Tuesday, January 13, 2009

On Being and Imitator of God

Ephes. 5:1-4 (ESV)
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. [2] And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
[3] But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. [4] Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.

Children like to imitate their parents. Perhaps not always, but often. Boys are notorious for this. It keeps me on my toes when I am around John. It does though seem that children are adept at picking up the bad habits even when parents go to lengths to hide them. But the point is it is a joy for them to imitate their parents. It is a show of respect and love. Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children.
It sets the Pietist sensors on the back of my neck on end, “be imitators of God.” But I hardly classify Paul in that depraved tradition. Rather I blame that tradition for ruining what would otherwise be a healthy admonition to Christians, by making it the center of Christianity, and all there is to it. It is a healthy admonition. But it doesn’t end there. It doesn’t merely say be imitators of God, as beloved Children. No, Paul tells us what this means, “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” This fragrant offering is an allusion to the way in which God describes the sacrifices of the Old Testament. “ And burn the whole ram on the altar. It is a burnt offering to the Lord. It is a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the Lord. “(Exodus 29:18 (ESV)
That is where love leads, to a cross. Love led Christ to his cross for us. So Love leads Christians to their own cross for others. Walk in love. It means to sacrifice what you want, what you desire, for the benefit of others. We are not good imitators of God when it comes to this. I know I am not. Crosses aren’t comfortable. Let me not discourage volunteerism, and giving to charities. But these are often too comfortable for us to qualify as a cross. I cringe at this idea of “sacrificial” giving. I hear people talking about such things and I can’t help but to think they are really giving to their spiritual ego, even as they drive home in a Cadillac. Spare me about the sacrificial part, eh. Crosses aren’t so comfortable, and pleasing to our egos. Our crosses come when we have to forgive those we love, as Christ forgave us for not walking in love.
Walking in love, Paul goes on here to give some practical advice as to what walking in love looks like. One who walks in love abstains from sexual immorality, all impurity, and covetousness. It also abstains from filthy, foolish talk, and crude joking. Love does not engage in these things. Love does not use other humans as play things, to be discarded like dirty rag dolls. Rather love gives oneself up for one’s husband or wife, that God’s gift may be enjoyed and not abused. Love does not covet what others have but shares with others what one already has. Love doesn’t gossip and share filthy and foolish talk about others and their lives. It doesn’t make crude jokes, I think here of both sexual and racial jokes. Rather love builds others up, with praise and thanksgiving.
Love is hard. It is contrary to our nature, but not to God’s. It led him to die for us, to offer his life up for us as a fragrant sacrifice. So we learn as crosses are placed on us, to love, to love God, by loving others, even as God loves us, and forgives our lack of love.

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