Imitating the Character of Jesus
I don’t think we could go through a week without someone telling us what they think about politics, the economy, the footy, the weather, fashion, the best wine to drink, why Toyota’s are the best car to drive – etc.
We can find these people wherever we happen to be. We can hear people’s opinions at home, in the classroom or playground, at work, at a BBQ, watching sport. They’re around everywhere.
We also find these people in churches. That’s quite natural. We’re all human. We have opinions. We like to comment on lots of things – like the length of sermons, the choice of songs or hymns, the volume of the music.
Or maybe some really important things like whether we have a clear vision of where God is leading us, whether we need to do more things to connect with people in the community, or whether or not we’re as welcoming as we could be to visitors to worship.
We all have opinions and that’s fine – but when it comes to commitment, when it comes to actually doing something to make a positive difference, well, we can often shy away.
We can be more than happy to make comments, but not always be active in doing something to make ideas into realities. Or as someone said once: We can be ‘rocking chair Christians’, plenty of motion but little real progress.
It doesn’t matter how great an idea we have, it doesn’t matter what our opinions may be – if that’s all that we offer, if that’s all we contribute to the life of the church, to the body of Christ, then we’re not going to be moving forward. We’re might be rocking and rolling – but not really going anywhere.
We’re all called into the ministry of Christ. And that means we’re called to action – not just give our opinions. We’re challenged to get down to the nitty gritty of what our faith in Jesus Christ all about.
Our theology, our understanding, our belief in Jesus is not just some kind of intellectual exercise that we are involved in; it’s something that we live out and share and celebrate.
A church couple with a young family was once asked to host a distinguished theologian for the evening. The husband told his wife in great detail about the visitor’s university degrees, his teaching responsibilities, the books he’d written, and the important church committees he’d chaired.
His wife was somewhat overawed at all this, but in the end all she had to say was: “I’m not very interested in all that stuff. What I want to know is: how does he treat his wife and kids?”
Now that’s getting down to the nitty gritty. Her question was a valid one. Does this man who writes, talks and lectures about God, does he practice what he preaches? Was he a person who just shared his ideas and opinions or was he serious about imitating Jesus Christ?
When Paul wrote to the Christians at Ephesus, he began his letter by highlighting what God had done for his people in and through Jesus. His opening chapters are like a magnificent hymn of praise! Paul writes like someone on “cloud nine.”
He hardly stops to breathe as he spells out the wonder of what Jesus has done, not just for the Ephesians, but for the world and the whole universe. The sentences roll on as if he had no idea about punctuation. Paul celebrates what Jesus has done to bring peace and harmony into a sin-sick and depraved world.
But then suddenly in the second half of his letter, the mood changes. The sentences become shorter. His theme deals with the nitty gritty of Christian behaviour. After soaring through the universe he comes back to earth, back to our every day lives, our homes, our relationships, our work, our struggles.
It’s not that Paul utters a big sigh, shakes his head, puts the theology aside, and says: “Okay, that’s enough of the theory, now let’s get real.”
No. What he writes about in the second part of his letter, flows directly from what he’s said about how Jesus Christ has claimed us as his own, filled us with his Spirit, and equipped us to live as his people. We’ve been transformed by Christ; we’ve been changed and renewed, so that we can be practically living out who we are.
Or in other words – once Jesus Christ lives within us, we are called and challenged and enabled to be active in the nitty gritty of Christian service. We’re called, and equipped, to imitate the character of Jesus.
And this means doing some basic, simple, down to earth things like not lying, watching our moods, stopping from stealing, no swearing, cutting out spiteful words and actions and all malicious gossip.
Or, as Paul also puts it, from a positive perspective, we’re called to speak the truth, deal with our anger, be involved in useful activities, speak only what is good and helpful in a situation, be generous to each other, kind-hearted and forgiving.
I don’t think that Paul could have got more nitty gritty than this? He said that when God’s people in Ephesus or Rome or Corinth, or Sydney or Dubbo or Gilgandra – when they’re around, you can be sure that God expects them to imitate his Son. And that this means much more than offering opinions or making comments. It means getting involved and backing up words with Christ-centred actions.
According to Paul, the grand vision of Christ reconciling everything, and drawing all together in beautiful harmony before God, comes down to some basic issues.
Even the little things that we do and say are significant and should represent what we believe. It’s not enough to just share our opinions. Our calling is to be imitators of Christ in actions as well as words.
But imitating the character of Jesus is not something we do on our own. Imitating the character of Jesus is something we do in relationship with Jesus and others. We don’t imitate Jesus in isolation. The character of Jesus is lived out in community; and what we do or don’t do has an effect on the people around us in God’s church.
Because we’re part of a Christ’s body, a community of faith – when we lie to others, or get angry with them or say things that are negative about them – it has a consequence on the whole body, and to Christ himself, because he lives in others as well as us.
Paul writes about this kind of behaviour as conduct that “grieves the Holy Spirit of God.” We grieve the Holy Spirit when we ignore Jesus who lives in us and through us. We grieve the Holy Spirit when we give Satan a chance to influence us to be content with divisive relationships and gossip and bitterness.
But as we’re open to Jesus’ influence and acknowledge the presence of his people around us, not only for us to serve, but to be there for our comfort, support and encouragement (and yes, it’s flawed and imperfect – but it still comes from people who have the Spirit of God in them); when we’re open to that, then what happens is that we grow to become more and more the community that God wants us to be.
Because of Jesus influence and the support of his people, we can continually work towards our speech and actions building others up, rather than tearing them down. And when that happens we’re enabled to be a far greater positive influence in our ministry of love and service to those who don’t yet know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.
We’re on a journey with Christ; a journey that’s got real purpose and direction, a journey on which we’re challenged and encouraged to do some specific things.
You are on a journey. Pastor Steve, you are on a journey as you continue your ministry in this parish, as you work at building relationships with people and as you serve in a this community.
And you, the members of St Mark’s/John’s – you are on a journey as you serve and witness and love and give of yourselves to each other and to this community.
St Paul tells of the special and unique relationship you have with God through Jesus so that you can do this. You are part of God’s plan to bring his love and forgiveness to a world, to individuals around you, who are in need of experiencing it.
People of the world are not holding their breath for you to share your opinions with them. But they are desperately in need of more people who are active, imitating Christ, and sharing his love and forgiveness.
And because of Christ you can do this. It’s not beyond you. It’s always something that you’re growing to be able to do better. And even though it can be a long slow process without always having many visible results, you can rejoice in it because Jesus comes to you again today to draw you closer to him.
With that assurance and commitment from him, you can imitate him more faithfully. Amen.