Summary: As Christians we are to be distinctive from walking in the ways of the world by walking in love.
Back in the late summer and fall, we explored together the fourth chapter of Ephesians, a chapter rich with teaching about the church and the individual Christian life. Let’s review briefly. The first three chapters of Ephesians form one glorious doxology extolling the riches we have received in Christ Jesus. Chapter 4 addresses the question of “How shall we then live?”
(1-6) We are to walk in a manner worthy of such a calling, i.e., in humility and gentleness, with patience and forbearing with one another in love. We are to be eager to maintain unity, a unity founded on seven pillars of truth, namely that there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father.
(7-16) We also have been given grace to exercise the bountiful gifts given to us by Christ. Equipped by the teaching of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers, we are to be engaged in ministry so that we build up the body of Christ until we attain unity of the faith and of knowledge of Christ, maturing and becoming like him. We are to grow out of being children in faith, where we give in to false teachings. Instead, by speaking the truth in love we grow up into Christ, our Head, connected to one another and, again, building up one another in love.
(17-24) As Christians we are to be distinctly different from our former way of life as unbelievers. Without the God of Scripture to be their authority, unbelievers will live darkened lives that give way to their passions. That is not the way we learned Christ. In him we learned to put off the old self, to be renewed in the spirit of our minds, and to put on the new self that makes us to be more and more like him.
(25-32) What is such a life like? It is marked by speaking truth, by self-control, by honest labor, and by building up others. It is marked by being grace givers, which includes being kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving even as God in Christ forgave us. It is on that last note that chapter 5 continues the instruction about Christian living.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
“Therefore be imitators of God.” “Be imitators of God” is a daunting command, though it is not original with Paul. Peter said the same thing in his first epistle: “as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’ ” (1 Peter 1:15-16). Peter, as he indicates, is repeating what earlier scriptures have said, namely in Leviticus.
The message of Leviticus could be stated this way. “I, the Lord God, brought my people out of Egypt to set them apart as my special people. As such, they are to be distinctive. I will give them laws affecting every area of life that will set them apart in such a way that they display my holy character. The world will know me as the Lord God and my holiness through observing the way my people live. I am holy; therefore, my people are to be holy.”
Peter is giving that same message to his readers. In 1:14-15 he writes, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” See what he is saying? You are different now. You are the children of your heavenly Father. Therefore, your conduct must conform to him, not to the world to which you once belonged.
Can you think of another scripture passage that records Jesus saying the same thing? In Matthew 5:48, in the midst of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Jesus makes the same point about how behavior distinguishes God’s people from the world. Here is the context:
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be 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. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48).