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Be Imitators of God (5:1-14)

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All those who choose to follow Christ are changed. As the Apostle Paul writes in chapter 4, verse 24 of his inspired letter to the Ephesians, they are created anew to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. This is why Paul goes on to say in chapter 5, “Be therefore imitators of God, as beloved children.” (5:1) But what does it mean to be like God? How does one imitate God? In the next several verses Paul tells us in what ways we should be like God. In verse 2 he writes, “Walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling fragrance.”

If we want to know what God is like, all we have to do is look at Jesus. Scripture says He, “ the radiance of his glory, the very image of his substance...” (Hebrews 1:3) So, if we are going to be like God and imitate His love, we will act like Jesus. Paul reminds us that the essence of love is to give. Therefore, in order to live a life of love, we will give of ourselves on behalf of others just as Jesus did.

Paul then lists several things which are opposed or contrary to a life of love. “But sexual immorality, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not even be mentioned among you, as becomes saints; nor filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not appropriate; but rather giving of thanks.” (5:3-4)

The reason that sexual immorality, impurity and greed must be avoided by the follower of Christ is that they are not becoming (improper). Obscenity, foolish talk and coarse joking must likewise be avoided because they are not appropriate. It should be noted that Paul is not forbidding witty conversation or humor. The kind of speech to which he is referring is the dirty joke or the double-entendre which would draw one’s thoughts towards, or entice one to entertain, immoral desires or behavior. In contrast to these evils the lives of the followers of Christ should be characterized by thanksgiving. This is a good test which we can apply to ourselves in order to gauge to what extent we are living a life of love. Are we thankful? Or, are our minds filled with sexual innuendo?

There are eternal consequences to the choices we make. In verses 5 through 7 Paul writes, “Know this for sure, that no sexually immoral person, nor 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 on the children of disobedience. Therefore don’t be partakers with them.”

As already mentioned, the essence of love is to give. Love has the benefit, or good, of the other person in view. In contrast, the focus of those who are immoral, impure and greedy is self-gratification. This is why Paul calls them idolaters. Though they may not outwardly bow down before graven images they have placed their own desires above God. In addition to being idolaters they are disobedient. Idolatry and disobedience are totally incompatible with following Christ. The result is to experience God’s wrath.

In verses 8 through 14 Paul gives another way in which the followers of Christ should be like God: “For you were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord. Walk as children of light, for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth, proving what is well pleasing to the Lord. Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even reprove them. For the things which are done by them in secret, it is a shame even to speak of. But all things, when they are reproved, are revealed by the light, for everything that reveals is light. Therefore he says, “Awake, you who sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you”

Scripture says that, “...God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5) It follows, then, that if we are to be like God we, too, must show forth God’s light. Jesus told His disciples, “You are the light of the world... Even so, let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16) But what does it mean to ‘walk as children of light’ or to ‘let our light shine’? Paul reminds us that the fruit, or influence, of light is goodness, righteousness and truth. All three of these virtues flow from the attributes of God. Scripture tells us that God is good (Psalm 25:8, Nahum 1:7), that He is righteous (Romans 3:26) and that He is true (Numbers 23:19, Psalm 31:5, Hebrews 6:18). Paul writes that we are to find out ‘what is well pleasing to the Lord.’ (verse 10) This is how we can know what pleases Him. Anything whose outcome or fruit is goodness, righteousness and truth is pleasing to Him. Conversely, anything which does not lead to these virtues is not from the light, but is one of the ‘unfruitful deeds of darkness.’ (verse 11) The ‘deeds of darkness’ result in shame, to the point that it is shameful to even mention them. If it is shameful to mention them, how much more so to participate in them!

Paul writes that the followers of Christ are to expose or rebuke the deeds of darkness. But this leaves us with a dilemma. How can we rebuke the deeds of darkness when it is shameful to even mention them? The answer comes from understanding the nature of light. The nature of light is such that darkness cannot exist in the same place with it. When we want to see what is in a room we do not try to shoo the darkness away. Instead, we turn on a light! Paul reminds us that it is light which makes things visible. In the same way, the deeds of darkness are exposed and revealed for what they are when the followers of Christ live as ‘children of light.’ Their thoughts, attitudes, motives and actions, in fact their very lives, are a rebuke to those who are disobedient.

What is the purpose of exposing or rebuking deeds of darkness? It is so people will see the light and be rescued from spiritual death. “Awake, you who sleep, and arise from the dead...” (verse 14) Paul reminds his readers that they, too, had once been darkness in need of the light.

We must also remember what the source of light is. It is not something which is self-generated. Christ’s followers are not the origin, but the bearers of light. Paul makes it clear that it is the light of Christ which shines in and through them. “...Christ will shine on you.” (verse 14) Jesus himself said, “...I am the light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) Are we truly following Christ? Or, are we still in the darkness?