I have a 2-year-old grandson who lives with me right now - along with is mom and dad - and he loves being with me. We watch cartoons together/ play together, and we work together. We mow grass (we showed a picture of him pushing a toy mower) and we wash the dishes (we showed a picture of him playing in dish suds). We have a great time! And, as you can tell, he imitates me a lot… and that gives me great joy. In fact, it gives God great joy when we imitate Him.
Our passage today says “be imitators of God, as beloved children.” (Ephesians 5:1) Like a beloved child, be an imitator of your heavenly Father. So… was God saying that simply because it gives Him pleasure for us to do that? Well, no. So, why would God think that would be important?
ILLUS: A writer with “Parents Magazine” had this to say about children imitating their parents (I did a little editing on this article for my purposes). “My husband, Larry, had just come in from a run and was stretching in our entryway. In a flash, Judah (our 14-month-old son) was by his side, copying his dad’s every move: touching his toes, stretching toward the ceiling, even pushing against the wall with his scrawny toddler arms. Larry and I cracked up, but our little boy took his workout SERIOUSLY. Whenever I talk on the phone, he's conversing beside me. And when Larry pumps his arm in the air to cheer a touchdown on TV, Judah pumps his air up too… mimicking his father. Sometimes we'd grab the camcorder to record Judah's behavior, but imitation for toddlers is much more than a show. By copying adults during this crucial year of growth, 1-year-olds learn a vast array of skills. One expert noted “Imitation is vital to the development of abilities ranging from language to social skills” explains Lisa Nalven, M.D., a developmental and behavioral pediatrician at the Valley Center for Child Development, in Ridgewood, New Jersey.” [written by Chana Stiefel; https://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/development/behavioral/what-your-child-learns-by-imitating-you/]
Did you catch that? Imitation is VITAL to the development of a child’s abilities. And who that child copies, influences what skills they pick up. And so Paul writes: “as beloved children, be imitators of God.” Be like a child, and imitate your Heavenly Father! Grow up to be like your Dad!
But now, what does that mean? What does it mean for me to be like my Heavenly Father?
Well first we read that we should “WALK IN LOVE, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:2
I found it interesting that Paul didn’t start out by telling us what we SHOULDN’T do! I mean… that would be logical (to tell us what we should not do) because parents spend most of their daily lives telling their child things like: “Don’t do that!” And “Don’t touch that!” And the ever popular… ‘Nooooooo!” (which, by the time they’ve said that… it’s usually too late).
But that’s often what a parent’s conversation consists of: telling their child what they SHOULD NOT do! So, why start out telling US what we CAN do, rather than what we can’t? Well, it’s hard to copy something that God’s not doing! If God isn’t DOING something, how do you imitate that? So Paul starts out telling us what God DOES, and says DO THAT! Walk in love.
The Bible talks a lot about God walking in Love, and us imitating Him. In Luke 6:35-36 Jesus said “love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be (note this) sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
Again, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declared "… I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be (note this) sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5:44-48
And John wrote this in I John 4:10-11 “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
Over and over again the Bible repeats this: Imitate Your Father – Walk In Love.
But, why emphasize this so much? Why stress “Walk in love?” Well, because we don’t generally don’t do that very well. All you have to do is spend time on social media (on FB or Twitter, etc) and read how people treat each other. Or spend time around people who talk about politics all the time and listen as they spew hatred on others who disagree with them. Or watch the violence on the news every day. A lot of folks just don’t “walk in love.” They don’t imitate God.
ILLUS: I was reading something on FB the other day about Dr. Fauci (he’s the covid-19 expert you may have seen on TV the past few months). Apparently, Dr. Fauci said he and his family had received death threats, and people were harassing his daughters. Now that alone was disturbing, but what was even more disturbing was that ALL of the responses on that post were bizarre and angry. One man said “I don’t believe him.” Someone else wrote: “It's because of his hypocrisy on the public issues (protests/riots) and his influence on government officials to do things like this” (in other words, it’s Fauci’s own fault that he’s received death threats). Another wrote: “Playing the victim does nothing to help your constantly waffling medical advice, Dr. Fauci.”
These people didn’t seem to care that someone had threatened this man and his family. These people weren’t imitating God and they were not walking in love. They didn’t like the man, so they walked in hatred. And, they’re not that much different from others in our society.
But WE (who are Christians) can’t do that. We’re bought with a price. We’re children of God and we’re called to imitate our Father. God showed love and compassion on people HE disagreed with – and who were God’s enemies and lived evil lives. If we are to be recognized as His children we need to do the same thing!
NEXT Paul tells us we should imitate God by NOT doing certain things. “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” Ephesians 5:3-4
These are no-brainers. Even PAGANS know that a Christian shouldn’t do this stuff. Even they know Christians shouldn’t sleep around; shouldn’t be impure; shouldn’t be covetous; shouldn’t curse like a sailor and tell dirty jokes. Everybody knows that church goers who act like that are hypocrites!
And everybody mocks them because these guys don’t even try to IMITATE God’s holiness.
And thus they bring shame on our God.
ILLUS: Years ago, I served in a church up in the northeastern section of Indiana. A local boy named Kevin had married the daughter of one of our Elders and began attending church with her. I was told that there were several times, during the invitation time, that Kevin would clench the back of the pew in front of him until his knuckles turned white. He was convicted of his need for Christ, but something was holding him back. Eventually he stepped forward, confessed his desire to follow Christ and we baptized him into Christ.
Several weeks later, Kevin and I were talking and he explained what had taken him so long to make his decision. It seems he’d been part of a denominational church in town when he was younger, and he remembered being around some of the leaders of that congregation who stood back in the foyer telling dirty jokes and using profanity. He also remembered seeing leading members of the church coming out of the local bar at night. He’d seen so much of that that he’d decided that Christianity wasn’t for him. The behavior of those so called Christians nearly robbed Kevin of his chance at salvation. That kind of “witness” is part of why Paul says that that kind of behavior shouldn’t even be named amongst us. It’s a no-brainer.
Now what we read next here in Ephesians really caught my attention. Paul writes: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience (There will be condemnation for anyone who does this stuff). Therefore do not become PARTNERS WITH THEM” Ephesians 5:6-7
We’re even told “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but INSTEAD EXPOSE THEM. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.” Ephesians 5:11-12
Now, why on earth would I want to be a partner with people who do evil things? Yes, I know there’s a church-goer who is involved in adultery, but that’s not my problem, it’s theirs. And yes I may know a person who curses and loses their temper all the time, but that’s not my problem, it’s theirs! I’m not their partner. Well… you might be.
ILLUS: Think about it this way. Let’s say we have a man who wants to rob a bank. He has a partner who serves as the lookout and watch out for police. And he has a partner who drives the getaway car. And HE (himself, personally) goes into the bank and robs it.
Now, the guy who’s the lookout didn’t go in and rob the bank. And the guy who drove the car didn’t go in and rob the bank. They didn’t commit the crime… but they had PARTNERED with the one who did. They were literally “enablers” because they enabled the thief to steal the money.
When it comes to sin, there are many Church-goers who become partners/enablers. They don’t commit the sin, they simply make it easier for the sinner to continue in sin because they look the other way.
ILLUS: I knew of a church once who played on a church baseball league. One of their members would often behave badly and curse while playing ball. Why didn’t the church rebuke him and take him off the team? Because he was a good baseball player and they needed him! They were partners in his sin.
ILLUS: On the other side of the spectrum, I knew of a church who had a couple of adulterous men in positions of leadership. (One of them would go to the local bar to pick up women while his wife and kids were at home). EVERYBODY in town knew what these men were doing! Why didn’t that church remove those leaders? Well, one was related to a prominent elder and the other was a big giver to the church. The church partnered with these men in their sins. They allowed sin to continue because they believed that it was in their best interest to look the other way.
And Paul says, if we’re going to imitate our Heavenly Father we can’t do that! And James 5:20 agrees – “he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” Translation: if you confront sin in the church, you’ll keep Christians from ending up in hell! That’s how critical this is for us!
Now, bear in mind, confronting (and exposing) sin isn’t about us being more righteousness than the person caught in sin. It’s about US being so committed to walking in love (loving the sinner – not wanting them to go to hell) that we refuse to allow fellow Christians to destroy their witness and their faith. You love them too much to allow them to walk through that door. We stand in the way!
ILLUS: It’s kind of like my grandson Benjamin. When he knows I’m about to leave the house, he loves me so much that he doesn’t want me to go so he stands in front of the door, extends his little arms and says “NO! STAY!” Why does he do that? He does that because he loves me and he doesn’t want me to walk out that door… and so he stands in my way and says “NO! I care too much for you to let you go!”
And that is how we should confront fellow Christians caught in sin. We need to stand in their way and say “No. I love you too much to let you go there.” We need to love them so much that we refuse to just stand aside and let them tumble into damnation.
That’s why Paul writes: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Ephesians 5:11-14
CLOSE: One last thing… church is the training ground for us to practice imitation of God. That’s what Hebrews 10:24-25 is saying “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” It’s while we’re in the midst of fellow believers that we practice imitating our Heavenly Father.
In fact, the very ACT of becoming a Christian is an ACT of imitation. In order to become Christians, we imitate Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. That’s what Romans 6:3-4 says “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
You see, we imitate Jesus in baptism. We die to our sins as He died FOR our sins. As He was buried in the grave so also, we are buried in a watery tomb. And, as He rose from the dead, we rise from that watery grave to walk as new people. We leave sin, we leave hatred, we leave self-interest and pride. And we begin to live a life of imitating our Heavenly Father - by not just not doing bad stuff, but – by walking in love and bringing the forgiveness that God offers to the world around us.