The Imitation of God
The Imitation of God (Ephesians 5:1)
We learn much of what we know by imitating. Music students imitate their teachers. Young athletes imitate older, more skilled professionals. Children imitate their parents. Yet we are called to the highest imitation of all—the imitation of God. We cannot imitate some of God's attributes. He does not intend for us to be all-powerful, everywhere present, or all-knowing. He does intend for us to imitate His kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.
You can begin now to be an imitator of God.
You Can Imitate Divine Compassion
You can imitate divine sympathy: "be [evermore] kind . . . to one another" (4:32). The imitation of God does not begin with some difficult theological definition. To imitate God is to begin with the warmest and most appealing human quality—kindness. The word for kindness is used seven times in the New Testament, more often referring to God than anyone else: "love your enemies. . . . and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked" (Luke 6:35). The emphasis falls on our becoming evermore and more that way. This begins in the life of thought and moves outward to the life of word and deed.
You can imitate divine sensitivity. The word tenderhearted reflects a sweet sensitivity that renders us incapable of hurting one another. We should not bruise one another with words in the body of Christ. Compassion in our life should not be cosmetic but deeply ingrained.
We should live with a dependent solidarity in forgiveness, "forgiving each other." The implication is that in forgiving one another in the body of Christ we forgive and heal ourselves. Forgiveness circulates like the life blood of the Christian community. The very pith and marrow of our message is one of forgiveness. How inconsistent to carry a message of forgiveness and yet not forgive others in the body of Christ.
You Can Grow in the Imitation
When Paul writes of imitating God, he does not propose some radical new departure. To imitate God is to restore the very purpose of creation (Gen. 1:26). We were created to reflect both the image and the likeness of God. The imitation of God begins the recovery of that which was lost in Eden.
This imitation must be one of real intention. The apostle does not merely invite us to meditation. To contemplate God is necessary for imitation, but we must go beyond that. Imitation of God is not merely admiration of God. Imitation is not even the higher activity of adoration of God by prayer and by praise. The imitation of God actually reproduces the character of God in our lives.
The imitation of God calls for a graduation of effort. We are to move from imitating the visible to the invisible. There is a progression of thought in the letters of Paul. He urged the Corinthians to imitate him. To raw recruits from paganism Paul gave a simple, visible example of Christianity—Paul himself. Paul challenged the Thessalonians with a higher imitation: "You became imitators of us and of the Lord." Little by little they could take their eyes away from Paul and look away to the higher and the unseen. But these are only preparatory for the imitation of God Himself. This will extend beyond this life into eternity.
He adds to this a simple motivation: "as [little] children" (5:1). It belongs to the child heart to imitate. It belongs to the freedom and spontaneity of childhood freely and spontaneously to imitate. Like children, we are to play follow the leader with the Great Leader of all God's family.
You Can Contradict the Imitation
Suddenly like a chill wind surprising us on a warm day, Paul writes of the contradiction of the imitation. He lists specific practices in life which Satan writes like graffiti over the image of God. There are aspects of the physical, mental, and verbal life that must not even be named among those who would imitate God. Paul is explicit in listing behavior that defaces the image of God from our life.
But the image of God can never be spoken of in merely negative terms. We are to practice thanksgiving. From our lips should come no pollution but a clear stream of glad thankfulness that bathes our lives in light and life. Thanksgiving—gratitude—helps make us invulnerable in the inner life. It is both a symptom of and a means toward the development of the imitation of God.