Summary: To call for Christians to imitate, or live like, their God is just as needed now as it was 2,000 years ago.
Ephesians 5:1 is rather plain, “Be imitators of God.” As God’s children, we have no higher calling or purpose in life than to be like of heavenly Father. The Way of Christ is designed to reproduce godliness in our lives and therefore mold us and shape us into the image of God. Let’s examine four areas of our lives where we are specifically called to imitate God:
Be Imitators of God by Comforting One Another:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
God is the ultimate source of comfort, but His comfort is not a means to an end in itself. According to Paul, God’s comfort has a twofold purpose. First, God’s comfort sustains us through our own afflictions. And second, the comfort God gives us serves to empower us to comfort others during their afflictions. When we comfort others by “weep[ing] with those who weep” (Romans 12:15) we are imitating God.
Paul takes the idea of comforting one another, one step further when he reminded the Corinthians that: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ… [Therefore] If one member suffers, all suffer together… Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:12, 26-27).
The Hebrew writer builds on this sentiment when he said: “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3).
Why do we comfort one another during times of affliction and grief? Because God has comforted us and because God has united us together as a body of believers through His son, therefore, we comfort one another.
Be Imitators of God by Loving One Another:
“‘A new commandment I give you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.’” (John 13:34; cf. 15:12)
The commandment to love one another was not new; Leviticus 19:18 commanded loving one’s neighbor as oneself (cf. Matthew 22:34-40). However, Jesus’ command was dramatically different. His command called for His disciples to model their love for one another after His love for them. In essence Jesus is saying “imitate my kind of love.” There’s no doubt that the ultimate expression of Jesus’ love for His disciples was His willingness to lay down His life for them. So if we are going to imitate His love, then we must be willing to die for one another (cf. John 15:12-13; 1 John 3:16). But we don’t encounter this situation every day, perhaps, we may never have to express our love for one another this way.
So let’s explore this on a practical, day-to-day level. Again, Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Look at how Jesus loved them. He loved Philip even when Philip, after all the time they spent together, just didn’t understand who Jesus was (ref. John 14:8-9). He loved Peter, even though Peter rebuked Him (ref. Matthew 16:21-23). Jesus still loved them all even after they had abandoned Him (ref. Mark 14:27, 31b, 50). So on a practical level, Jesus is saying love one another even when others disappoint you, rebuke you, or turn their back you. Why? Because that is how Jesus loved, and that is how He loves still. But you might be saying, “I can’t do that.” Then you need to hear the Spirit’s word from 1 John 4:20-21: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this command we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
A claim to love God is a delusion if not accompanied by unselfish love for others. If we are going to be imitators of God, then we must love one another as God loves us. There’s no other way around it.
Be Imitators of God by Forgiving One Another:
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:12-13)
Because God, the model of forgiveness, has completely and totally forgiven us of our sins, then as believers we must be willing to forgive one another. This is really about dispensing mercy. Jesus said in Luke 6:36, “Be merciful, even as your heavenly Father is merciful.” James builds on this by saying, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (2:13). The one, who shows mercy, by forgiving one another, will themselves receive forgiveness from God and avoid His judgment (ref. Matthew 6:12, 14-15).