Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
(Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV)
We are commanded by God through the Apostle Paul to be imitators of God. Do what He does, say what He says, think what He thinks. Then Paul follows that up with another command, and that command just happens to be a particular pattern we can use in order to *be* imitators of God.
We are told to walk in love. We are told that Christ is the example for us. How Christ “walked” – what He said and did – is our pattern.
In the Sermon on the Mount, He said to love our enemies. In the sacrificial death of Jesus, following the horrific abuse by the religious leaders and the people, in which Jesus prayed “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. What he said and did demonstrated love. As God in the flesh, He paid the price for our sins, and our forgiveness comes only through Him.
Matthew 19 (as well as Mark 10 and Luke 18) tells of a confrontation between Jesus and the rich young ruler. Here again we have a command to love. Jesus reminded the man of the command to love our neighbor. Now the focus of the passage is a deeper truth, which, unfortunately, the young man never claimed. This command that Jesus reiterated, and that Paul alluded to, is beyond us. We are not capable of the love that we are commanded to give and to live.
We saw how the young man was convinced, like so many others in his day and in ours, that he had loved his neighbor, and had honored his parents, and honored his wife, and kept himself sexually pure and treated others properly. But Jesus showed him that his heart was in his possessions, and that he was trusting in his own actions to redeem himself. The young man likely was not present at the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus made clear just how easily we fall into sin with our thoughts (see Matthew 5:21ff and 5:27ff).
We cannot love as we should outside of Christ. We are sinful people, and our acts of righteousness are worthless. We can only rely on the righteousness of Christ. Salvation means God grants us Jesus’ perfection and lays on Him the blame for our iniquities, our sins. There is nothing we can do except trust in His atonement. For an excellent sermon covering the primary message of this encounter, I recommend the one by John MacArthur on Matthew 19.
But there is another example that Jesus gives us in this encounter that we can learn from. Another way to imitate Him and walk in love.
Mark includes this … “Jesus, looking at him, loved him…” (Mark 10:21) In our sinful nature, we are not loving. We are anything but loving. Especially in situations like this one.
The young man came to Jesus in ignorance. He was ignorant of the only way to acquire eternal life. How do we respond to ignorance? With impatience? With pride? With scoffing? With frustration?
The young man came to Jesus presumptuously. He believed he had been righteous, obedient. How do we respond to presumptuousness? With scoffing? With anger? Maybe we simply ignore the offender. Maybe with “How dare you??!”
He came to Jesus in vain – – at least for him. Jesus knows our hearts, and knows our past and our future. He knew the young man was trusting in himself. He knew the fellow would leave trusting in himself – and not heed Jesus’ words. We may not know the future, but oftentimes we can predict it pretty accurately. And when we know that someone is going to drop the ball, not follow through on their commitment, not “get it”, our reaction is typically not Christlike.
The young man interrupted Jesus. Mark tells us “And as [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” (Mark 10:17 ESV)
How do we respond to interruptions? Frustration, disgust, impatience, anger.
And [the young man] said to him, “Teacher, all these [commandments] I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
(Mark 10:20-21 ESV)
Jesus responded in love. Notice that love doesn’t mean letting the young man off the hook. He still left Jesus unrepentant. But Jesus loved him.
God in His sovereignty will engineer all sorts of situations every day that are, to us, unfair, inconvenient, disruptive, “NOT OUR FAULT!!”, as opportunities for us to respond in love. Will we lash out or love? Will we lose our temper or love? Will we leave or love?
What Will We Do?