Ephesians 5:1 is rather plain, “Be imitators of God.” As God’s children, we have no higher calling or purpose in life than to be like of heavenly Father. The Way of Christ is designed to reproduce godliness in our lives and therefore mold us and shape us into the image of God. Let’s examine four areas of our lives where we are specifically called to imitate God:
Be Imitators of God by Comforting One Another:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
God is the ultimate source of comfort, but His comfort is not a means to an end in itself. According to Paul, God’s comfort has a twofold purpose. First, God’s comfort sustains us through our own afflictions. And second, the comfort God gives us serves to empower us to comfort others during their afflictions. When we comfort others by “weep[ing] with those who weep” (Romans 12:15) we are imitating God.
Paul takes the idea of comforting one another, one step further when he reminded the Corinthians that:
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ… [Therefore] If one member suffers, all suffer together… Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:12, 26-27).
The Hebrew writer builds on this sentiment when he said:
“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3).
Why do we comfort one another during times of affliction and grief? Because God has comforted us and because God has united us together as a body of believers through His son, therefore, we comfort one another.
Be Imitators of God by Loving One Another:
“‘A new commandment I give you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.’” (John 13:34; cf. 15:12)
The commandment to love one another was not new; Leviticus 19:18 commanded loving one’s neighbor as oneself (cf. Matthew 22:34-40). However, Jesus’ command was dramatically different. His command called for His disciples to model their love for one another after His love for them. In essence Jesus is saying “imitate my kind of love.” There’s no doubt that the ultimate expression of Jesus’ love for His disciples was His willingness to lay down His life for them. So if we are going to imitate His love, then we must be willing to die for one another (cf. John 15:12-13; 1 John 3:16). But we don’t encounter this situation every day, perhaps, we may never have to express our love for one another this way.
So let’s explore this on a practical, day-to-day level. Again, Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Look at how Jesus loved them. He loved Philip even when Philip, after all the time they spent together, just didn’t understand who Jesus was (ref. John 14:8-9). He loved Peter, even though Peter rebuked Him (ref. Matthew 16:21-23). Jesus still loved them all even after they had abandoned Him (ref. Mark 14:27, 31b, 50). So on a practical level, Jesus is saying love one another even when others disappoint you, rebuke you, or turn their back you. Why? Because that is how Jesus loved, and that is how He loves still. But you might be saying, “I can’t do that.” Then you need to hear the Spirit’s word from 1 John 4:20-21:
“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this command we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
A claim to love God is a delusion if not accompanied by unselfish love for others. If we are going to be imitators of God, then we must love one another as God loves us. There’s no other way around it.
Be Imitators of God by Forgiving One Another:
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:12-13)
Because God, the model of forgiveness, has completely and totally forgiven us of our sins, then as believers we must be willing to forgive one another. This is really about dispensing mercy. Jesus said in Luke 6:36, “Be merciful, even as your heavenly Father is merciful.” James builds on this by saying, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (2:13). The one, who shows mercy, by forgiving one another, will themselves receive forgiveness from God and avoid His judgment (ref. Matthew 6:12, 14-15).
Additionally, in the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35), Jesus taught that we must forgive because we have been forgiven. In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus established principles for dealing with a brother who has sinned against you. In response to this teaching Peter asked, “‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’” (18:21). Perhaps Peter thought he was being generous in forgiving his brother seven times, but Jesus turns Peter’s generosity on its head by replying that Peter should forgive “seventy times seven” (18:22). To illustrate His point, Jesus tells the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (18:21-35), in which one servant owes his master an astronomical amount of money, an amount he could never repay (18:24-25). However, out of pity his master forgave him the debt (18:26-27). Upon being released, the forgiven servants found another servant who owed him a paltry amount of money (in comparison to what the master had forgiven) and seized him, threw him in prison and would not show his fellow servant the same mercy that was shown him (18:28-30). As things go, word got back to the master; he summoned the forgiven servant and said to him:
“‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all the debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’” (18:32-33)
In anger, the master had the previously forgiven servant delivered over to the jailers until he could repay what was established as being an unpayable debt (18:34). Jesus ends His lesson by saying,
“‘So also my heavenly Father will do to everyone of you, if you do not forgive you brother from the heart.’” (18:35)
The sin debt that we owe God is one that we could never repay. In comparison the sin debt that others owe us is minuscule to what God has forgiven us of. Therefore, we can, and must, imitate God by forgiving one another as we have been forgiven. Extending mercy, just as mercy has been extended to us.
Be Imitators of God by Sharing With One Another:
“Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, ‘He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.’ He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase your harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” (2 Corinthians 3:6-11)
According to Paul, God was the source of the Corinthians’ abundance of material goods. However, these physical comforts were not given to them to squander on themselves. God blessed them with so much, so that the Corinthians would have an abundance for “every good work” (3:8b) and so that they could experience a great “harvest of… righteousness” through their good works (3:10b). This is the same sentiment in another of Paul’s letters where he said,
“As for the rich in the present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
And who are we supposed to share our possessions with? Everyone, enemy and friend alike. Listen to Jesus’ words from Luke 6:35-36:
“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your heavenly Father is merciful.”
When we share our possessions with others, whether they are enemies, or brethren (ref. Galatians 6:12) we are imitating God, because He is merciful and kind to all men (cf. Matthew 5:44-45). Therefore, we should be as well.
As we conclude, let’s consider Jesus’ words from Mark 5:19, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how He has had mercy on you.” Let’s be people who tell those around us of God’s comfort, love, forgiveness, and how He has blessed us richly. But equally important to telling others about these great things is showing others, by being imitators of God, by comforting, loving, forgiving and sharing with one another. May God bless you as you seek to serve Him.