When a child is young, it is natural to copy their parent. You may see a child walking around the room just like their father, or acting out the cooking and cleaning roles they see. Children naturally copy what they see their parents do without being told to. It’s often the case that a child loves their parent and wants to be just like them. They grow out of this, and then they may want to be completely different. And then one day as adults they wake up, look in the mirror and exclaim in shock, “I’ve turned into my mother!” It also happens that we often develop heroes who we want to imitate, such as a film star or a singer, or a successful businessman, or maybe even an adventurer. Have you ever wanted to be someone else? Did you ever have some person you wanted to be like so much that you wore the same clothes or spoke the same phrases?
Be careful who you imitate, you may become like them.
Paul in writing to the Ephesians tells them in Ephesians 4:32 to forgive one another, “just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” And then he tells them in 5:2 to “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ.”
In between these two instructions, Paul tells the Ephesians to “imitate God” and the context is important. What comes earlier is the why of the argument, where Paul lays out the reasons that we should imitate God. What comes after is the how of the argument as Paul introduces the topic of love as an example of Christ imitating God. Whenever we find a verse that says ‘therefore’ we should always ask ourselves, what is it there for? In Chapter 4 Paul has been describing the lifestyle of the Gentiles and what is wrong with that life and he says, “Live no longer as the Gentiles do.”
What should we do instead? We should imitate God.
Do you think that is impossible or unnatural? Do you say that God is omnipresent and there’s no way you can imitate that. Maybe you are still not convinced and so you are saying to yourself, Why should I imitate God? Paul has an answer for you and he says, “because you are his dear children.”
You, and you and you and you, are a dear child of God and that is why you ought to imitate him.
You are a dear child, which means you are a precious child, a cherished child, a child who is loved greatly by the greatest love of all. Your father loves you, right now, as you are sitting here in this room today, and you are dear to him. He would do anything for you and has already done everything for you.
God your father wants you to learn to walk like him by copying him, imitating him. He wants you to learn to talk like him by learning his phrases and repeating them. This isn’t an instruction to talk about God, or to explain your theories of salvation. This is a practical instruction, and God is saying that he wants you to live your life by engaging in actions that imitate him. Our example in this is our Lord and master Jesus who explained it this way in John 5:19-20.
So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing. In fact, the Father will show him how to do even greater works than healing this man. Then you will truly be astonished.”
This is not a work of salvation or a way to get saved, but the response to being reborn into the family of God as a new person. As a spiritual baby it ought to be natural to imitate God or Christ, and to stop imitating the people of the world. Because now God is our father, we should naturally look to him and love him as a child loves her earthly father. We should naturally want to be like our father in the way we live.
How are you going to imitate a father you have never seen, or a father you have never met? It is obvious that you can’t, and so first you need to meet your father and see your father, the one who loves you dearly. Your father hasn’t run away and he isn’t hiding, and in fact as Jesus said he wants to show you everything he is doing and share it with you. Your father wants to take you to work with him, take you to the office or the factory, and let you learn how to do all the things he does.
You dearly loved child have a new self, and you are a new creation, so you are able to have a new nature like God’s. God has made it possible, and so Paul says in Ephesians 4:24, “Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.”
While it may seem impossible to imitate a holy God, the correct view of Scripture teaches that it is possible because we have removed the old self and put on the new self, created to be like God. You are ‘his children’, not just children, and not someone else’s children. You are God’s children, made in God’s image, with all of the potential to be like your father. It’s not what you will be one day, it’s what you are right now.
In verse two of chapter five Paul says the way we are now to imitate God is to “Live a life filled with love.” This isn’t your love that should fill your life, but God’s love. We aren’t going to be punished for not generating enough love by ourselves, because the love that should fill the dear children of God is their father’s love.
Our example in this is Jesus, who was filled with God’s love and with each breath he took he breathed out that love into the world. With each step that Jesus took on the dusty trails of Galilee, he exuded the love of God. When Jesus allowed the Romans to cruelly crucify him on a cross, he was showing the world the love of God for all of his lost children. That’s the awesome love we are called to be filled with, the incredible sacrificial love of our amazing father God.
We are filled with love by God, and then we pour it out in sacrifice for others.
This idea would have been shocking to the people of Ephesus, and to the people of the ancient world in general. It was a very strange concept that anyone would sacrifice themselves out of love. Perhaps the idea closest would be a great hero who gave their life for a master or nation in battle, but even then the mentality was ‘death and glory!’
You naturally think that humility is good, but the ancient Greeks despised humility. Their thinking was that the only truly good person was the winner. Even today you may have come across this idea. The person who was able to take control of his life, be admired and confident, and who was never defeated by circumstances or others was a good person.
Alongside this idea was a totally different concept of love than the one Paul is introducing. Basically, among the people of the ancient world, love was nothing more than desire. The good and successful person was the person who was able to fulfil all of his or her desires.
The contrast is between two concepts of love, Christian love and pagan love. Pagan love is all about my desire and fulfilling my desire, meaning it’s all about getting rather than giving. Pagan religion is all about persuading the gods to give you what you want.
Paul shows that Christianity is the opposite of this. Our faith as followers of Jesus is shaped by a love that is focused on giving. Our love is God’s love flowing into us and then flowing out of us to others in order for them to be blessed. It seeks no blessing for ourselves. It is foolish to a pagan mind to love in this selfless way. We live so that God’s will is done and we sacrifice our own desires in order for his desires to be realised.
Paul tells the Corinthians that this way of life might look crazy, but it’s God’s way for us.
“If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God. And if we are in our right minds, it is for your benefit.”
(2 Corinthians 5:13)
“우리가 미쳤어도 하나님을 위한 것이며 정신이 온전하여도 여러분을 위한 것입니다.”
What does God’s love look like? God’s love looks like Jesus dying on a cross for the sake of the people who have rejected him and are killing him. When you walk in the love of God, it looks like you dying to self for the sake of people who have rejected you and will never thank you.
This is how we can imitate God and live a life filled with his love in everything we do.