“Become Imitators of God”
“Become imitators of God, as beloved children, and go on walking in love.”—Eph. 5:1, 2.
1, 2. (a) What can be said as to the instinct of imitation? (b) Due to the imitative instinct in humans, what example is needed?
WELL has it been observed that “man is an imitative creature,” and that “it is by imitation, far more than by precept, that we learn everything.” The Greek philosopher Aristotle said: “To imitate is instinctive in man from his infancy.”
2 It is true. We all start out in life imitating. A child learns to walk, to feed himself, to talk, and so forth, not by reading books, not so much even by explicit instruction. Rather, it is by imitating his parents or his older brothers and sisters. And we continue through life imitating others, often unconsciously. In view of the importance of the imitative instinct in humankind, how vital it is to look to the right example! In this regard, there is no better example than God himself. “Become imitators of God,” urges the inspired Christian apostle.—Eph. 5:1.
3. What apparent contradiction exists, giving rise to what questions?
3 Yet obviously the majority of mankind are imitating bad examples, for look at all the crime, immorality and war in which people seemingly everywhere engage. But, at the same time, most people say they are worshiping God and give evidence of this by performing various religious acts. What accounts for this apparent contradiction? How is it that people do so many bad things, and yet claim to worship God? Can a person really worship God, and yet fail to imitate him?
GODS WHO ARE IMITATED
4. (a) What can be said as to the human instinct to worship? (b) What effect does the worship of a god have upon the worshipers?
4 Man was created not only with the instinct to imitate but also with the instinct to worship. Has mankind strongly manifested this inclination? The World Book Encyclopediaa tells us: “There has never been a people that did not have some form of religion.” However, a key point to keep in mind is that peoples have worshiped many different gods besides the true God, just as the Bible says: “There are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords.’” (1 Cor. 8:5) And yet whatever their religion, people have imitated, or reflected, in their lives the qualities of the god they worship. A person simply cannot worship a god without, to a great extent, imitating that god.
5. The worship of Canaanite gods had what effect, and why?
5 For example, archaeologists tell us of the bloodthirsty and immoral gods that the ancient Canaanites worshiped. And so, as we would expect, history reveals that the Canaanite peoples were extremely cruel and immoral, carrying on horrible religious rites that included even human sacrifices. The Bible also notes that the Judean kings Ahaz and Manasseh began to worship the gods of the Canaanites, even going so far as to offer their own children in fiery sacrifice to them! (2 Ki. 16:1-3; 21:1-6) Obviously, the inspired Bible admonition to “become imitators of God” did not mean that we should imitate the gods of these peoples!
6-8. (a) Why does simply having the Bible not mean that the God of the Bible is being worshiped? (b) What kind of god is worshiped in Christendom, and how are the qualities of this god reflected in worshipers?
6 Well, what is the situation in the lands of Christendom? What god is worshiped by the peoples there? Is it the God of the Bible, as is commonly believed? Although the religions of Christendom have the Bible, this does not mean that they believe it, follow it, or even are worshiping the God whose word the Bible is. The Israelites of old also had God’s law, which, among other things, says: “There should not be found in you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire.” (Deut. 18:9-12) And yet, as we have seen, even some of their kings did not heed this law. Similarly, Christendom has disregarded God and his Word.
7 Regarding Christendom’s belief in a god that consigns millions of mankind to a fiery hell, The Encyclopedia Americana says: “Hell as generally understood is the abode of evil spirits; the infernal regions, . . . whither lost or condemned souls go after death to suffer indescribable torments and eternal punishment.”b Since the peoples of Christendom have worshiped a god that approves such torture, this helps to explain why the history of Christendom has been one of religious wars, of cruel persecution and of diabolical tortures. The peoples have simply reflected the qualities of the god they worship.
8 Thus, when the Spanish scholar Michael Servetus was tried as a “heretic,” he was sentenced to be burned alive at the instigation of religious leaders. This fiendish form of execution, according to Institutes of Ecclesiastical History,c “was then almost universally approved and practised,” by both Catholics and Protestants. Even in modern times it was in Christendom that the horrible world wars began, and the clergy on both sides of the battle lines prayed to their god for the victory and blessing of the armies of their nation.d Surely we do not want to be imitators of either this god of Christendom or its worshipers!
9. What are some popular “gods” worshiped and imitated by many persons today?
9 It should not be surprising that millions of disillusioned persons, particularly the youth, have quit worshiping in the churches of Christendom. Yet these persons still have the instinctive desire to worship. They often satisfy this desire by making idols of popular “rock” artists, as well as of motion-picture and sports stars. Describing a popular sports “god,” the New York Times of July 26, 1973, noted that he seems certain “to take the foremost place in the pantheon of professional sports, America’s secular religion.” Youths often seek to imitate these entertainment and sports “gods,” copying their hairstyles, clothes, language and morals. But in doing this, whom are they actually worshiping?
10, 11. (a) To whom does the worshipful adoration given to modern-day idol-gods go, as indicated by 1 Corinthians 10:19, 20? (b) What evidence is there that the Devil and his demons receive the worship given to popular idol-gods?
10 The Bible speaks very frankly about sacrifices or adoration given to idol-gods. In fact, what it says may come as a real shock to you. Writing under divine inspiration, the Christian apostle Paul explained: “What, then, am I to say? That what is sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No; but I say that the things which the nations sacrifice they sacrifice to demons, and not to God.” (1 Cor. 10:19, 20) Yes, worshipful adoration, whether it be of an idol-god of wood and stone or of an entertainment or sports idol, actually goes to “the god of this system of things,” Satan the Devil, and his demons! (2 Cor. 4:4) But what evidence is there that, in reality, the demons receive this worshipful adoration?
11 Well, what is the trend among the devotees of popular entertainment and sports idols? Is the trend today toward showing the admirable qualities of truth, purity and consideration for the welfare of others? No; rather, the trend is toward dishonesty, immorality, profanity and running roughshod over others. This is what devotees see their idols doing. A famous Big League baseball manager said recently: “You see how they [the players] carry on, the wild way they act. If the players do this, why not the fans?” (New York Times, October 13, 1973) Is it not clear, then, that imitating imperfect men as “idols” turns people from the worship of the true God? Thus worshipful adoration given them actually goes to the Devil and his demons, even as the Bible indicates. (John 8:44) We certainly do not want to imitate either human “gods” or the invisible demons, do we?
IMITATE THE TRUE GOD
12. Who is the true God we are urged to imitate, and why may the thought of imitating him stagger the imagination?
12 How vital, therefore, that we heed the apostolic admonition: “Become imitators of God, as beloved children.” (Eph. 5:1) Doing so is a safeguard against becoming imitators of any false gods. But who is the true God that we are urged to imitate? The inspired Bible psalmist answers, addressing that One: “You, whose name is Jehovah, you alone are the Most High over all the earth.” (Ps. 83:18) It is because of his Creatorship of all things that Jehovah is indeed GOD, as the prophet Jeremiah explained: “Jehovah is in truth God. . . . He is the Maker of the earth by his power, the One firmly establishing the productive land by his wisdom, and the One who by his understanding stretched out the heavens.” (Jer. 10:10-12) When we consider the vastness of the universe, with its billions of starry galaxies, truly how small and insignificant we are compared to the Great Creator, Jehovah! The very thought of imitating Him may seem staggering to our imagination. How is it possible?
13. Why is it not only possible, but very reasonable that humans should imitate Jehovah?
13 It is possible because of the way Jehovah God created us. The Bible explains: “God proceeded to create the man in his image, in God’s image he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27) Being made in God’s image does not mean that humans were made so as to look like God, but, rather, that God put in the first humans the potential, the ability to exercise His own qualities. They became his children. And does not a son tend to act like his father, or a daughter like her mother? In fact, sometimes a son is so much like his father that he is called “a chip off the old block.” And so it should be with us. For recall that we are urged to “become imitators of God, as beloved children.” (Eph. 5:1) But how can we show that, as beloved children, we are imitating the true God Jehovah, and not any false gods?
14, 15. (a) What is the principal way that humans show they are imitating Jehovah God? (b) What urgings do we receive to imitate God’s qualities?
14 Looking again at the apostolic admonition, we find the principal way that we can show we are imitating God. It says: “Become imitators of God, as beloved children, and go on walking in love.” (Eph. 5:1, 2) Yes, Jehovah God is the very personification of love. (1 John 4:8) The inspired Bible psalmist writes: “Jehovah is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and great in loving-kindness. Jehovah is good to all, and his mercies are over all his works.”—Ps. 145:8, 9.
15 We prove that we are worshipers of Jehovah by imitating his loving, merciful qualities. We are urged to do this, even as God’s Son Jesus Christ said: “Continue becoming merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Also, the apostle Peter wrote: “In accord with the Holy One who called you, do you also become holy yourselves in all your conduct, because it is written: ‘You must be holy, because I am holy.’”—Luke 6:36; 1 Pet. 1:15, 16; Matt. 5:44, 45.
16. What would it be like if everyone on earth imitated God, and what evidence do we have that everyone soon will?
16 Just imagine how desirable it would be if everyone on earth would imitate Jehovah God, “and go on walking in love”! There would be no unholy, wicked conduct—no stealing, no fighting, no immorality; in fact, no one would do anything to hurt others. Rather, all would treat their fellows with kindness, love and mercy, for that is the example set by God. Would you like to live when everyone does God’s will and walks in love? You can, for it is Jehovah God’s purpose that only such persons continue to live on earth. God’s recorded promises are soon now to be fulfilled. This means an end to this world of wicked mankind, followed by a righteous new system of things for those doing his will.—1 John 2:17; 2 Pet. 3:5-7, 13.
17, 18. (a) Why is it vital to become an imitator of God now, and why does it require such effort to imitate God now? (b) What obligation does our being God’s ambassadors or envoys place upon us?
17 However, to qualify to live forever in Jehovah’s new system it is vital that you now become an imitator of God. This requires a personal effort on your part to get to know Jehovah, for the vast majority of mankind are, whether they realize it or not, imitating “the ruler of this world,” Satan the Devil. “The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one,” the Bible explains. And do not the characteristics of the nations reflect that their real god and ruler is indeed Satan the Devil?—John 12:31; 1 John 5:19; 2 Cor. 4:4.
18 But true Christians are different. “They are no part of the world,” Jesus said. (John 17:16) They keep separate from this world’s politics and unrighteous ways, for they must serve as ambassadors or envoys of God’s government, properly representing Jehovah God, even as we read: “We are therefore ambassadors substituting for Christ, as though God were making entreaty through us.” Is it not true that only if we reflect God’s personality it can be said that God himself is making entreaty through us?—2 Cor. 5:20.
AIDS TO IMITATING GOD
19. Why is the fact that God is invisible not an insurmountable obstacle to our really knowing and imitating him?
19 Of course, in order to imitate anyone we must get to know him. And it is the same with imitating God. Contrary to what some may think, the fact that God is invisible is not an insurmountable obstacle to our really knowing and imitating him. For example, a famous architect may have been dead for some time. Yet by becoming acquainted with his works—the buildings, bridges and other edifices that he constructed—a person may be aided, to an extent, to imitate the methods he used in his work. Similarly, all of Jehovah’s creations around us can serve as a marvelous aid for us to get to know and imitate him, as the apostle Paul indicated when he said: “His invisible qualities are clearly seen from the world’s creation onward, because they are perceived by the things made.”—Rom. 1:20.
20. How can the so-called “Book of Creation” aid us to imitate God?
20 Yes, the so-called “Book of Creation” can tell us things that can aid us to imitate God. As for one example, consider the way God has clothed the earth with such beauty and pleasantness. There are gorgeous sunsets, multicolored flowers, lush green meadows, songs of birds, tangy air filled with the fragrances of the deep woods, and a great variety and abundance of delicious fruits and nuts and other foods. Clearly, one can learn from creation that God is a wonderful Provider who is genuinely concerned with the happiness of his earthly children. Is not an appreciative person motivated to imitate that example? For instance, should not a parent be moved by God’s example to provide what is good, pleasant and upbuilding for the benefit and happiness of his family, thus imitating his heavenly Father?—Isa. 64:8; Luke 6:35.
21. (a) What is the best aid to imitating God, and is merely possessing it sufficient? (b) How can we listen to God?
21 However, the “Book of Creation” is limited in the aid it furnishes us to imitate God, even as buildings are of limited value in aiding a student to imitate the architect who designed them. Studying books written by and about the architect, for example, would be of much greater aid in becoming acquainted with him and imitating him. Similarly, the best aid to becoming acquainted with God and imitating him is the Book that God has had written to tell about himself. That book is the Holy Bible. However, merely possessing the Bible, or even simply reading it, will not necessarily help you to imitate Jehovah God. You need to study the Bible. You need, in effect, to “listen intently” to God. (Isa. 55:2, 3) How can you do this? By doing as Joshua of old was commanded to do: “This book of the law should not depart from your mouth, and you must in an undertone read in it day and night, in order that you may take care to do according to all that is written in it.”—Josh. 1:8.
22. What is required to imitate God, to change our life to conform to his example?
22 Thus, in order to imitate God we must do even more than read and study the Bible. We must understand and appreciate it, so as to be motivated to do all that God desires us to do. We need to get “accurate knowledge” concerning God’s will and purposes. It is this that the apostle Paul showed could change our life to conform to God’s example. He wrote: “Strip off the old personality with its practices, and clothe yourselves with the new personality, which through accurate knowledge is being made new according to the image of the One who created it.” (Col. 3:9, 10) It is only by taking in this “accurate knowledge” that we can truly conform ourselves to the image of God, imitating his marvelous qualities of love, kindness and mercy. We should let the very appeal of these Godly qualities motivate our hearts.
23. What vital reason is there for us to imitate God in being forgiving to others?
23 Aiding us also to imitate Jehovah God are the reasons given in his Word for our doing so. Would we have God forgive us? Then we must imitate him by being forgiving. As Jesus said in concluding his illustration about the unforgiving slave: “In like manner my heavenly Father will also deal with you if you do not forgive each one his brother from your hearts.” And wrote the apostle Paul: “Become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving one another just as God also by Christ freely forgave you.” No question about it, by considering carefully God’s Word we will both learn how to imitate Jehovah God and also be motivated to do so.—Matt. 18:35; Eph. 4:32.
24. How is prayer an aid for us in imitating God?
24 Another aid to help us to imitate God is prayer. In prayer we speak to Jehovah. We open our hearts to him, calling upon him in time of trouble, when we have big decisions to make, as well as talking to him about everyday matters. And we feel his sustaining power, guidance and comfort, even as the Bible psalmist promised: “Throw your burden upon Jehovah himself, and he himself will sustain you. Never will he allow the righteous one to totter.” (Ps. 55:22) Thus prayer makes Jehovah more real to us and aids us to imitate him.
EXAMPLES OF IMITATORS OF GOD
25, 26. (a) What is the outstanding example of imitating God, and to what extent did he do this? (b) What other fine examples do the Scriptures urge us to imitate?
25 We also are helped to imitate God by the example of those who themselves are imitators of God. The best example, of course, is Jesus Christ. In fact, one of the main reasons why he came to earth was to make known his heavenly Father to us. And he imitated his Father so perfectly that, had Jehovah God been on earth, he would have conducted himself exactly as Jesus did. That is why Jesus could say: “He that has seen me has seen the Father also.”—John 14:9.
26 But there are others described in the Bible who faithfully imitated Jesus Christ in his imitating God, and we can also be helped to imitate God by looking to their examples. (Heb. chap. 11) The apostle Paul was just such a person, and that is why he could wisely encourage: “Become imitators of me, even as I am of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1) Imitating the example of such persons of faith will surely help us to imitate Jehovah God.
27, 28. (a) By what means can we locate the people today who are imitating God? (b) To whom does evidence point as being the people who re truly imitating God today?
27 We should not assume, however, that only people of long ago set a fine example of imitating God. Christians are further counseled to “remember those who are taking the lead among you, who have spoken the word of God to you, and as you contemplate how their conduct turns out imitate their faith.” (Heb. 13:7) There are many people living today who are conforming their lives to God’s ways. By associating regularly with them you can be helped greatly to become an imitator of God. Who are these people?
28 Since humans are imitative creatures who invariably reflect in their lives the qualities of the god they worship, the way to find out is to locate a people who not merely profess to follow the Bible, the Word of the true God, but actually practice what it says. In this connection observe the report in the newspaper Journal de Montréal of July 27, 1973, regarding a religious gathering of more than 28,000 persons in Montreal:
“Jehovah’s Witnesses are very, very civilized people. Courtesy is their way of life. Neatness, cleanliness, and decency also. And this was easily noticeable at their assembly. . . . No one steps on your feet, nor do you step on any paper. It’s almost perfect cleanliness.
“You almost feel as though you were in paradise, as the atmosphere is relaxed, peaceful, and serene. And everyone is dressed modestly, and nobody’s trying to show off or draw attention to themselves as they do at baseball games.
“And especially, no discrimination. People of all races enjoy fellowship together. There is no one with hidden motives or reservations.
“Decidedly, there is a great lesson to be learned from the conduct of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In observing them, one would think that America has been transformed!”
29. Why is it vital that we associate closely with the people imitating God?
29 Yes, Jehovah’s witnesses are that people imitating God today. Therefore, if you keep company with them regularly, you will be helped greatly to heed the apostolic admonition: “Become imitators of God, as beloved children, and go on walking in love.” (Eph. 5:1, 2) In the strenuous times ahead, you cannot expect to imitate God faithfully without availing yourself of the aids he has provided. And associating closely with those who are doing God’s will is a vital aid to life with perfection in view in Jehovah’s righteous new system.—2 Pet. 3:13; Heb. 10:24, 25.
a Volume 16, page 207 (1970 edition).
b Volume 14, page 81 (1959 edition).
c By John Lawrence Von Mosheim, Volume 3, page 258 (1832 edition).
d See Awake! of April 22, 1972, for documentation of the churches’ support of the warring nations during the world wars.
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TO “BECOME IMITATORS OF GOD,” WE NEED MORE THAN THE “BOOK OF CREATION”; WE MUST READ AND UNDERSTAND THE HOLY BIBLE