The apostle Paul tells the Ephesians to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another” (Eph. 4:32; NKJV) and to “walk in love” (5:2). These are all noble ideals, of course, but sometimes hard to put into actual practice. Our natural instinct is to look out for ourselves and to retaliate when wronged. To us it seems like a simple matter of justice. And why should I go out of my way to do good to others? I have enough of my own problems.
And yet Paul enjoins us to be kind and to forgive, and he underpins the exhortation by pointing to the example of Christ: “forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (4:32), and “walk in love, as Christ also loved us and gave Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling aroma” (5:2). “God in Christ forgave you.” The verb in the Greek (echarisato) suggests open-handed generosity – to forgive freely with no strings attached.. We were guilty sinners. We fully deserved God’s wrath and condemnation. Yet in Christ Jesus we have been forgiven – our guilt has been removed and we are accepted as perfectly righteous persons.
But how was that possible? If we are guilty there is no denying the fact. The answer is that “Christ also loved us and gave Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God” (5:2). He “gave Himself.” The verb here (paredoken) means to “hand over” or to “deliver up,” especially to a person or judgment. Jesus was betrayed, tried and crucified. But He did it voluntarily; He could have prevented it if He had wanted to, and yet He did it anyway. And in so doing He was basically making Himself “an offering and a sacrifice to God.” The imagery here is drawn from the Old Testament temple ritual in which various things would be brought to the temple and offered up on the altar. In this way the thing offered was surrendered to God. And the reason Christ offered Himself for us is that He “loved us” – He had enough care and concern for us, guilty sinners that we were, that He was willing to lay down His very life on our behalf. And according to our text, this was “a sweet-smelling aroma.” We are told in the Book of Genesis that after the Flood Noah built an altar, sacrificed some animals, and burnt their carcasses on an altar. “And the Lord smelled a soothing aroma” (Gen. 8:21). And thus when Christ offered Himself up on the cross it was, figuratively speaking, “a sweet-smelling aroma” to God, something to which God took exquisite pleasure.
If, then, God has shown such grace and mercy towards us, what excuse do we have if we fail to show it towards those who have wronged us? We are to “walk in love, as Christ also has loved us” (5:2). We should show that same care and compassion, that same willingness to forgive, as did Christ. It is the attitude here that counts. We should be “kind to one another,” ready and willing to do good to each other. We should be “tenderhearted” – we should feel real sympathy and compassion in our hearts for others. And that in turn means that we will be “forgiving one another.” No one is perfect, but we are to love them anyway. The hurt may be real, be we seek the other’s redemption, not his punishment.
In this way we can be a living example of Christ’s own love. People should be able to look at us and get an idea of Christ must have been like in His earthly ministry. And in this way by our example the world is confronted with Christ.