How far is too far?

Ephesians 5:1-7 (I gave this devotion to the teachers on May 14)

I remember as a child admiring one person: my father. He was strong, brave, hard-working, and smart. I remember sitting in the tractor or truck with him, wanting to be a farmer and learning to drive all of the machinery so that I could be just like him. While my view of him may not be as childlike now, I still see him as an example that I will try and imitate for the rest of my life.

Similarly, Paul tells us that we should be imitators of God, following his example in Jesus Christ (5:1). What is the most important part of Jesus’ life and teachings that Paul thinks we should imitate? It is Jesus’ graceful and self-sacrificial love (5:2). What should be the most important part of our Christian lives? It is this self-sacrificial love that we see foremost in the cross. It is a love that is concerned more about one’s neighbor than one’s self.

Soon after, Paul describes 4 habits that he sees as incompatible with this commitment to love (5:3). They are sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness, and the destructive possibilities of our words, which he warned against a few verses before (4:29-32). When I read this portion of scripture, I wonder what things can I or can’t I say? I want Paul to give me a specific rule about words. I want to know exactly when my actions become sexually immoral, impure, or covetous. However, I think that I am coming to this text with the wrong mentality.

Following Jesus is not about the things that we don’t do or avoid doing. It is not about finding the exact point when our actions become sinful, so that we can get as close to that point as possible but still not sin. Following Jesus is about acting out his self-sacrificial love to all people. In the presence of this love, these other habits are impossible. When we have been changed by this love, we will quit these habits because they don’t show love. Our actions should and will be filled with thanksgiving to God for his love that has transformed us (5:4). How can we love our students with this self-sacrificial love? How can we imitate God in this love and inspire our students to do the same?

Ntate Neo


Other thoughts:

I remember reading books that I had found about dating, in which it seemed the biggest question was “how far can we go before what we’re doing is sinful?” It’s interesting that I have thought very similarly to this, but not only in dating. For me, this argument is all over the place in my behavior. Is there a point when I have eaten too much food and become gluttonous? Is there an absolute line about certain words that you should not say in a given language? How far can I go with any behavior? Is God actually sitting in heaven waiting for me to cross these lines so that he can punish me? Maybe if I get them all figured out, I’ll become perfect and I won’t have to worry about this sin thing anymore.

I know some of the above is ridiculous, but do you ever think about these things? Sometimes, I just want to know where the lines are drawn. However,  I think that just as human relationships are not cut-and-dry, neither are the rules that we create sometimes about sin. Sin hurts God and our neighbors. I am not saying here that all rules are relative as much as I’m saying that we may not be able to figure out all of the rules that will prevent us from sinning. The moment that we think we have figured it all out, though, we become like the Pharisees in the New Testament. We become more concerned about the rules than about imitating the self-sacrificial love of the God who gave us some of these rules in the first place.   Even with a few rules, I will still mess up, and I’ll have to ask God and my neighbor for forgiveness. In those moments, I am humbled and more fully aware of how much I need Jesus and his self-sacrificial love. In those moments, I am also more aware of how ingrained sin is in my life and how much I need God to continue to work by His Spirit in my heart and mind.


~ by randallkoehler on June 7, 2012.

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