BE IMITATORS OF GOD
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph. 5:1-2).
Every word in these two verses is loaded with significance. In the earlier NIV versions, Paul’s words are translated as be imitators of God as dearly loved children. One of the requirements of a disciple in 1st century Israel was that he learn to imitate his rabbi. ‘Imitation’ in this context did not mean ‘a fake’ but rather a replica of his master. A disciple has to live in such close proximity to his rabbi that he learned to think, speak and act just like him.
A rabbi chose disciples in whom he had the confidence that they would become just like him. They were to walk behind him as he moved from place to place. He was essentially a roving teacher, instructing the people who gathered around him in the correct interpretation of the Torah – the 5 books of Moses. He also debated current issues in the light of what other rabbis taught whose authority to interpret and apply his interpretation of the Torah according to what he believed to be God’s original intention was recognised. This interpretation and application was called the rabbi’s ‘yoke’.
The concept of a yoke had special significance in Israel. The Israelites were agricultural people – they worked and lived off the land. Their word of God, made up of two letters, e and l, el, was derived from two pictures in the original paleo-Hebrew script. The ‘e’ was the picture of an ox head, meaning ‘strength’ and the ‘l’ was a picture of a shepherd’s staff, meaning ‘authority’. They understood God to be one who had strength and authority.
The same two letters, e and l appear in the word aleph meaning to learn by association. To a Hebrew person, a yoke was ‘a staff of the shoulder’. In order to train a young ox to plough a straight furrow, the farmer would place a yoke across its shoulder and yoke it with an older, experienced ox so that it became a replica of his ‘teacher’.
Now does not Jesus’ invitation have new meaning for you?
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matt. 11:28-30).
Jesus, as a rabbi with authority from God, invited those who were tired of the demanding yoke of the religious leaders with its petty rules and rituals, to take His yoke. By learning to live the way He taught them, He would change their hearts and free them from the fear and guilt which drove them to seek God’s approval by obeying laws and rules.
In order to be imitators of God, we must live in close association with Jesus and learn from Him. Paul called this “putting on Christ”. God has freed us from bondage to Satan and to slavery to sin. However, change is not automatic. In close association with Jesus, we learn to think like Him and to behave like Him. It is a slow, life-long process which comes through practice. Let me illustrate.
Brick-makers use a mould into which they pour concrete which they must allow to dry before they take away the form. Once the concrete or clay is dry, the brick will retain its shape when they remove the form.
In a similar way, when we imitate Jesus by acting with humility and gentleness, even if we don’t feel it, we are creating a ‘form’ which will eventually become a way of life. Paul used another metaphor, that of getting dressed.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Col. 3: 12).
The more we act like Jesus, the more we will become like Him. We are to ‘walk’ in the way of love. The Bible pictures life as a journey through a dangerous and unknown way. If we are to reach our destination, we must follow the one who knows the way lest we wander from the path and die in the desert. Jesus said, “I am the way.” He is the ‘light’ – He walks in the light of God’s Word and is, therefore, qualified to lead us to the Father.
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life (John 8:12).
Jesus came to fulfil the Torah – God’s directions for reaching our destination. He insisted that He had not come to do away with God’s instructions but to ‘fulfil’ them – to show His people how to live as God intended. He wanted them to be examples to the surrounding pagan nations of His best way of living. He fulfilled and made the Old Covenant obsolete but the principle of the Old Covenant, the law of love, remains enshrined in the way He taught us to live in the New Covenant,
Our role as His disciples is to stick close to Him and to learn by association with Him, imitating Him in every detail of our lives until we become replicas of our Master in this world.
Scripture is taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Have you read my first book, Learning to be a Son – The Way to the Father’s Heart (Copyright © 2015, Partridge Publishing)? You’ll love it!
ISBN: Softcover – 978-1-4828-0512-3, eBook 978-4828-0511-6
My second book, Learning to be a Disciple – The Way of the Master (Copyright © 2015, Partridge Publishing), a companion volume to Learning to be a Son – The Way to the Father’s Heart, has been released in paperback and digital format on www.amazon.com