St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Be Imitators of God, Dear Children

Sermon on Ephesians 4:30-5:2

Text: And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Children often play by imitating. They pretend to be someone else and act as they perceive that person to act. One particular set of people that children imitate is their parents. A little girl puts on her mother’s shoes and dress and pretends to be the mom, doing things as she perceives her mother does them. A little boy puts on his father’s shoes and hat and goes off to do his chores. Children learn by what they see. Sometimes it is very eye-opening for parents to see how their children perceive them. Children imitate their parents. In our text for this morning, the apostle Paul urges us to imitate someone, as well. He urges us BE IMITATORS OF GOD, DEAR CHILDREN. First of all, we shall see 1. Why We Imitate Our Heavenly Father and then we shall see 2. How We Imitate Our Father.

If you were to ask a child why they are pretending to be mom or dad, you might get a variety of answers. However, I believe that, in many cases, they imitate those whom they respect. They mirror the feelings that they have for their parents. Because the parents have done so much for them, because they have shown love for them, the child wants to imitate them.

The same holds true for us, the children of God. We imitate God because of the love that he has shown to us. Paul points this out in our text. He says, “[forgive] each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Later, he writes, “walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Paul points back to the greatest act of love that has ever been shown, the sacrifice that Jesus made for us.

To fully appreciate this act of love, we need to go back to what caused this outpouring of love. After Adam and Eve brought sin into the world, every human being that has ever been born has been born sinful. He looks at God’s law and wants to do the exact opposite. We see evidence of this sinful nature every day in our lives. For example, in God’s commandments, he tells us that we are not to covet. Coveting is a sinful desire, a wanting something that God says we are not to have. This commandment reminds us that we are to be content with what God has given us. How often are we content, though? We see this or that and think that we really need it. We live in a society that tells us we need more and more and better and better. It is easy for us to follow along with that way of thinking. However, this flies in the face of what God demands. He wants us to be content, but we want more and more. This coveting can lead to stealing, whether it is actual theft or a misplaced priority on earthly things. We covet things God does not want us to have. We covet and this is a sin. This is just one of God’s commands. If we look at all of God’s commands, we see that we have fallen short of God’s perfection. God also tells us that all sinners are deserving of eternal punishment. That includes you and me.

Now, however, God’s love shines through. Paul points to Christ, calling attention to the fact that he “gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Paul points back to the Old Testament series of sacrifices as a picture of what Christ has done for us. In the Old Testament, God set up a series of sacrifices as a part of Israel’s worship life. In a symbolic manner, the priest would place his hands on the person who brought the sacrifice and then place his hands upon the animal that was brought. This symbolized that the sins of the person were placed upon the animal and then that animal would be sacrificed in place of that person. This happened to us. God took all of the guilt because of our sins and placed it on Jesus. Just as the animal that was sacrificed had to be perfect, so Jesus was perfect, sinless in every way. However, Jesus suffered and died for us. He took the punishment that we deserved upon himself. All of our sins have been washed away. We are perfect in God’s sight. God has called us to faith and adopted us as his dear children. He continues to show his love by pouring out blessings upon us.

In light of this, it is easy to see why we imitate our heavenly Father. We do so to show our love for him. John reminds us in his first epistle, “We love, because he first loved us.” Our imitation is just a natural response to the love that has been shown to us. Just as children imitate those they love and respect, so also we naturally want to imitate our heavenly Father. We imitate him because we are his dear children.

When children imitate their parents, they do so on the basis of what they have seen. They act the way that they have seen their parents act. How do we know how to imitate our heavenly Father? Since we have not seen him with our eyes, we, instead, imitate the things that we have seen written on the pages of Holy Scriptures.

How we imitate our Father is told us in our text. Paul, first of all, begins with negatives. He says in verse 31, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” “Get rid of,” in other words, we are to clean house. Get rid of it. We hear, first of all, of “bitterness.” This is an attitude of a person who is in perpetual animosity toward all people. They are ready to snap back with an unkind word in response to someone who does them wrong. It is a person, who looks for the bad in all people. Paul also tells us to get rid of “rage and anger.” The difference between the two is that rage is an outburst of temper, a moment of passion that fades away. “Anger” is more the idea of a subtle and deep flowing emotion. It is the grudge that is held against someone for a previous wrong. We are also to get rid of “brawling and slander.” “Brawling” is a heated argument with lots of shouting. Slander is quiet, though often more damaging. Slander is running down someone, by telling others the bad things some have done. Because Paul knows that our sinful nature likes to look for loopholes, adds the phrase, “along with every form of malice.” Any sort of evil that might be done to someone else is to be gotten rid of. Paul calls for a house cleaning of every evil thought, word or action done to or against those around us. This are the things that we want to get rid of, as we imitate our heavenly Father.

Just as we are to get rid of certain things, we will also want to exhibit a God-like attitude toward those around us. Paul tells us how as we live with others. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” This is a God-pleasing attitude of the Christian. We are to be kind to each other. This is the feeling of wanting to do whatever we can to help others. It also is that, when we hear a piece of gossip, we do not run for the telephone or email to spread it. When someone’s faults are pointed out, we try to offset their failing with their good qualities. We are to be compassionate. This means that our hearts go out to those who are suffering. We rejoice with those who are happy, and we sympathize when they are sad.

Paul also tells us that imitators of God are forgiving, just as we have been forgiven. God did not forgive our sins because we deserved it. We did not deserve anything, except punishment. Yet, God forgave our sins for Jesus’ sake. Nor did God forgive but not forget. He does not continue bringing up our sins. Rather, we are told that they are completely forgiven and forgotten. How often, though, isn’t our forgiving a poor imitation of God’s forgiveness? We are willing to forgive, if we feel that person is deserving of our forgiveness. Only if they come to us and apologize, and show that they are really and truly sorry, will we forgive. Or, we may forgive, but not forget. We bring up time and again the wrongs that have been committed against us. This truly is a shallow type of forgiveness. Instead, we are to forgive as we have been forgiven.

Paul also tells us, “live a life of love, just as Christ loved us.” The model for a life of love is the love of Christ. That love moved Jesus to lay down his life for his enemies. Jesus’ love was a self-sacrificing love for all people. We imitate his love by loving others.

Unfortunately, we will have to confess that all too often our imitation of our heavenly Father has been poor, to put it mildly. Praise be to God that these sins have also been forgiven because of the work of Jesus Christ. Since we have been forgiven, let us ask that God would strengthen us, so that we might imitate his love for us.

Someone once said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. He meant that, if one was imitated, it showed a great deal of respect for the one being imitated. So also, when we imitate our heavenly Father, we are showing our love and respect for him. We show that we appreciate all that he has done for us. Our motivation is a response to the love that God has shown to us. This is why we imitate God. We imitate him by reflecting the love that he has shown to us to others. May each of us show our love for him, because he first loved us. May we dedicate ourselves anew to the imitation of our heavenly Father by loving as we ourselves have been loved. Dear children, may each of us be imitators of God. Amen.