Lesson 22: Love is Imitating God

Be Imitators of GodI can’t stop exploring what might be a modern Christian narrative based on love, because I am learning so much from the conversation. I especially have been surprised at the rich interplay that has taken place online. Remember my son and I write about the limitations of electronic communication. Although I stand by our observations about this being a narrow-band kind of interaction, I have to admit there are also some marvelous new opportunities. Sadly, I have received most of the benefits, as the online course has primarily elicited e-mail responses.

Let me report one of the major insights I personally have received from the discussions at the three weekly face-to-face gatherings. I’ll intentionally keep it crisp and curt, skipping all the academic background.

There seems to be a development in the defining of love through the New Testament. The first three gospels present the Great Commandment in the context of questions that lawyers might ask: How does love relate to the law and the prophets
(Matthew 22: 34-40)? How about temple sacrifice (Mark 12: 28-34)? Who is this neighbor I am supposed to love as myself (Luke 10: 25-37)?

Luke might begin the movement from abstract legal argument to real life situation by introducing the Parable of the Good Samaritan. He turns the lawyer’s question, “Who is the neighbor whom I have to help?” into a personal confrontation, “You are the neighbor who is to help anyone in need.”

John turns the focus even more when he expresses the Great Command as “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13: 34, 35; 15:12-17). Suddenly our love is to imitate Jesus who imitates God. I John 4: 7-21 follows through by proclaiming, “God is love,” maintaining we know this love through Jesus’ Incarnation and atoning sacrifice, and then calling on us to love our brothers and sisters in the same way.

As the class conversed about these texts, I began to hear many other passages in a different light. What seemed outrageous suddenly became challenge. Be perfect as God who sends rain and sun on the righteous and unrighteous is perfect (Matthew 5: 43-48). Be merciful as God who is kind to the ungrateful and wicked is merciful (Luke 6: 35- 36). Practice the kind of love that is willing to die for your friends (John 15:12-17).

What used to serve as support for the abstract doctrine of justification by grace through faith suddenly became a call to be an extension of God’s unconditional love. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5: 5-11)

And what was once a quaint, quickly passed-over saying suddenly was filled with life-changing meaning. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 4: 32-5:2)

At the end of the gathering last night, one of the participants remarked that all this called for repentance. When you understand the word to mean rethinking your life, it certainly has had that effect on me.

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