This post originally appeared at NewEvangelizers.com.
“So be imitators of God, as beloved children…” Ephesians 5:1
Back in 2013, my husband and I were sitting around trying to decide on a Scripture verse to have printed on the back of the icon cards we gave out as birth announcements for our new infant son. At first we played around with lines from Biblical authors and characters related to our son’s name, and nothing struck us as quite right.
Then my husband suggested Ephesians 5:1, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Seeing as how it had exactly the right number of characters to fit in the allotted space (these things matter when designing cards!) and struck the right balance of sharing part of the core message of Christianity (we are God’s beloved children) without being too theological for the un-evangelized, we picked it.
Back then, I completely glazed over the exhortation to be imitators. Probably because it seems a bit ridiculous. Or at least outside of the possible. I never imagine myself imitating God. I mean, how silly, right? I’m not omnipotent or all-knowing. I can’t operate outside of the laws of nature. Where do you even start with trying to imitate God?
But now, with our son a little over a year old, I finally get it. Like many young toddlers, our son tries to imitate my husband and I as much as possible. He picks up an adult-sized toothbrush and wiggles it around in his mouth. He picks up empty coffee mugs and makes a loud lapping sound as he drinks from them. And he’s very pleased with his ability to imitate. For him it’s not pretending to drink from the coffee mug, he really thinks he’s doing the same thing that we are. And, most amusingly, when he’s crying and gets picked up by my husband or I to be comforted, he begins to pat either one of us on our back as if to console the person who is comforting him.
Our son’s actions demonstrate that imitation isn’t about starting out with perfection. Imitation isn’t an all or nothing pursuit–instead it comes gradually. As a toddler, our son has no idea that there should be some liquid in a mug in order for him to “use” the mug like we do. He’s not remotely capable of doing everything that my husband and I can, but he tries anyway. Imitating the smallest details, even without understanding the big picture.
And our imitation of God, as God’s beloved children is the same way. If we read on in Ephesians, the author continues “and, live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma” (vs 2). Can I hand myself over in a sacrificial death as Christ did? No. But, I can “live in love” for others, starting with the smallest details. I can imitate God every way possible, even though I know that ultimately I’ll fall short. I can imitate acts of love, even when–like my toddler son–I don’t understand the big picture, the depths of God’s love.
Being a beloved child is both an image of how God loves us, and a clue as to how it’s possible for us to imitate God’s love. No matter how incremental our attempts may be, God delights when we respond to the love of Christ with our own attempts to replicate it in the world.