“Imitators of God”

By Semi-Retired Pastor Jeremy Stopford

“Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them.”

Ephesians 5:1-7 NKJV

The young preacher was flattered when someone described him as the “model” preacher. His pride vanished when he looked in his dictionary and found the definition of “model” = “a small imitation of the real thing.”

So when someone later described him as a “warm” preacher, he was a little more cautious. He checked his dictionary once again, and it read: “warm” = “not so hot.”

There is a wonderful word in our text today, and I guarantee if we understand and apply it to our lives, our world will never be the same.

In verse 1, the word in the King James Version is “followers” and in the New King James Version it is translated “imitators”.

The word in the Greek is “mimetai” which means “mimic, parrot”, and is best translated as in our NKJV, “imitator”.

It might be helpful to our study today to look at 3 other instances in the Pauline letters where the Apostle Paul uses this same word.

First, a COMPARISON, as seen in 1 Thessalonians 2:12-14:

“12 that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.

13 For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.

14 For you, brethren, became IMITATORS [“mimetai”] of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans…”

The brethren in the church in Thessalonica were being compared with the brethren in the churches of Judea. They were walking worthy of God. They were obedient to the Word of God. And because of those two character traits that were major parts of their Christian living, they were suffering for the Lord Jesus.

The brethren of the church in Thessalonica, in their imitation of Christ, were able to follow/IMITATE the wonderful example of the brethren of the churches in Judea.

Second, an EXAMPLE, as seen in 2 Thessalonians 3:5-10, especially verses 7-8:

“7 For you yourselves know how you ought to FOLLOW [“mimetai”] us, for we were not disorderly among you;

8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you…”

The Apostle Paul and his co-workers were walking so close to the Lord Jesus that they were setting an example for the brethren of the church in Thessalonica. Apparently there were some in the church – and this might seem “hard to believe” in YOUR church – that were “free-loaders”, as the old expression goes. In the name of Christ they were seeking the help of their fellow church family for everything from food to money for paying bills. And yet, they were able-bodied people! Paul would later write, in essence, “if you don’t work, you don’t eat” (verse 10).

Third, an OBEDIENCE, as seen in 1 Corinthians 11:1.

“ IMITATE me, just as I also IMITATE Christ.

This may at first glance look like a simple verse, yet the intent is most profound. Paul in essence is challenging the readers from the church in Corinth: follow me as I follow Christ!

The key is this: being an IMITATOR OF GOD means becoming Christ’s disciple, being obedient to His Word, and living in closeness to His will – whether that will involves either suffering or simply the challenges of daily life.

Using this foundation, we see THE LIKENESS OF THE FATHER (verse 1; see 4:32).

Do you remember 2 Peter 1:4? It reads in part that the believers are “partakers of the divine nature”. We have the power of God working in us, enabling us to do what He asks!

Our text says we are to be an imitator of God “as dear children”. What child has never tried to walk in his Dad’s footprints in the snow [or for you suth’nors, in the sand]? Although perhaps impossible, we still try. In time, we become like our parents. Mom always wanted to be treated like a lady. Her instruction for gift giving for her at Christmas or her birthday was simple: make sure the present is feminine! Dad, on the other hand, was a “stubborn Stopford” (as I imagine us 3 boys of his are too!). We are not bent to change unless we are changed!

Our relationships with one another are to be as Christ’s was. Remember Ephesians 4:32:

“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

While being kind to one another was the theme of Chapter 4, Chapter 5 presents a sharp contrast. Here the emphasis is on Christ’s distinction from the world. Later in the chapter Paul talks about the “Christian marriage”. Even that was to be distinct from the world and ITS view of marriage!

Adding to our foundation, we see THE LOVE OF THE SON (verse 2).

Notice throughout this chapter the use of the little comparative word, “AS”:

* AS dear children (verse 1)

AS Christ also has loved us (verse 2)

AS is fitting for saints (verse 3)

Not AS fools but AS wise (verse 15)

AS to the Lord (verse 22)

AS also Christ is head (verse 23)

AS the church is subject (verse 24)

AS Christ also loved the church (verse 25)

AS their own bodies (verse 28)

AS the Lord does the church (verse 29)

AS himself (verse 33)

Did I miss any? So when we get down to verse 2, we see the comparative now to the Lord Jesus! But first take a gander at Ezekiel 20:39-41. Here the Lord is reaching out to Israel in their worship of Him ALONE. In so doing, He says that “I will accept you as a SWEET AROMA when I bring you out from the peoples” (verse 41a).

In our text, Paul says that we are to imitate God as Christ…has given Himself…[AS] an offering and a sacrifice to God for a SWEET SMELLING AROMA. God brings us out of the world as a sweet smelling fragrance to Him! Even so, we are to walk! There should be an huge distinction between what we once were and who we are now! And the distinction, while created by the Father, is a direct operation of our obedience to Him!

Completing our foundation is the reminder of THE LIFE OF THE WORLD (verses 3-6).

Look at these terms which Paul gives in these verses. We today might not be familiar with them. In fact, they may seem so foreign that we may have lost our “immunity” to them in our lives! But we must be WARNED! The life of the world hungers to creep into the fundamental, Bible believing, gospel preaching church – even like the ones you or I go to!

Be warned! We are to not even name these terms. They are not fitting for those who name the name of Christ as LORD of their lives:

“Fornication” [“porneia” from which we get the term “pornography”]: a willingness to forego God’s standard

“All uncleanness”: any sexual deviation

“Covetousness”: an insatiable lust which cannot be satisfied

“Filthiness”: obscenity in speech

“Foolish talking”: phrases that can have double meaning, usually with a slant toward sexual perversion

“Coarse jesting”: making every word into an indecent suggestion

See also Proverbs 23:4-5. We are warned not to overwork to be rich, as riches have…wings! One of the biggest downfalls for most Christians is an uncontented heart! Is YOURS content with what you have – what the Lord in His wisdom has wisely provided for YOU?

The sphere of the world is foreign and is not to be named among those who name the Name of Christ as Lord (verses 3,5). Its judgment is certain (verse 6). Don’t be PARTNERS/PARTAKERS with them but with God alone! (Verse 7)

I would love to hear people who knew my Dad say:

“That must be Bob Stopford’s son.

He has Bob’s wit.

Bob’s good looks [had to put that in here],

Bob’s good golf game.

Bob’s sense of humor.”

And as important and special as THAT is,

I crave more to hear people say:

“He must be the Father’s son.

He is different.

He is steadfast.

He is faithful.

He is compassionate.

He is separate from the world, and yet,

like the love of the Father, he loves those in the world

and would give himself for them so that they might

know the Father, too!”