“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
This is every kid’s favorite time of the year, isn’t it? Summer! When you can sleep late, hang out with your friends, do as you please. Freedom from all the rules of school and the schedules everybody else makes for you. I hope you guys have been enjoying it! And we won’t talk about the number of days left until…
Of course, it’s a good time of the year to be an adult, too—and largely because it’s such a great time for children. I love watching kids at play, at the pool, tee ball, family vacations, Vacation Bible School, just interacting with each other at home when they’re not tied own with homework. It is interesting to watch children interact, isn’t it? Sometimes they cooperate with one another so well, sometimes not so well; they’re sinful just like everybody else. What makes children get along with one another? We’d like to find the formula, wouldn’t we?
At VBS this week, I had the opportunity to observe this dynamic firsthand. We were playing a game in which teamwork and cooperation are very important. It was interesting to see how some of the teams worked well together and others did not. Some got so frustrated with their teammates that there were some hurtful words and hurt feelings, so we had to deal with that, too.
After the games, we talked about what had happened. I asked the kids what they thought had made it possible for them to win and what had happened when they didn’t win. They agreed that it all came down to teamwork. When they worked together, they succeeded; when they did not, they got frustrated with each other and things just got worse. Cooperation is the key to any group efforts.
As with most things, I suppose, when it comes to raising children to cooperate in wholesome ways, there are the two extreme views. There’s the permissive approach, and there’s the strict, authoritarian approach. Wise parents, though, are looking for something in between or a combination of both.
Our heavenly Father is the wisest parent, and in our text this evening, our loving Father teaches His children how to get along, avoiding either extreme, but drawing from the strengths of both approaches—permissive and authoritarian.
Now before this becomes a “how to” sermon, let me make something clear: We human parents can draw some very good advice from this Word of God and apply it to our own parenting, but God isn’t really speaking to us as parents here. He’s speaking to all of us as children. That’s foundational for everything God says to us in our text today. Our Father teaches us as His children. St. Paul assures us, “You were sealed for the day of redemption… as beloved children.”
We are children of God! Children of the heavenly Father. All of us, at every age. In fact, we are sealed as His beloved children. God did that in Holy Baptism. Baptism is the visible act by which God put His seal on us. It marks each one of us—both on the forehead and on the heart—as His child. By that act, God also takes responsibility for raising us, for teaching us those things a parent teaches a child. Like how to get along with one another, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ, the rest of God’s children.
Just like kids, we sometimes get along well, sometimes not so well. Except that the older we get, the more our squabbles become these: Destroying someone’s reputation through gossip, rather than shouting over who gets to bat first. Fighting for a job the other person wants, rather than for a seat next to the window. Making sure we get our way in the voter’s assembly no matter what it takes, rather than insisting we should be the captain because it’s our ball. Soaking each other with verbal abuse, rather than mere water that actually feels pretty good on a hot day.
That kind of behavior is no more acceptable among adult Christians than it is among kids at Vacation Bible School. As Paul writes: “That is not the way you learned Christ!” (Ephesians 4:20). God intends in our text to lead us to a better kind of interaction. Every parent’s dream—isn’t it?—is children who are kind and forgiving of one another rather than bitter and angry. How can parents make that happen? How does God make it happen in us?
Our Father has His dos and don’ts for getting along. Remember that extreme permissive approach? The parent lets the child learn on his own how to get along. The idea is that independence lets the child develop his or her creativity to the fullest. Unfortunately, children in such totally permissive homes often develop an egocentric, “me first” view that leads to greed, covetousness, and bullying. What’s more, children in such environments often develop resentment for parents who don’t seem to care enough to provide guidance.
God certainly does not take this kind of laissez-faire, “anything goes” attitude with His children. He cares. In fact, when His children sin, He grieves (4:30a). The Holy Spirit is described as like a parent. He is the one who teaches us God’s will. And He grieves when we ignore it. The Holy Spirit is the one who shows us God’s love. And He grieves when our lives don’t reflect that love.
Imagine the grief a parent feels when a son or daughter hurts someone else’s child, maybe commits violent crime. Imagine the grief a parent feels when a child rejects everything a parent has done for him, storming out of the house at age 18, vowing never to come back. Imagine the grief a parent feels when she sees a child go the wrong way in life, perhaps destroying herself with drugs or alcohol or unchristian relationships. The Holy Spirit is grieved when God’s children hurt one another. The Holy Spirit is grieved when we reject everything God has done in creating, redeeming, and caring for us. The Holy Spirit is grieved whenever we hurt ourselves and others by falling into sin.
God cares about us too much to sit back and see whether we’ll learn how to get along. He doesn’t take a “boys will be boys” or “children will be children” attitude when Christians hurt one another. No, He commands: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (4:31-32a).
God has His dos and don’ts for getting along. It is completely inconsistent with Christian faith for believers to fight, carry grudges, talk evil about other believers. God does not permit it! God commands His children to be kind and compassionate and forgiving. God commands His children to care about the hurt others are feeling at the death of a loved one. God commands His children to support others who are feeling weak when life seems to be going wrong. God commands His children to bear with others’ sins and failures.
God is no permissive parent. We could never resent Him as a Father who doesn’t care. He longs, He aches, for us to be kind and compassionate to one another. By His commands, He actively teaches us to get along.
Still, you can’t compare Him to a parent of the other extreme approach, a strict authoritarian. Our Father uses a lot of love in getting us to get along. The Gospel is the only motivator that generates true change of heart. Paul writes: “God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 4:32b-5:2).
You know the authoritarian model. Lots of rules. “Do it because I said so.” If you don’t listen to me, you’re going to get it.” This approach gets outward compliance but inner resistance, often resulting in even more resentment than the permissive model. So as soon as the threat is gone, even the outward compliance stops.
God doesn’t want grudging outward action. He wants hearts. So He brings about loving outward action by working inwardly, working in our hearts. He showers us with huge doses of love (5:1). He calls us His children, His dearly beloved. And He proved that that’s exactly what we are to Him when Christ sacrificed Himself for us (5:2). That’s the greatest demonstration of love, isn’t it?—giving up one’s own life. Jesus died on the cross because God loves us.
God wanted us to be His, to be His children, children who would serve Him and one another willingly. That could only be possible if He removed the sin that separated us from Him and from one another. That’s what Jesus did by dying and rising again.
Paul says Jesus gave Himself up as a “fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” That recalls the Old Testament sacrifices—the smoke of the burnt offerings being sent up to God as a pleasing aroma. Let your nostrils imagine the pleasure of breathing fine incense. Nothing the Old Testament people or we ourselves could present could please God like that, but Jesus pleased God for us. He was God demonstrating His love for us.
Christ’s pleasing God for us is why we could be “sealed for the day of redemption.” Once Christ had paid for the sins of the world, the Holy Spirit could come to us in Baptism and give us the forgiveness Jesus earned. The seal means we can certain of eternal life when our last day comes. Baptism, eternal life—that’s God demonstrating His love for us.
That love then teaches us to love; we imitate God’s love (5:1). The Greek word for “imitator” gives us our word “mimic.” That’s the way children learn, isn’t it? Children mimic their parents. They walk the way Dad walks. Talk the way Mom talks. Children who live in a loving home see how it’s done. Dad saying sweet things to Mom, spouses helping each other around the house—it rubs off.
God uses that technique on us, teaching us by example how to get along. He wants us to love, so He first loved us richly. He wants us to forgive, so He shows us how by first forgiving us.
Even more important, God’s love and forgiveness motivates us to love and forgive and get along. A child who lives in a house of ill will not only won’t know how to love, but he also won’t want to. The anger he’s received will be anger that has to come out. But a child who grows up in a loving family wants to be nice to other kids, wants to love other people, know how to love other people.
We Christians are all growing up in the most loving family. In spite of all our sins, we’re loved. In spite of our unworthiness, we’re blessed every day. In spite of our “bitterness and wrath,” “anger,” “clamor,” “slander,” and “malice,” all who believe have eternal life. That kind of love moves us to get along nicely, even if we’ve long outgrown summers off and the backseat of the family car.
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved [you] and gave Himself up for [you], a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2). You are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This sermon is based upon a sermon outline by Rev. Carl C. Fichenscher II, published in Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 22, Part 3, pg 43-45.