Ephesians 5:1-2 reads,
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
So let’s dig into these two verses and see what the Lord has to teach us. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. How is it that we imitate God? Of course to imitate Him we must know who He is and what He is like. I suggest that one way to get to know Him more is to study His names, His I Am statements, and the statements made about Him. We are not God, we are not gods. We can not be Almighty, but we can trust that He is and that He uses that omnipotence for us. What aspects of God can we imitate? Jesus came to earth and showed us exactly who God is, therefore, we can follow Jesus and be imitators of God, our Father. The author of Hebrews wrote this in Hebrews 1:3-4,
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
As the Son of God, Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature. He gave us the perfect example of imitating God. Paul wasn’t saying pretend to be like God, do an impersonation of Him, he was saying do what God does. And because Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, to do what God does means we can do what Jesus did. Hebrews reminds us of several things we have learned so far in Ephesians. Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, here we are reminded of God’s majesty, His royal splendor. The right hand of God is the position, the part of Him that carries out His will. Jesus is God’s will manifested, He is the Way to the Father (John 14:6), the Word of God (John 1:1), and He has power and authority over everything (Ephesians 1:21-22). This passage also reminds us of the awesome power and excellence of Jesus’ name.
In earthly terms consider a family like the Kennedys. That name means something, it carries power with it. If a person belongs to that family, even if their name is no longer Kennedy, they still want people to know they are related, they use the name Kennedy to brandish that power. The Kennedy name holds political muscle, economical power, and social influence. We have been adopted into God’s family and have been given His name (Ephesians 3:15). We want to live up to that name and we have inherited the right to use that name.
To be imitators of God is to demonstrate sonship of God. Jesus is the Son of God and He demonstrated that by always doing the Father’s will. In John 5:19-24 Jesus said,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. 22 For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
If Jesus didn’t do a single thing without being in perfect accord with the Father, if the Son of God couldn’t make a move without the Father, then what makes us think we should or can do anything outside of God’s will? Jesus was one with the Father, the Father loved Jesus so deeply that this relationship was expressed in unity, honor, and life-giving power. But remember too that God loves you so much, so immensely that He gave His Son, He gave Himself for your salvation (John 3:16)! That extreme love of The Father for The Son is the same love He has for you and me, His sons and daughters. The relationship Jesus described between Himself and the Father is also for us. He described it this way in John 14:12-21
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”
God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, three individualities united so perfectly He is One. He is One God in three persons. The concept is beyond my grasp. He is God, He is triune, three in one. I don’t completely understand it, but I believe it and accept it. And God the Father invites us into this relationship, Jesus makes the way for us to be in the relationship, and the Holy Spirit indwells us and brings us into the relationship. Jesus is in the Father, the Father is in Him, we are in Jesus, and He is in us. It is mind-blowing. And one of the things this means is that just as Jesus did the Father’s will, we too can do the Father’s will by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We can be imitators of God. What is His nature? In 1 John 4:7-14 John wrote,
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.
Our adoption by God goes beyond receiving a new name, we are born of Him, we receive His Spirit and nature, we get to know Him and we get to love because not only is His character love, but He is Love. And to imitate God means to love one another. He sent us His Son so that we could live through Him., so we could love through Him, and so His love could be perfected in us.
What does it mean to be imitators of God? Matthew 5:43-48 tells us to be perfect like He is perfect is to love as He loves.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
The same teaching recorded in Luke 6:27-36 instead of be perfect says Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:36).
David, a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14 Acts 13:22,) described God this way in Psalm 86:15
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
As imitators of God then, as people living out the love of Jesus, we too then are meant to be merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Are we? Are you merciful and gracious? Are you humble enough to forgive as God has forgiven you (Matthew 6:14,Colossians 3:13)? Does it take any little thing to make you angry or are you deliberate in your anger? Is it righteous or do you sin in your anger because it is based on pride instead of love and zeal for God? Are you abounding, that is proliferating and overflowing with steadfast love? Nothing can deviate, decrease, change, or stop steadfast love. It is not ended or even weakened by injuries, it goes on strong and plentiful. I doubt any of us really live up this perfect ideal, but we can because God is in us and He has perfected that love in us. He has made us able to follow Jesus and be imitators of God.
To be imitators of God is as Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:2 to walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Jesus gave Himself up for us, He sacrificed Himself for us and that became a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. We too can be a fragrant offering to God, a life lived as worship brings that beautiful and pleasing aroma to Him. 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 in The Living Bible says,
But thanks be to God! For through what Christ has done, he has triumphed over us so that now wherever we go he uses us to tell others about the Lord and to spread the Gospel like a sweet perfume. 15 As far as God is concerned there is a sweet, wholesome fragrance in our lives. It is the fragrance of Christ within us, an aroma to both the saved and the unsaved all around us. 16 To those who are not being saved, we seem a fearful smell of death and doom, while to those who know Christ we are a life-giving perfume. But who is adequate for such a task as this? 17 Only those who, like ourselves, are men of integrity, sent by God, speaking with Christ’s power, with God’s eye upon us. We are not like those hucksters—and there are many of them—whose idea in getting out the Gospel is to make a good living out of it.
The way God enjoys our worship is described as breathing in a pleasant aroma like a sweet-smelling incense. Psalm 141:2 reads,
Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,
and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!
From the time of Noah’s burnt offering in Genesis 8:20-22 to the Levitical worship of sacrifices (Leviticus 1:9 and fifteen other places in Leviticus alone) to the comparison of our prayers being in the smoke of incense in Revelation 8:4 worship is described as a pleasing aroma to God. And according to this passage in 2 Corinthians, that perfume is another way that we represent Jesus, glorify Him to the world.
Jesus lived His life as a perfect expression and revelation of Love with a capitol L. He told us that to keep all His commandments meant to love one another as He loved us. And here in Ephesians 5:1-2 we have read that to be imitators of God is to follow Jesus, to walk as He walked and love others the way He did to give up Himself for us, to live in constant worship in a unified relationship with God. It is easier said than done, yet so much more simple than we think. We can love that way because Love indwells us and Love is perfected in us. We can say, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” just as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, because we have the same Holy Spirit in us that he had.