Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly beloved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Last Tuesday evening, I came home, and as soon as I entered the house I knew that Katie had been baking for our Thanksgiving outings. The scent of two pumpkin cheesecakes hit me in the face as soon as I walked in. A few days before that, she had made three jars of praline pecan sauce to put over these cheesecakes. It also goes great over brownies and ice cream. We know that it’s the holidays just by the aromas. From October on, you’ll smell all kinds of sweet things, from pumpkin spice lattes to deep-fried turkeys.
If you’re like Katie and me, you’ve already had your Christmas tree up for three weeks, so your house also has the scent of pine and evergreen all over. For a lot of us, there’s just nothing more pleasant than those kind of smells. And that’s how aromas should work: they should be pleasing. You know that good food is on its way. We know that the holidays are near.
And that’s what we read about in Paul’s letter to Ephesus. Jesus Christ, the Son, is a fragrant aroma to the Father. The Son pleases the Father. But look at how Jesus pleases God—by walking in love, by having given himself up as an offering and a sacrifice for us. And Paul tells us to imitate God in this way.
So the question I want to pose to you tonight as we begin to celebrate something so miraculous as God taking on flesh to sympathize with our shortcomings and to be our priest is this: are you imitating God? Are you a fragrant aroma to God and to a lost and hurting world? At this time of year, we think of imitating kindness and charity, of course, but what about our worship and our holiness?
How can I imitate a gracious, holy, and sacrificial God to a watching and hurting world? So I want to look at this passage and see what kind of pleasing aroma the Son was for the Father and how we can imitate that.
What stands out to me more than anything in this passage is that the real, fragrant, pleasing aroma to God is the way that Christ loved the church—but what’s more is just how much that love cost him. Paul says he “gave Himself up for us” and that it was “an offering and a sacrifice.”
You see, true love, the kind of love the world doesn’t fully understand, is sacrificial. If there is no sacrifice, there is no Godly love. The world knows how to do good to someone as long as it doesn’t require too much. But the kind of love that God showed the world as he entered our sphere as an infant only to grow into a man to sacrifice himself on a cross is so much more than just the general kindness we show each other. But the greatest kind of love only matters if it loses so that someone else gains.
Paul says to imitate or mimic God as his children. Isn’t it terrifying how much your children watch you and you don’t even realize it? They see everything, and because you’re the parent, they think that whatever you do is good and right. In the same way we learn from our parents, Paul says to learn from God as our Father. And not just children but as beloved children.
Children that are loved act as if they’re loved, don’t they? You can always tell the kids who are happy at home and those who aren’t. Kids are just too transparent. So we need to mimic or imitate God like a child mimics or imitates his parents. So what kind of things are we to imitate about God?
In the chapter right before this, Paul gives considerable space to the “Christian’s walk.” By “walk” Paul is answering the question, “how do we then live?” Paul says in 4:25-32,
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger, do not sin;” do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not give the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and ager, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Speak the truth, don’t let anger make you sin, do something useful with your hands, speak grace-filled words to each other, don’t sin against the Spirit, be kind, be forgiving—these are the ways you imitate a holy God. Now, not a one of us is a poster child of these things. But our heavenly Father models them for us with perfection. He is the God of truth; his anger is always righteous; he uses his hands to create and sustain; he speaks kindly to his children; and he has forgiven our sins.