I decided to buy an imitation leather Bible. Not the quality of genuine leather, but considerably cheaper. That’s what I think of when I hear ” imitation.” But Paul doesn’t hesitate to use the verb form here . . .
“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1,2).
” . . . therefore” points us to what preceded (Ephesians 5:17-32), especially ” [be] forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (5:32b). But “therefore” also points forward. ” . . . ” [be] forgiving one another as dearly loved children . . . as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us . . . “. Reasons fueling Paul’s imperative. For these reasons “Be imitators of God”. Gaze deeply into who God is and what God’s done and imitate him.
“Imitators”. I think it a strange word. A pretend word. God’s the “real thing”. We’re to be play-actors mimicking him. But, no, not a strange word at all. God is our Father through Jesus Christ. We are dearly loved children. As such, we must try to walk as our Father walks, love as our Father loves.
That’s hard to imagine, isn’t it–God the Father as our model. But he’s revealed himself in Christ. And in him we have more than imagination; we have the written Word that reveals him. And imitating God means to “live a life of love”. There can be no vagueness about that love. It’s self-giving for others. It’s sacrificial to God.
That last point must not be missed. “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”. Christ gave himself up for us, but “as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”. It was Christ’s worshipful obedience to the Father. It was Christ’s wrath-satisfying-sacrifice to the Holy One.
Now we who believe, we who are like dearly loved children: “live a life of love”. Primarily, love one another in the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:1-6). But Scripture stretches love to include neighbors. And yet more–enemies. It’s easier to say, “Live a life of love to everyone”. Thus, having been loved by God in Christ, we are to imitate God in Christ.
“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:3,4).
While love must permeate the church, vices must not. ” . . . there must not be even a hint” . “Hint” is the NIV’s translation of the Greek onomazo–“be known, be named”. “Hint” captures well what Paul warns against. Pornaya must be absent from the Body of Christ.
- ” . . . pornaya” (sexual immorality”) refers to any kind of extramarital or unnatural sexual intercourse. Paul placed it first in his warning perhaps because unbelievers worshiped the goddess Artemis in her magnificent temple through prostitution. The so-called oldest profession was a most-honored and lucrative profession in Ephesus.
- “. . . akatharsia” —moral uncleanness, indecency
- ” . . . pleonexia”–covetousness, avarice, a disposition to have more than one’s share
- ” . . . aioxrotays”–obsenity, dirty talk
- ” . . . morologia”–foolish, silly, or useless talk
- ” . . . eupareleea”–coarse joking, vulgar talk
These vices are anayko–not fitting, not proper “for God’s holy people”; that is, for people God has set apart to himself through Christ.
“Obscenity , foolish talk and coarse joking” about sexual things are also “out of place”. Instead, God’s holy people should give him thanks for sexual gifts.
I suspect Paul’s warning against sexual immorality after just calling for love is this: we confuse love with lust. In the first century A.D. sexual immorality was accepted. A man should have a mistress. And we know that the great temples were staffed by hundreds of sacred prostitutes. It was argued that young men should have the love of a prostitute.
But Paul forbids it–explains why we must treat his warnings with the utmost seriousness . . .
“For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person– such a man is an idolater– has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 5:5,6)..
Paul’s explanation is blunt. “For of this you can be sure”. Paul piles two Greek words on top of each other, both meaning “to know”–oida and ginosko. This you can know with certainty. No one who practices immorality, impurity or greediness “has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God”.
And Paul’s warning is clear: “Don’t let yourselves get taken in by religious smooth talk. God gets furious with people who are full of religious sales talk but want nothing to do with him” (The Message Bible).
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Our model for living is God. God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. Christ who “loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”. So, our model calls, “live a life of love”. This is how we imitate God.
Are we presumptuous to even think we can imitate God? No. We know imitations have less “quality”. We know that we can love selflessly, but not to the extent of Jesus’ sacrifice. But to not give ourselves to imitate God, to not give ourselves to love like Christ–even though we fall short–is to not live in a manner worthy of our calling (4:1).
Imitations are less. In this case far less than the Original. But churches of God-imitators show the world a bit of what God is like and of what Christ has done. And they are “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”.