IMITATORS OF GOD Ephesians 5“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” (Eph. 5:1–2).There’s nothing flattering in a poor imitation.
Christians are to follow God’s example and live loving (5:1), holy lives (vv. 2–14), responsive to the Spirit (vv. 15–18) and to one another (vv. 19–20). Christlikeness is especially to be demonstrated by mutual submission in the Christian home (vv. 21–33).
Understanding the Text
“Be imitators of God” Eph. 5:1. The New Testament often encourages Christians to follow the example set by other believers. Here though we’re exhorted to follow the example set by God Himself. This would be impossible if it were not for one thing. We are His “dearly loved children.” As God’s children we have a new heredity. His own life is planted deep within us. Because of this new life, it is now possible for us to actually be like God. The verb is best translated “become” rather than “be.” It reminds us that the potential in us has to become actual. You and I have to decide if we will become what we are in Christ, or if we will settle back down into living a mere human life. God has given us all we need to become like Him. The choice is ours. “Live a life of love” Eph. 5:2. Paul went on to define the decision we have to make. We can choose to live a life of love, and give ourselves to others as a sacrifice to God, or to live a selfish life. It’s really a simple question. Will I set my heart to ask, “What can I do for others?” or will I set my heart to ask, “What can others do for me?” Will I be a giver? Or a getter? The wonderful truth is that in giving we receive the most wonderful gift of all: the privilege of being like God, and bringing praise to His name. “Not be even a hint” Eph. 5:3–7. God is characterized by holiness as well as by love. It’s because we represent Him that no hint of sexual immorality, greed, obscenity—any kind of impurity—are to be associated with Christians. Some may laugh at the Christian as a prude. We’re not. Sex within marriage is rich, beautiful, exciting, and free. The off-color joke and sly innuendo that the world thinks of as so clever aren’t witty at all. They reflect a warped view of life and goodness, lie under the judgment and wrath of God. Don’t, however, get the impression that the Christian goes around with a sour face, looking daggers at passing sinners. That’s why Paul mentioned love first (v. 1). If you live a life of love, you can be holy without being self-righteous. If your holiness isn’t beautified by love, holiness itself distorts the image of God. “Live as children of light” Eph. 5:8–14. Light and dark are symbols John used more often than Paul. But Paul had a special reason for using them here. I remember fishing once on Lake Saguaro near Phoenix, Arizona. My boys and I got on the lake when it was still dark. We motored up the familiar shore—and suddenly I was completely lost. Strange shapes that appeared to be unknown islands loomed out of the darkness. What could they be? Where was I? Then, as the sun peeked over eastern cliffs, I saw what had happened. In the dark I’d missed a point and turned into a different arm of the lake than I intended. In the growing brightness I knew where I was, and where I should go. That’s what Paul is telling us here. In the darkness it’s so easy to become lost. Wander into the realms of darkness, and we’ll lose all sense of reality, and not even know what to do. But if we choose that life of love and holiness that keeps us in God’s light, we’ll expose “the fruitless deeds of darkness.” We will know them for what they are, and we will also “find out what pleases the Lord.” Walk in the light. Where you are and where you want to go will be clear. “The fruitless deeds of darkness” Eph. 5:11. Some take this exhortation to mean Christians are supposed to run around busily pointing out others’ sins. Not at all. Paul explained what he meant by saying that we Christians are now “light in the Lord.” What does a light do when it’s carried into a dark place? Why it exposes what’s there. In the light, you can see the true shape of things that without light are distorted shadows. This is how we Christians expose the deeds of darkness. We walk into the room, living expressions of God’s love and holiness, and suddenly the true nature of immorality, impurity, greed, obscenity, and all other sins are exposed. People can’t pretend that “bad” is “good” when true goodness is present in the room. Live as a child of light, and let the beauty of your life expose all that is ugly in this world. “Be filled with the Spirit” Eph. 5:17–18. People of the world try to escape from the dreariness of their everyday existence by seeking an alcoholic high. Paul said find that escape through the Spirit. Let Him lift you. Let Him make life fresh and new. You won’t even have a hangover! “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” Eph. 5:19–20. This is one of only a few passages in the New Testament that pictures Christians gathering as the church. Each time the Scriptures suggest closeness and warmth, a rich participation with one another in a common life. Picture yourself in the setting Paul knew so well. The family has gathered. Brothers and sisters, glad to see each other, crowd together in the room. Soon one starts a hymn. Then another contributes a song. Everyone’s heart is lifted and soon the room is filled with spontaneous prayer. We don’t have many actual descriptions of such gatherings in the New Testament. But from this book alone we know meetings must have been just like this. We’re to be “rooted and established in love” (3:17). We’re to grow and build ourselves “up in love, as each part does its work” (4:16). How else could this happen if we did not draw close, sharing as a family, loving and praising together. Don’t think such descriptions of Christ’s church are ideal, even in our age of sitting passively in the Sunday pew. Somewhere in your church there are brothers and sisters who meet, or would be willing to meet, as family. In a Sunday School class. A women’s circle. A home Bible study. Perhaps in your own home. The church still is the church. Really. And in the church, God has family for you. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” Eph. 5:21. Somehow the designers of our English versions decided that verse 21 shouldn’t be attached to verse 22. These are carefully separated in most versions—even in the NIV! I can’t imagine why. “Submit” (hypotasso) simply means to subordinate yourself to those considered worthy of respect. If we take seriously verses like Romans 12:10 (“honor one another above yourselves”) and Philippians 2:3 (“in humility consider others better than yourselves”), we’d all be quick to submit—not only to leaders, but to other brothers and sisters as well. Not only wives to husbands, but husbands to wives. In fact, it’s only in the context of a body in which mutual submission is practiced by all that we can really understand what Paul said about husbands and wives in the rest of this chapter. But never mind. It’s enough here to note that in Christ submitting isn’t an admission of inferiority. It’s simply an affirmation that others are valued and important enough to be heard, loved, and their needs responded to. In God’s peculiar way it is submission that makes us great.
Head of the Wife(Eph. 5:22–33)
Paul said it quite plainly. The wife sets the example of submission. The husband sets the example of loving. Each makes it easier for the other by taking the lead in his or her own unique contribution to the Christian home. I don’t know whether to be angry at the way some Christians twist this passage, or to weep. I’ve done each at times. Angry, when a husband misuses this passage as a club in an attempt to dominate his wife. Weeping, when a wife has surrendered her hopes and talents and even her identity in an effort to be obedient to what she thought Scripture taught. Putting it most simply, Paul told us husbands that we are the heads of our wives “as Christ is the Head of the church” (v. 23). Paul went on to show that what this meant to Christ was that He “loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy” (vv. 25–26). Headship to Christ didn’t mean domination. It meant self-sacrifice. Headship didn’t mean “I’m boss.” It meant, “How can I meet your needs?” That’s what it must mean for a husband who wants to be a Christlike head of his home. It means putting his wife’s needs before his own. It means doing everything he can to help her reach her full potential as a person and as a Christian. It means loving, self-sacrificially, as Christ loved. So preach me no sermons demanding wives “submit.” Instead, preach me sermons calling on Christian men to love as Christ loved. If a husband gives this kind of love, submission will be joyous and free.
Being head of the home means accepting your responsibility to take the lead in love.
“The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.”—Theodore M. Hesburgh