Like it or not, throughout life we almost always have someone who is watching us. Someone may actually be following our example. Imitating us.
It may be a sibling, a friend, a student, a person we’re discipling, or someone we don’t even know. But they know or see something in us that motivates them to imitate us, for better or worse
I remember when my son would follow and pester his older sister and she’d get so exasperated with him. I’d tell her repeatedly (though it didn’t seem to help much at the time), that he wanted to be near her, to be with her, and even be like her.
We are all imitators to some degree. And sometimes we become aware that we are the ones being imitated. In fact, a model for discipleship that I appreciate is the one that encourages each of us to take the hand of someone who is a bit ahead of us on the faith journey, and offer the other hand to someone following close behind. That way everyone is leading someone and everyone is following someone.
Paul approaches this propensity to imitate in a very sober tone in Ephesians, saying, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise…”
Let’s back up to see this emphasis on how we live.
Paul begins Chapter 5 of Ephesians with the exhortation that we are to be imitators of God.
Imitators of God! What a concept! How, pray tell, does a person imitate God?
We are just people. Don’t we feel most of the time that we are quite unlike God? He is unspeakably vast and we are, in our flesh, unspeakably puny. He is perfection, while we are imperfection.
But imitators pursue perfection. Not perfectionism. Not perfecting ourselves, but becoming more accurate in our imitation of his perfections.
Paul, like Jesus before him, asserts that the perfect thing to imitate is God’s love, as evidenced in the gift of his Son. Jesus the Son is the perfect imitation of the Father in human form, and he shows us the way to be imitators of the Father in our own humanity.
We do this by sacrificing our own selfish wills to the will of the Father like he did. This emits “a fragrant offering” of sacrifice (5:1). Others catch a whiff of this fragrance and are drawn by it to the same perfect Jesus.
What else makes us imitators?
Holiness. Holy living, holy thinking, holy talking. As counter cultural as it sounds, imitators of God don’t mess around with sexual immorality, or coarse language, or greed, or idolatry. Purity is a priority.
Imitators emit the light of God, and their behavior is consistent with “the fruit of the light…all goodness, righteousness, and truth” (5:8-9). They have nothing to do with darkness or its “fruitless deeds” (5:11). Imitators reflect the light that Christ shines on them.
Imitators don’t pursue foolishness, or drunkenness, or debauchery. Instead, affirmatively, they are:
“filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:18-20).
So, in this season and all seasons, let us be so good at imitating our Lord, that people get a glimpse of him in us, and want to imitate him too. Let us live, and sing, and speak good words of truth, and give thanks for everything he has done.
Let this be our magnificent obsession.
God bless you all with a beautiful Christmas!