Imitation (Eph 5:1-2)
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Sermon Manuscript …
Imitation is the highest form of flattery–do you imitate others? Someone with a foreign accent, I unconsciously start to imitate them. I love talking the way they do . . . 240 miles the River Shannon. The entire clothing industry is based upon imitation. I hear, “That is so last year,” and I say, “I live for last year–it’s cheaper!”
My sweet daughter, Danielle, occasionally tells us, “Dad, we’ve decided that you are never to wear those socks again with that outfit!” And Jean makes me promise not to wear certain shirts out in public anymore. So I am getting some help—hey, I love comfortable clothes. I am just not into imitating what others wear.
Imitation comes naturally to children. In fact, kids are great imitators. They pick up stuff super quick. This can be both good and bad. If one of my boys got hurt when they were young, to play down a scrape or cut so as to convince them that it was not a big deal and to man up, when they’d get a cut on their arm I used to say to them, “Well maybe we’ll just have to cut your arm off,” you know, over exaggerate. I thought it was a good strategy, but then one day I seriously hurt my leg. While in agony my youngest son said, “Well Dad, we might just have to cut that leg off.” For the first five seconds I looked at him with disdain and thought, how could I have raised such an insensitive child? Then I realized he was merely imitating me.
Everyone here with an older brother or sister knows how imitation was your greatest weapon. You couldn’t beat them up, so you’d bug them by repeating everything they said. “I know you are, but what am I?” ” Stop it! Get away!” The best hecklers in the world started as younger brothers or sisters. Mocking imitation was a great weapon.
Obviously as parents, we want our children to imitate our biblical convictions, our love for the Savior, but dread the reality that they will also pick up our weaknesses, bents, and attitudes. My dad taught me a lot about working hard. He trained me to work hard. He also showed me how to respect the ocean, how to go under waves, body surf in ten-foot waves, deal with riptides and stay afloat. As a lifeguard I saved a kid from drowning, and as a swimmer in the ocean, I have pulled kids out of the surf because of my dad. On the other hand, it didn’t happen often, but I did see my dad lose his temper and found myself imitating him in that realm as well.
Children imitate their parents, and God’s children are to imitate their heavenly Father. We are never too old to imitate a model–whether you are six or 65, all of us to some degree want someone to say to us, “Follow me and I will show you the way.”
I can’t find the words to describe just how important it was for my mentors, my Dad, Ron, Tom and John to say, “I love you, Chris–you have some great things to do.” Then put their arm around me and say with their lives, “Let me show you the way, follow me.”
Today, our Lord Jesus Christ is doing the same. He is putting His arm around you, reminding you He loves you and gently prodding you to follow Him–to imitate God. Turn to Ephesians 5:1 to 2 and follow along in your outline. This passage is crucial for us to not only understand, but to live. Paul has taught us in chapter one all God did for us. Chapter two tells us how God brought us to Himself and made us one family. At the end of chapter three we learn how to live in the power of the Spirit, and chapter four how Christians will walk worthy and live uniquely. Now he concludes the series of commands at the end of chapter 4 with two summary commands–to imitate and to walk in love.
Look at the first two verses of chapter 5, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” The goal of all true Bible preaching and teaching is to let God speak for Himself–to expose the author’s intended meaning, authorial intent. We call this exegesis, drawing the truth out of the text as opposed to eisegesis, which is to insert your own thoughts into the text.
The New Testament is written in Greek, and it is a very exact language–so at the top of your outline I have included a couple of boxes so you can see that the message today is coming directly from the text. The punch Paul gives is the punch I am giving it. The things the author is focusing on, I will focus on–in other words, all we say today comes from God’s Word and not my own. So here is the best part–that means if you obey it, love it and follow it, you are obeying, loving and following God. Here is the bad news–if you ignore today, disobey today, or merely intellectualize today, you’re dissing God.
Remember FBC, just because you go to a church that is committed to healthy teaching, doesn’t mean you are healthy. You are accountable to respond with your life. You only worship when you say, “Yes Lord, you have all of me, and I will follow you. Put this outline up on your bathroom mirror and seek to put it into practice this week by the power of the Spirit. Why? Because the Lord Jesus Christ loves you.
There are two commands in verses 1 and 2–verse 1, be or become, and verse 2, walk around, which gives us the two major points.
#1 Become like your Father
Paul says in verse 1, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Become imitators of God–wow, that’s overwhelming. What’s he mean? The command is the verb be, literally become–it means to be born, come to be, exist, to begin with. The present tense of be indicates that imitation is a process–it’ll not happen in a day. Now that is encouraging. You are in a process–becoming an imitator of God is an ongoing, long-term, continual process. You’ve not arrived and you’re not done. Paul is telling us here you don’t grow godly by making a decision, but you grow godly by pursuing a direction.
The middle voice of be tells us it’s an action you take upon yourself–you pursue this. It is not done to you, but you yourself go after it, you apply, you imitate, you model after God. You don’t grow godly by passive listening, but you grow godly by active application of the truth. And this verb become is an imperative command for you and I to obey–it is not a suggestion or fact or idea, but an expectation given to us from God to imitate God Himself. You don’t grow godly by waiting for something to happen, you grow godly through dependent obedience.
Look back just one verse–the same exact verb is used in Ephesians 4:32, “And be [become] kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Grow to be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving, and grow in imitating God. The challenge being described here is to become something. All of us at some point have taped up a poster or picture in your room of someone you respect or even consider a hero, to remind yourself of what you want to become.
You know, a picture of someone you respect, like OJ Simpson–no, I meant Homer Simpson—no. If you are a golfer, Tiger Woods . . . if you are a great old quarterback on a great team, Brett Favre . . . if you want to be a missionary, Adoniram Judson . . . or a great, overweight, cigar-smoking preacher, CH Spurgeon. You put their picture up to remind yourself to become like them.
How do we do this? Paul says in verse 1, become an imitator. The actual word “imitate” is where we get the English word “mimic”. We are to mimic God, do what He does, say what He says, think like He thinks, feel what He feels, prioritize what He thinks is essential. Remember when your kids put on your adult shoes–they mimicked you because they wanted to be just like you. God says, put on my shoes, look like me, become just like me.
In fact, in classical Greek the word imitator meant “a painting”–a painting which looks exactly like the subject. You and I are to be that painting. Not like those amateur artists who do those quick sketches of people that never look like the person sitting there. No, when others look at us they’re to see God our Father.
This exact word, “imitate”, and the importance of imitation is all over the New Testament. Imitation is a big part of the Christian life, and essential to our spiritual growth. Look at these verses with me.
1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”
1 Thessalonians 1:6, “You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit.”
1 Thessalonians 2:14, “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews.”
Hebrews 6:12, “That you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”
So the New Testament charges us to imitate those who imitate Christ, imitate your spiritual leaders and the Lord, imitate the churches who have suffered persecution and don’t be lazy, imitate those whom God has given you as models to follow. The word imitate is used three different ways in the New Testament: 1) as a comparison, 2) following the example, and here 3) obeying the directions.
We are to become increasingly like our God by following His Fatherly direction. We are to look like our Father. A lifetime ago in Diamond Bar, California, my parents were visited by a relative I had never seen from Chicago. We both arrived at the house at the same time. As I stepped out of my car she looked at me and said, “Yeah, I see Hal in you–you look like Hal.” (My dad was Harold, or Hal.) It was a really kind thing to say, but as my parents came out to greet her, my dad corrected her and said, “No, he looks like Renee’s dad.”
“Thanks Dad, you afraid to identify with me?” It scared me. But I do look like my dad and my mom’s dad, and all true individual Christians and all true churches are to look like their heavenly Father and follow His example. When others look at us, they’re to recognize the family resemblance to our heavenly Father.
Now I got it, many of you are thinking, “No way, no one can live like God.” Your concept of God is so big, so powerful, and awesome you can’t see how you could possibly become an imitator of Him. AW Tozer once said, what comes to your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about us. Right now, what comes to your mind when you think about God? Judgment, wrath, hell, death, distant, big, bad, uncaring? What is your concept of God, the Father?
I read a ton of commentators on this passage, and they talked about imitating God’s awesomeness, holiness, wrath, omnipotence, and many of them that I read almost admitted that no one could live this verse commanding us to become mimics of God, because God is so transcendent, so unique and so unlike us. But notice how Paul starts verse 1, “Therefore be imitators of God.” Every time you see a “therefore”, you must ask this question—“Wherefore is that ‘therefore’ there for?”
Paul is connecting verse 1 with what He just described in verse 32, which says, “And be [same verb as verse 1, become] kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” This is so convicting to me–the God Paul is commanding us to become like and imitate is not the God of wrath and judgment, not harsh, unbending and difficult; not distant, indifferent and uncaring. No, the God we are to imitate is the God who is in verse 32 kind, tenderhearted and forgiving. Is that your concept of your heavenly Father? Is that what comes to mind–kind, tenderhearted and forgiving?
Don’t miss this–here is your picture, your model, your example to imitate. This is the poster you put up on your wall to mimic, this is the pattern to follow–to be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving. Kind is to meet the needs of others; compassionate is to follow deep emotion for others which results in meeting their true needs, and forgiving here literally means to give graciously. Once we are in Christ, God is kind, compassionate and gracious to us—therefore to imitate Him, you are to be kind, compassionate and gracious to others. Are you? Are you like your Father? Do you mimic Him?
If your concept of Him is so awesome that it prevents you from imitating His kindness, compassion and graciousness, then your concept of Him is false, no matter how high or big it is. But along with being awesome, if He is kind and compassionate to you so that you seek to imitate Him, then your concept of Him is true. Do you worship a kind, tenderhearted and forgiving God?
But why should I? What’s driving me to imitate God? Look again at verse 1, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” You are loved, very dear and intimate children. Were you loved as a child? Did you have parents who cherished you with genuine sacrifice and affection? If not, you do now. When God loves you, it’s because He wanted to love you deeply, intimately, personally, definitively and passionately–you are beloved.
Remember the wonder you sensed when your husband-to-be proposed–and amazingly, your wife-to-be said, “Yes”? And though now they know who you really are, two, five, ten, twenty-plus years later–and yet they still adore you, no conditions, no exceptions, he or she is still your one and only? That’s a small taste of God calling you His beloved children. God’s love is what God is, demonstrated on the cross, lavished on His elect, manifested through the Spirit, defined in 1 Corinthians 13 and shed abroad in our hearts.
You, genuine Christian are, as in verse 1, “beloved”. How much are you loved? As much as God the Father loves God the Son. The word beloved here is the same word the Father uses of the Son when He says in Matthew 3:17, “This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” One of the attributes of being a Christian is being beloved by God, and true Christians are beloved children.
There are many words for children in Greek–but the word for children here is not infant, boy, or small child, but it is offspring. If you are in Christ, you’re God’s offspring. You are his family. You belong to Him. He is your Father and you are His child. So own the intimacy of being His child. As your all-knowing Father, He knows you, is with you 24/7, reads your thoughts, knows the dirt, trouble, secrets, fears, lust, pride, words—yet He still loves you . . . you are His beloved child. Again, if you are in Christ, you are His special child, no matter what you’ve done, how you feel, even when you’ve been a bad child or ignored him, He still loves you.
Now, if you were merely a part of the human race God created, you might not want to imitate Him, but you are His beloved child, loved, cared for, and watched over. This is the Father who gives you bread, not a rock, fish and not a snake. His thoughts toward you are more than the sand on the seashore. He knows what you’re going through–you are His beloved child. Right now say it, declare it to someone sitting near you who is not a family member–say it and mean it. Tell them you are beloved by God.
Since you are, then become like your kind, tenderhearted and forgiving Father. Become like your perfect Dad. Mimic the Father who unconditionally loves you, as verse 1 says, “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children.”
And as beloved children, God asks you to be loving as well. But you say . . .
“Chris I can’t love my parents, they’re always hassling me.”
“I can’t love my husband–he won’t listen to me and he smells.”
“I just can’t love my wife, she is always hormonal and complaining.”
“I can’t love those Christians, they are so dull and boring.”
“I won’t love those non-Christians cause their language is so crusty.”
What you need is to get re-addicted to the love of Christ as Paul calls you to.
#2 Love like your Savior
Verse 2 continues with, “and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” We are to walk. Some of the usages of walk have a sense of adventure—to discover a new land, a new life described as love. The verb walk is a command for a continual lifestyle that you initiate in dependence upon Christ. God commands you to live this way all the time–this is your lifestyle. Everything you do–not at church, not at Bible study, not at student ministry, not at discipleship and not at Kaleo, it is to be a lifestyle of love. Yes, you must be loving with Christians too, but think about walking as every ordinary thing you do all day–then tag love on it.
Notice how this word walk is used in the New Testament. Speaking to the unequally yoked, widow or divorced or single, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:17 to be content with whatever station, position or situation you were saved under. Paul says, “As the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk.” Then in Galatians 5:16 he says, “Walk by the Spirit.” And finally in Colossians 2:6, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.”
Walk is also translated as “go, devoted, practice, act, conduct, do’–it has to do with your regular behavior at home, at work and school. But it goes a step further–your walk is to be what you are known for, descriptive of you, an attribute of yours. What are you known for? When people think of you, what is it that defines you? Lots of kids, defender of truth, tan, cute, strong, smart, rich, serious, funny, troubled, homeschooler, unhealthy, critic, biker, mall rat, emo or surfer? What are you known for?
Then answer this: what should describe you, what should you be known for, what is your lifestyle supposed to be that defines you? When they say your name, what is it that God wants people to say about you–ready? Chris, your name is very loving. You and I are to live a lifestyle of love, a quality of love.
Look at verse 2–we are to walk in love. “Walk in” is not describing entering a building, not “I walk in the building,” but walk in the sphere of love. You are to be consistently ordering your behavior in the sphere of love. Love saturates everything. When God’s love becomes the deciding factor in your choices and the motivating power in your actions, you’ll be walking in love. When love limits your choices, moves you to action, empowers your words–then you are walking in love.
God’s love, that sacrificial action in order to benefit another, is to be the operating system for your lifestyle computer. Love is the filter in the lens of your life. Like a skunk, love is the smell you share that doesn’t rub off. Love is the oxygen that allows you to take your next breath.
I love to skin dive–my favorite vacation is the beach where I can boogie board, body surf, read books and most of all snorkel. When snorkeling, I am in the sphere of water. I am in water, surrounded by water and water is all over me. Christians are to be so characterized by love, it is like they are swimming in love, every action saturated by love, and everyone around them being splashed with sacrificial actions benefiting others. But how deep does this love go?
Paul gives two examples of loving in verse 2 that come from two verbs that describe the command to walk in love. How deep is our walk in love? Just look at Jesus Christ. You will discover that Jesus Christ calls us to . . .
First Love Sacrificially
Paul says in verse 2, “walk in love, just as Christ also loved you.” “Just as Christ” means to the same degree as Christ, in the same proportion as Christ. WOW–He was born a man, lived sacrificially as a servant, obedient to the point of death, even the death of a cross—just as Christ. Do you understand what it means to live a life of sacrifice?
I am just beginning to grab hold of the implications. A lifestyle of loving sacrifice is difficult to understand in a culture like ours. Sometimes I wash the dishes for Jean . . . I do occasionally surrender my day off to go do errands with her . . . shocking. There are times I give up the TV remote to Daniel (men?). Sometimes I won’t purchase an item so I can give to someone else. I do practice more noble actions of sacrifice–Jean has weekly cleaned the homes of pregnant moms on bedrest while I cared for their children. I’ve given my life to the feeding of Christ’s Church and the training of men for ministry. As a couple, Jean and I have given when we didn’t have it to give. But in many ways, I believe I am just scratching the surface of what it means to sacrifice like Christ, and yet we are called to a daily lifestyle of sacrificial actions for the benefit of others, just as Christ. We can love because He first loved us. We can sacrifice because He first sacrificed for us.
Our biggest problem is our memory. We study the Bible two verses at a time, but forget that Ephesians is one whole letter. We must not forget what Christ has blessed us with in chapter 1. We must recall how Christ saved us in spite of us in chapter 2. We must not overlook His empowering in chapter 3. Only then will the loving, sacrificial actions called for in chapter 5 be pursued with a right heart. To sacrificially walk in love, start every day remembering He loves you because He wanted to. He chose you, redeemed you, took your punishment, gave you everything you need for life and godliness because He wanted to. Therefore walk in love, just as Christ also loved you. What does this kind of love look like?
Second Love Denying Yourself
Look at the next phrase of verse 2, “and gave Himself up for us.” Jesus Christ denied himself, gave himself up, forgot His own needs and only focused on your needs and my needs–for us. Listen to a similar truth in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.” Hear God’s heart in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” Love, like Christ, gives itself, denies itself and comes to an end of self.
Some of us sacrifice but never give ourselves–but the loving lifestyle Christ calls for in us is the giving up of oneself. This is the couple in marriage counseling. The wife says she doesn’t believe her husband loves her. But he replies, “Honey, I have given you everything–a house, jewelry, a car, children.” She says, “Yes John, but you never gave me yourself’.”
Some of us here have loving hearts, we hurt, we care, we agonize over the suffering of others, we feel their pain, but we remain distant. But to love like Christ is to get personally involved. Christ left heaven and became personally involved. When a friend is struggling you go to them. To love like Christ is to get up close and personal. It includes a willingness to get hurt, because relationships are messy. To love like Christ is to touch the leper, eat with sinners, weep with the grieving, feed the hungry, sacrifice for an enemy, and be with a hurting friend.
The phrase “gave Himself up” means–don’t miss this picture–to hand oneself over, to give oneself up to justice, turn yourself in. Are you getting it? Christ turned himself in to pay for a crime He didn’t commit. It was your multiple crimes that He gave himself up for, your crimes of heart–murder, adultery of the heart, greed, harsh words, hatred and unforgiveness. Christ delivered Himself up and took your punishment, paid for your crimes, filled out your just sentence and took your place–even though He was innocent, sinless and perfect in every way.
If Christ would give Himself up for you–you who are undeserving, sinful, previously God’s enemy, then you can you give yourself up, sacrifice yourself for those who are undeserving, sinful people at your school, that crusty guy at work and those harsh neighbors. Will you? And why should we become like our Father and love like our Savior? To please God–look at the end of verse 2. Christ became an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. As an offering, He gave Himself as a gift on our behalf. As a sacrifice, Christ gave Himself fully–He held nothing back. And Christ did this to please God.
Never forget, it is God Himself who is rightly angry at your sin–and it is God Himself who must be satisfied. And it is God who look care of the problem through Jesus Christ, who delivered Himself as a free gift offering His life as a sacrifice to God. We’re saved from God, to God and for God. And Christ’s offering of Himself to God was so acceptable, Paul calls it a fragrant aroma.
Remember the smell of Thanksgiving dinner before you sit down to eat? My favorite holiday, favorite meal and favorite smell–makes me drool just thinking about it. It is a fragrant aroma. I am not a perfume guy–in fact often when a woman wears too much perfume or a man wears too much cologne it literally closes my throat up and gives me a headache. But occasionally when Jean wears just a slight hint of smelly powder or perfume it makes me drool too–a pleasing aroma.
Using the imagery of the Old Testament burnt offering sacrifices, where animals were cooked and the smoke and aroma rose up to heaven, Paul is reminding us that God is so satisfied with what Christ did that His offering of Himself is a fragrant aroma–it pleased God. Like the smell of a Thanksgiving dinner or a sweet perfume of someone we love, the sacrifice of Christ, His death, burial, resurrection and ascension was acceptable to God. Why? because Christ was man, so He could take our place, and Christ was God, and therefore His sacrifice was perfect. Only God could pay the price that had to be paid to rescue us from our sin.
And it was God’s love that drove Him to pay the price, to make the sacrifice, and therefore our motivation to love God and others is what God Himself did for us. Will you imitate God who treats us as beloved? Will you live a lifestyle of sacrifice and love like Christ who fully gave Himself up for us? But you ask, “Chris, how can I live this way?” I am so glad you asked–let me offer you some R’s to take home.
#1 REMEMBER–Never forget the reason why Christ died for you, your sin, pride, greed, lust, hatred, gossip, complaining, and be broken, humble, confess, repent, be dependent. The source of your love for God and for others, a life of sacrifice, comes only when you and I remember what we were and what we currently are before God. Some of you need to turn to Christ today.
#2 RELIANT–You and I can’t love, God must do love through us. He has shed His love abroad in our hearts, so we have His love, we just need to live dependently in order to demonstrate it. Remember Ephesians 3:16 and 19, “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God.” It is God’s Spirit who must love and sacrifice through us–we must live reliant. Remind yourself to live dependent every day. Say, “I can’t, but you can Lord.” Stop before you speak and ask, “Help me.”
#3 ROUTINE–Living a life of love is a walk, a lifestyle, a part of your daily routine, your everyday actions. Ephesians 4 to 6 is all about lifestyle.
4:1-3 a humble walk; 4-16 a unity walk; 17-32 a unique walk
5:1-7 a love walk; 5:8-14 a light walk; 5:15-17 a wisdom walk
5:18-6:9 a Spirit walk; and 6:10-24 a warfare walk
It is a moment-by-moment process, day-by-day effort of dependence. To develop a routine requires a daily reminder to love. At the beginning of each new day, remind yourself of what is before you, then ask, “Lord, how can I show your love in each of these events, with each interaction, with every task–then go after it. Assume failure, but keep at it–make love your goal, your routine. And by the way, if basic love can’t be shown here as we gather as a church, then it will never take root in your daily routine.
#4 REFLECT on imitating God, reflect His image, show Him off.
Since God is humble, you live humble; since God is one, you live one
Since God is unique, you live set apart; since God is love, you live love
Since God is light you be light; since God is wise, you live wise
Since God is spirit, you live by the Spirit–your only task is to reflect Him
#5 RADICAL–While you and I were enemies, Christ died for us. God loved us first, God initiated the sacrifice, so should we. Initiate sacrifice to those who are undeserving, who are lost, who are hurtful, who are difficult and put Christ on display. Do not wait to be asked, do not put on a show, do not care what others might say, never hesitate to show Christ’s love through you. If there is an area lacking, give. If there is an unworthy person in need, sacrifice. If there is a crime against you, forgive. Do something that can only be explained by Christ, and do it regularly. Let’s be radical.
#6 RELATIONAL–In Hebrews 10:24 to 25, we are called to push each other to love, to stimulate, poke each other, push it, show it, demonstrate it—“and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.” We are to love each other as we gather, to the point that as a lost person comes in our midst, they will be overwhelmed by the love we have for each other. Every week come ready to love with words, gifts, actions, prayers, kind words, services given and offered and so much more.
If Christ calls you, beloved, and if Christ would give all that He is to God in order to make you right with God, then you and I should be willing to give all we are to God and others, because Christ loves us and gave us His all. AMEN?