Illustration: How many of you have gone to the painstaking difficulty of learning a foreign language as an adult? It involves:
|•||Memorizing grammar rules|
|•||Making flash cards or creating PowerPoint files to practice expressions|
Missionaries going overseas for an evangelistic series will sometimes laboriously translate verses into a foreign language, one word at a time, hoping not to make a fatal linguistic mistake which shreds the gospel!
Imitation Brings Success: We often learn to do the hard things of life by imitating.
|•||By listening to someone else’s Spanish and then repeating.|
|•||By seeing someone else use a calculus formula on the blackboard with the power rule and the chain rule and then “going thou and doing likewise.”|
|•||By watching a golf DVD and trying to copy the smooth swing and sand trap suggestions of a PGA pro.|
|•||By attending a marriage seminar and taking notes when the lecturer says, “Here are six things I’ve found are great at adding romance to a stale relationship.”|
Ephesians 5: The Word of God ups the ante because God invites us to practice the art of imitation in the highest language-study course of all time. Verse 1: “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children.” In the New International Version: “Be IMITATORS of God, therefore, as dearly loved children.”
Context: Chapter four, which leads into this passage, contains the mandate that we should forgive. Forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you is how Paul puts it. In the Tyndale commentary, Francis Foulkes gives this Greek tutorial (without PowerPoint): “In this matter of forgiving, the calling of Christians is to be followers of God (KJV). In fact mimçtai is more than followers. It is ‘imitators,’ a word used a number of times in the New Testament. . . . Those who by grace are made children of God are by constant perseverance, and imitation of the divine copy, to become more like the heavenly Father.”
Same Footsteps: I Peter 2:21 has this same idea; we’re invited to “follow in the footsteps of Jesus,” suffering as He suffered, “because He’s our example,” Peter writes. Of course, Peter was willing to be crucified just as his beloved Master was.
Copying Mom and Dad: In The Message paraphrase version by Eugene Peterson, Eph. 5:1 reads: “Watch what God does, and then YOU do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents.”
Kids learn from watching their parents perform, beginning with “playing house.” Fifty years ago parents held onto to the seat of a two-wheeled bicycle, after taking off the training wheels, and said to the child: “Now remember how I showed you. Keep pedaling. Keep the handle bars straight. Don’t run into the neighbors’ houses.”
Today good parents are probably saying to the child, “Now I showed you how to log on. Then you type in ‘Yahoo.com’ for a search engine and click on that icon over there. See? Just like Daddy!”
In reading, you spell it out: “There’s a ‘B.’ ‘B’— then ‘AT.’ ‘Buh – AT. BAT! Cat. Hat. Fat.” And your child imitates. He learns to read. He learns to tie his shoelaces. He learns to talk to Jesus at bedtime and give his offering at church because that’s what Mommy and Daddy do.
Hard Imitation: But forgiving our enemies is harder than riding a bike or even learning correct Spanish grammar. We know God forgives. But that doesn’t mean that WE want to! In that case, we have to simply look at the facts. God is a forgiver. His kingdom is built on forgiveness. There is stability and peace and joy only because there IS forgiveness. What havoc there would be, what hopelessness for the universe, if God refused to forgive. And when we look at those stubborn realities, we slowly begin to understand that imitating our heavenly Father in forgiving is the only way we too can have stability and peace and joy.
SDA Bible Commentary: “The apostle has been urging that the example of God be followed, particularly in the spirit of forgiveness. God is the pattern, the ideal to which we strive to attain, in this case with special reference to the spirit of forgiveness. Surely the earnest believer, by God’s own grace, can learn to forgive even as God forgave.”
Motivated By God-Given Love: All through Ephesians we’re reminded that love—God’s for us and ours for others—is the motivation we have to do this hard thing, to do like Christ in plunging into the deep end of the swimming pool of forgiveness. “The knowledge that God loves us is the first source of the ability to imitate Him. The realization of His Fatherhood encourages us to love one another. Those who sincerely call God their Father must inevitably regard other human beings as brothers and sisters” (SDA Commentary).
We tend to imitate people whom we know love us—and people whom we admire. It’s always been that way, right down to the Brad Pitt and Hannah Montana T shirts and backpack decals kids buy. When we see our loving Father as a forgiver, slowly but surely we’re going to say: “I can see now that this is the only way. Because Dad does it this way, and I want to be like Him.”
But I Don’t Feel Like It! Once we get that question settled, then imitating departs entirely from the realm of “I don’t want to. I don’t feel like it.” Most of the time we will NOT feel like forgiving or like copying Christ in lifestyle and attitude. So what? When did feelings ever have anything to do with anything, especially in determining how a Christian ought to act?
Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis: “The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ (or want to forgive!) your neighbor. ACT as if you did [love and forgive him.] As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” A page later, the writer adds: “[People] are told they ought to love (and imitate) God. They cannot find any such feelings in themselves. What are they to do? The answer is the same as before. ACT as if you did. Do not sit trying to manufacture feelings. Ask yourself, ‘If I were sure that I loved God, what would I do?’ When you have found the answer, go and do it.”
Conclusion: Frankly, this is both easy . . . and hard. Inviting . . . and impossible. “Imitate God.” We don’t do it because it’s easy or natural or instinctive. It probably is none of those things, although it can grow to be gloriously all of them. After a while, you can ride a bike and translate a sermon in Spanish and love doing it. But until the joy comes along, you just keep doing it because in your heart you know you’re copying from the right source, from a loving and perfect Original.
Submitted by David B. Smith. Better Sermons © 2005-2009. Click here for usage guidelines.