Be you therefore followers of God, as dear children;…
I. HOW IT IS POSSIBLE FOR US TO BE IMITATORS OF GOD. It is vain to try to imitate God if all resemblance to God is beyond our reach. But this is not the case. While speculative theology is fatally successful in magnifying the distance between man and God, practical revelation is ever bringing us nearer to God.
1. We are like God by nature. God is spirit, and we are spiritual beings. As Channing taught, all spirits are of one family. God made us in his own image. It is our work to revive that image where it has been obscured and to carry it up to higher resemblances.
2. We can imitate God in very small ways. Because he is infinite and we are finite we are not to infer that all common likeness is impossible. The smallest pool may bear a perfect image of the sun.
3. We are susceptible of indefinite growth and improvement. Because we are sadly unlike God now it does not follow that we may never resemble him. "It is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him" (1 John 3:2). God has revealed himself to us. We cannot imitate what we do not know. Mysteries of the Divine nature must ever lie beyond our sight. Nevertheless, something real about God we do know. For we have seen Christ, and he who sees Christ sees God (John 14:9).
II. IN WHAT RESPECTS WE ARE TO BECOME IMITATORS OF GOD. We cannot attain to his almighty energy nor to his unfathomable wisdom. Yet we may imitate the method of these Divine attributes in the exercise of corresponding human qualities. But the resemblance to God that is both most important and most attainable is moral and spiritual likeness in character and conduct. Consider especially in what points we most need to be like God.
3. Generous giving. There are men who are always grasping for themselves, and others who distribute abroad. The latter are like God, who is ever raying out blessings.
4. Forbearance. In nothing do we more need to imitate God than in his gentleness with sinners, his long-suffering patience, and his forgiving mercy.
5. Love. This is nearest to the heart and very being of God, for God is love. He who loves his kind most widely and warmly is likest God (see ver. 2).
III. WHY WE SHOULD BE IMITATORS OF GOD.
1. It is our natural duty. Nothing short of this will satisfy the claims of right. It is not enough that we follow the best men and conform with the utmost propriety to the pious fashions of the times, nor even that we obey our own consciences. We have to make our conduct agree with God's conscience. Duty is infinite - a ceaseless climbing to higher and yet higher regions of holiness. We cannot reach the pinnacle of perfection at once, and we are not guilty for not doing what lies beyond our present powers. But we are blameworthy if we aim at less than perfection and if we ever rest contented with any lower stage of progress. "Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).
2. We are under obligations of gratitude to become imitators of God. The word" therefore" calls our attention to these obligations. It points back to the previous words, wherein we are exhorted to forgive one another, even as God also in Christ forgave us.
3. Our highest blessedness will be found in our resemblance to God. He is ever blessed. Everything ungodlike must be ultimately a source of pain and death. Though the imitation of God begins in toil and sacrifice, it grows into the deepest peace and the richest gladness.
IV. BY WHAT MEANS WE MAY BECOME IMITATORS OF GOD.
1. Worship. Heathen gods are objective representations, and even monstrous exaggerations, of the natures of their devotees. Such gods can have no good moral influence. But God, as he is revealed in Christ, is infinitely above us, and full of wonderful beauty and attraction. As we gaze upon his glory in rapt devotion we are changed into his likeness. We all imitate, consciously or unconsciously, what we admire. When we see a great picture we wish to paint; when we enjoy good music we desire to produce it; when we see noble deeds we are fired to emulate them.
2. Meditation. As St. Francis is said to have received the wounds of Christ on his own person by intense meditation on them, we may receive the spiritual likeness of our Lord - a more profitable resemblance - by contemplating and dwelling in the spirit of his life. Then also we shall have the likeness of God. He who is nearest to God in prayer and communion grows likest God.
3. Obedient action. We must do Divine deeds of holiness and charity if we would have the character that a habit of such deeds begets. All this God will supplement and vivify by the inspiration of his Holy Spirit breathing his own life and likeness into us.
V. IN WHAT SPIRIT WE ARE TO BECOME IMITATORS OF GOD. "As beloved children." Thus loved children venerate and imitate their parents. Here is no room for spiritual pride. For when we lose the childlike spirit we fall away from the imitation of God. They who imitate God most truly are most simple and childlike, and that spirit of trust in a loving parent which is the highest educational influence in the child, must be in us if we would be good imitators of God. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;