39. Imitators of Christ

[We pick up the series on Ephesians again now, and will continue on through to the end of the book]
Ephesians Meditations No.39

Eph  5:1,2 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.

Now in these verses our ‘link word’ isn’t at the beginning, but it is still there. “therefore” links us with what has gone before. This takes us back into chapter 4 where Paul earlier said, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love.” (4:15,16) There were two references to this ‘life of love’ that comes from us being linked to or ‘growing up into’ Christ who is the head of the body, that is his church. Now the head dictates what the body does.  It is your mind, your brain, which tells the rest of the body what to do, so in the analogy of the church being Christ’s body, the body is to do and be what the head is – energized by, motivated by, and characterized by love. God is love”, (1 Jn 4:8,16) we are told and therefore Jesus, as God’s Son, is also love and everything he says or does is motivated by love. Today’s verses should therefore come as no surprise to us.

“Be imitators of God, therefore…” We have observed previously that the Christian life has two aspects to it: knowing who we now are and then living out who we are, and in that second aspect, we exercise our will and we determine that we will live in conformity to God’s will. The call to imitate God is a call to work out or live out our lives in this way. From the middle of chapter 4 on, Paul was writing about how we are different from the rest of the world (4:17-19) and how we have been made new (4:20-24), and then he gave us specific ways to do that (4:25-32).

These two verses today are, again, summary verses putting background to the specific ‘behaviour verses’. Paul is telling us WHY he wants us to behave in the ways he has been listing and will shortly continue to list. He wants us to imitate God, “as dearly loved children”. He wants us to see ourselves as we actually are. We ARE children of God (see also 1 John 3:1) and therefore we should be living as God’s children. The call is, as God’s children, children of the One who is love, to “live a life of love.” Isn’t that a simple description of the Christian life, a life of love! Everything about our lives should be characterized by love. When we think of God and of others, our thoughts should be motivated by love. Can you say that about your thoughts about others in your church, or your neighbours or those you work with? Our words should be purified by love. When we speak to or about others, are our words, words of love? Yes, these may be very challenging things, but this is our calling. Are our actions motivated by self-concerns or by love? These are valid questions if we are going to heed our calling and live lives of love.

But Paul puts content to these ‘lives of love’: “just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” This reminds us of Jesus’ own instructions to his disciples at the Last Supper: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15:12,13). Our call is to live with the same love that Christ has and he demonstrated that love by laying down his life so that we might live. Paul’s description of what Jesus did – “as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” speaks of the pictures from the Old Testament of the Israelite coming to God to bring offerings as an expression of his love for God. Jesus laying down his life for us, was first of all an expression of his love for his Father. Jesus did it, not only because of his love for us, but because first of all he loved the Father and this was the Father’s will. This  ‘life of love’  is not to be something we do to make ourselves feel good or appear good, it is to come out of and be an expression of our love for God Himself.  When John says, “We love because he first loved us,” (1 Jn 4:19) he is saying that our love is a response to His love. The first thing we need to do in the Christian life is become utterly convinced of God’s love. We need to read about it, meditate on it, and pray that we may ‘see’ it in such a way that it motivates everything we are and do.

All the other instructions on how to live, that come before and follow these verses are to be seen in the light of these verses. These truths are to be what motivates us to do the things Paul says. The ways we practically live out our Christian lives are to have their foundations in what we have been considering here. We ‘do’ because we are loved and all we ‘do’ we do in love. May it be so!