Sunday 8th August 2021
As in previous weeks, these are offered to help you in your worship at home
- The collect (the prayer for today)
- A Bible reading
- A reflection on the reading
- A prayer of blessing
You might also like to spend some time praying for the church, the world, and those whom you know who are in particular need
Lord of heaven and earth,
as Jesus taught his disciples to be persistent in prayer,
give us patience and courage never to lose hope,
but always to bring our prayers before you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body. 26 ‘In your anger do not sin’[a]: do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 5 1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
I wonder who your role models were as a child? Who did you want to be like? As the Olympics draw to a close, who knows how many future runners, cyclists, athletes will come from people trying to emulate their heroes? Doesn’t always work out; as a child growing up in Uganda in the 1960’s and 70’s the only international sport I remember was the East African Safari Rally. Each year we’d thrill to the sight of cars driving at absurdly high speeds along the dirt roads, leaving massive clouds of red dust in their wake. Like most of my classmates, I longed to be like Joginder Singh, the local hero from Kenya who won it twice. Needless to say, I never made it as a rally driver!
Role models are important, and I’ll come back to that later.
“What does it mean to live as a Christian?” That’s the basic question behind this part of Ephesians we are reading through. Last week, we saw that unity amongst Christians is a fundamental part of our life together.
Today, our reading starts off with what is, essentially, very practical advice. It’s the kind of advice that we might expect: it includes things like being truthful, not stealing, watching what we say, avoiding bitter rage, being kind and compassionate – to name just a few of the things that are mentioned.
All this stems from the point made a few verses earlier that as Christians, our lives are to be distinctively different. There should be something about our lives that marks us out as Christians, as disciples of Jesus. Something that draws others to want to know more about the God whom we follow.
The advice that we heard picks up some of the signs of what this might look like in practice, but is summed up and given much deeper expression in one extraordinary phrase: “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children.” Actually, this is better translated as: “Be imitators of God” – because that’s what the word used in the original Greek means.
Be imitators of God. How can we humans imitate God? How can God be our role model?
Well, this might be an almost impossible thing to suggest, were it not for the life of Jesus. In Jesus, we see God made flesh. The one human life lived perfectly. He is our role model; and when we talk about being disciples of Jesus, we have to remember that in Jesus’ time, disciples were people who walked in the footsteps of their leader and teacher. They imitated their leader.
And let’s not forget our original identity and vocation as human beings. In Genesis 127 we read:
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
We are made in the image of God; we are made like him and we are made to be like him.
So, it does make sense to be encouraged to be imitators of God. In last week’s reading we saw how a growth in Christian maturity leads to a growth in unity. Today, we’re reminded that as our love for Jesus grows and matures, so we should become more and more Christ-like.
In his wonderful sermon on what it means to be imitators of God, Charles Spurgeon looks at two qualities at are mentioned here: to give and to forgive. God gives us the gift of life to begin with, gives us the gift of creation to sustain us and delight us, and gives even his Son for our salvation. God never stops giving, such is his love for us.
And then there is forgiveness – which is at the heart of Jesus’ work in his life, death and resurrection. The extraordinary thing about the Gospel of Jesus is that each and every one of us is offered the gift of forgiveness; the chance to make a fresh start.
God gives, and forgives. If we are to be imitators of God, then we need to be people who like God give and forgive. As Jesus gave of himself for us, so we need to be willing to give of ourselves to others. As we are forgiven because of Jesus death on the cross, so we need to be people who forgive.
And that’s at the heart of being imitators of God.
We are encouraged to be imitators of God, as dearly loved children. Being dearly loved children gives us another clue about being imitators of God. Those of us who have been fortunate to have the blessing of a happy family life might well actually look to our parents as role models. Whilst we won’t be to clones of our mothers or fathers, we will want to embody some of the best qualities that we saw in them.
Jesus teaches us to think of God as a father; he teaches us to pray to the Father.
There’s another aspect to being children of parents, and that’s what we might call the family likeness. When I was living with my parents in my late teens and very early 20’s, when I answered the phone, I was often mistaken for my dad. It wasn’t that I was trying to imitate him – it’s just that I was quite obviously the son of my father as soon as I opened my mouth!
Whilst we do of course have to work at the business of being imitators of God, as we grow deeper in spiritual maturity and closer to God, so we may well almost instinctively be imitators of God at times. I can think of a number of Christians I have known who just seem to radiate God’s love and holiness in all that they do.
What does it mean to live as a Christian?
The answer we find in these verses from Ephesians today is another deceptively simple one. it means to be imitators of God, as dearly loved children.
And that’s something we can all aspire to.
The Lord bless you and watch over you,
the Lord make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you,
the Lord look kindly on you
and give you peace;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always.