Over the years I have worked with many families where the children were abused, neglected, and/or removed from the custody of their parents. These kids routinely grow up angry and scared, unable to love others as they would like to. In families where the children are loved and nurtured by their parents the kids are more likely to learn to love others around them. It seems like being raised in an environment where genuine love is experienced and modeled gives them the best chance of learning to be loving themselves.
I have been reading through Ephesians lately, and just today I am looking at 5:2, where we are told to walk in love. It does not merely tell us to be loving or to love others, but to walk in love. This expression portrays love as an ongoing lifestyle. In the previous verse we are told to be imitators of God as beloved children. Kids imitate their parents–I have seen it so many times. Just this week, in fact. When I was a boy I saw how my dad loved my mom and treated her with care and dignity. When I became a husband myself I needed no instruction. Kids who are neglected and abused often become abusive and neglectful parents. Not always, but too often for it to be coincidence. We are like little children loved by God the Father, and we are to imitate that love. Paul spent the first three chapters of his epistle to the Ephesians explaining in detail all the benefits that ar ours as products of God’s unconditional love for us His people.
Then we are further exhorted by the example of Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us (v. 2). We do not love God and others because we merely convince ourselves that we are beloved children and that Christ lovingly gave Himself on our behalf. We love because this is in fact who we are. We must know this and rest assured of it, based not on our own feelings or performance, but on the bedrock of the many biblical statements to that effect.
We start with loving God. We love Him because He first loved us. His love was the basis for the gracious act of regeneration, whereby He made us alive and able to recognize and emulate his love. We do not, however, base our love for others on their love for us; rather, we are to love even those who hate us. Why? Because God loved us while we were unworthy sinners. If we truly are imitators of Him as dear children our love for others will not be based on their love for us. In fact if we refuse, for example, to love fellow Christians we are placing ourselves above God. He is able to love us and them in spite of our sins, so for us to refuse to do the same is the height of arrogance.
Such love is staggering. And to think God expects us to emulate this love is equally humbling. I will not pretend I know how this is done or that I am walking this way. What I do know is that it is based on my standing as a beloved child of God and that it is the bar I and all other children of the Father must be willing to attain to. Easier said than done. Love is hard sometimes; and sometimes it is not nice. It can be messy, but we must be willing to roll up our sleeves and get a little dirt under our fingernails.
I exhort you today to make it your ambition to walk in love.