I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and live [walk] a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God... Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
Ephesians 5:1-2, 25
Walking is one of Paul’s favourite images to describe Christian living – hence the reason why many English translations use the word ‘live’ in places where it occurs. In Ephesians, Paul first uses it to describe our transformation from walking ‘in transgressions and sins’ (2:1-2) to walking in ‘good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do’ (2:10). But the metaphor then punctuates the last three chapters of the letter (4:1, 17; 5:2, 8, 15) as he calls God’s people to walk in a way that fits their status as the new humanity in Christ.
Here, addressing us as ‘dearly loved children’, Paul calls us to ‘walk in love’. Adopted into God’s family, we’re to bear the family likeness, imitating our Father. It’s such a love that sustains our life together as God’s people, made concrete in the ongoing transformation Paul describes: giving up lies, hostility, stealing, unwholesome talk, bitterness and anger, being honest in our work, building up one another, being kind and compassionate. Such a love goes to the heart of the gospel, patterned as it is on the supreme example of Christ’s own self-giving for us.
What applies to believers generally is applied to husbands specifically as Paul uses the same words later when he says ‘love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her’ (5:25). Note that the husband is not called to ‘rule’ or ‘exercise his headship’, but to love. In fact, this is the only command to husbands in the section, and it’s repeated three times (5:25, 28, 33) to reinforce the point! And once again, the measure of love is nothing less than the gospel: as Christ loved the church. It’s the example and empowerment of Christ which enables such sacrificial, serving, selfless love – not just on special occasions but in the daily round of life.
That’s why the walking metaphor is so apt. Walking suggests a regular pattern – ongoing, rhythmic, steady, almost unconsciously carried out – which takes place in the everyday where we live and work – in the home, at the office, on the school run, in the checkout queue. In such contexts, it’s the consistent, everyday actions that make a difference, as we continue to walk step-by-step in our lifelong process of transformation into the likeness of Christ through the ongoing work of the Spirit.