Thursday, February 15, 2024

Imitators not Imitations

 

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. (Ephesians 5:1-2, NASB)

Before we jump into the two verses above, we must understand the first word we read in verse one, the word, therefore. Some Bible translations put this word after the word imitators. This verse’s word placement does not matter. The important part is that Paul wrote it, and we need to understand what Paul intended with this conditional word. Therefore implies that an action or statement will result in something happening. This tool is a literary technique used to help a person consider what the speaker states next when considering his previous statements.

To help us understand what Paul wrote in Ephesians 5, let us grasp what he wrote before chapter five. Chapter four told the Ephesian believers and later believers, there must be unity in the body of believers, the body of Christ. Verse one said believers must walk in a manner worthy of their calling by Christ. What is this manner? The manner of Christ is one of humility, gentleness, and patience (4:2-3). This manner includes bearing with each other and being eager to keep the unity. Paul reminded the Ephesians they are one body and spirit made so by having the same Lord, faith, baptism, God, and Father (4:4-6). He reached the heart of the matter. Paul said God’s grace gives gifts to Christians through the Holy Spirit (4:7). These gifts equip saints for ministry, building up the body of Christ (4:13). This enables all believers to reach the pinnacle of the unity of the faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ and to become a mature believer to the full measure of the stature of Christ (4:7-13). For the rest of chapter four, Paul said by growing toward maturity and unity among the body of Christ, each believer will speak truth and be kind, which shows itself in tenderheartedness and forgiveness toward others of the body (4:25 & 32).

Paul wrote, because of this unity and growing maturity of Christlikeness, believers can, therefore, be imitators of God (5:1). He wrote the word, therefore, to show the result of maturing and being united. Every believer should and will resemble their Father God. The tender image Paul gives is of a loved child’s relationship to his or her father. People can relate to this image of a loving father. For those who cannot for whatever reason, the love of a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, neighbor, or church member can understand. For others, the relationship of the heavenly Father to him or her is very close because of His protection and provision before he or she became a Christian. Whoever was in your life and deeply touched your heart, consider that relationship like the relationship of the Father to His beloved child.

To extend this comparison, what does a child aspire to become as they mature? Often, he or she will want to imitate the person with whom their heart intensely connects. My mother was a nurse. As a child, my first aspiration was to become a nurse. Why? Because my mom was very loving, caring, and compassionate. This image portrays part of what Paul tried to explain with his analogy. A child desires to imitate their Father. The Father (or the analogized parent, grandparent, etc.) takes great pleasure and honor in the child looking up to Him. He desires for His child to become ever more like Him each day. The Father wants His children to mature into Christlikeness.

What does it mean to be imitators of God? Paul began explaining it in chapter four. He said He wants His children to reach full maturity in likeness to Christ so that they have unity among their brothers and sisters and are kind (tenderhearted and forgiving) and speak truth (the truth of God, not the world’s idea of truth). Paul continued this thought in chapter five. He said imitators of God walk in love (5:2). Paul did not mean phileo love, a brotherly love a person has for his or her close friendships. He wrote saying imitators of God will walk in agape love. Agape is the love shown to people by God. This love is sacrificial love, beyond mere feeling. Sacrificial love intentionally chooses (wills) to act. Agape love shows a preference for the other person over oneself, no matter what the cost. Most parents willingly would risk their lives to save their child’s life. They prefer the life of their child over their own. This love is about what Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:2. God’s children are those who mature and become imitators of Him. This means they will live out this preferential love toward their other brothers and sisters in the faith. These believers prefer to help one another grow, survive, and receive forgiveness. They make the choice to ensure the unity of the body of Christ, regardless of the personal cost to themselves.

That sacrificial love made Jesus' offering of Himself in our place a fragrant aroma to God. What parent, when seeing his or her child do a kind and selfless act, does not beam with pride and love for his or her child? God beams with pride at His children when they become imitators of Him in this way, when they love as Jesus Christ loved them.

The Holy Spirit, by God’s grace, gives each believer gifts to equip himself or herself to mature in Christ and to aid in bringing unity as God designed for His body. This unity builds the faith of other believers, speaks truth in love, and is kind—tenderhearted and forgiving. This unity in the body causes each believer to be imitators of God. Each believer will desire to be so close to God that they reflect the presence and love of Christ, allowing others to see God. Those imitators of God are true. They are not an inferior imitation; one the world says is sufficient. The believers who radiate the presence and sacrifice of Christ are imitators of God, not imitations, like faux leather. These believers desire to be closer to God. They crave it. Believers want everyone to know about God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. They care that the truth gets out and all experience life-changing and eternal forgiveness. These Christians are tenderhearted and dedicated to spreading the message of Jesus and His salvation. God's children, imitators of Him, aspire to be nearer to and resemble Abba, the one who never gave up on them and offered forgiveness. Their goal is to be like Jesus, regardless of sacrifices. That is agape love. Agape love is a love that prefers to benefit others instead of oneself.

“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.”

Will you live out what Jesus Christ put in you—the new person—by His Spirit when you believed in Him? Agape love requires action. It prefers other people over oneself. Consider what Jesus would do?

Be imitators of God, not imitations.


Saturday, February 10, 2024

Bearing and Forgiving: The Example

 


“Bear with one another and forgive any complaint you may have against someone else. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)

Bearing means to endure or tolerate a person and his or her actions, opinions, etc. It is a stance of not judging because of your respect for him or her as a creation of God, one loved by Him. Bearing comes from living out visibly and tangibly what God has put into you from His being and His indwelling Holy Spirit. Because we are “raised with Christ,” as Paul stated, we are enabled to bear with each person if we are willing to do that which God compels us. We can simplify this action and attitude of bearing with a slogan from the 1980s-2000s, “What would Jesus do”—WWJD.

Paul wrote we are to bear each other, our brothers and sisters in Christ—their various attitudes, actions, thoughts, words, etc. Still, he added to that. He specifically added that we are not only to bear but to “forgive any complaint.” Forgiveness is hard for any person, especially the unsaved. It should be easier for a Christian because he or she recognized and recognizes daily his or her own sins. Still though, without humility, forgiveness is hard to give. Without a willing heart, the forgiveness God puts within you will not be extended to others.

Bearing a person is easier to do. Sometimes we just grit our teeth and put up with a person (“grin and bear it”), probably while interacting very little with the person. Forgiving requires more of a person to be done. It requires humility, understanding, mercy, compassion, kindness, and acceptance of that person with whom you bear his or her opinions, actions, attitudes, etc. Forgiving is freely, willingly, and graciously extending favor, kindness, and pardon to a person who has harmed or offended you or someone else. 

Paul said forgiveness is a refusal to cast blame for “any complaint.” Forgiving is totally removing a harm from your memory of offenses, not harboring any grudges for later quarrels or arguments. Paul also recognized that forgiveness is a two-way street when he wrote, “against one another.” It takes at least two people for an offense to happen. The offense of one person by another may occur from interactions between those two people because of attitudes, words, or actions misunderstood or misstated. Therefore, forgiveness often needs to be extended by each person in the equation of offense and hurt. 

In considering offense and forgiveness, Paul summed up the ultimate example of forbearing and forgiving, in case anyone forgot and in hope they will remember it in the heat of the moment. Just as the word “bearing” should cause us to consider the ultimate reason to bear with another person and just as the word “forgiving” should cause us to think of the ultimate reason to forgive, Paul explicitly stated as reminder and prime example Jesus’ bearing with and forgiving of us, His followers. 

Even if you are so hurt or offended that you do not want to be with or think about the person by whom you took offense, remember, but for Jesus, you would not know or have freely received forgiveness. You would not have received salvation and the promise of eternal life. Your interactions with God read like a litany of charges of offense and rebellion against Him, but He extended and extends undue grace and forgiveness to you. He bears with and justifies you. God removes your sins from your name as far as the east is from the west. 

God did not have Paul write and teach that we are to do something impossible. He bore and forgave all your sins. God gave mercy and grace to you and pours into you the ability to be merciful and gracious toward other people. You can bear and forgive because of His love, of which you are the recipient and the channel to other people. 

So, be like God. By the love of God within yourself, bear with and forgive any complaint you have with one another. Are you willing? 

 

Are you forgiven and saved by Jesus? If not, now is the time to believe in Jesus, confess your sins, and receive His forgiveness.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Just DO It

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.”

— John 13:34

Have you ever stopped to consider how many artisan skills God gave to Bezalel in Exodus 35-38? 

He cut and planed the wood. He engraved stone and wood. He spun the wool and created intricate curtains. He hammered the gold into designs. He applied self-fashioned gold sheets around wood. He fashioned the ark of the covenant with the mercy seat atop of it. He created the altars and the water stand where the priests cleansed themselves before entering the temple. He crafted the gold rings to hang the curtains. 

All this Bezalel and Oholiab did by God giving them the skill. They shared this knowledge to individuals to help make parts of the tent of meeting. 

Since God gives those abilities, there’s no way we can’t love our brethren. It’s doable because Jesus gives us the ability since He poured His love into us when we believed in Him. It’s there, trust it is, then step out in faith and put it into action. That brother or sister might not be easily lovable today, but God loved you when you rebelled against him in your sins. Since He could do that, it’s not impossible to be gracious and love the brother or sister who is not easy to like today. 

Like anything God tells us to do, JUST DO IT.

Obedience will change you.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Be the City

 


“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14)

I’ve read and heard this verse most of my life. My public high school English teacher quoted it often to her students. She was not shy or ashamed to share the Truth in school.

This verse says we are the light of the world. Do we have anything innate in our being that makes us like a light? This is a metaphorical statement, of course. Let’s ask ourselves that metaphorical question again. Do we have anything within our DNA that makes us shine brighter than anyone else? No. Nothing by which God put in us makes us light—makes us good. 

We are by nature sinful. We are covered by the stains of our sins. People who believe in Jesus as their Savior from their sins no longer bear the stains of those sins. Each confessed sin is wiped away from us and we don’t carry the burden of the guilt. When we believe in Jesus and confess and repent of our sins, Jesus washes the sin stain from our names. His Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us. 

The One who is Light—Jesus—casts His light upon and within us. We, of our own being, are not good, sinless, and light-filled. We are covered—darkened—by the sin into which Satan tricked us. But Jesus, when we believe in Him and He washes us with His sacrificial blood and love, makes us bearers of His Light. We become the light on the hill. 

This light within us cannot be put out. It cannot be denied. As we stand in the darkness of a sinful world, the light of Jesus put within us shines forth. Jesus is eternal and His light, too, is eternal. It will never depart or fade away. 

Jesus has called us to be His city on the hill. To shine bright in the darkness around us so that other people will see the Light (Jesus), be drawn to Him and His love, be saved, and praise Him.

This should make us pause and think. Are we shining the light of Jesus intentionally so others will see Him and come to Him? Are we staying in a daily, moment-by-moment relationship with Jesus so that the light He put within us does not become dim? Are we part of a church of faith who intentionally shines God’s light and calls people to come know Jesus?

Maybe you don’t know Jesus as your Savior. Now is your time to decide. Are you tired of the burden of your sins and the darkness in which you live? Seek the Light, see the Light, and come to the Light—Jesus—for forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life with Him.

Jesus calls each of us to Him, some to be saved and some to draw closer to Him. Draw closer and shine His light brightly so other people will be drawn to Him. In what place do you find yourself sitting now—on a hill or in the crevasses of darkness? You can choose who you follow.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Walk like an Egyptian?

 

”But the magicians of Egypt did the same things by their magic arts. So, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said.“ Exodus 7:22 BSB

We are like Pharaoh who believed he was in control and defied God’s command. He called his magicians and showed he could do what Moses said God would do to him (and his citizens). He felt he did not need God because he could do and have whatever he wanted. He was stubborn and rebelled against God.

How often do we tell ourselves, and then God, “I can get what I want, so why do I need God or need to call on Him? See all I have provided for myself with the job I found. I don’t need God.” We are being stubborn when we say this aloud or within our minds. We forget God gave us the mental and physical capacity to have that job. He led us to that job. God provided the goods that we buy with the money from the job He gave us. We rebel against Him and steal His glory by saying these things and acting this way. This is sinful. 

Will we turn to God before extreme measures happen to change our focus from ourselves to God? Will it take a major incident like the “dying-of-firstborns” (like God did with Pharaoh) for us to recognize God as supreme and recognize our need of and reliance on Him? We must remember, too, that our stubbornness and rebellion affect people around us.

I pray today that I never again consider who I am, what I have, and what I think to be more important and have supremacy over who God is, what He’s done, and the love He gives. What will you pray—confession and submission to God—or will you turn away from Him again