I have to be careful where I step at the moment.
We have had a lot of rain in Adelaide recently and there is a fair bit of mud around. When I walk from our home to the church, it is easy to walk through some muddy puddles and then carry it on my shoes wherever I go during the day. A few weeks ago when I arrived for worship on Sunday morning I had actually walked in something on my way over to the church. I’m going to assume it was mud, but I really didn’t to smell it to find out for sure. I had to clean the bottom of my shoes before the service started because I didn’t want to leave muddy footprints all around the sanctuary.
That’s the thing with mud – it sticks.
Usually we think of mud sticking as a bad thing. When I was contemplating these words from Paul in Ephesians 5:1,2 though, I started wondering whether we can think about mud sticking in a good way.
The words the NIV translate as ‘walk in the way of love’ and the NLT interpret as ‘live a life filled with love’ are simply ‘walk in love’ in the Greek New Testament. Both the NIV and the NLT translations are good, but I really like the picture of ‘walking in love’ the way that we might walk in mud.
One reason is that if we are going to walk in God’s love, we actually need to get into it like a muddy puddle that’s full of God’s goodness and grace. Last Saturday afternoon, my two young sons and I pulled on our boots and spent some time walking through and jumping around in some mud outside our house. Maybe that’s what Paul is saying God wants us to do with the love he has for us in Jesus. Maybe God’s love isn’t something to theorize or theologize about, but to walk through, jump around in, splashing in its goodness so we’re covered in it. It’s a similar idea to what we looked at a couple of weeks ago from Ephesians 3:18 – that God’s love for us in Jesus is so wide, long, high and deep that we can spend our whole lives exploring its goodness and never reach its limits.
To walk in God’s love starts with having both feet in his love. But it doesn’t stop there.
The next aspect of walking in God’s love is that we carry it with us wherever we go and whatever we do. Just like the mud we were walking through stuck to our shoes and boots, when we walk in God’s love it sticks with us. It covers us and even becomes part of who we are. Paul says we are God’s ‘dearly loved children’ (5:1 NIV). Through Jesus, God has given us new identities as people he has adopted into his family and who he loves. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we go and do as people whom God loves enough to give his Son for us. Like mud that sticks to our shoes or boots, this truth sticks to us our whole lives as we live it out in our relationships with others.
The entire Bible points us to the reality of God’s love so we can walk in it with our relationship with him and with others. In Ephesians 4, Paul gives us some specific ways in which we can walk in God’s love with others:
- Putting off falsehood (v25) – not just telling lies but living in open, honest and authentic relationships with others
- Not letting the sun go down on our anger (v26) – whether we take this literally or metaphorically, it means working our issues out with others
- Doing something useful with our hands so we can give generously to others (v28) – this gives us whole new way to think about our work as a way to love others
- Using our words to build others up and benefit them (v29), not knock them down
- Getting rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and malice (v31) – I wonder why our congregation laughed when I said that these never happen in our church
- Being kind, compassionate and forgiving to others (v32)
It’s worth spending some time contemplating these and asking God to show us where he wants to challenge us in our lives and in our relationships. Living in a congregation like this would be great, but I don’t think many of us actually live up to the love Paul describes.
When we are challenged by Paul’s words, we need to go back to the muddy puddle of God’s love for us. Too often we try to do better by ourselves and then get frustrated or guilty when we keep doing the same things. Instead, Jesus teaches us to remain in his love (John 15:9). Using the image of God’s love being a muddy puddle, when we’re falling short of being the people and community God wants us to be, we need to go back to the love God has for us in Jesus to walk through and jump around in some more. As we get covered more and more with the sticky mud of God’s love for us in Jesus, it will cling to us and we will naturally carry it with us in our lives.
Ephesians 5:1,2 is one of my most favourite discipleship texts because this is what following Jesus is all about: walking in God’s love for us in Jesus so it sticks to us and we carry it with us into every circumstance of life. Especially as we talk about and plan the future of our ministry to young people, it is good for us to be keeping Paul’s words in mind. Our culture is teaching us and our young people to live in a way that is all about us and what we get, the exact opposite of the way of love Paul points us to. Jesus tells us that if we live this way, our destination is destruction, but if we walk in the way of God’s love, then we find life to the full (Matthew 7:13,14; John 10:10). Where will our young people learn to walk in love if it’s not from us?
So, which way are we walking? Do we walk our own ways, heading in our own directions, trying to find our own way through life? Or are we walking in love, stomping around in God’s infinite and perfect love for us, and carrying it everywhere we go, in everything we do?
Walking in love brought Jesus to life that is stronger than death. This is the path he leads us to as he calls us to follow him. When we get lost along the way, then maybe it’s time to jump in muddy puddles, remembering that when we walk in the love God has for us in Jesus, it really sticks!