Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 5:2f “. . .to God for a sweet-smelling savor.”
To love as Christ loved entails giving self as an offering and a sacrifice. We should begin each day by yielding ourselves to be directed by God’s sovereignty, to wholly dedicate ourselves to expressing love to each hurting individual we meet, to be willing to give even to the point of personal loss. When we love as Christ loved, we find consolation in knowing that God reacts to our deeds of love the same way He reacted to Christ’s.
Jesus’ sacrifice for others resulted in heaven being filled with “a fragrant aroma” (NASB). This metaphor, which expresses acceptability before God, is used some forty-four times in the Old Testament in the context of the sacrificial system. Sweet-smelling perfumes were often sprinkled on temple sacrifices. This served a practical purpose by helping to counteract the offensive smell of the bloody service, and also symbolized a spiritual truth. The burning of spices or incense, so fragrant to our own senses, was figuratively applied to God as being pleased with sacrifices offered to Him.
To God, the most pleasing sacrifice ever was Jesus’ death on the cross for us. Christ’s love profoundly satisfied the Father. When Jesus cried, “It is finished” (JN 19:30), the Father replied, “Yes, it is. I require no more.”
Christ’s death was infinitely more satisfying to God than all other Old Testament sacrifices combined, because in the cross the Father for the first time saw a human being carry obedience to the ultimate limit, to the nth degree. It was a long time in coming. Six times during the creation, “God saw that it was good.” At the end of the sixth day, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (GN 1:31). The seventh day He rested. All was well. Then everything fell apart. Chaos exploded.
God had been terribly dishonored by the first man and all his descendants, but finally, at Calvary, the Father saw one who walked in absolute holiness. For the first time, there was one person to whom the glory of God and the good of others meant more than anything else. This was truly a new thing, a descendant of Adam who cared more about the will of God and the welfare of others than about any self-centered desires.
At Calvary a far greater love and self-sacrifice was shown than had ever been displayed. Heaven had never seen “love so measureless, so reckless of cost, for those who were naturally unworthy of it” (F.B. Meyer). God saw a faith that never gave way, a patience which never failed, a courage that never flinched, a love that never wavered, a zeal that never waned.
The lesson of our text is straightforward. God was pleased with Christ’s self-sacrifice, and will delight in ours, too. Jesus pleased the Father most when He gave Himself for others. We most gladden the Father when we do likewise, giving self for others. He will enjoy watching His children walk sacrificially. His “Father-heart will swell with love” (Lloyd-Jones).
This is vital to know, for pleasing God is to be our main ambition. Self-sacrifice is appreciated by our Heavenly Father. Our deeds never go unnoticed by Him. He sees us, and is blessed. Sacrificial self-giving lifts a fragrant aroma to God. We cannot love as perfectly as Christ did, nor can we be a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, but we can be growing daily in our love, thereby ever becoming more like Him.
An acorn is not an oak tree, but contains in itself what is necessary to begin and continue the process of becoming a monarch of the trees. Jesus is the mighty oak, but we acorns have the Holy Spirit within us to begin and continue our growth toward the likeness of the oak. Through His power, we can have the “holy perfume” (Calvin) of Jesus spread over us. The Philippians sent a gift to Paul in prison. He gratefully called it “an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God” (PH 4:18).
Let me add another observation. The holy perfume of Jesus is so strong that it can fill not only Heaven, but also Earth, with its aroma. Paul said the Lord “everywhere uses us to reveal and spread abroad the fragrance of the knowledge of himself” (2 C 2:14, NEB). When we prepare ourselves to face the day, we are careful about personal hygiene, the last touch often being to put on perfume or cologne. We recognize the winsome power of a pleasing aroma. The way we smell really does matter. What is true of the physical is also true of the spiritual. Even as we make our bodies smell good, we should ponder whether or not our lives smell good.
As Mary poured costly perfume on Jesus’ feet, “the house was filled with the odor of the ointment” (JN 12:3). Sixty years later, John remembered the odor. He never forgot the pleasing fragrance which saturated the room. Even so our deeds of sacrificial love spray Jesus’ fragrance in every direction, filling heaven and earth with stimulating, unforgettable aroma.
Eph. 5:3a “But. . .”
It would be fun to dwell forever only on Christ’s love, but this conjunction of contrast suddenly moves us into a different atmosphere. Paul abruptly brings us back down to the stark, ugly realities of this world.
We must follow Scripture wherever it leads. One reason I ask people to join me in annually reading the Bible cover to cover is that the habit forces us to read all the counsel of God regularly. Otherwise, it is easy to read only what we want to read and thus form a skewed view of Holy Writ.
Eph. 5:3b “. . .fornication,. . .”
Why this sudden transition to the deeds of the flesh? Because lust is Satan’s counterfeit for love. In absolute contrast to the sweet-smelling savor of love stands the stench of the devil’s sewage. The fumes of lust are most odious when considered in light of the sweet-smelling love of Jesus.
Christ’s love is committed; Satan’s lust is conditional. God’s love has permanence, Satan’s lust is temporary. God’s love is self-sacrificing, Satan’s lust is self-centered. Believers must copy the former, and shun the latter.
If we are going to walk in love, some things must be avoided at all cost. In his attack on sex sins, Paul minces no words. “Fornication” translates “porneia,” root of our term “pornography.” The word refers to any sex act performed outside the sanctity of the marriage bond. God’s intent for humanity is one man with one woman in a life-long union. Outside marriage, with regard to sexual activity, only total abstinence is acceptable.
Christianity is to permeate our lives in every detail, even the most intimate. Godliness is expected of us not only in corporate worship, in the marketplace, and in our family circles, but also in the most private, intimate encounter with another, and even in the secret recesses of the mind.
Sex sins have always been a marked target of the Christian message, for good reasons. They are the most conspicuous trait of a degenerating, dying society. They provide confirming evidence an individual has sold self to the flesh. Sex sins among believers are extra heinous, for they defile the body, the temple of the Holy Spirit. The sweet and pure dove of Heaven should never have to dwell in a cage with an unclean and filthy bird.
Biblical Christianity and sex sins are locked in a warfare to the death. They are incompatible. Chastity was the most conspicuous virtue which Christianity introduced to the ancient world. The greatest behavioral upheaval in history is the moral revolution which Christianity wrought. Not even Judaism had reached the level of purity Jesus demanded. When He spoke emphatically against divorce, His shocked disciples said, “If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry” (MT 19:10).
Jesus attacked the low sexual standards of His day. Paul followed in the Master’s steps. We must do likewise today. More than 400 years ago, Martin Luther wrote, “If I profess with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God, except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved.” In our culture, “the battle rages” over sexual conduct. Our country is awash in sexual squalor.
God made the sex drive within us strong in order to assure survival of the race. Being strong, the sex urge, if unleashed, can bulldoze people into all types of perversion. Sexual cravings, left unrestrained, fuel one’s imagination to the extreme, and squelch one’s sense of responsibility toward others. To satisfy lust, spouses are forsaken, children neglected and abused, homes destroyed, friends forgotten. No effort is spared to gratify lust.
Immense suffering has befallen our country due to sex sins. AIDS, abortions, 50% marital divorce rate–these and other ills can be traced in part to the sexual revolution which began in the 1960s. I am sad to say, America’s sexual demise has manifested itself within my own lifetime.
Our culture, grasping at straws to solve social ills, and floundering in a sexual maze, needs to heed Christ’s message again. Having tried Satan’s way 30 years, we have pain, despair, and death to show for it. Wake up, America! God’s way works. To have safe sex, our ancestors wore wedding rings. This method still works. “The Divine precept will always be found, sooner or later, to coincide with the highest physical law” (Moule). With all its advances, modern science has found no way to make sexual impurity safe. Sex sins still carry punishment with them. Immorality is still cursed.
Regardless what our culture says, God’s way is always the right way, the best way. People often joke about sex being dull in marriage. This is a lie. Studies continually indicate the most fulfilled people sexually are those united with one another in marriage. No one is ever cheated by doing things God’s way. His way is the best way, the most pleasurable way. Always walk in love. Bypass the path of “fornication.”