Be Imitators of God?
Having discussed the need (command rather) to be who we are, or behave who we are, Paul shows us the ultimate example of such behavior, saying, “Be Imitators of God, as beloved children.” This injunction strikes us as both shocking and impossible: “Be imitators of God?” we say, “the Perfect One?” Yes, just as our Lord said, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Perhaps to help ourselves, we should note the context in which Paul makes this statement. Paul says, “Be imitators of God,” just after saying, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Here is a place where a break in the chapter gets in the way of understanding. (The division of the books of the Bible into chapters and verses came into being much later with thirteenth-century, Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton. Most consider this a beneficial and even necessary innovation, but one mustn’t allow it to interfere with understanding, a matter with which I’m sure the Archbishop would have agreed.) At any rate, the import is that we are to be as kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving towards others as our God is to us. It is a wonderful thing that our Father is this way with us—God, the very Maker and Ruler of the universe is tenderhearted towards us. And He rightly expects the same of us in our relations with others (Matthew 5:14-15; 18:23-35).
And the proof of this is that He sent His Son who further sets the example for us: “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” So herein is love defined for us: giving ourselves up sacrificially unto God. And how will this look? I suppose the immediate answer people would give is by serving others. This certainly is included. But I first turn to prayer and praise, worship and adoration, growing in grace and godliness, sloughing off sin and exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit. From these we may serve others in a way that is God-ward and grounded in Him. Yes, love is an action (John 14:15), and so service is love, but so is being righteous and blameless before our God (Luke 1:6).
As long as God is God, perfection will be the standard; that will never change. And the fact that we cannot reach that standard will not change that standard, nor will our inability deny God’s right to judge. Praise Him that he is so kind as to send a Savior, not just to show us how to live, but to give himself up for us, “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”