Imitators of God (Ephesians 4:25-5:2)
I preach a lot like my dad. When I was a 3 or 4-year-old little guy, Dad preached part-time for the Upper Spencer Church of Christ in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky. After worship, we would go to my grandparents’ home for dinner. Nannie and Papaw had a big, round stool in the middle of their living room. I would get up on that stool and preach about Jonah and the Whale every Sunday.
When I was 13, I was given the opportunity to preach my first sermon. I’d been itching to try preaching for some time, and the church’s elders gave me the chance. I had no idea how to prepare a sermon, and my dad had years and years of his old sermons in his filing cabinets. I selected one of his sermons on the Book of Job and preached it. The first sermon I ever preached was one of my dad’s outlines.
A few years ago, I posted one of my audio sermons online. A family friend listened to it and sent me a private message on Facebook that I sounded so much like my dad that she wasn’t sure who was preaching at first.
I’m sure that each of you men see your own fathers in you. Maybe you’re an Aggie fan because your dad supported the Aggies when you were growing up. Maybe you can attribute your faith in God directly to the faith your father displayed. Maybe you chose you career because of your father’s influence. Maybe your hobbies—old cars, sports, stamp collecting, coin collecting, or something similar—came directly from your father.
As much as each of you tend to imitate your earthly father, there is nothing more important than imitating your heavenly Father. You are called on to imitate your heavenly Father. “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet 1:15-16).
This morning’s passage provides a roadmap on becoming like God. Paul listed several attributes in this text which describe how God interacts with mankind; the apostle urged his readers to live according to these attributes—in fact, he phrased these attributes as commands for his readers to obey.
This passage shows how God is the standard of your behavior and the standard by which you should interact with other people. The text shows: “The child of God must treat others as God treats others.”
Scripture (Ephesians 4:25-5:2)
In the previous paragraph (vv 17-24), Paul addressed Gentile converts to Christianity; he told them they had to give up their former way of life and live by a new standard in Jesus. At verse 25, however, Paul began addressing both Jew and Gentile believers. The issues Paul mentioned in this paragraph are sinful behaviors which plagued both Jews and Gentiles in the first century and continue to affect our modern society.
What Paul did here was extremely common in his day. Philosophers would provide a moral code they expected their disciples to follow. However, none of those teachers could appeal to a God who exhibits those qualities in absolutely full perfection. That separates this list from the list ancient pagan philosophers gave.
As you examine the attributes in these verses, you realize that God is the model for each of these moral qualities and that he possesses each of these graces in perfect abundance. At 5:1, Paul said, “Therefore [because of these attributes] be imitators of God.” The Ephesian Christians weren’t to be imitators of God in a vacuum; rather, they were to imitate God based on qualities Paul just mentioned.
Notice how these attributes flow from God:
Speak the truth with your neighbor. Satan is a liar (Jn 8:44). God, however, cannot lie (Tit 1:2).
Be angry without sinning. God himself becomes angry; Romans 1:18 speaks of God’s wrath. Yet, God’s anger is never selfish; his anger isn’t about simply getting his own way—rather, his anger is displayed against sin.
Instead of stealing, thieves are to do honest work with their hands. God himself works; he isn’t lazy, simply sitting around. As evidence of God’s work, take the Creation of the world: “On the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done” (Gen 2:2).
Let the former thief share with anyone in need. God blesses people with abundance. “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt 5:45). “He did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17).
Speak only grace. The words God speaks bring life. Jesus said of his teaching: “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (Jn 6:63). “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet 1:23).
Replace the negativity which comes from anger with goodness and grace. We’ve already mentioned how God always deals with his anger appropriately. God has kindness, tenderness, and forgiveness in great abundance.
As beloved children of God, Christians are to imitate their heavenly Father. God is the Father of the Christian.
- As Jesus taught the disciples to pray, he began his prayer: “Our Father in heaven” (Matt 6:9).
- “You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom 8:15).
Your task is to live like your Father, to live like him in the way Paul described in the earlier verses.
“The child of God must treat others as God treats others.” That is a tall order. You are imperfect, you are in the flesh. How could you ever treat others as God would?
First: You need to know who God is.
It’s quite simple—you cannot treat others like God would if you do not know how God would act. To learn how God would treat others you need to spend considerable time in the Word of God. The Word of God came from God, reveals God, and points you to God.
- “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).
- “The word of God is living and active” (Heb 4:12).
- “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21).
The Bible is not just any book, but it is the very Word of God that reveals who God is and tells us how we can live like God. If you want to learn how to imitate God from Scripture, you can do so in two main ways:
One: Examine how God has interacted with people.
- See God relent of his anger when the Israelites built the golden calf.
- See God’s patience as the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years.
- See God’s begging his people to come back to him when they strayed from him.
- See God’s mercy when his people did return.
- See God’s keeping his every promise.
Explore the Old Testament and see how God displayed the qualities Paul listed in Ephesians 4 over and over.
Two: Examine how Jesus interacted with people.
Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). “In [Jesus] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col 1:19). Jesus “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb 1:3).
Explore how Jesus treated people:
- See his kindness and forgiveness when a woman was caught in adultery.
- See his love and compassion when he comforted Mary and Martha after the death of their brother.
- See his pity when he healed those afflicted with horrible diseases.
- See his love and his submission to the Father’s will when he went to that old rugged cross.
As you see how Jesus interacted with people, you’re seeing God how interacts with people.
Two: Focus on one attribute this week.
You can’t simply ignore any of what Paul wrote in this morning’s text, but I want you to eat the elephant one bite at a time. Read through Ephesians 4:25-32 several times. Ask yourself what quality do you need to add more than any other.
Practice that one attribute over and over this week. When you go to the grocery store, interact with people according to that principle. When you’re at the office, interact with your coworkers according to that grace. When you’re at home, treat your spouse according to that attribute. Make a conscious effort that you’re going to take one of these attributes and incorporate it into your daily walk. Then next week you can add another and then another and then another.
What attribute do you need to add the most to your life?
Paul told the Ephesians to be forgiving each other “as God in Christ forgave you” (4:32). What blessed news! If you’re in Christ, God has forgiven you. Has God forgiven you? Do you need to come this morning and claim that forgiveness this very morning?