“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 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” (Ephesians 4:32–5:2).
People say imitation is the highest form of flattery. When little boys follow their older brothers around and want to do everything their brothers do, it’s because those little boys look up to their big brothers. While that usually serves as an acute source of irritation for those big brothers, they should realize how flattering it is to have someone imitating them, following closely in their footsteps. They ought to realize that imitation is the highest form of flattery.
Our big Brother, Jesus, does not get frustrated when we imitate him. He delights in it. He wants us to follow closely in his footsteps, but not because he’s vain or conceited. No, he wants us to follow in his footsteps because he knows that he is “the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through [him]” (John 14:6). He wants us to imitate him because he knows that eternal life is ours only through trusting and following him in faith.
But Christians have another reason for imitating Jesus. We imitate our big Brother to flatter him, or as the Bible puts it, to bring him glory. St. Paul wrote, “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Our job description as Christians is to do things that imitate Jesus and bring him glory.
Practicing love and forgiveness
Some ways we do that are by “forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” and by “walk[ing] in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.”
Jesus’ forgiveness is amazing. He puts no conditions on his forgiveness, like we so often do. His forgiveness has no limits. He is the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Because of his perfect life, his innocent sufferings and death, and his resurrection from the dead, our heavenly Father has forgiven the sins of every person—no strings attached. He has declared the whole world innocent. Through faith in Jesus, believers receive the wonderful windfall that he has purchased for all: eternal life. What a wonderful, undeserved gift!
Our big Brother, Jesus, does not get frustrated when we imitate him. He delights in it.
What wonderful privilege do we now have as the children of God and the siblings of Jesus? To imitate our big Brother by practicing unconditional love and forgiveness, even to people who repay us with evil.
Martin Luther once remarked, “Christians must not retreat and withdraw their hands, but continue and remain in love. It is to be a divine, voluntary, unceasing love, even a lost love among people, which pours forth good deeds in such a way that it does not say, as the world does: ‘I have given and done so much for you, and you repay me like a scoundrel and a villain!’ ” No, Luther counseled, instead we should answer such evil by responding, “I will not for that reason stop, no matter how evil and unthankful you should be. My love will be much too good for your malice.”
Who could love evil people like that? Jesus could. Yes, he loves you and me like that. “He devours and consumes all vice and malice through the fire of his love” (Luther’s Works 78:378-379).
Let’s imitate him!
Author: Peter M. Prange
Volume 107, Number 07
Issue: July 2020