Be you therefore followers of God, as dear children;
The apostle urges us to give and forgive. If ye be imitators of God, give, for He is always giving.
I. CONSIDER THE PRECEPT here laid down — "Be ye imitators of God, as clear children."
1. I note upon this precept, first, that it calls us to practical duty. In this instance there can be no cavil at the too spiritual, sentimental, or speculative character of the text; there can be no question as to the eminently practical character of the exhortation — "Be ye imitators of God, as dear children," for it points to action. "Be ye imitators" — that is, do not only meditate upon God, and think that you have done enough, but go on to copy what you study.
2. Next, this precept treats us as children, treats us as what we are; and if we are lowly in heart we shall be thankful that it is worded as it is. If you are not His children you cannot imitate Him, and you will not even desire to do so.
3. Observe next, that while it thus humbles us, this precept ennobles us; for what a grand thing it is to be imitators of God! It is an honour to be the lowliest follower of such a Leader. Time has been when men gloried in studying Homer, and their lives were trained to heroism by his martial verse. Alexander carried the Iliad about with him in a casket studded with jewels, and his military life greatly sprung out of his imitation of the warriors of Greece and Troy. Ours is a nobler ambition by far than that which delights in battles; we desire to imitate the God of peace, whose name is love. In after ages, when men began to be a less savage race, and contests of thought were carried on by the more educated class of minds, thousands of men gloried in being disciples of the mighty Stagyrite, the renowned Aristotle. He reigned supreme over the thought of men for centuries, and students slavishly followed him till a greater arose, and set free the human mind by a more true philosophy. To this day, however, our cultured men remain copyists, and you can see a fashion in philosophy as well as in clothes. Some of these imitations are so childish as to be deplorable. It is no honour to imitate a poor example. But, oh, beloved, he who seeks to imitate his God has a noble enterprize before him: he shall rise as on eagle's wings. O angels, what happier task could be laid before you?
4. While it ennobles us, this precept tests us.
(1) It tests our knowledge. He who does not know God, cannot possibly imitate Him.
(2) It tests our love. If we love God, love will constrain us to imitate Him. We readily grow somewhat like that which we love.
(3) It tests our sincerity. If a man is not really a Christian he will take no care about his life; but in the matter of close copying a man must be careful; a watchful care is implied in the idea of imitation.
(4) It tests us as to our spirit, whether it be of the law or of the gospel. "Be ye imitators of God, as dear children": not as slaves might imitate their master, unwillingly, dreading the crack of his whip; but loving, willing imitators, such as children are. You do not urge your children to imitate you; they do this even in their games. See how the boy rides his wooden horse, and the girl imitates her nurse. You see the minister's little boy trying to preach like his father; and you all remember the picture of the tiny girl with a Bible in front of her and an ancient pair of spectacles upon her nose, saying, "Now I'm grandmamma." They copy us by force of nature: they cannot help it. Such will be the holiness of the genuine Christian. Holiness must be spontaneous, or it is spurious.
5. While it tests us, this precept greatly aids us. It is a fine thing for a man to know what he has to do, for then he is led in a plain path because of his enemies. What a help it is to have a clear chart, and a true compass! Creatures cannot imitate their Creator in His Divine attributes, but children may copy their Father in His moral attributes. By the aid of His Divine Spirit we can copy our God in His justice, righteousness, holiness, purity, truth, and faithfulness.
6. Another blessing is that it backs us up in our position; for if we do a thing because we are imitating God, if any raise an objection it does not trouble us, much less are we confounded. He who follows God minds not what the godless think of his way of life.
7. This precept is greatly for our usefulness. I do not know of anything which would make us so useful to our fellow men as this would do. I have heard of an atheist who said he could get over every argument except the example of his godly mother: he could never answer that. A genuinely holy Christian is a beam of God's glory, and a testimony to the being and the goodness of God.
8. A close imitation of God would make our religion honourable. The ungodly might still hate it, but they could not sneer at it.
II. Secondly, I invite you, dear friends, as we are helped of God's Spirit, to WEIGH THE ARGUMENT. The argument is this, "Be ye imitators of God, as dear children." First, as children. It is the natural tendency of children to imitate their parents: yet there are exceptions, for some children are the opposite of their fathers, perhaps displaying the vices of a remoter ancestor. Absalom did not imitate David, nor was Rehoboam a repetition of Solomon. In the case of God's children it is a necessity that they should be like their Father; for it is a rule in spirituals that like begets its like. I say to any man here who bears the name of Christian and professes to be a child of God, either be like your Father or give up your name. You remember the old classic story of a soldier in Alexander's army whose name was Alexander, but when the battle was raging he trembled. Then Alexander said to him, "How canst thou bear the name of Alexander? Drop thy cowardice or drop thy name." Be like Christ, or be not called a Christian. The argument, then, is that if we are children we should imitate our Father; but it is also said "as dear children." Read it as "children beloved." Is not this a tender but mighty argument? How greatly has God loved us in that He permits us to be His children at all.
III. Next, I desire to SUGGEST ENCOURAGEMENTS.
1. God has already made you His children. The greater work He has Himself done for you; that which remains is but your reasonable service.
2. God has given you His nature already. It only remains for you to let the new nature act after its own manner.
3. The Lord has given you His blessed Spirit to help you.
4. The Lord allows you to commune with Himself. If we had to imitate a man, and yet could not see him, we should find it hard work; but in this case we can draw nigh unto God. You know the Persian story of the scented clay. One said to it, "Clay, whence hast thou thy delicious perfume?" It answered: "I was aforetime nothing but a piece of common clay, but I lay long in the sweet society of a rose till I drank in its fragrance and became perfumed myself."
IV. CERTAIN INFERENCES.
1. God is ready to forgive those who have offended Him.
2. God is an example to us, therefore He will surely keep His word. He must be faithful and true, for you are bidden to copy Him.
3. Another inference — only a hint at it — is, if you are told to be "imitators of God, as dear children," then you may depend upon it the Lord is a dear Father.
4. Lastly, when the text says, "Be ye imitators of God," it bids us keep on imitating Him as long as we live: therefore I conclude that God will always be to us what He is.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;