By, Isam Itson III
Ephesians 5:1-2. – Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Growing up in Southern California during the 1970’s convertibles were everywhere and I knew I would own one someday. When I was around eight years old, I told dad and he said, “Yeah, I remember my last convertible, a 1969 Mustang. Royal blue with a white top and white interior. I loved that car.” I was shocked. I had no idea that my dad was ever that cool.
The obvious question was what happened to it? Why did he get rid of such a great car? This is what he told me. “Your mother gets colds really easy. So, I got rid of it to keep her from getting sick.” Unbelievable. Dad couldn’t have a great car because of mom? Just keep the car and drive it when mom isn’t with you. He shook his head and said, “No, being with your mother is way more important to me than what type of car I drive.” I thought he was crazy.
Fast forward to 2001. My wife Lori and I had been married less than a year. While running errands I told her about my desire to get a convertible one day and she said, “They’re nice cars, but I get cold sores too easily to ride in one.” I thought to myself, ‘Are you kidding me? God you have a crazy sense of humor.’ First my mom, now my wife. I was never going to own a convertible. Like father like son.
That’s what it means to sacrificially walk in love. Surrendering what we want for ourselves in order to honor the needs, limitations, and boundaries of others. When honoring my own desires comes to a choice between me and them, I choose what’s best for them. The price I pay for ongoing relationship with them is worth it. According to the scriptures, that’s what it means for us to love God and love each other.
The question is, what stops us from loving each other in a way that reflects the sacrificial love of Christ? Covetousness. A lack of gratitude for what I already possess combined with an insatiable desire for what other people have. The apostle Paul defines covetousness as idolatry. Ephesians 5:5, “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”
Idolatry is simply devoting myself to my idea of how I think life should be in opposition to God’s design for human life on earth. God has revealed his provision, plan, and wisdom for our lives in the scriptures. When we say we want something else or something more, that is idolatry. And that is covetousness. And that produces a lack of value and gratitude for the life God has given us. I want what I don’t have and I don’t value what I do have.
That’s where the sexual immorality and impurity fit in. Sexual activity between humans was designed by God for men and women who are committed to one another as husband and wife. Within that relationship sexual activity honors God, the husband, and the wife. Outside of that relationship sexual activity is out of bounds or immoral or impure.
So when I participate in sexual activity outside of my marriage I am being covetous. I am desiring to take pleasure for myself from someone who is not my wife. I dishonor them, I dishonor my wife, and I dishonor God. When I honor the boundaries that God has placed on my sexual behavior I honor the other person, I honor my wife, I honor God, and I honor my best self. That is a real expression of gratitude and value for my wife as God’s gift for my life.
As followers of Jesus Christ, walking in love means placing the honor of God and the blessing of others above our own desires and preferences. Gratefully using what God has already given us to help others fulfills our lives as human beings at the deepest level. This attitude and opportunity is available to everyone, in every setting, under any circumstances.
We can all honor God and love each other if we are willing to sacrifice our selfish desire for life on our own terms. This is why Christ giving up his life for us was received as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. He honored the wisdom of God and the depths of God’s love for us, in spite of the cost to himself. This is what it means to imitate God in relationship to the people around us.
Do I find my deepest sense of identity in God? Am I grateful for what God has given me to this point in my life? How can I use the life God has given me to honor his love for the people in my life, today? These are the types of questions we encourage ourselves and each other with as members of the body of Christ. Following through on our answers, no matter the personal sacrifice, reveals the power of God’s love to the people in our communities. And God’s love changes everything.