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President Calvin Coolidge invited some people from his hometown to dinner at the White House. Since they did not know how to behave at such an occasion, they thought the best policy would be just to do what the President did. The time came for serving coffee. The President poured his coffee into a saucer. As soon as the home folk saw it, they did the same. The next step for the President was to pour some milk and add a little sugar to the coffee in the saucer. The home folks did the same. They thought for sure that the next step would be for the President to take the saucer with the coffee and begin sipping it. But the President didn’t do so. He leaned over, placed the saucer on the floor and called the cat. As James Baldwin said about children. “Children have never been good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” Children imitate their parents all the time. Sometimes they know what their parents are doing. Sometimes, as in the case of Coolidge, they have the foggiest idea. But imitation is how children learn from their parents. Right now, our son James is imitating every word of ours that he can (which is usually the last two or three words of the sentence). Eventually, he will have the vocabulary necessary to speak complete sentences. It is all a part of growing up. Paul tells us here that we are to imitate our Heavenly Father as children imitate their parents. And the love that Christ has shown for us and to us is the same kind of love that we are to show one another. It is a sacrificial love.
First of all, Paul tells us to imitate God. Now, we could easily misunderstand what Paul is saying if we go the wrong way with this verse. Paul is not telling us that our imitation of God is supposed to be like Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, for instance. They wanted to be like God. They wanted to imitate God, but in a way that took God off of His throne and put themselves there instead. This is obviously the wrong way to imitate God. We do not imitate God by trying to trespass on what is only God’s. There are things about God that He will not share with us. He will not share his glory with anyone. So, we will not have God’s glory, but rather we will reflect God’s glory. Furthermore, we cannot share in God’s infinite power. We will not ever have that kind of power. It seems clear from this passage that the way in which we are to imitate God has much more to do with how we love one another than with who God is. The way in which we are to imitate God is the way in which God has loved us.
We can see that displayed for us in verse 2. How did God love us? He gave His Son as an atonement for sin. We should walk in love, Paul says. What does that mean? Walking refers to a way of life. It means all the choices that we make. It means what we allow to influence us. That is how we walk. And we are to walk in a way that shows the same kind of love for God and our neighbor as Christ showed for us.
Jesus Christ gave Himself on our behalf. This refers not just to Christ’s death, but to His entire life. His entire life was a prelude to His death, in which He walked in love. He did it so that He could be the perfect sacrifice for sin. That is so that we could believe in Him, and have everlasting life. However, what so often happens today is that people say that they believe in God and in Jesus Christ, but they don’t walk in that way. They do not walk in love. They may have a twisted idea of what love is. Or, they may walk in the way of self-gratification. Such people have no idea what it is to walk as Jesus walked. Walking in love means primarily self-sacrifice. It is helpful to point out here that the word love in the Bible does not primarily refer to an emotion. It includes our emotions. However, the primary meaning of love in the Bible is self-sacrifice: pouring out yourself for the sake of others as Jesus did. Paul says here that Jesus was a fragrant offering and a sacrifice to God. This is Old Testament language. The offerings that were burnt were said to have a savory smell to God. So also, Jesus was burned by the fires of hell for our sake, even though He was innocent. Such an action has a fragrant aroma in the eyes of God. This is not God abusing his son Jesus, as some writers have recently suggested. Rather, it is the love of God making a provision for us that we would not have to suffer the wrath of God.
The applications of this are almost endless, precisely because this verse really covers the entirety of the Christian faith. This is one of those great summary verses that tells us, in a nutshell, the entire Christian Gospel. The commands are to love God and to love one another. This means the entire law is present here. We are to have no idols but worship God alone. Furthermore, we are not to worship God in any way that He has not prescribed. The name of the Lord should be our delight, and we should use it reverently, as we ought. We ought also to delight in Sunday, and the opportunity to worship God on this day of rest. We are to love our parents and give them all respect. We are to protect the lives of other people, not putting anyone’s life at risk. This means safety on our farms. Safety should be a number one priority. That is a key way in which we should love one another in our farming culture. We should love our spouses as Christ has loved us. In fact, Paul is going to tell us a lot more about marriage in the rest of this chapter, so stay tuned. We should protect the property of others as well, treating it as carefully as we treat our own property. We should always tell the truth to one another. And we should be content with what we have, and not always try to get more. What I just did was summarize each of the Ten Commandments, though not in the words of the Ten Commandments. Remember that each commandment not only forbids something, but commands its opposite. So, if you are not to kill, then you are to protect life. Also, each commandment includes under it all of the lesser sins. The commandment only gives us the most extreme form of the sin. All the lesser sins are included underneath it. To walk in love means to obey the commandments. That is precisely what Paul means. Paul does not mean that we obey the commandments in order to obtain salvation. We always have to remember that and be reminded of it, since we are all legalists at heart. We all want to get to heaven on our own steam, as it were. Furthermore, we do not obey the law in order to keep our salvation either. We do not start with the Holy Spirit, and end with the flesh, as Paul says in Galatians. However, the law does not stop being relevant once we become Christians. Jesus plainly tells us this in the Sermon on the Mount. He tells us that the law still applies to us. Indeed, the law is still necessary to our Christian walk. It is the way in which we go. As David said in the Psalms, God’s law is our path. That might seem restrictive to us. It might seem as though God is trying to prevent us from having any fun in life. But that is not true. God knows that His way is the best way, and it is the most joyful way. For the end is an eternal life of joy with God, and seeing Him as He is.
We imitate God because our deepest desire is to see Him. Then we shall be as like Him as we possibly can be, for we shall see Him as He is. So says John. The principle here is that imitation leads to likeness. Are you a child of the King? Are you imitating God as much as you are able? That is, are you imitating God’s love and faithfulness? Are you loving God with all your heart? Are you loving your neighbor? That is your offering to God. Listen to these words of Paul, in closing: “Therefore, I urge, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodes as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God- this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”