|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©2000|
|How do we become imitators of God’s Love? What does it mean to be an imitator? Dr. Barber explores these questions.|
Turn to Ephesians 5. We’re looking at “Imitators of God’s Love.” I can’t get into chapter 5 unless I back you up. If you don’t see this book as a whole, you miss what Paul is trying to tell us. There is a divine flow in this wonderful book.
In chapter 1 we find the riches of our salvation. It is important for every believer to know who he is and what he has in the Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 3 of chapter 1 sums it all up. He says He has given us every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus. The First National Bank of God is Jesus Christ, and we have everything spiritually that we will ever need in Him. We are rich today in Jesus Christ.
In chapter 2 we find the reasons of our salvation. Why was all this required? Why did we have to be redeemed? Why did Jesus have to do what He did? Well, we were dead in our trespasses and our sins, totally unable to save ourselves. So the Lord Jesus came down and paid a debt He didn’t owe when we owed a debt we could not pay.
The revelation of our salvation is in chapter 3. You see, this is a mystery. Nobody could ever understand that God not only loved the Jews but He loved the Gentiles. Not only that, He made it possible in Jesus that the Jew and the Gentile could be made into one brand new man in Christ Jesus. Now the Apostle Paul starts off that chapter wanting to pray but he is overwhelmed. In twelve verses he is just overwhelmed by his salvation. Finally in verse 14 he gets back to his prayer. That prayer in 3:14-21 is the hinge of the whole book of Ephesians. If you don’t relate everything to that prayer, you have missed the point of what is happening in Ephesians. He sums up everything in chapters 1-3 in that prayer and sets up everything in chapters 4-6 in that prayer.
He is trying to show them what they have in Christ. Here is how you tap into it. Here is how you appropriate what you have. You know it is a terrible tragic thing when you can’t get to something that you already have. That is what Paul is saying. Here is what you have. Here is how you get to it. He tells them that in the prayer of 3:14-21.
Then in 4:1-16 you find out the results of when a person lives in light of what he has. You see it in his behavior, verses 2-3, in the way he treats other people in the body of Christ. People ought to be able to come in, look at us and say, “Yes sir, these people are saved. They know how to appropriate what is theirs in Jesus Christ.” You see it in the way we believe.
There are seven doctrines he mentions in verses 4-6. Any time you see a diversion from those doctrines, immediately you have somebody not living in the light of what he has already. He doesn’t have to pursue something else. He already has it.
Then in verses 7-16, he shows you when we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, by being built into the body of Christ, we grow up into maturity. That is what the body of Christ ought to be, each one maturing in his own gift and supplying to others what is necessary for the building up of the body in love.
Then Paul takes a diversion. He has looked at the whole picture and now he starts zeroing in on you and me as individuals. He says in verses 17-19 that we are not to walk as the Gentiles walk. These are Gentiles he is writing to in Ephesians and he is saying, “You used to live this way. Don’t live this way anymore. The Gentiles are darkened in their mentality, therefore, they are depraved in their morality. You are not to go back and live that way anymore.”
Verses 20-24 say that you are now to put on a new garment. This new garment, this new man is a brand new way of living. We have a brand new opportunity, a brand new potential in our life. Jesus is in us. We can live differently. We can live life on a higher plane, and that is what he is saying. Put on the new man.
Then in verses 25-30 he begins to show you how that life looks, some of the fabric of that new garment, that new man, that we put on. Verse 25 says you have a transformed tongue. You don’t lie anymore. He goes on in verse 26 and says you have a controlled temper. Be angry but don’t sin with your anger. When you do that, verse 27 says you don’t give the devil an opportunity. In other words, you have a frustrated tempter. The word “devil” means one that divides. When you put on the new man, you have frustrated the tempter.
In verse 28 we become givers instead of takers. He said, “let him who steals, steal no longer.” There are a lot of ways to steal. You rob from others and from God and from yourself when you don’t put on the new garment. You become a thief, a depleter rather than a replenisher in people’s lives.
In verse 29, you become one who builds up not one who tears down. As a matter of fact, everything you say builds up the body. It does not tear the body down. As a result, you do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.
Verses 31-32 show you the contrast of the two garments, a beautiful picture here. The cesspool of the old garment is in verse 31: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Then you see on the other hand the wellspring of the Spirit in verse 32: “And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
Now in chapter 5, look at the first word. He says, “Therefore.” Any time you see a “therefore,” you always look to see what it is there for. You know what it is there for. I just told you. He says since this garment is this way and this garment is this way, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” He is saying, “Be an imitator of God.” In what way? In the fact that we walk in His love. We are to be the imitators of God’s love.
Do you know what the word “imitate means?” It is the word mimetes. It is the word from which we get the English word “mime.” Have you ever seen somebody mime? They don’t say anything, do they? They express it and when they express it, it is so exaggerated that nobody misses what they are trying to say. They haven’t said a word. In other words, what Paul is saying is, “Don’t talk about His love, walk in His love, live it, express it. Don’t tell everybody you have it, show them that you have it. Do as God does. Mime. In other words, live it out before the world.” This word is important for us to understand.
Look in I Corinthians 4:11-16. We find Paul using this same word and it is very critical to understand it. I just want to make sure you have a real good grasp on what it means to imitate God, particularly God’s love. Paul is going to give you a little context here and then we are going to find the word. He says, “To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now. I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. I exhort you therefore, be imitators of me.”
In other words, do as I do. Express it. Don’t tell me that you love Jesus, show me. I have shown you. I have become the scum of this world because I want to be only one that loves Jesus Christ. You now show me that you love Jesus. Do as I do.
In I Corinthians 11:1 he says it again: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” First Thessalonians 1:6 says the same thing. So does I Thessalonians 2:14, I Peter 3:13 and Hebrews 6:12. I could go on. The word means “do as I do.”
So what we are seeing here in Ephesians is, do as God does. Imitate God. Mime Him. Don’t talk it, walk it. Express God’s love to one another. That is what the new garment is all about. It shows itself in relationships.
Now I am sure somebody is saying, “Now wait a minute. Hold on. How in the world am I going to imitate God?” The word “love” that we are looking at in verses 1-2 is a love that is far beyond what any man could ever attain. No man, regardless of how sincere he is, can work up this kind of love. This is God’s love.
To be an imitator of God is not something you do for Him. It is something God has to do through you. Let me show you this. There are two things that are very critical that we need to understand in this text. First of all, in order to imitate God’s love, we have to be His child. The verse is very clear. He says in verse 1 again, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” This is a command, present imperative. We never have an option in this as believers. Since we have all that we have in Christ, we are never to have an option. It is a command.
Let’s look at the word “children.” There is a word for child in the Greek that means an infant that has just been born. That is not the word mentioned here. There is another word for child that means one that is grown up and matured, huios. That is not the word that is used here. The word that is used here is the word teknon. It is the word that means an offspring of someone. It is a child, but it has to do with the fact that you bear the characteristics and the nature of your father. “Oh, you mean to tell me to love as God loves, I am going to have to have His nature within me?” That is exactly right. That is exactly what happens when you receive Christ into your life. His very nature comes into your life. His spirit unites with your spirit and my spirit, and therefore, we have the potential now out of that nature to love as He loves.
Look over in II Peter 1:4. I want you to see this. “For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” In other words, I partake of the divine nature. His Spirit living in us gives us that brand new nature of the Lord Jesus Christ. So when we are commanded to love on a supernatural level, we have the potential of doing it if we are His children and bear His nature.
I can’t be like Him until His nature is within me. I must be His child before I can be an imitator of God’s love. His Spirit in me is His nature in me. Look back in Ephesians 3:16: “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power [dunamis, which means ability that is beyond yourself] through His Spirit in the inner man.” Why is the Spirit of God within me? The Spirit of God is in me to enable me to live on the plane that God commands me to live. He strengthens with His power. What is the fruit of the Spirit? The fruit is the manifestation that His Spirit has enacted in my life. The fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22 says, is love. That love is a divine, supernatural, unconditional love that is only from the nature of God that is within me. So therefore, before I can be an imitator of God’s love or even put on that garment, I have to be His child. I have to possess His nature. Like Father, like son.
The second thing not only must I be His child, but I must choose to obey His command. I want to share something with you, loving on this level is not a feeling. It is not something that is going to happen to you because you had your quiet time. It is not something that is going to happen to you because you sincerely want it to happen to you. It is something that is going to happen when you choose to love others around you. The very fact that this is an unconditional love means there are going to be people out there who aren’t going to deserve it and you are not going to want to love them. It is a command. We have to say, “God, I in my flesh don’t want to do this, but in my spirit I know that I am commanded and I choose to do it. I don’t feel like it.”
It is a choice you have got to make. Husband, wife, are you living with somebody that is unlovable? If you possess the nature of God, you are commanded to love. You have to make your own personal choice to do it. When you choose to do it, and when you choose to be strengthened as 3:17 says, when you start accommodating Jesus in all the rooms of your heart, by your faith, by your obedience, then you begin to experience His power. That is what every one of us lacks. We don’t have it apart from Him. When we are His children, we have His nature.
Paul gives us a standard for that love that is incredible. He says, “walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” The standard is the way He loved us. Oh, folks, do you realize what he is saying? We have been much loved. If you are a believer, it cost God a great expense. That same willingness to pay that same kind of price is now asked of us, commanded of us. We are to have that same willingness to love others who don’t deserve it in our life, just as He gave of Himself. This is God we are talking about.
As a matter of fact, Paul says that you are to be imitators of God as what kind of children? Beloved children. You know why we should be walking in love? Because we have been loved so much. Now, if Paul had started off in chapter 1 and said that, it wouldn’t have made any sense. But since it is in chapter 5 it makes a whole lot of sense. How have we been loved? Look in 1:4, just to remind you. The last two words of verse 4 and on into verse 5 says, “In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself.” God loved us. Do you think we deserved it? We lost our right to relate to Him when Adam sinned. However, God chose before the foundation of the world, based on information He already knew, that His creation would reject Him. He chose to have us adopted back into His family by being born again, providing Jesus as the sacrifice eternally for our sins. God loved us, so He chose us. We have been loved today. WE are chosen today.
Not only that, look in 2:4. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” You see, it was all His love that did it. We have been much loved. God loves us right now. He has loved us eternally.
Look in 3:17 at the last phrase: “and that you, being rooted and grounded in love.” Not only did God love me, not only did He love me enough to come and die for me, but now when I am saved, He puts me into the soil of His love. He roots me into it. He grounds me upon it. Everything I do ought to spring forth out of that love. Everything I do ought to be built upon that love. I have that kind of potential today. I am beloved as a child. I need to love because I have been loved.
When you understand that, look at how it effects our relationship. Look at 4:2: “with allhumility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love.” Do you realize the love that we express to one another causes us to forbear each other? I have to put up with you. You have to put up with me. We have to put up with each other. Do you know why? Because if we walk in love, which we are commanded to do, then we are going to forbear one another, we are going to have patience with one another, we are going to have all the things that make up forbearance. That is what makes relationships last.
Do you realize what that will do to a family? You will forbear one another. Even when things are bad, you will forbear. Why? You have the nature of God within you. You have chosen. You have been loved and you’ve made the choice to love now with that same love the people that are around you. What is going on in your family? What is going on in your marriage? I want to tell you something, folks, if you will come to Jesus, you will find your solution. That is not a simple statement, that is a very profound statement. If you are a believer, He has given you His nature and you can love when you don’t feel like it or when others around you don’t deserve it. You’ll even forbear one another.
In 4:15, look at what it says. The truth is confirmed by this love: “but speaking the truth in love.” Now you know when we studied this that the word “speaking” is not even in the text. It means to confirm something, to express something. Anytime you express truth or confirm it, it has to be in love. Love is the confirmation of truth. It confirms everything we do when it is a part of our life. It is not something you tell people you have. It is something you mime. It is something you show them that you have. It automatically confirms the truth that is within you.
Look also at verse 16. This is how the body is built up. It’s not just by teaching, or just by the gifts being exercised. Oh no. All of it has to be surrounded by one quality: “from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” The body can’t even be built up unless that love is present. It perfects its own building up if we are walking in love.
Look at 5:25. It is the only thing that will purify your family. Husbands, it starts with us. It doesn’t start with our wives. It starts with you and me. Paul is very specific about it. He says in verse 25, “Husbands, love your wives.” You say, “I can’t.” No, you won’t. If you are a believer, you can. You can choose to do that and be strengthened in the inner man by His power so that you can imitate the love of God to your wife. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” You know, the description of that love is very clear. He gave Himself as an offering and a sacrifice. So the whole idea here is I die to myself so that Jesus can be Jesus in me. When Jesus is being Jesus in me, my wife, my son, my daughter, my son-in-law, all know they are loved. They are being effected daily by a conscious choice I am making. Most of the time that is without any feelings. But knowing that I have the nature of God and choosing to obey His command, they are automatically built up because of that love. That is the way it works.
“Oh, that doesn’t work for me.” No? Then listen, there is something wrong in you. There is not anything wrong with Him. He has given us everything necessary for life and godliness. Peter says that. Paul is saying the same thing. The only reason it won’t work is because we won’t let it work. The problem is what we look at in the mirror every morning. It is us. Until we learn to die and make conscious choices to let His nature work, it will not function the way it is supposed to function.