Imitate God: A Profound Command
It was a bitter cold morning. The sun peeking over the horizon could do nothing to chase the frosty chill away.
All alone, I was hunkered behind a make-do duck blind, my eyes moving to repeatedly scan for movement emerging from the gray skies. There was an almost perfect stillness in the air—the calm before the storm of winter would turn the page on autumn.
I’d been set up and settled in this remote spot for over an hour. The solitude found in waiting appealed to me—the quiet of nature spoke peace and comfort to those lonesome, craggy places in my soul.
I watched with a vigilance that bordered on obsession, marking every detail in my mind. The surroundings had a near forsaken feeling that was somehow beautiful and enchanting. Stark bare trees encircled the pond, their leafless limbs stretching upward like skeletal fingers reaching to scratch the sky.
The surface of the water was as smooth as ever imaginable. For the umpteenth time I glanced at the strings of decoys carefully arranged to mimic flocks of ducks. I knew the exact number, and just to be sure there were no lurkers who’d snuck in, did an automatic count.
It was then that it happened—the silence was broken by the faraway sound of my quarry on the wing. I heard them chattering back and forth in quacks before ever seeing them. I effortlessly worked the duck call with a deliberately honed expertise—to my ears it was a perfect impersonation.
My series of quack-quacks were answered by the real thing, and then a dozen ducks crested the top of the trees and angled in a sweeping arc to have a look at what appeared to be their kin sitting pretty.
They dipped low into range as an approving smile creased my lips—I thumbed the safety off the shotgun. I’d fooled them. My imitation of duck behavior was successful.
Here ends that story—it was told to help illustrate a profound command of Scripture that could be ignored or dismissed outright simply because of the seemingly impossibility of compliance. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul of Tarsus wrote a letter to the church at Ephesus, which contains at least one particularly difficult precept for us to worry over.
We may be tempted to slough it off, yet it is God’s Word, which means that it’s living, active, and fully relevant to believers in Jesus Christ nowadays. Give fresh, prayerful consideration to these words.
Ephesians 5:1-2 - NIV - Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Forgiveness & Love
According to the dictionary, imitate means: To follow or endeavor to follow as a model—to mimic; impersonate; resemble—to make a copy of; reproduce closely—to have or assume the appearance of; simulate.
God is omniscient, having the totality of knowledge—he sees around the corners and into the crevices of every circumstance. For us, the vast extent of what we do not know far outweighs the meager measure and confines of our comprehension.
God is omnipresent—he is not shackled by time and space. He is present everywhere at the same time. We can only be in one place at one time, and even then we can rapidly disengage or blank out so that for all intents and purposes we’re absent.
God is omnipotent, which means all-powerful—he reigns supreme in the universe and all authority ultimately belongs to him. When push comes to shove, we discover that despite all our strenuous efforts, we are stuck with extreme limitations—even the most powerful amongst us sooner or later learn their vigor and potency has severe constraints.
God is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent—and we are to be imitators of God? Imitating ducks is child’s play—imitating God, not so much. Is this phrasing a sick joke—is Paul setting us up to continually pace the treadmill of failure?
On the surface, perhaps that’s a legitimate query, but let’s dig a wee-bit deeper—let’s put the verses in context and look at ways we can actually shift application into gear. In the NIV the verse immediately preceding the cited passage reads - Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
The profound command is not about us striving to be omniscient, omnipresent or omnipotent. When we connect the dots it becomes radically uncomplicated—we are to imitate God in forgiveness and love. As God deals with us—in forgiveness and love that has no boundaries or restrictions—we are to deal with others. No whining about our feelings—no rising up in sanctimonious indignation to pathetically protect our perceived turf.
God offers an endless stream of grace to each of us—his compassions and mercies are new every morning. We are to freely receive all the blessings of grace, and then, with a direct intentionality we are to urgently and wholeheartedly pass it along to others.
Our vertical relationship with God of forgiveness and love is supposed to be modeled in our horizontal relationships with each other—we are to be living examples of God’s forgiveness and love.
Ephesians 5:1-2 - The Message
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.
Do you ever start thinking, "Lord, do I really have to love these people? Oh, I can't take it any more?" Do you ever want to peg out? does it ever let up? is the war ever over, Lord? when is it going to get easy? Jesus said his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. He never said there won't be a yoke or burden but that's alright. The yoke is going to hold you, and a burden's made to bear. Lord, when the load gets heavy on me, I know you'll be there; I know you'll be there. I tried to speak the truth in love today to someone walking the wrong way; it fell on stony ground. It seems the more I try to follow you, the more the enemy rages: he's not going to win. I know you'll be there, I know you'll be there. ~Larry & Pearl Brick~
Here’s an overwhelming reality—the onus is always on the individual. I am responsible—you are responsible.
Regardless of how often one is misunderstood, misrepresented, wrongly judged, unfairly characterized, or flat-out wronged, we each are too respond with forgiveness and love. There’s no loophole—despite what others say or how they treat us, it’s a compelling necessity for us to be generous in forgiveness and love.
When someone steps on our toes or pride, trashes us with innuendo, or gets up in our face to force feed us a drink from the vast well of their wisdom, the proper reaction is to smile softly—no matter how in the right we may be, we are to give away a bouquet of grace. Is that ever easy?
Not in my experience. The wake of my life is littered with the debris of failings in the area of forgiveness and love—in this I am not alone. To authentically imitate God in forgiveness and love is the foundational struggle for every believer.
In fact, a typical approach to the challenge of reproducing forgiveness and love in dicey relational happenings is to complain that it’s too hard a requirement—we consistently bail-out on the dictates of Scripture when stuff gets sticky or troublesome.
A League Of Their Own, the 1992 comedy-drama about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that was started in 1943 at the height of World War II is a fine movie, with several memorable moments. There’s a terrific scene that exemplifies the all-too human capacity to toss in the towel when the going gets rough.
Dottie Hinson, played convincingly by Geena Davis, has had enough of the demands of baseball and the road—the expectations placed on her because of her leadership and ability has become wearisome. She is leaving the team to go home. The no-nonsense manager of the team, Jimmy Dugan, portrayed by Tom Hanks confronts her.
After a back and forth dialog in which Dottie minimizes her choice and attempts to explain herself, she finally excuses her decision to quit by saying, “It just got too hard.”
Jimmy Dugan is incredulous. His face flinches as he leans in close to give it to her straight, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
We likely do not verbalize it about forgiveness and love, but more times than we want to acknowledge our actions say it loud and clear: It just got too hard.
It just got too hard to forgive—it just got too hard to love—it just got too hard to do the right thing in this situation. And everyone would cut me some slack if they knew the person that’s giving me fits—no one has any idea how difficult it is to forgive, love, and deal with so and so. To which God answers: Do you have any idea how difficult it is to deal with you? Ah, there it is:As God deals with us—in forgiveness and love that has no boundaries or restrictions—we are to deal with others.
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Mysterious, Mystical, Supernatural
Living forgiveness and love in the nitty-gritty real world can be messy and problematic—BUT, it’s in the process of endeavoring to do so that we grow and mature; it’s inside the practice of extending forgiveness and love to others that more and more we become imitators of God. And most assuredly, it’s hard—however, the hard is what makes it great.
There’s another admonition from Paul to his friends at Philippi, which in my understanding of Scripture is a matrix principle to be integrated into all aspects of our faith experience. We need to seek to thoroughly apply the all-time theologian’s counsel to continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
To be imitators of God means to work at forgiveness and love. Within the dynamics of this process something mysterious, mystical, supernatural takes place—we exert effort and God earnestly works in us, so that little by little, bit by bit we model his forgiveness and love to each other.
We are to become habitual practitioners of forgiveness and love. In doing so, the profound command finds an ongoing—though oft-times shaky—fulfillment in a world desperate for the majesty of God’s forgiveness and love. Be imitators of God. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.
- Wanted Man
Wanted Man a.k.a. Ken R. Abell, seeks to be a blessing to others. He's a rake, a rambler, and a teller of tales who understands that there is strength in a story well told and well lived. To learn more, inquire or schedule him, visit this web site.
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