2013-02-17 Imitating our God: Loving One Another as God’s Beloved Children | Ephesians 5:1
Loving One Another as God’s Beloved Children
What person or persons have had the greatest spiritual influence in your life? When I asked my Dad that question in recent years he said his mother was that person for him. For me, in my formative years it was my Dad. I saw how he quietly and faithfully read his morning devotional along with the accompanying Scripture passages each day before heading off to work, and especially how he practiced Christ-like character not only at church but also at home and in his work. I am truly thankful for his example.
In my later years it was a faithful senior pastor, Horace Hilton, who was not only a pastor, but also a mentor and friend to those of us who were in college. He often said that his grandmother was the greatest spiritual influence in his life, and what he learned from her he passed on to us. He not only lived out his faith, he challenged us to do the same. He was the one who encouraged me to serve as a volunteer choir director for his growing church while I was still in college and who trusted me to direct the entire music ministry soon after graduation.
I’m sure many of you could share similar stories of people who served as godly examples to you. I imagine you’re thinking of that person or persons right now.
How did these persons become a model for your life? They did so, often, because others had done the same for them. But other people are not meant to serve as our only examples. Even Paul, as great as he was, instructed the Corinthian church, 1 Cor 11:1 “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” He looked to God in Christ as his example and model for faith and life.
Likewise in today’s passage, Paul encourages the Ephesian church – and us – to imitate God as his beloved children in order to properly love one another in Christian community.
Please stand if you are able.
1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
We might be able to imitate our father or grandmother or pastor or friend, but who can hope to imitate the creator of the universe of whom it is said in Leviticus (11:44-45) “Be ye holy, for I am holy,” and in Matthew (5:48), “you must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”? The good news is that those who are in Christ by faith, can not only hope, but also truly imitate our Father because he has called us his beloved children. In Christ he boosts us up, so to speak, over the high bar of holiness and perfection, to enable us to imitate him and so love one another in the same manner as he loved us.
I suggest that in this passage we are told to imitating God primarily in two ways: by loving one another intimately and by loving one another mercifully.
First, I suggest we are to imitate God by loving one another intimately.
As our spiritual Father, God expresses his love intimately with his redeemed children. Though the term Father is not used here, it is implied in the phrase “beloved children.” Ancient Israel knew God as their Father but not to the extent that we find in the NT. In the OT, God was Father of his people. Israel’s king was considered to be a son of God in (Ps 2;). And Israel was called “my son” in (Hosea 11:1). But this tended to be more nationalistic than an individual relationship.
However, with the advent of Christ the Fatherhood of God takes on one of the most intimate forms of human relationships, that of a true parent and child. For example, when God speaks from heaven at Jesus’ baptism he says, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” And later at transfiguration he says similarly, “This is my beloved son, listen to him.”
Repeatedly throughout his earthly life, Jesus calls God his Father. The first time, perhaps in the temple at the age of twelve, Luke 2:49 he said to [his parents]… Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?””
Later when preaching at the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem Jesus said, “29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.””
Six times in his high priestly prayer in John 17 Jesus addresses God as Father as in verse 1, “”Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,”
After his resurrection, in John 20:17 Jesus said to [Mary], “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'””
At his ascension he said to his disciples in Luke 24:49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.””
And finally, even after his ascension to heaven Jesus says in Rev 3:5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments…I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.
We find the same pattern in Paul’s teaching and usage. God is at various times called the Father of all creation (Eph 3.14-15), the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Co 11:31, Rom 15:6), but most predominantly, the Father of Christian believers. This is found most often in the greetings of his letters to the churches, for example in (Eph 1:2) Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
And Paul’s most intimate construction is the use of the Aramaic Abba form in Romans 8:15 …but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” and in Galatians 4:6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
These are patterned after Jesus’ use of the form in his darkest hour recorded in Mark 14:36 “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”” Originally, this was a term used by younger children equivalent to the English “da-da,” but it had also become a term of familiarity between grown children and their father, roughly equivalent to “my father,” or “dear father,” like the English “daddy.”
What does this mean for us in our relationship to one another? It means we are to love one another intimately as a Father loves his children as also in (1 John 4:11) Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. I suggest it means at least two things for our relationship to one another: access, affirmation and acceptance.
In Christ, we have boldness and confident access to God our Father (Eph 3:11). An intimate love like that between a father and child means granting access into one another’s lives. Like a father who keeps his door ajar for his children, we should seek to keep open our lives to one another. Our father’s room is a safe place to share our own honest thoughts and feelings. So too should our relationships with one another be free from fear of reprisal or judgment. Our father’s room is where we can work out any problems that might exist between us. So too should our relationships with one another be a safe place to lovingly confront the issues that stand between us and work them out together.
It also means affirming one another as the Father did of Jesus at his baptism, “this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” We affirm one another by openly acknowledging our love for one another and our pleasure in one another. We also affirm one another when we openly value the contributions of another as God did when he said of Jesus at his transfiguration, “this is my beloved son, listen to him.”
Similarly, it means accepting one another for who we are and for what we have to offer. Just as God accepted us in Christ while we were still sinners, so we should accept one another in Christ even in weakness and brokenness. And since God has gifted each of us in various ways for the upbuilding of his church, so we should accept one another’s gifts as necessary, complementary and beneficial to the welfare of the body.
1 John 4:7 ¶ Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
Not only should we love one another intimately,
Second, I suggest we are to love one another mercifully. The context reminds us that as a father, God is merciful toward his children. The ‘THEREFORE’ in our passage today points us back to verse the last verse in chapter 4, “be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving as God in Christ forgave you.” Therefore, be imitators of God. I believe the overarching concept found in verse 32 is “mercy” as we see also in Lk. 6:36 “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
In our final moments, I want us to look at several NT examples of God’s expression of mercy in Christ to see how they apply to our loving one another.
We love one another by showing mercy to the afflicted – Mat 9.27 “27 ¶ And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.”” …29 Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” 30 And their eyes were opened.
We love one another by showing mercy to the oppressed – Mat 15.22” 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”” ” 28 Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.”
We love one another when we show mercy to the stranger – Luke 10: 36 ” ” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.” 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.””
We love one another when we show mercy to the person who sins against you – Mattew 18:21 “21 ¶ Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
We love one another when we show mercy to the professional sinner – Mat 9:10-13” 10 ¶ And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.””
We love one another by showing mercy to the disobedient – Rom 11:30 “30 For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.”
We love one another by showing mercy to the unbeliever – 1 Titus 1:13 “13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief,”
We love one another by showing mercy to our enemies – (Matt. 5:44-48) “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.“
These are perhaps encapsulated best in the parable of the king in Matt 25: 31ff ” 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'”