Be you therefore followers of God, as dear children;
I. THE IMITATION OF GOD AND CHRIST.
1. The imitation of God. "Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children." The force of example is abundantly acknowledged. How much do most of us suffer from the low standard of opinion and practice with which we are surrounded? On the other hand, we have all felt what it is to come into Contact with one who is raised above the common standard. By his strength of principle and generous sentiments and noble endeavors be kindles our aspiration. We should like to be what he is. The wonderful thing here is that God places us (which is of far greater consequence) under the influence of his own example. This is the only place in which we are distinctly called to imitate God. But the same truth is given expression to by Christ when he says, "That ye may be the sons of your Father which is in heaven, for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Paul has just exhorted us to imitate God in his forgivingness. This imitation of God proceeds on what was referred to before - our being made after the Divine image. It proceeds on what is referred to here - God being our Father, and as such communicating a kindred nature to us. But for this kindred nature with God we should have no more conception of him than the brutes have. "The idea of God, sublime and awful as it is, is the idea of our own spiritual nature purified and enlarged to infinity. The infinite Light would be forever hidden from us, did not kindred rays dawn and brighten within us." It belongs to the dignity of our nature (our being partakers of the Divine nature) that there can be proposed to us as our end likeness to God. It is designed that there should be a perpetual unfolding and enlarging of our spiritual powers and excellences. All our desires, hopes, efforts, are to be toward this. We are to be filled with the Divine thoughts, replenished with the Divine energy, wanned with the Divine love. As a child catches the very tone of his father, so are we to catch the tone of our heavenly Father. There is a reason given for our being eager to imitate God. We are his beloved children. Oh, the love bestowed on us! Sonship forfeited and then restored. What a contradiction, to be children peculiarly loved and not to seek likeness to God! But this leads on to the other thought.
2. The imitation of God is also the imitation of Christ. "And walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell." Christ is presented for imitation in his love. We are not to understand that love was an attribute more distinctive of Christ than of God. For love is the greatest attribute of God. But we are to understand that Christ was especially the manifestation of the love of God. In Christ's love we see what God's love is. And to imitate Christ in his love is the best way to imitate God. And how does love manifest itself? Selfishness manifests itself in isolation. Love, on the other hand, manifests itself in approachableness. And this was the form which Christ's love took. He loved us so much as to come within human conditions - to become one of ourselves. And that (wonderful as it is) was not the extent of his approach to us. For, coming into our nature, he next threw himself into our position, he became our Representative. And he presented before God for us the offering of a perfect life. He especially, in his death, presented the sacrifice which had full atoning virtue for our sin. And this presentation of himself as an offering and a sacrifice to God (with the love that prompted it) was for an odor of a sweet smell. More grateful than to the sense of smell was the incense that the High Priest took with him into the holy of holies was to the heart of God the incense from his life and sacrifice which Christ took with him into heaven. It is an incense which continually rises before God with acceptance. The love which prompted to this and carried it out to completion is here proposed for our imitation. But how need we think of copying such a pattern? As well set down a child to copy a masterpiece of a Raphael or an Angelo? But let us take these things into consideration.
(1) He has made provision for our imitating him. We are to be thankful to God, that, amid many bad examples and imperfect examples of good men, he has given us one perfectly good example. He has shown us that a life of the highest unselfishness is not impracticable in our humanity. If that had been all, the effect would only have been to fill us with despair. But the apostle does not encourage us to imitate Christ without pointing to his sacrifice of atonement. His atonement having been accepted for us, his perfect life has been accepted too, as that which with assisting grace we may now hopefully strive after.
(2) Compared with the example of God, the example of Christ is more circumstantial. We know that God is love, but in Christ we see, under many conditions, how love operates. There is much detail upon which we can dwell and from which we can obtain help as to the details of our life.
(3) It is an example easily followed from its familiarity. It was a perfect example; but not in the way of being apart from us, but rather in the way of being so close to us as to be easily understood. It was the time -
"When truth, embodied in a tale,
Did enter in at lowly doors."
(4) It was an example accompanied with the strongest incentive to imitation. It was not merely that he taught us the reasonableness of a good ire, and exemplified it; but he placed us under infinite obligation in dying for us, and then, having obtained this immense advantage, he comes forward and asks us to imitate him.
(5) We are to imitate him in his love by walking in love as he did. This does not imply any unnatural straining; but, in the ordinary walks of life, we may find sufficient sphere for the exercise and growth of love. We are specially to imitate Christ in the missionary character of his love. We are to feel for sinners as in need of salvation. And we are to sacrifice much in order that those ends for which he died, and on which his heart is set, may be furthered. Let us, then, choose Christ as our Pattern with the whole energy of our wills. And let us follow him, not as perhaps we may have done, with a faint and yielding purpose, but in the full conviction that in following him we shall best imitate God.
II. THINGS TO BE CONDEMNED.
1. The things that are not to be named. "But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as becometh saints." The apostle points here to a fact which is sometimes forgotten, that there is a sphere of that which is not to be named. There are, for instance, books written, in which blasphemous things are said against the Savior. There is this reason for not reading these books or not repeating blasphemous expressions contained in them, that they stick to and pollute the imagination. So the apostle teaches that saints are to be so cultivated in their sensibilities, to have such a delicacy of feeling, that they will not talk about or hint at things connected with fornication and uncleanness. To take to them in conversation indicates a coarseness of mind, a polluted state of the imagination. That is the proper circle, whether family, or Church, or neighborhood, from which the very name of such things is banished. We are surprised that covetousness is classed as it is here among the things which are not to be named. It is a sin about which strange things are said in the New Testament. It is said that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. The apostle teaches here that saints are to have such sensitiveness as to be repelled from the very mention of covetousness, as that which would pollute their lips. Think of a community educated up to that state of refinement.
2. The things which are not befitting. "Nor filthiness nor foolish talking, or jesting, which are not befitting: but rather giving of thanks." There are things, the apostle teaches, which are to be condemned on the lower ground of their being improper, or conducing to no good end. By the first mentioned we are to understand, especially, that which is foul in speech. If we distinguish foolish talking from other faults of speech which are mentioned in this Epistle, we must limit it to what is senseless in speech. Fools have a way of talking in wanton disregard of what is rational, as though their rational powers were given them to be played with. The word translated "jesting" is sometimes used in a good sense. And Barrow has shown that there is a wit which is not to be condemned, but which is fitted to minister harmless delight to conversation, to expose things base and vile to due contempt, to reprove some vices and reclaim some persons, to confute errors that do not deserve solid confutation, to repel unjust reproach and obloquy, and to counterbalance the improper use of it. "It is bad objects or bad adjuncts, which do spoil its indifference and innocence: it is the abuse thereof to which (as all pleasant things are dangerous, and apt to degenerate into baits of intemperance and excess) it is very liable, that corrupteth it, and seemeth to be the ground why in so general terms it is prohibited by the apostle." "All profane jesting, all speaking loosely and wantonly about holy things, making such things the matter of sport and mockery, playing and trifling with them, is certainly prohibited as an intolerably vain and wicked practice." "All injurious, abusive, scurrilous jesting, which causeth or needlessly tendeth to the disgrace, damage, vexation, or prejudice in any kind of our neighbor, is also prohibited." "There are some times and circumstances of things wherein it concerneth and becometh men to be serious in mind, grave in demeanor, and plain in discourse." To what the apostle condemns as not befitting he opposes giving of thanks. There is a fitness in thanksgiving at all times ("giving thanks always," as it is said in the twentieth verse); but we are to understand that there is a singular fitness in the present connection. Thanks- giving is speech put to the best use (implying both seriousness and joyfulness). Let there be that, the apostle would say, and it will rectify and hallow all speech.
3. The things which are not safe. "For this ye know of a surety, that no fornicator, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, which is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God." The apostle is confident, as declaring what was attested by their own consciousness or practical acquaintance with the kingdom. It is the kingdom, not only of God, but of Christ and God, that is to say, a kingdom peculiarly associated with the cross of Christ, in which God shows his deep detestation of sin by punishing it in his Son. A kingdom that is ruled over by One who shed his blood that sin might be done away, cannot receive into it those who sin and do not mean to give up their sins. By their very antagonism to the whole spirit, law, ends, of the kingdom, they shut the door against themselves. We are surprised again that the covetous man appears in such company, and further here that he is singled out for special remark. "Nor covetous man, which is an idolater." There is idolatry in the other sins, that is, sensual pleasure is put in the place of God. And that may be the light in which the apostle views the devotees of pleasure as shut out from inheritance in the kingdom. But the covetous man is put forward as being an idolater by pre-eminence. Christ had already said, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." The covetous man is not he who values money and seeks to serve God therewith. But, according to the thought here, he is one who idolizes money, values it in itself and not for God's ends, sets his affections on it, trusts in it; and, such being his relation to it, then it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for him to enter into the kingdom of God. It is true of the covetous man, as it is not true of the others, that he can go on in his sin without incurring the opprobrium of men, and (partly from the difficulty of drawing the exact line between the right and the wrong love of gain) without suspecting himself that it is getting a hold upon him, and thus (without such checks as the others have) getting hardened in his sin, we can understand how he should be called by pre-eminence the idolater. Warning. "Let no man deceive you with empty words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them." It would seem that there were apologists for vice, who, by their representations, tried to entice the Ephesian Christians back to Gentile ways. One of their representations was that, besides being pleasant, it was safe to do these things. So apologists for vice are ready to say this and many other things still. But "let no man deceive you with empty words." Such words have not as their contents eternal truth. "For because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience." The sons of disobedience are those who (in their love for sin) disobey the gospel of Christ, by which alone there is deliverance from wrath. Refusing God's mercy, how can they escape God's wrath? They are not only lying under ordinary judgments or condemnation now, but they have yet to be dealt with for these very sins. "After their hardness and impenitent hearts they are treasuring up for themselves wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God." It is for those, then, who regard their safety (to bring in no higher consideration), whatever apologists may say, to refuse to be partakers with the disobedient.
4. The things that are dark.
(1) They are in their walk to be separate from their former state. "Ye were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord: walk as children of light." They had been brought up in heathen darkness. It was that in which they lived and moved and had their being. And so, by appropriation, it was more or less embedded in their nature. But now, living and moving and having their being in the Lord, that is, in light (as contrasted with heathen darkness), and being enlightened by him through his gospel and Spirit, they were light. And such being their state, there was a call to walk as children of light. We are to walk under the incitement of the glorious fruit of Christian illumination. "For the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth." The philosophic triad is the true, the good, and the beautiful. The Christian triad as given here, and with which we ought to be familiar, is the good, the right, and the true. The good, or excellence of the heart, comes first; for that is first in God. Then follows the right, or regard to conscience, to eternal principle. And, lastly, there is the true, or regard to reality, not only in fact, but in thought (including the perfect in form). We are good in cherishing a spirit of love; we are righteous in doing our duty; we are true in conforming to Divine forms of thought, Having these three in us, then it may be said that the beauty of the Lord our God is upon us. We are to walk in the way of proving what is well-pleasing to Christ. "Proving what is well-pleasing unto the Lord." It is not what the apologists for vice say; it is what Christ says. It is that which is to be tested. It is implied that we have the means of testing all things in this light. There are many things which, put to the test by us, we must reject. They are revealed in our Christian consciousness as wrong. There are other things which we see to be good, not merely in the convincing light of truth, but in our own blessed experience in the doing of them we feel that we have the approval of the Master, we can even now hear his words, "Well done, good and faithful servant." Our position, then, must be separation from darkness. "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness." The fruit of light is one, a glorious indivisible cluster. The works of darkness are many. The fruit of light is fitted to incite us. The works of darkness should deter us. They are unfruitful. They yield nothing that is worthy of the name of fruit, but only shame and death.
(2) They are to take an aggressive position toward darkness. "But rather even reprove them." They were not to pass them over in silence or find excuses for them, but to hold them up to reprobation to the doers of them. As darkness was aggressive toward them, so were they as light (even for their own safety) to be aggressive toward the darkness. They were to lift up the Gentiles to their own position. It is added, as showing the clamant need for reproof, "For the things which are done by them in secret it is a shame even to speak of." It is added further, as showing the use or end of reproof, "But all things when they are reproved are made manifest by the light." "All those secret sins are laid bare in their real moral character, unveiled and brought into distinctness before the moral consciousness, by the light of Christian truth, which is at work in your reproof; by the light, I say, it is made manifest - for, it is added, 'everything that is made manifest is light,' has ceased thereby to have the nature of darkness, and is now of the essence of light." And thus, whether there was amendment or not, they would be making an inroad on the territory of darkness, making dark deeds stand out in the light.
(3) They are to take this aggressive position in consistency with the awakening call of God. "Wherefore he saith, Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine upon thee." The words are from Isaiah 60:1, 2, and receive from the apostle a Christian adaptation.
(a) It is a call to the child of darkness. He is described as sleeping and dead, that is, in sin. He is insensible to the infinite importance of spiritual and eternal things.
(b) It is a call to awake and arise. "Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead." He does not let the child of the night alone. He comes to the sleeper and bids him awake, to the dead and bids him arise. And in his very summons there is an awakening, quickening power.
(c) It is a call to which a promise is attached. "And Christ shall shine upon thee." As if it were said, "The sun is already up, and will pour his enlightening rays upon thee." So while we are sleeping and dead in our sin, it is true that the Sun of righteousness is up shining upon this world of ours, and we must up and catch his rays. Other men are up and doing their work under the light of this Sun; why should we be asleep and dead in sin? - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;