They say the average American walks about 5-7,000 steps a day. Lately, they say that’s not enough. But right now I say, that’s a lot – if you think about where it takes you. We walk all over map-named places every day: Brookfield Square, our office downtown, around the block. If I asked you to label your daily walk descriptively, do you think you’d be able to label where you’ve gone “Love”. Or would you say, “loss”, or “disappointment”, or “shame”? If I asked others, ones familiar with your daily travels, would they say, “Love”? Or would they say, “Selfish”, or “Angry”, or “Sad”?
It’s a hard reality, this life. With its uncertainties, the disappointments in those around you? It should be a travelogue of forgiveness, if you think about it. And I mean that tragically: people fail you here all the time, you fail each other, I’ve failed you. In all our brokenness, forgiveness – the free-giving of love to someone undeserving – that needs to be applied all the time. But perhaps it’s not where you always go. Grieved, you might rather walk into Paul’s list of things in v.31 – the opposite of love. It pains when others fail you and it leaves a bad taste in your mouth – an angry attitude of mind, a bitterness. It can bubble up in rage in a moment – a fiery flash to let others know forgiveness is far off; or it can close up and smolder away, to break out later with fighting fists or slandering tongue. Whichever way, the things we often say and see, the places we go can be just wicked. And it comes from comparing me to you, “I’m going to do just as you’ve done to me.” “I’ll not be forgiving, because of all you’ve been doing…” And to label it rightly then, you won’t be walking in love.
In this part of Ephesians 4, Paul is trying to keep us out of all that and in the right perspective. He calls us to look at the maps of our daily treks and to understand that the Holy Spirit of God wants to be in our daily walk. See the beauty of God’s Spirit is that his presence labels your life. Sort of like this young, British gentleman I’ve been watching on the YouTube. Alec Steele is a blacksmith and he makes kitchen knives and broadswords. It’s fascinating to watch the process – the hammering, the forging, the welding, the shaping – and how he marks each piece with his own touchmark – a stylized “s” lain sideways. He stamps this mark into each piece to mark it his work. God “seals” you, or marks you as his own with the Holy Spirit. He plants faith in your heart as he works in you through his Word. He’s the mark of God’s interest in your eternal life. In fact, the mark that makes you fit for eternal life. He says that you’re his workmanship…
And he says that you can grieve him… when, in all your griefs and vexing things, you mark yourselves instead with wickedness. Paul’s calling you. You know the Holy Spirit’s burning interest in all your actions. And for all the places in our lives where see Satan’s footsteps right alongside ours, for the signposts where he’s renamed our territory as his, we need to repent of those sins. And instead, Paul says, to mark our maps with kindness. Kindness is that kind of moral, good action that nobody can question. The kind that makes life easy: no doubt about the motives, just refreshing goodness. And it isn’t only for you. The ease of kindness naturally flows into compassion: not only doing good, but assuming good about others, understanding how they might hurt, knowing that when they hurt you it’s probably because they’re hurting too. And, though they don’t deserve it, God intends that your kindness and compassion will overflow with grace and mercy for the unworthy. But the question is, “How will you do that?”
You can do those things when you know there’s really only one comparison for how to walk through life. We don’t compare with our own past actions, or a gleaming rule system, not the goodness of others either – those are signposts for the highway of disappointment back to wickedness. Twice in this section Paul gives us our measure for life when he uses the words “just as”. The first is in 4:32, “just as in Christ God forgave you.” And Paul continues in 5:2, “just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”. Jesus loved us. He walked into all the places of sin that we’ve made. He handed himself over to stand in our place, to walk into punishment for our sins – so that we might never know that trip. He brought the sacrifice of his perfect life to the cross – a wondrous smell, if you will, to God. Paul pictures it. He bought you for himself so that he could mark you with his Holy Spirit as his own. Each day, it’s as though God smells that beautiful sacrifice of Christ and he sees that you are marked as his perfect children. And he keeps you for the day when he will finally, fully redeem you from this sin-filled world.
And so Paul in 5:2 can say, “live a life of love.” In the new NIV translation, they render it more literally, “walk in the way of love”. Think of all the places you’ve walked: the dirty streets you’ve trod, the grungy student-union couches you’ve lounged, the Dells jet-boat tours you’ve survived, the hospital halls, the classroom chairs, your homey homes. The comforting reality of God’s work for us in Christ is that everywhere we walk, we are in his love. And more than that… God wants everywhere we walk to be a place where we take love too. Which is why Paul confidently encourages us, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children…”
That picture’s intended, I think, to make it easier to consider our daily walk in love. It’s hard to think about imitating God. He’s perfection. The creator. We can’t replicate what he’s done. More often than not, you’d end up thinking about who you’re not rather than how you could be like him. But that isn’t what God has in mind. He’s thinking more of the kind of thing children who are loved by their parents do. They imitate. They strut with their only half-sized-feet in mom’s strappy heels. They wear dad’s work shirt, short-sleeves to their wrists. They tell their friends why Social Security’s going to bust or not – ‘cuz that’s what dad says… And even the grown daughter looks back at her loving mother and says, “I don’t mind being just like her – she gave me so much.” And she doesn’t intend to do just what mom did, but to live in such a way that mom’s love shows up in what she does now.
Your Father above has shown unimpeachable kindness to you in Christ. In his plan of salvation there is compassion that bleeds for you. And in Jesus’ perfect life and death, there’s all the gracious love you never deserved and yet it’s all yours. As God’s children by faith that love is all over you: God’s character in your good works; the softness of Jesus’ smile in your tender sensitivity; the gracious comfort of the Holy Spirit in your forgiving words – these you do like a child who’s been loved. And our daily walk will always be more like walking in dad’s oversized shoes than step-for-step imitation – but God’s love for you plans for your daily forgiveness and growth and your improvement by his Word until he comes back on the day of redemption. Until then, in Christ we’re always his children and we’re always perfect to him. And so we lovingly express him in our own lives: what we say, what we do, where we go – we walk in God’s love and we walk with it too.
So, in the middle of 5-7,000 steps, if they ask you where you’re coming from, where you’re going… In fact, even if they don’t – when they see you, when you sit and chat, whether the days are easy, or it’s rough nights every night, whatever’s going on, wherever you are – walk in the forgiveness God gives in Christ and with his burning love for you; walk naturally as you are, his dear children who love to imitate him. Let life take you many places, but wherever you are always be here: from God to you, and from you for everyone else too – Walk in love.