The Perfect Pattern
Francis Bourdillon, 1881
"Be imitators of God, as beloved children." Ephesians 5:1
When parents are such as Christian parents ought to be — their children should look to them as their example. Nothing on earth can be happier, than a household in which the parents are walking in the ways of God — and their children following in their steps.
Alas, how often is it far otherwise!
Believers form one great family, of which God is the Father — the household of God. What has been said about earthly families, applies to this family too. All the children of God should strive to follow Him as their pattern. This seems to be the meaning of the text, "Be imitators of God, as dear children." As His children, His dear children — copy the example of your heavenly Father, imitate Him in all your conduct.
What a wonderful rule is this! How high a standard does it propose! We say sometimes of a very good man, "He is quite a pattern" — and Paul said more than once, "Be followers [imitators] of me." But here we have a far higher example set before us — not that of a good man, not that of an apostle — but that of God Himself. Be imitators of God. He is to be our pattern. Paul himself would have others follow him — but only so far as he followed this pattern: "Be imitators of me — as I am of Christ."
But how can God be an example to man? How can we poor creatures, in our little concerns and in our earthly and human duties — take our pattern from God in Heaven?
In the first place, God has revealed Himself to us in His word. There He has not only commanded us what to do — but has also told us much of His own divine nature. He has set Himself forth to us as perfect in holiness and goodness — and has shown Himself so in all the record of His dealings; and He has said, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."
But, not to dwell upon this, there is a clearer and more definite way in which we may take God for our example. The Son of God became man and lived upon this earth. If there is a difficulty in seeing how God in Heaven can be a pattern to us — then the difficulty is removed when we think of the Son of God upon earth. He lived in our world. He had the same nature, the same feelings, the same everything with us, except sin. The evil that is on all sides of us was around Him too. The difficulties, the trials, the sorrows that we meet with — He met with too, and many more. We can therefore take Him as our pattern.
We may fall far short, as we certainly shall; yet it may be our aim to be like Him. We must have some aim, some pattern, some standard — Jesus is to be this to us. We are to be imitators of Him — of God manifest in the flesh.
That this is the main sense in which we are to take the words, seems plain from what immediately follows: "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love — just as Christ loved us, and gave Himself up for us." Here one particular point is mentioned in which we are to follow Christ. He loved us and gave Himself for us; and we, following His example, are to walk in love one toward another. In this way we are to be followers of God, as dear children.
Let us pause here for a moment. In a happy Christian family where the children are walking in the steps of their parents — one main feature is mutual love. If that is lacking, the whole tone of the household, as a Christian household, is lost. Whatever else of good there may be — the lack of love mars all.
So it is in the family of God. All His children should be imitators of His love; and their love to Him, and to one another for His sake — should bind them all together. Love is the very badge of God's servants, the special mark of His children. "By this all men will know that you are My disciples — if you have love for one another."
But we are to follow Christ — not only in this, but in all things. All that we see in Him — we are to copy; all that we see opposed to His example — we are to shun. Observe the list of sins that follow the text: "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed — because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place — but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person — such a man is an idolater — has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." There was nothing of all this in Christ — and there must be nothing of it in us.
Look at His life — then look at this list of sins. Could there be a greater contrast? The greater the difference — the more are we bound to shun such things, for He is our pattern. Saints are those who are His by faith, and who are striving to follow Him. They must consider whose they are, and whom they serve — and seek earnestly to live as befits their profession. The children of God are also heirs of God — they must put away, as children, all that would shut them out from being heirs. They are heirs by being joint heirs with Christ — their whole title rests on Him — they must seek to be like Him.
I think I hear someone say, "This is going too far; no one can be so good as this — all have their faults, and must have." But what is your wish? What is your aim? If you thought you could do so — then would you then try to imitate God? Alas, I fear not. One who speaks thus, is not one who hungers and thirsts after righteousness. He who does not desire a perfect holiness — does not really desire holiness at all. There is no hatred of sin in such a heart.
What do you in fact say — when you speak thus? You declare that you will not follow the example that is set before you in the Bible. No, you will be content with another pattern. You will be guided by your own opinion — by your own reason, or by what is commonly done by others. You will copy man, not God. Thus you set yourself directly against God's word, which says, "Be imitators of God."
Let me not be mistaken. Let none suppose that we can follow God perfectly, or save ourselves by our own doings. Thank God, our hopes rest on a surer foundation. But he who aims highest, will reach highest; we must take no other standard than that which God has appointed; and that man cannot have gained a saving interest in Christ — who does not desire to be made like Him in all things.
This text is, in fact, not about the way of salvation — but about the fruits of faith. Christians, it speaks mainly to you. It is no hard service (and you know it) to which you are called. You are addressed as "dear children" — beloved children of God. He loves you, and you love Him and wish to love Him more. He has taken you into His family. He has made you His children by adoption and grace. It is a happy life to which He calls you — this holy, devoted, Christ-following life.
I spoke before of the happiness of a well-ordered Christian household — but how happy is the great, universal family of God! Some are gone already to the heavenly home — some are still here below; but they are all one — one in Christ, one in the Father. Those who are gone are happy — but those who are left are happy as well. They have betaken themselves to Jesus as their Savior — and they know He will never let them perish.
Their feet are upon the rock; they have cast aside all self-righteous hopes, and their hope is built on Christ alone. It is a sure hope, a blessed hope — a hope that makes them joyful. They love their Savior — and they love their Father. Their service is a service of love. They are children imitating their Father — because they love Him, and because they love holiness. They do not complain of the rule, "Be imitators of God." As His "dear children," they delight in it. Whatever His commandments may once have been to them — they are not grievous to them now. It is their heart's desire to serve Him and to please Him, and to be like Him.
Oh, may God by His grace, bring many a wanderer into this happy and holy path! And may He make us all to live more in this spirit, walking as His dear children — loving Him, following Him, imitating Him!