not going to unify us. If we hope to become one as God desires, we must to turn to God and learn to live in love. Until having and showing love is as important to us as being right or getting our way, unity will elude us. I’ve got a long way to go, how about you?