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Walking In Our Father's Footsteps - Part 7

Tom Pennington • Ephesians 4:25-5:2

  • 2009-08-16 AM
  • Ephesians
  • Sermons


In the passage we've been studying together over the last few weeks, Ephesians 4:25 down through 5:2, we have learned this basic but simple proposition. If we want to walk in a way that's worthy of our new position in Christ, then we must walk in our Father's footsteps and live a life that is defined by His love. Today, Lord willing, we will finish this section. And it ends with one of the most profound statements in all of Scripture. We are commanded to imitate God, to copy God, and walk in love. That's really the theme of this entire paragraph. Paul began with the application really, with the way to imitate God. Beginning in verse 25 of chapter 4 and down through the end of chapter 4, we've studied this together, Paul provides us with five illustrations of how to imitate God and walk in love. We've studied all of those together.

But today, we come away from the way to imitate God, and we come to the command to imitate God itself. Look at 5:1,

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love.

Notice that Paul begins verse 1 with the word "therefore." Paul is summarizing those five specific examples that he's already given, that we've examined together, into one overarching general principle or command. So, in this context, we could interpret the word "therefore" to mean something like this. Paul is saying let me summarize what I've been teaching you like this, be imitators of God. Paul is commanding us to become, as a pattern of life, imitators of God.

Commenting on this command, Martyn Lloyd-Jones says that it is "Paul's supreme argument, the highest level of all in doctrine and in practice. It is the ultimate ideal." William Barclay calls it "the highest standard in the world." Alexander Maclaren describes this command to imitate God as "the sum of all duty."

The Greek word is an interesting word. It's the word "mimetai," "mimetai" from which we get, you can recognize, the English word "mimic." It means to mimic. In fact, Aristotle even used this word to refer to actors who impersonate or copy or mimic someone else. One of the leading Greek lexicons, Liddell Scott, defines this word "mimetai" as "to do what is seen to be done by someone else." So, we watch God as it were and we mimic, we imitate, we copy what we see.

This word actually occurs fairly often in the New Testament. Paul imitated Christ, you remember, he tells us in 1 Corinthians. And he often urges his readers to imitate him. In 1 Corinthians 4:6, he says to the Corinthians, "Be imitators of me. Mimic me. Watch me, and do what I do." First Corinthians 11:1, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." But it's not just Paul who uses this word. The writer of the Hebrews tells us in Hebrews 13:7 that we are to imitate the faith of our spiritual leaders. And John, the apostle, in 3 John 11 says, "Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but [imitate] what is good."

Imitation is such an important part of life. It's a huge part of life. Think about it. Much of art is in fact imitation. It is a deliberate attempt to either copy perfectly, as in realistic art, or some general impression, as impressionism, or even in modern art to capture something of what that person is thinking. It's to represent, to mimic, the person's thoughts. Drama in all of its forms, whether stage or movie or television, is imitation, imitation of life. The same goal of imitation marks sculpture and art of all kinds, music, dance, poetry.

But imitation is also part of our everyday lives because imitation is an essential part of learning anything. Think about that for a moment. The way we learn is by imitation. It's how you learn to speak. You mimicked the sounds the adults and others in your life made. It's how you learn language. In fact, before modern education theory came along, about 150 years ago, for almost 3,000 years, maybe even a little more than 3,000 years, the Greek model of education ruled. And the Greek model of instruction taught that learning any skill, whether it was mathematics or painting, or oratory, whatever, learning any skill required three things. It required theory. You had to understand the general principles in operation. Secondly, it required imitation. And thirdly, it required practice.

I personally experienced this when I took some art classes back when I was in California. It was based on the Renaissance masters. And basically, you started by learning the theory, how they painted, the theory of color and all those things. Then you imitated the masters. We actually reproduced their paintings in a way to learn to paint as they did. And then you continued to practice that. That's how we learn.

Paul is telling us here that imitation is also an important part of our Christian lives and experience. You and I as Christians are to actively seek to imitate, to copy God. As Paul develops this thought, he sort of anticipates and answers several questions about this whole concept of imitating God. And I want us to look at those sort of questions he anticipates and the answers he gives in our time together this morning. We're to imitate God.

The first question that he anticipates is why. Why should we imitate God? Why should this be an important part of our lives? Notice what he says in verse 1, "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children." This tells us why we are to imitate God. We are His beloved children. You know, as humans, much of our behavior, many of our choices, are the imitation of others, especially the parents God gave us, especially our fathers. The problem with this both gift and propensity of imitation is that because we are fallen, we not only imitate the good, we also imitate (what?) the bad.

We take that from everybody around us, but more importantly as we saw several weeks ago, Jesus said that we came into this world with one spiritual father. All of us came into the world with one spiritual father, and that was, according to John 8, Satan himself. And we imitated him. He was a liar from the beginning so guess what? We were born lying. And he goes on to express his character through us because he was our spiritual father. That's in the past because as we learned from the first three chapters of Ephesians, God has done something amazing. By an act of divine sovereign grace, we now have a new Father. We have been adopted by God Himself. And because of the amazing reality of this new position we have in Christ, we are now to strive to imitate our new Father. Isn't that perfectly natural? I mean, how often have you heard a little child say something like this, "When I grow up, I want to be just like daddy."

Here again by the way, you understand why the doctrine we learned in the first three chapters is so important because here we have a command, an imperative, be imitators of God. Behind that imperative or that command is an indicative, that is, a statement of fact, you are His beloved children. In fact, can I stop here a moment, and just as a way of an aside tell you this? Behind every indicative, or excuse me, behind every imperative in Scripture, behind every command, there is an indicative, a statement of fact. And I would go so far as to say that often the reason as believers we don't obey the imperative is because we don't understand the indicative.

Now look back in chapter 1, and let me remind you of what we learned there, the indicative, the statement of fact on which this imperative or this command to imitate God is based. You remember Ephesians 1? Very early, Paul says in verse 3,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ [and then he explains those blessings. He begins with sovereign election, verse 4,] just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him [now look at the end of verse 4. Here's another of those spiritual blessings we have from God.] In love He predestined … [He predetermined our destiny that we would be adopted] as His sons through Jesus Christ to Himself….

An amazing reality. God has adopted us. He's made us His children. That's throughout the Scripture. We're told to call God Father if we've come to repent of our sins and believe in Jesus Christ. John 1:12 says, "… as many as received Christ, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name." First John 3, I love the way he puts it there. He says, "See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God; [and just in case you think it's just a label, he adds] and we are." Beloved, now we are children of God.

Now I emphasize that because I want you to see that this whole idea of Father and children is not a metaphor. It's not a figure of speech. It is a reality. In other places, we're told things like we're a temple. Well, we're not literally a temple. And so, it's easy for us when we read an expression like this that we are the children of God to think of it as a figure of speech, a metaphor, not a reality. This is a reality. We are the children of God.

How did that happen? Well, it happened at the moment of conversion by two great spiritual acts. It happened by spiritual birth. We were born into God's family spiritually at the moment of salvation. Remember you must be born again Jesus told Nicodemus? Spiritual birth, we're born into God's family spiritually at the moment of salvation. And at the moment of salvation, we are adopted as we just read in Ephesians 1. God adopts us. So, both by birth and adoption, we are the children of God. We have an actual relationship with God that can most accurately be described as that of a father and his children. That's how God thinks of us and how He treats us. And that's how we are to think of Him and treat Him. He is our Father. It is a reality.

Now sadly, there are human parents who choose to have either their own children, or choose to adopt, but they do so for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes it's about their own selfish desires. But Paul wants us to know that God isn't like that. Not only are we the children of God, we can call him Father as we saw several weeks ago, Papa, we are also the genuine objects of His love and affection. Notice what Paul says, "as beloved children," that is, the children He loves. Now if you're in Christ, just think about this for a moment. God invites you, in fact God urges you, God commands you, to think of yourself as His child, His son or daughter, and Him as your Father. Not only that, but He wants you to understand that you are the special object of His parental love. You are His beloved child, son or daughter.

You see, if you go back to eternity past, before there was anything, before there was anything but God, before there was time, before there was space. There was only God. In the councils of His triune being, the eternal God decided to create man. And he decided to allow man to fall. And He decided out of that fallen humanity to redeem a people for Himself for His own glory. And He had you in mind. In the eternal past when there was nothing, God already knew you, Christian, and set His love upon you and determined to draw you to Himself. And then you were born in time. And through this life, with all of its troubles and difficulties and joys, God's love for you is unwavering. That love that He set on you in eternity past when He decided to make you His own is now expressing itself day in and day out, but guess what? It's not just here. Fast forward to eternity. And throughout eternity, the love of God for you will be unchanged and unwavering. You are His beloved son, His beloved daughter. In fact, can I put it this way? He loves you as He loves His one of a kind Son, His "monogenes," His only begotten Son, His unique Son, the One who's in a class by Himself. He loves you in the same way with the same intensity that He loves His Own Son, Jesus Christ.

It's interesting. If you go back to classical Greek, in classical Greek, this expression "beloved child" or beloved son or beloved daughter was used often. And it was used of an only child to whom the parents had devoted all of their affection and love. You know, I'm the last of ten kids. My parents loved me, but they had to, they had to spread the love out a lot. But where there's an only child, the love and affection of parents who are truly loving is poured out on that child. That's the expression here, my beloved son, my beloved daughter.

In fact, in the New Testament, this same expression is used of the special love that the Father had for Jesus Christ. Two occasions particularly come to mind. You remember at His baptism? In Matthew 3, Jesus is baptized. He comes up, and as He's coming up out of the water, there's a voice from heaven. You remember what the voice says? "This is My beloved Son … [with] whom I am well-pleased." Fast forward a couple of years, six months before His crucifixion. Jesus is on the mountain with just the three most intimate disciples, the Mount of Transfiguration as we call it. And there, they saw his glory. And as the glory of Jesus Christ was displayed, out of the cloud the voice of God speaks. And the voice of God says the same thing. He says, "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!"

It may be that Paul's point in using the same word in Ephesians is to help us understand that the Father loves us with the same intense love that He gives to His one of a kind Son, His only Son, His only begotten Son. Now what do you do with that kind of amazing reality? How do you respond to that? Well, Paul tells us. Paul says let the knowledge that you are His beloved son or beloved daughter become the motivator to drive you to imitate your new Father. Isn't that how you feel? I mean if you really understand, if you really get the indicative, that is, the facts of what God has done for you in Christ, if you understand that you are now truly His child, His son or His daughter, that He thinks of you that way and that you are the special object of His love and affection, with the same intensity of love, the same kind of love that He shows to His own unique Son, doesn't that make you want to please Him? Doesn't that make you want to imitate Him? Doesn't the make you want to bear the family name well? Be imitators of God (why?) because you have become His children and not just His children, but the children that He profoundly loves.

The next question Paul answers is how. Not only why, but how are we to imitate God? I mean, that's a pretty tall order, isn't it, a command to imitate God? William Hendriksen writes,

We stand in awe before His majesty. How can we imitate Him whom we cannot even fathom? Rather than even faintly to imagine that we, creatures of the dust, would ever be able to imitate God, we feel like falling down upon our knees and saying with Peter, "Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord." It is only in that spirit of awe and humble reverence that we can properly study this glorious theme of the imitation of God.

You see, there are ways that you and I as creatures cannot imitate God. There are things about God we can never imitate. For example, the Bible teaches us that God is present everywhere at the same time. The Bible tells us that God is all-knowing, that is, God knows everything, and He knows it what theologians call "immediately." That is, He doesn't have to think about it. He doesn't have to pull it out of His mind. He just knows it. He knows it all simultaneously and He knows it all perfectly. He knows everything that has happened, everything that is happening now and everything that will happen, and He even knows what could happen. And He knows it all absolutely perfectly without flaw. You and I can never be like that and will never be like that.

The Bible tells us that God is all-powerful, that is, God has such absolute power that He can do anything He wills to do. There is nothing that restrains God except His own will. We can never be like that. Theologians call those qualities in God and other qualities that we can't copy incommunicable, that is, they cannot be communicated to us, they cannot be shared with us.

But there are ways in which we can copy or imitate God. And those ways have to do with His moral character. For example, Scripture commands us to be holy like God. First Peter 1, "like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves in all your behavior." Here it's talking about moral purity. Holiness is used a couple of ways in Scripture. Sometimes it speaks of God as being in a category all of His own. Nobody else falls into the category with God. There's only One, and nobody's like Him in the full sense of that word. But here it's speaking of His moral purity. You and I can be like God in that we can be morally pure, not perfectly like God, but we can be morally pure. We can be forgiving like God. You remember last week? Look at chapter 4 of Ephesians, verse 32, "forgiving each other, just as God has forgiven you."

So, there are things about God that we can imitate. And here in verse 1 and verse 2 of Ephesians 5, Paul adds another way that we are to imitate God. And he does so by attaching a second command. Notice what he says,

… be imitators of God… AND walk in love.

In other words, imitate God by walking in love. We are to walk, that is to have the lifestyle of, to be defined by, to live a life of love, and in that way, imitate God. I mean love is part of the character of God, isn't it? First John 4 tells us that God is love. That's not all God is. Some people just want God to be only love. He's not only love, but He is love. He's also holy. He's also just. He's also angry with the wicked. I mean, there are a lot of things the Bible says God is. But God is love. It's part of His essential being. And because of that, it becomes a moral obligation for all of us. We are to love.

Look at Matthew 5. Jesus couldn't have made it any clearer in Matthew 5. You're familiar with this text, verse 43. Jesus is correcting the misteaching of the spiritual leaders of Israel. And he says in verse 43,

"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR [so far, so good, that's Biblical] 'and' [you have heard that it's okay to] 'hate your enemy.' [Let me correct that for you, Jesus says.] "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," [why? verse 45] "so that" [in order that] "you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven" [because think about God]; "… He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and [He] sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

Imagine for a moment if God weren't loving, even toward His enemies. You'd drive down the street, and it'd be one yard that would be burned up and parched. There'd be another yard that'd be perfectly green like a garden dotting the landscape. You get the point. God is by nature loving even to His enemies. And He says here, Jesus does, that we are to imitate God by loving as well.

John 13, Jesus on the night before His crucifixion there in the upper room, He commands His disciples. And He gives them a command He calls a new command. He used an interesting Greek word. It doesn't mean that it's never been said before. He means He's bringing it out in a new and more profound way. John 13:34, He says to them,

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. [now watch verse 35] By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."

In other words, "love," Jesus says, is the defining character of a true follower of Jesus Christ. He loves God and he loves other people. If you don't truly love God, and if you don't truly love other people, if it really is all about you, then you're not a follower of Christ no matter what you claim, no matter what prayer you may have prayed or how many aisles you may have walked down. Jesus says this is how they're known. In fact, turn over to 1 John 4. First John 4, John makes this very point. Verse 7,

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love [verse 8] does not know God, for God is love.

It's incongruous. You can't know God, love God, and not love others. Verse 10 rather,

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins. Beloved if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

We are to imitate God's love by loving others. So then, Paul says we are to imitate God (why?) because we are the children He loves. How are we to imitate God? We're to walk in love, a life characterized by love not only for our friends, not only for our families, but even for our enemies.

Now Paul's final statement in these two verses answers a third question. In what way? What does this love look like? What kind of love are we to walk in? Look at how verse 2 concludes, "just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us." Now did you notice that Paul switched, he changed from the love of the Father to the love of Christ? Paul is commanding us to walk in love toward one another and to imitate God. Well, let me ask you this. Who is the perfect human model of the love of God? It's Jesus Christ. And so that's where he goes.

In John 13:1, we're told that Jesus loved His disciples "to the end." The Greek word is "telos," to the uttermost, to the nth degree, to the maximum. That's how Jesus loved, and He was the perfect model. First John 3:16, "We know love by this [you want a definition of love, you want to see love? Here's how we know love,] that He laid down His life for us." Jesus Christ is the ultimate standard and expression of love. If you want to know what love for others looks like, look at the life of Jesus Christ. And how was it that Jesus loved? Well, He loved voluntarily, and He loved sacrificially. Notice what Paul goes on to say. "He loved us and He gave Himself [that is, He was a willing victim. He volunteered to do this and He did it] for us [that is, in our place, as our substitute]." You and I are called to sacrifice ourselves not in the place of others, but for the benefit and good of others. Paul here sets forth Jesus' own voluntary, self-sacrificing love as the model of what our love for each other should look like.

Now Paul has made his point. If you want to copy the love of God, copy the love of Jesus Christ. But then Paul can't help himself. He gets carried away. When he mentions what Christ has done, he has to follow through on that thought, and he has to focus again on the amazing expression of the love of Christ. He has to go back to the cross as he so often does, back to Jesus' death. And for Paul, it's personal. Did you notice how he changes pronouns? Look at verse 2, "Christ loved YOU (and then he gets carried away) and gave Himself up for US." He gets personally involved in this. He can't get over what God has done for him in Christ. "Christ loved you and gave Himself up for us."

Notice how he describes what Jesus did. "He gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma." The two Greek words "offering" and "sacrifice" probably are a hendiadys. You remember, remember that figure of speech? Hendiadys is when you combine two words to form a single thought. It's like our English expression, and I've used this expression with you before, "sick and tired." You know, somebody's really overwrought, they say, "I am just sick and tired." They're not sick. They're not tired. They're sick and tired. It takes on a new meaning. It's a single idea. That's what offering and sacrifice is. It's one new idea. Together, those expressions are a kind of shorthand or abbreviation for the entire Old Testament sacrificial system. Here they tell us that Christ's death was the fulfillment of all of those Old Testament pictures of offerings and sacrifices.

And notice "Jesus gave Himself … as an offering and sacrifice TO GOD." You know, we speak rightfully in one sense of Christ dying for us. And that's true. He did die for us, that is, in the sense of in our place. But there's another more profound sense in which Jesus died for God. Why? Well, the last phrase explains why. It was "as a fragrant aroma." Paul borrows that phrase from the Old Testament. In fact, those Greek words that are translated "fragrant aroma" there occur 47 times in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. Of that 47 times, 26 times it's exactly the same wording as it is right here, exactly the same. The New American Standard, the Bible that I'm teaching from this morning that you're using, most often translates this expression as "a soothing aroma," a soothing aroma. The Hebrew expression that that Greek translates is actually "a smell that soothes," a smell that soothes.

Now if you want to know what this really means, let's go back to the first time it occurs, the first time this expression occurs. Go back to right after the Flood, Genesis 8. Very briefly, I just want you to see this. Genesis 8:20. They come off the ark, flood's over. Verse 20 of Genesis 8, "… Noah built an altar to the LORD, and he took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and [he] offered burnt offerings on the altar." So, some of those animals that he took on the ark, some of the ones that were born there during that time, he now offers up as sacrifice. Now watch how the LORD responds. Verse 21, "The Lord smelled the soothing aroma."

Now understand, this is what theologians call an anthropomorphism, that is, it's attributing to God the qualities of man. God doesn't smell that, it's not like God's sitting in heaven and somehow the smoke gets there. That's not the point. The point is God receives that, and the reality of that sacrifice does something in God that can best be described as soothing or quieting Him as the smell, as it were, of that sacrifice reaches Him. And notice how He responds. Verse 21 goes on to say, "… [so] He said to Himself, 'I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of men's heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.'"

God says the smell of the sacrifice reaches Me. It soothes or quiets Me, and I'm not going to pour out My wrath. That's the very first time this expression occurs. It means the same thing every other time it occurs. With those Old Testament sacrifices, it was a temporary soothing of the wrath of God against sin. Remember what the writer of Hebrews says? "It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin."

But then Jesus came. And when Christ offered Himself as an offering and a sacrifice on the cross (guess what?), that sacrifice rose as it were in a figure of speech into the nose of God, and it soothed His wrath, not temporarily, but permanently and forever against every sinner who would ever believe. His death, the death of Christ, was the satisfaction of God's holy anger against our sin. Theologians and the New Testament call that propitiation, the complete satisfaction of God's wrath against sin.

Now why would Paul bring that into this passage, a passage about copying God and being loving? It's because there is no greater expression of the love of God than that. What would prompt, think with me for a moment, what would prompt God to satisfy His own offended holiness not by punishing us, the guilty, but by punishing His one of a kind, unique Son? This amazing reality called propitiation flows from the love of God. There's no greater expression of the love of God than this. The apostle John puts it like this in 1 John 4:10. "In this is love … that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation," the satisfaction, to offer Himself so that a sweet, soothing aroma comes into the nostrils of God, and permanently, once and forever, satisfies His just wrath.

Before you and I came to Christ, John 3:36 says that the wrath of God remained on us like a stain we could never get rid of. But because of His great love, God initiated a way to satisfy that wrath, not on me and not on you, Christian, but on His Own Son. And you and I are commanded to copy that kind of love in our interaction with one another. You say how can we do that? How can I copy that kind of love? Well, remember what we've studied over the last number of weeks in those examples? That's how you do it.

Don't lie; instead, like our Father, speak the truth.

Don't get sinfully angry; instead, like our Father, seek to reconcile your conflicts even as He sought to be reconciled to us.

Don't steal from people; instead, work hard and be generous with others just as God is generous with us.

Don't tear down with your words; but instead, as our Father does in His Word to us, build others up by what you say. Imitate Him in that way. Don't harbor sinful attitudes.

Don't hold grudges and bitternesses; instead, like our Father, be kind and tender-hearted, quick to forgive. Therefore, be imitators of God. Mimic God as the children He loves. 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 soothing smell.

When we celebrate the Lord's Table, we are celebrating the reality that Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice and an offering to bring permanent satisfaction to the wrath of God and to make us the children He profoundly loves.

Let's bow together.

Our Father, we thank You that He was a soothing aroma to You. And because He satisfied Your wrath, there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. Father, we thank You for your great love and mercy to us in Christ.

Lord, I pray for believers who are here. Seal this morning to our hearts, both the study of Your Word, and all that we've learned from this great passage.

As well as, O God, I pray for those who may be here this morning who don't know Christ, who still live under Your abiding wrath whether they sense it or not. Father, I pray that today would be the day You remove the blinders from their eyes and allow them to see the truth. May they see the beauty of Jesus Christ and long to follow Him and to have the forgiveness that He offers.

We pray it in Jesus' name. Amen.