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Imitating God's Love: Living on the Love Side

Who is our model of the Love Life God desires?

Ephesians 5:1-2

We are continuing on in our series—Living a Love Life. The focus of this series is Ephesians 5:1-2:

"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 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."

The key phrase is " a life of love..." As we saw in our last time together, this passage is in contrast to Ephesians 4:17-19. If we choose not to live a love filled life, this is what a dark filled life will look like:

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.

When children are born they are given a certain a measure of light. Initially they can see and respond to spiritual things easily. If, however, that light is not nurtured it will go out, because they are also born with a sinful nature. So this list in Ephesians 4:17-19, like Romans 1, represents the depths to which a person can go if there is no light. No one starts out at the bottom of the list we showed in Part 1, but this represents the downward spiral of men and culture if the light goes out.

Now, it is possible a person could stop the destructive spiral at some point, but he/she will still not live in the light God intends. Some, on the other hand, will love the darkness because Scripture says in John 3:19, "Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil."

A Love Filled Life—vv. 1-2

In contrast to this list is the love filled life we see described in Ephesians 5:1-2. If we just take these 2 verses, we have a beautiful, rich and refreshing look at God’s love. Consider a lake that is fed by a number of streams and tributaries. They supply the water for it. As each of these sources of love flow into the lake, it is filled with more and more love and we are able to live the love life God has called us to.

We won’t have time to go to the depths of the lake, but we will show you where you can go deeper in your own study and application of this fantastic description of love.

The Center of this Love

As we said, the center of this verse, its goal is that we would "…live a life of love…"—v. 2.

LIVE—This is not some drab and dull experience God is calling us to. It is:

    L —lively





LIFE—We are being called to a lifestyle.


LOVE—It is a specific kind of love—not "eros" (erotic only) but phileo (friendship alone). This is agape love. This is God’s love. It is a love that seeks another person’s highest good.

Here is a love statement: "I'm going to love you regardless of your past or present actions. You don't have to like it or return it to be loved by me." (See also John 13:34-35.)

The Sources of This Love—v. 1-2

With the goal in mind to live a love life, let’s take a quick look at each of the sources of this love. In order to live a life of love as God intends, we must:

Be an Imitator (mimic)—v. 1a.

Be a student of Jesus. "Be imitators of God, therefore..." When I began my ministry, I found some people I could mimic—Ray Stedman, Charles Swindoll, John Stott, Chuck Smith and Jerry Cook. I had only one teacher who I could mimic from my home church—John Clement. All the other pastors would take a verse and fly. We had no idea where they would land.

However, I studied these men’s styles, how they approached a text, how they illustrated the Word. I personally listened to all of them in live settings. A number of years later when I was working on my doctorate, I returned to these men and studied them in even greater depth, and included my findings in my dissertation. The idea is to mimic until your own style emerges.

Why does that make any difference to us in this passage? It is because the word "imitate" comes from the field of oratory. Teachers of oratory taught disciples that in order to learn oratory, they needed to study theory, imitation, and practice (TIP). The word does not mean we just copy a few general characteristics; it means we mimic very specific characteristics. (We are not impersonators, we are to be mimics.)

Likewise, when we attempt to love the way God wants us to, we must understand the theory (I prefer theology). We must imitate God’s love; and we must practice. The problem is, we can’t do it! We are commanded to imitate God’s love, but as we can all surmise, we can’t fulfill the command. What is the answer?

Turn to Ephesians 3:16-20: "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us..."

We can’t imitate God in our own strength, but by faith and with His power, we can. Let’s not forget that the Christian life is not fulfilling rules and precepts. That is what religion is all about. Christians and Christianity are not about fulfilling some code or teaching in our own strength; the commands are so lofty that no one can obey them. But in God’s strength, as He lives in us and supplies the power, all things are possible.

So the formula for imitating God’s love is: Theory (theology), Imitation, Practice, Power. (God’s power).

Be a Child (a dearly loved child)

" dearly loved children..."

The context of this phrase is that of a family, with all members of the family around a table and God the Father at the head of the table. The theory is this: we will love as we have been loved. If we really believe we are loved by God, and understand how much He loves us, we will, in turn, be able to love others.

A child does not naturally love—he or she has to be taught to love, to see and feel love demonstrated in order to mimic it and return it. Our son was not naturally loving; in fact, he ran from us—he seemed irritated when we tried to hug or embrace him, to show affection. We pursued him, though, and now he is very affectionate!

How about a Heavenly Father who loved us before we were born…before our parents were born…before the world was created—who loved us so much He decided to send His only son to die for us? It has been said that many of our social problems and mental health difficulties could be solved if the people of our world really believed and experienced God’s love for them.

Seeing ourselves as dearly loved children and living/reveling in that love will feed the possibility of love in our lives. We will love as we have been loved. The passage says, "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love…" This is the center of the passage, the main activity we are attempting to do.

Then add the next phrase, just as Christ loved us, and we have the heart of Christianity: love the Lord... and our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Be a Purposeful Initiator

"…just as Christ loved us…" See John 3:16.

God loved us with eternity in mind. If we love with the same purpose, it will discipline and direct our love of others.

"We love because He first loved us"—1 John 4:19

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." 1 John 4:9-11.

We don’t wait for the other person to initiate loving action, we love first with eternity in mind, as Christ loved us.

Be a Wise Giver

"…and gave himself up for us…"

We need to exercise wisdom when we love others. Jesus gave Himself up for us:

  • Serve: That means we wisely serve our love—"Serve one another in love."
  • Speak: "We speak the truth in love…"
  • Strong: Sometimes our love must be tough/strong and allow the logical consequences of another’s actions to take place. We don’t rescue them, e.g., the prodigal’s father.

Be a Fragrant Offering/Witness

"…as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."

Here we must understand the sacrificial system. When a lamb was prepared for sacrifice, the smell of the meat was fragrant as it became a burnt offering to God. It became sweet to God because of the obedience that accompanied the offering. Likewise, when we love in obedience to His command, our offering is sweet to God and to others .

Another verse that helps us is 2 Corinthians 2:14-16.

"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life."

That last stream that feeds a love-filled life is to:

Be Self-sacrificing to God

All we offer to others should be seen as a sacrifice to God, because that is the way God sees our loving actions. Love is disciplined; it is clearly applied when we see our acts of kindness as love, ultimate gifts to God.

"And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased." Hebrews 13:16

We don't have the time to specifically illustrate the application of each of these tributaries (feeders) to a love-filled life. Please do your homework and meditate on this passage.

Let me close with a true story that illustrates what it means to live a love life.

A father had a routine. When he came into the house and went into the kitchen, he would get a glass from the cupboard, get a cookie from the jar, and get milk from the refrigerator. He would pour milk into the glass and take it to his invalid (bedridden) mother.

One day the father came home, and as he walked into the house he saw his son smile and run into the kitchen. Somehow the father knew he should be slow in getting to the kitchen. The son went into kitchen, pulled out a drawer (which he shouldn’t have done), climbed up on the counter and got a glass, while turning over many of them (none broke). He walked on the counter (which he shouldn’t have done) and got a cookie from the cookie jar (knocking over the cookie jar). (He quickly picked all of them up).

Then the boy jumped down to the floor, put the glass on the floor, ran to the refrigerator, and pulled out the milk. He poured milk into the glass and spilled some in the process. (He quickly wiped it up with his shirt.) Then he turned around and saw his dad:

"Hey dad, today the cookie and milk is for you. I love you, dad."

If the father had yelled at his child, he would have missed the gift.

Likewise, we have a Father who is watching us try to live as He does. Every time we do, we knock over the glasses, the cookie jar and the milk, but He loves it anyway and receives it as a love gift to Him. So



"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 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."