Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow Christ’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 4:32-5:2, NIV)
Do you know that much of Christian living is shaped like the letter “L”?
Writing to the Ephesians, Paul has spelt out our privileges in Christ, and goes on to explain what life looks like for those who enjoy them. Have a look at the verses above and you’ll see how he says that our relationships with others - what we might call the horizontal - take their motivation and character from the vertical: what God in Christ has done for us. That’s L-shaped living.
We’re to be L-shaped in our love for one another. We’re dearly loved children, so we should, as Paul puts it so strikingly, live a life of love. Jesus himself made the same connection: As I have loved you, so you must love one another (John 13:34) He put us first in dying for us on the cross; so we are to put each other first. He worked for our flourishing; so we should for each other.
We’re to be L-shaped in our acceptance of one another. Writing to the church in Rome, Paul had to deal with tension in the congregation between two groups, whom he calls ‘the strong’ and ‘the weak’ - possibly the former from a more Gentile background, and the latter from a more Jewish one. Accept one another, says the Apostle, just as Christ accepted you (Romans 15:7). Each group might be wary of the other, and even resentful; the key to unity lay in stepping back and reflecting on how warmly Christ had accepted each of them.
We’re to be L-shaped in our forgiveness of one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you, wrote Paul to the Colossians (3:13). Since God has let us off the hook, so should we let each other off. The Lord Jesus ties these vertical and horizontal aspects together tightly - not only in the connection he makes between them in the Lord’s Prayer (Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us), but in the parable he told of the unmerciful servant, in which we are horrified by the hypocrisy of a man relieved of his debts but who refuses such relief to those who have debts to him (Matthew 18:21-35).
We’re to be L-shaped in our generosity to others. Way back in the book of Deuteronomy there are instructions about the release of servants in the ‘sabbatical’ year. Give to them, says Moses, as your God has blessed you. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you (Deuteronomy 15:14-15). How much more should we show generosity as those who’ve received Christ’s redemption.
From all this, it should follow that if we reflect often on what God has done for us, those around us will benefit.
We’ve also seen this principle worked out as we’ve been reading Paul’s letter to the Philippians together. This continues this Sunday at 5pm.