As parents we enjoy seeing our kids imitating grown-ups – especially when they imitate us. Putting on our shoes, saying the things we say – - well, some of the things we say. To see us in them – - again, the good things – - is encouraging. We hope it is an indication that some lessons are sinking in – although I doubt we really think that far down the road.
There is a passage of scripture that calls to mind this tendency to imitate those who care for us and show their love to us.
Verse one of Ephesians 5 says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Right away the connection jumps out at us. “Be imitators”. The word used in the original text eventually turned into our English word “to mimic”.
God say “mimic me. Mimic My Son.” He says we are to imitate Him. No conditions there – it is a command. We are to copy Him.
Our children pick up our mannerisms. God says, “pick up My mannerisms”. OK, maybe not. But our children often pick up our temperaments. God says, “behave the way I behave”.
Our children say the things we say. God says, “say what I say”.
Our children learn from us how to react. Is this not true? Parents, can you see some of your own tendencies in your children?
Why do our children do this? Why do they act like us and not like someone in another city, state or country? Silly question. They are in our presence – - a lot. Many common expressions reflect this.
“Cut from the same cloth”. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” “The spittin’ image”. “Hey, he has his father’s ears”, or “she has her mother’s smile”.
Some of these traits are inherited, to be sure, but many more are picked up – caught rather than taught, as the expression says.
How do we obey Ephesians 5:1? How do we become imitators of God? The same way our children become imitators of us. We must be in His presence.
In His Presence
Luke 10, beginning in verse 38, tells an interesting story. Jesus took a break. We don’t hear of that too much in the Gospels, but He did. And He visited the home of Martha and her sister Mary.
It was Martha’s house. So as expected, Martha went right to work. She began cooking and maybe straightening up so that she could give Jesus some of what she had.
Mary lived there too. But Mary recognized something that Martha needed to be reminded of. Martha got upset when Mary wouldn’t help. Why wouldn’t she help?
Because Mary wanted to be in the presence of the Lord. Mary knew that what Jesus had to give to her far outweighed anything she had to give to Him.
We can easily become busy with our service. Our service to Jesus is important. But the first priority in our lives is what He has for us, not what we have for Him. Be in His presence. Daily. Part of that would include being in His house. We are encouraged by those we fellowship and worship with, and we have much to learn from each other. So that is important. But each one of us is responsible for being in His presence *daily*. We can’t imitate Him if we are not around Him.
The great thing is, He makes that easy. We can come into His presence during our lunch break. Many important encounters with Jesus happened around food!
We can come into His presence as we travel from here to there. An Ethiopian man encountered Him for the first time as he traveled back home from Jerusalem.
But I think Jesus Himself gave us the clearest picture of how we can be in His presence. It is when we get away, alone. Think about Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Before going to the cross, Christ didn’t run to the temple. He went into a garden. He took some friends, but He even got a little ways away from them.
Early in His ministry, we read of another instance. Mark 1 tells us of a busy day of ministering that ran on into the night. People were bringing their loved ones to Jesus for His healing. But then in verse 35 of chapter one, we read, “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”
(Mark 1:35 ESV)
And again in Mark 6. Jesus had had another busy day – He fed thousands of people after teaching them all day. After this Mark tells us, “Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray.”
(Mark 6:45-46 ESV)
This has been said many times before, but I know I tend to forget it. If the One who created the mountains needed to go into those mountains to be alone with the Father.. if the One who created the gardens needed to go into those gardens to be alone with His Dad… if the one who gave us the cool of the morning needed that quiet time with God, then how much more do those He created with His hands need to do the same thing?
Spend the time. Get up 30 minutes before the kids and before the Martha tasks of the day distract you, and sit at the feet of Jesus. Learn from Him. Bow before Him. Worship His holy name. Asaph, one of the writers in Psalms, says in Psalm 73:28, “But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.
(Psalm 73:28 ESV)
In His Word
Our children say what we say. God says, “say what I say”. But how do we say what He says? Well, what does He say?
We must go to His word. Not someone else’s words. He didn’t say “find the most creative communicator you can and listen to them.” He didn’t say, “listen to an MP3 or the radio to your favorite preacher”. There is certainly nothing wrong with listening to truth from reliable people. But what did God say?
My son, keep my words
and treasure up my commandments with you;
keep my commandments and live;
keep my teaching as the apple of your eye;
bind them on your fingers;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
(Proverbs 7:1-3 ESV, italics mine)
What does Psalm 119:11 say? “Thy Word have I hid in my heart..” or the ESV says “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
Often when I have gotten busy with Martha tasks and gone a couple days without spending time in the Word, I see a clear image in my mind. Well over ten years ago – before we relocated – a fellow church member and I taught the older elementary school boys in summer Bible School. One of the boys made a craft – a simple block of wood cut in the shape of a Bible – and gave it to me. It had a simple convicting passage: Psalm 119:16, the second half, which reads in the NIV “I will not neglect Your Word”. The NIV is not my preferred version, but their use of the word “neglect” is so powerful. We don’t like to think of neglect. I think that is part of the reason it sticks with me – neglect of God’s word is the worst sort of neglect.
We spend time in His word in the obvious way – reading it. But to truly be an imitator, we must do more than read words. When our children learn expressions from us, they don’t usually just spout them at random. They learn them in context. They (hopefully) learn when it is appropriate to use those expressions or terms.
Our time in His word is not just quantity of time or quantity of words. It is learning His word in context. We understand what He says, when He says it and why.
And it is important to learn the right words. I don’t think I will ever forget a funny experience many many years ago. I was helping in our church’s children’s church one day, and one of the children volunteered to do the prayer. She had heard the adults pray that God would “bless the sick and afflicted”. In her prayer that day she prayed “flick the sick”. She had the context right at least!
I have always been very weak in the area of scripture memorization. But the passages that mentioned earlier, Psalms 119, Proverbs 7, and others such as in Deuteronomy 7, tell us to “store it up”. Christ is again our example who we should imitate. In two of the Gospels, both Matthew and Luke, chapter four in both, we read of Jesus’ face-to-face encounter with Satan. Jesus has been without food for weeks on end. Satan comes to Him and tempts Him with food, power and possessions.
In every case, Jesus responds with Scripture. He doesn’t try to reason with him. He certainly could have – Satan is of course no match for the One who created him. But Jesus knew the power of God’s Word, and He set us an example.
Sure – He wrote the words, so he should know them. But the lesson is clear nevertheless. We are best prepared for temptation when we imitate Christ, and Christ knew Scripture.
Be an imitator of God.