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Imitation of God

Ephesians 5:1-14

Some of us like to have everything explained in detail. Others like everything reduced to a simple rule. Today's Scripture begins with the rule of thumb, and then elaborates - a bit.

(Eph 5:1-14 NIV) Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children {2} and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. {3} But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. {4} Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. {5} For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person--such a man is an idolater--has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. {6} Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. {7} Therefore do not be partners with them. {8} For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light {9} (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) {10} and find out what pleases the Lord. {11} Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. {12} For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. {13} But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, {14} for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: "Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."

The Principle: The Imitation of God

If there is any one principle of conduct for the Christian, it is this: What would Christ do? Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, is our role model as well as our teacher and Savior. Here we see that principle.

We are to be imitators, as "dearly loved children." The word in the Greek is agapetos, a diminutive form of agape, the love of God. Consider it for a moment: how do children who are dearly loved behave?

·         Perhaps the best way to see it is to look at children whose parents do not love them dearly. Those parents just "going through the motions" or who put their careers ahead of their families - what kind of children do they have? Are they not children who are always "acting up?"

·         But children who are genuinely loved by their parents show two key characteristics:

·         First, they are well disciplined children - for loving parents discipline their children.

·         More than that, you can see that they imitate their parents - sometimes with great comic effect. Not just in biology, but in manner and habit, our children are mirrors of ourselves. So, therefore, we should be mirrors of God.

What, then, does this mean? Paul tells us to live a life of love. The word translated here as "live a life" really means "to walk." It is a life in which one "walks the talk." We are to be sincere in our profession of the faith. And - in imitation of Christ - we are to live, if you will, two lives:

·         The life of sacrifice - that which I give up

·         The life of offering - that which I offer up.

The life of sacrifice

Sacrifice, in our current meaning, is not something burnt on an altar. That's barbecue, in our culture. Sacrifice, to us, means something we give up to gain something better. So what does Paul tell us to give up? Our sins.

Sexual immorality. The word Paul uses here is porneia, from which we get our word pornography. It is also translated "impurity" or in the King James "fornication" - a word which has changed its meaning somewhat since. Recall that this is a time when most people believed in a variety of gods and goddesses. Some of those goddesses were fertility goddesses, often with temple prostitutes. So it would not be uncommon for a man to think that prostitution was perfectly acceptable. Your wife was just for the purpose of having "official" children. Sexual pleasure was down at the temple. Does this sound strange? The principle is still the same in our world. Marital fidelity is despised and laughed at. An "affair" is glamorous. Perhaps we are not so advanced as we think.

Impurity. The word in the Greek is akatharsia, compounded of the negative "a" and the root word for our word catharsis. It means, as you might expect, "not cleansed." It means someone who will not clean himself up, morally. It is the word to describe someone who will not repent, who will not try to improve morally. This is someone that the filth of this world clings to, and he cares not at all.

Greed. This is the respectable sin - when you label it "being upwardly mobile" or "thrifty" or "good money management." You don't think it's a respectable sin? Consider this: there are groups for alcoholics, for drug addicts, for those who have committed abortions - indeed, one could almost define sin by the existence of a recovery group for it (though some of these are found only behind bars!) But where are the recovery groups for greed? Nowhere. Is it possible that the weakness of the church today is related to its attitude toward the rich and greedy?

Obscenity. Justice Douglas perfectly defined this word when he said that he could not define obscenity - but he'd know it when he saw it. That is exactly what the Greek word means . It can be translated "shamefulness" for it means "that which causes shame when exposed." This is the stuff you don't want seen in public. (Do you clear Penthouse and Playboy off the coffee table when the preacher comes to call?) This is a word that carries its own meaning in each of us.

Foolish talking. The Greek word here is amusingly instructive. It is morologia, and it is a compound of two words. The second, logia, is familiar to us as the logos of Christ; it means word, or speech. The first is the root word from which we get our word "moron." So this is literally "moron talk." Paul is telling you to stop talking like a bunch of morons!

Think about it: does your usual topic of conversation involve anything about the faith? About the lives and perils of others? Or is the intellectual high point of your day a rehash of what happened to the Dodgers last night? It is not that sports are unfit for conversation; it is that your speech should go much deeper than that. Your words are the outfall of your mind; what do your words say about you?

Coarse joking. Humor depends upon the "sudden perception of incongruity." Some like dirty humor because sex gives rise to incongruity; others because it gives an occasion for talking about sex. But this is not just about sex; it is about that type of humor that discomforts others. This is the kind of joking that must have a butt to the joke, and is so much funnier when the butt is there to be kicked. This is humor which is designed to attack and destroy another human being.

Think about most of the dirty humor you've heard - I speak to the men. What do those jokes say about women? In particular, would you like the woman you love to be the butt of one of those jokes?

Margaret Dumont is always with us. Our society says that anyone who is morally upright is inherently funny, the butt of the joke. That says much more about those laughing than those laughed at.

The wrath of God

Paul ends this section by telling us that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God - no matter how many times they've been to church. Why? Because these things are idolatry. That seems strange to us at first, but consider: idolatry is the worship of an image. Do we worship an image?

·         Do we worship the image of ourselves as one who is loved - and twist that image in sexual behavior?

·         Do we worship the image of ourselves as one who is rich - and distort that image in the pursuit of this world's goods?

·         Do we worship the image of ourselves as gods, setting ourselves up as judges of right and wrong, for ourselves and others?

All these are distortions of the true God's care for his children. You are loved, by the God who is love. You are rich, you are heirs of the kingdom. You do worship the one true God. Distort this at your peril.

But distorted it will be. Someone will come along and with smooth words and bright music tell you otherwise. Do not "partner" with them!

The Life of Offering

You are the children of light, and as such you make an offering to God. Paul now gives us a brief overview of what such offerings are.


Three things Paul mentions here as fruit of the Spirit - a phrase he will use again to good effect.

·         Goodness. The word in the Greek is sometimes translated benevolence; it means someone with a giving spirit, a generous spirit.

·         Righteousness. The word in the Greek has an interesting meaning. It means not so much "following the rules" as it means "giving to each his due." The idea is to find out what my obligations to each and all might be, and then fulfill them.

·         Truth. This idea in the original carries with it two intertwined thoughts. First, there is the intellectual idea of truth - that something is factually and logically correct. Inseparable from that is the idea that such truth is the basis of action. Modern man has divided these two ideas; here they are in union. Truth must be actively pursued.

Finding out what pleases God

This is, to some, a most surprising idea. Surely, they think, we have the Scriptures as rule book; what is the problem? Why would we even look? The answer is given in prior readings, in which Paul carefully explains that we all have different gifts. But which gifts? How shall we find out? Should we not search and pray carefully, asking God to reveal to us that which He has given us - and use it so that it pleases him?

If you think not, consider (men) the woman you love. How often have you asked yourself, "What is it that she wants?" (I don't have an answer to that). It is the characteristic of a lover that he asks, "What will please my love?" Be the lover of God; find out what pleases him.

Expose evil to the light

Most of us are not naturally heroic. If we do anything courageous, we are usually cornered into it. But we are commanded here to do one thing of courage: expose evil to the light. It is a characteristic of evil (not just disputed opinion) that it will not bear the light. We are to bring it to the light - by example, by word and by deed.

Sleepers wake!

No one seems to know just what Paul was quoting here. Most feel it was a hymn which would have been current at the time. The idea contained in it, however, is clearly contained in the Gospel of John. We need to hear its warning.


Sleepers feel nothing; are you completely immunized to the sense of shame that accompanies sin?

Sleepers are in the dark; do you see the evil around you, or do you create your own darkness by closing your eyes?

Sleepers are content; are you content with what you are and your relationship with the Lord? Or do you desire greater things?

Wake up!

This can be taken in two ways, and both are correct:

·         We need to wake up from "sleepwalking Christianity" - the religion of going through the motions on Sunday morning.

·         If we will not, when the real wakeup call comes - at the resurrection of the dead - we will wake to judgment instead of reward and joy.

Christ will shine on you

Indeed He will; either to say, "well done, good and faithful servant" or "depart from me, I never knew you." You decide which - by staying asleep or waking up now.

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