Rev. Slopsema is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Walker, Michigan.
Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;
And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.
The church of Ephesus has already been exhorted to put off the old man of sin with all its evil lusts and to put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and holiness.
This means that they must not lie but speak the truth to one another in love.
They must not steal but work with their hands the thing that is good so that they have to give to the poor.
They must not let corrupt communication proceed from their mouth but speak that which is good and edifying.
They must not be bitter and malicious but kind, tenderhearted, forgiving.
And now this is all summarized in that they must be followers of God, as dear children, walking in love, as Christ has also loved . . . .
The idea is perhaps better captured if we would translate “followers” as “imitators” or even “mimics.” The saints in Ephesus were charged to be imitators or mimics of God. And so too are we called to imitate God in our whole life, as dear children.
To imitate is to follow the example of others, It is to do as you see others doing. It is to make an attempt to be like others.
It is our very nature to imitate. None of us really wants to be different from others. To be different most often means not to be accepted. Consequently we tend to imitate what others do. Besides, we learn from the examples of others. By imitating certain individuals we can often avoid certain pitfalls in life or find success.
The trouble is that, all too often, we imitate the wrong thing.
In the previous chapter we learn that certain sins prevailed among the members of the church of Ephesus. Mention is made of the sins of lying, of unrighteous anger which was allowed to burn endlessly, of laziness and stealing, of gossip and backbiting, of bitterness and malice.
In this the saints were imitating the pagan Gentiles in Ephesus. Hence, Paul felt compelled to warn them, “walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind” (Eph. 4:17).
Is it any different in the church today?
The example of the world is everywhere. It’s presented to us on television, on radio, in books and magazines, through the advertising media. Almost everywhere we turn we see the example of the world.
And all too often we imitate what we see of the world. We are inclined to imitate the world in our dress, our speech, our singing, our dancing, our entertainment, our whole life-style. But, more to the point of this passage, we are also inclined to imitate the world in the way we deal with others. Certainly lying, cheating, stealing, gossip, backbiting, bitterness, and malice exist also in the church today. And it exists because the church imitates the world in its dealings with the neighbor.
Over against this we are called to be imitators of God, as dear children.
The Word of God addresses us here as dear children of God.
We are God’s children, of course, only through the work of Jesus Christ. In Christ God has adopted us to be His sons and daughters. In Christ God has even worked a spiritual rebirth in us so that we are born of God. This alone qualifies us as God’s children. Those not adopted in Christ and born again in Christ are not the children of God but are the children of the devil.
It’s rather significant that we are addressed here as God’s children. For it is the very nature of children to imitate their parents. Children naturally behave as their parents behave. This is sometimes cute and amusing. At other times it is rather frightening, especially for the parent who knows his own sins and weaknesses. But imitate his parents every child does. This is the way God has made children, that they may learn from their parents.
We too are children. We are children of God in Jesus Christ. It is our very nature therefore to imitate our heavenly Father. This is the inevitable fruit of our adoption and new birth in Jesus Christ.
We are called here to live in harmony with that reality.
Be ye imitators of God, as dear, children.
We imitate God when we walk in love.
Your walk is the whole of your life. It includes what you say and what you do. It also includes your inner thoughts and desires that lie behind your speech and actions. Your walk even includes the deepest motive of your heart. To walk in love therefore means that your whole life is one of love and is controlled by the principle of love.
Now, there are two whom we are to love. We must love the Lord our God. And we must love our neighbor as ourselves. This, according to Jesus, is the great commandment of the law.
We are concerned here with the latter—love for the neighbor. We are to walk in love with respect to our neighbor. Our motive in dealing with him must be one of love. Our thoughts and desires toward him must be that of love. Our words to and about him must be words of love. And so too must our action toward him be actions of love. This includes the neighbor in our home, the neighbor in the church, and even the neighbor outside the household of faith.
When we walk in love toward the neighbor, we are imitators of God, as His children. This is evident especially from the fact that we are called dear children of God. The word “dear” means “beloved” or simply “loved.” God loves us as His children. He has loved us from all eternity and has shown this love to us in countless ways. Now we are imitators of God, when we show to our neighbor the same love God has shown to us, His dear children.
The specific example we are given is that of Christ, who has loved us and has given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.
Certainly by following the example of Christ’s love to us we become imitators of God. For Christ is the Son of God come into our flesh as God’s Mediator, as God’s visible representative on earth. It is through Christ, therefore, that God reveals to us His love for us. Christ’s love for us is God’s love. Hence, by loving our neighbor as Christ has loved us we become imitators of God.
Now Christ loved us by giving Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.
This sacrifice Christ offered for us was the sacrifice of Himself on the cross. He offered Himself on the cross for us exactly in order that He might pay for our sins and accomplish our salvation. For that reason this sacrifice is also a sweet smell to God, who has eternally loved us and sought our salvation.
But the striking thing is that Christ gave Himself to the sacrifice of the cross! How bitter and horrible was the cross. At the cross Jesus was required to suffer all the agonies of hell for our sins. The mere anticipation of this suffering caused Him great agony in the garden of Gethsemane. But, nonetheless, Jesus gave Himself to the sacrifice of the cross. He was not dragged to the cross. He wasn’t compelled against His will by the hand of God. No, He gave Himself willingly to the agonies of the cross. For He loved us and knew that this alone could accomplish our salvation.
This is the love we are to imitate and mimic in dealing with our neighbor.
That means that in love we are to seek the welfare and salvation of our neighbor. This is what Christ in love did for us as He gave Himself an offering and sacrifice for us. He sought and accomplished our salvation. So are we also to show love to the neighbor by seeking his salvation and eternal welfare.
And how do we in love seek the salvation of our neighbor?
Not by lying but by speaking truth with our neighbor.
Not by being filled with an unrighteous anger toward him that burns and burns, but by letting not the sun go down upon our anger.
Not by stealing from him but by working with our hands the thing which is good so that we can not only provide for our own needs but also have to give to him that needeth.
Not with corrupt communication of gossip and backbiting but by speech that is edifying.
Not by bitterness and malice toward him but by kindness, tenderheartedness and a spirit of forgiveness.
In short, we seek in love the welfare of the neighbor by behaving toward him according to the second table of the law.
But we also imitate God when we are willing to sacrifice for his welfare. The welfare of our neighbor often requires great sacrifice on our part: sacrifice of money, of time and effort, perhaps even of our life.
For the sake of our salvation Christ offered the supreme sacrifice: His own soul and life. This love we are to imitate in our dealings with our neighbor. Then we show ourselves to be the dear children of God. And God’s name is glorified through us as His great love to us is reflected in our very lives.