Be imitators of God   

Ephesians 5.1-17, Amos 3.1-8

A Sermon by Lay reader, Ian Lawrie

The children of Israel in Amos’ day were in serious trouble spiritually. They had incurred God’s displeasure because they had forsaken true knowledge, true spirituality, and true repentance. They had departed from the truth; they were proud and complacent. Corruption was rife. The time of reckoning had arrived and Amos had been sent as God’s messenger with a statement of God’s intention to punish Israel for its sinfulness. Then follows a series of rhetorical questions which are a prelude to a statement of what would lie ahead. In a sense there was a statement of a now and a then; if there still was a decision to had to be taken quickly. The change did not occur and the consequences followed. Paul in our NT passage from his epistle to the Ephesians explains what sort of life is pleasing to God as he exhorts them to be imitators of God.

Before we look at that perhaps we should look a little at the world in which new converts came to a knowledge of Christ.

It was a society in which sexual immorality was not considered to be sin, faithfulness within marriage was almost non-existent and all manner of evil and wickedness was practiced and condoned. Paul described this heathen world as darkness and the Christian life as light. In fact it is said of Christianity that it brought a new value into existence – chastity. The Gnostics, who had quite an influence on society, separated existence into the material and the spiritual. The material was bad, evil and flawed; the spirit was good. Their approach to the grace of which Christians spoke, was this. ‘You say that grace of God is sufficient to cover every sin. Then surely the more we sin the more will grace abound. So it does not matter if we do what you call sin!  Only the spirit matters!’ But, as Christians, we know that this argument is flawed. Jesus, through his birth, life, death and resurrection shows us that this is not true. We are body, mind and spirit and every aspect of our being is important to God.

So Paul, writing to the Ephesians, is teaching a faith which is totally opposed to the culture and morality of the day. He is writing about standards which philosophers of the day would laugh at and ridicule. In writing to the Corinthians Paul says ‘ The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God stronger than men.’ For the new converts this was revolutionary teaching and would mean standing out for their beliefs in an alien world.

‘Be imitators of God’ writes Paul. How would they know what God was like? Jesus said he who has seen me has seen the Father. So the pattern to follow; the person to imitate is Jesus. So the life of Jesus and the love which he showed by giving his life on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins point the way; a way of sacrificial love, a life of forgiveness and obedience to God. You are no doubt aware that there are primarily three words in Greek which mean love and this distinction is lost in translation – agape which is sacrificial love which we are called to have for God and or neighbour in the commandments; filios which is the brotherly love which Peter used at the Sea of Galilee and eros which is sexual love. The last is not mentioned in the NT

Not only did Paul say that all manner of sins to be avoided; Paul also advised against using filthy language, foolish talk, and keeping bad company. Why does he advise this? It is because frequent contact with these things makes them seem the norm. Minds become polluted.

It was interesting that when Crossover .started some of the behaviour and language there was appalling. By setting rules of conduct behaviour improved, and we trust that there has been a significant Christian influence on these young people. The initial reaction was that we must have come from a different planet! Just think for a minute. We watch the television, see the news and read our papers. How much of that is bad news and how much is good? How much do these things diminish the standards to which we aspire? Early Christians were challenged by these standards which Paul called for, just as we might be. His advice is to be careful and be wise.

By describing the heathen life as darkness, Paul contrasts Christianity as the light, and Christians as children of light. So if we look at some of the properties of light what would find?  Light is necessary to make things grow so we should of course expect it to show forth good fruit. Light enables us to see and recognize things which are otherwise hidden and so understand what plans God had in hand. Light would also expose evil. In recent times a number of issues have been brought into the light, showing actions which some would rather have kept in the dark. And there is little doubt that in bringing things into the light there has a cleansing effect.

Our readings this evening have highlighted for us a Christian way of life which is pleasing to God but sometimes alien to the world in which we live. It sets the highest possible standard for us – to be imitators of God. With Jesus to show us what God is like, it points us to a life of sacrificial love, forgiveness and obedience to God. We are encouraged to walk as children of light showing forth good fruit and exposing works of darkness to the light. And in the closing verses, we are exhorted to wake up and act for Christ, who will give us light.  We are advised to be careful how we walk and to make the most of our time as we seek to understand the will of the Lord.