Imitators of God
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:1,2).
How can one imitate God?
I read a post on Facebook this week in which the author told a story about a young woman who told her pastor that she was no longer going to that church because the people in it were all hypocrites. The pastor responded by telling her not to look at people, but instead to fix her eyes upon God. There were a number of problems for me with the story and the conclusions the author came to. One problem was that the pastor was not at all concerned with the example the people in the congregation were setting. Surely, if the life of God, is flowing in and through the lives of followers of Jesus, there must be some difference, some evidence of transformation, of resurrection life. There must be something both challenging and attractive about them. But there is some truth too in what the pastor said. If we continually look to people, we are bound to be disappointed. How do we fix our eyes on God who is unseen? Or would it have been better if the pastor said See with God’s eyes?
Paul tells the Ephesians in chapter 5 verse 1 to be imitators of God but in at least eight other instances in his letters Paul urges people to be imitators of his example and faith and of those with him who shared the gospel with them. For instance, in 1 Thessalonians 1:6,7 Paul commends the Thessalonians - And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. The faith of the Thessalonians had become known everywhere. Paul had no need to draw others attention to it.
The ‘Good News’ is that God became flesh and lived among us full of grace and truth. Paul tells the Ephesian Christians to live in love, as Christ gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. In many of my sermons I have often said, if you want to know what God is like look at Jesus, look at his life, his words and actions and how he loved and welcomed people. Followers of Jesus mirror his life. They reflect the same love Jesus had for people through their lives. Well, that is what we might expect to happen.
There is a well-known saying that says Faith is more caught than taught. Without living out the gospel, the gospel isn’t grounded, it isn’t enfleshed, isn’t incarnated, it isn’t living, it isn’t alive. Jesus doesn’t just say believe in me, Jesus says take up your cross and follow me. This means putting to death something of us in order to live life to the full. People who live life to the full will always be attractive and challenging to others. Living a full life does not mean that everything goes your way; that it is one laugh after another. Living a full life means living life in ways that meet life full on; that no matter what is thrown at one, one draws from the well of life that is God. With that life flowing through a person other people will want to imitate that life especially when they see someone gong though the hardest of times and yet somehow living.
It seems to me that when we look at Jesus in the Gospels, we look with softened or opened hearts but when we look at others our hearts are often closed or hardened towards them. The Old Testament tells us that God does not look at the outward appearance of a person, God looks at the heart. How do we look as God looks? How do we see the heart of another?
This week I continued my very slow reading of Eckhart Tolle’s book ‘A New Earth - Create a better life.’ In it he wrote about how when we look at another person and they look back at us, we are looking at them as the person we think we are, and we are looking at the person as we think they are, and they are looking at us through the person they think they are and at the person they think we are. There is a lot going on in the mind, that we don’t even realise is going on. All our experiences, prejudices, beliefs are processing faster than a computer as we instantly sum up the other person. Have you ever noticed another person doing that? You can almost see their mind being made up. Following Jesus takes us beyond this ego driven and controlled relating. Imitating God means giving up that ego driven approach and looking as Christ looks, in humility, in love, with grace and mercy and compassion. It means looking with the eyes of the heart.
Rene Girard developed what he describes as memetic theory. Girard says that human beings mimic one another. We desire what others have, we become envious, jealous and resentful of the other person. We want to be like others. We look to others. We get our cues from others. We copy their behaviour. If we are to imitate God who is present in all people, we need to be able to look beyond forms, beyond all appearances, both good and bad, and see with the eyes of the heart. This does not mean we excuse bad behaviour or turn a blind eye to it. We can still call it out. But we need to be consciously aware of our own behaviour, and the thoughts of our mind that often reduce the other person to a rival or an enemy. With conscious awareness we need to see beyond or through the behaviour too of others. To see as God sees, we need patience and perseverance, we need compassion and forgiveness, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you. In this way we will be imitating God.
Minister of Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Uniting Church Congregation