Imitators of God
25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Imitators of God
I think it’s interesting that the way Paul begins his speech to be imitators of God is by exhorting us to put away falsehood and speak the truth. Being an imitator of God means all kinds of things, ways of being, practices, actions, and Paul goes on to say we are not to sin in our anger, we must give up stealing, put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger, but today I just want to focus on that very first part, “speak the truth.”
And how do you speak the truth? Well first you have to speak. You use your mouth and your lips and your tongue to form words that then become audible and are spoken in a language that someone else can understand and interpret. You speak.
Our faith is one of words.
In Acts, the Spirit comes as divided tongues as of fire. The word in Greek for the physical body part, the thing in our mouths, the tongue, also means language. It’s the words we string together, the vowels and consonants, nouns, verbs, and prepositions, that come together to form sentences, paragraphs, dialogues. Languages are comprised of words.
Words are obviously important to God because Jesus is the “Word of God” and the Bible is the Word of God that guides our lives as Christians and when the sermon is rightfully proclaimed to God’s people, it is the Word of God as well. Words are important to God.
When we are young, people tell us things like, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” which we know is a total lie. Words are incredibly important and meaningful and can be harmful and destructive. We use words in almost every aspect of our lives and some of the most important moments we have ever experienced are so meaningful because of the precise language, the exact words that were spoken. Or, that moment is memorable because of the words we were hoping to hear, but did not. When we are confirmed, or graduate from high school or college, or find a new job, or get married, we hear the words, “Congratulations!” When we want to express our feelings for someone we deeply care about we say the words, “I love you.” Or, a moment comes when we desperately want to hear those words and instead they say, “I like you a lot” or “I don’t love you anymore” or “I can’t stand to be around you anymore. I don’t want to see you ever again.”
Even the silent moments like when you see the Grand Canyon for the first time, when your first child is born, when you lose someone close to you, even in those moments when there is nothing left to say, when you have reached the end of words, perhaps the moment is so powerful exactly because there are no words. The silence is just the absence of words. Words can’t do justice to the moment.
Words matter. It’s one of the reasons we take vows in church. When we join the church, we take vows to publicly confess Jesus Christ is Lord. When we bring our child to be baptized, we take vows to nurture them in the faith. When we get married we make vows before God and the congregation to love one another. If you don’t think words matter try explaining to your spouse why the vows “Til death do us part” are not binding on your relationship.
But Christians aren’t just called to speak, we’re called to speak the truth.
A few weeks ago I preached on how we are members of the household of God, we are members of the family of Christ. Paul mentions that same language here when he says, “for we are all members of one another.” We’re members together of the household of God. And what it means to be a member of the household of God is to be someone who speaks the truth. We are the household of truth, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone, Paul also says Jesus is the head of the church, we are bound up together in Christ. Jesus himself says that he is “the way, the truth and the life.” Jesus is the truth. We are the community of truth.
When Paul says, “put away all falsehood,” we could roughly translate that into plain terms as, “Don’t lie.” Don’t lie. Speak the truth.
But we’re all taught not to lie when we’re kids. This is nothing new. We know we’re not supposed to lie. Why does Paul seem to make sure a big deal about this? Maybe it’s because the problem is not intentionally saying something that is a lie, the problem is being unsure what the truth really is. Today, in our climate of politics and the media and the news and how different our opinions can be, we should be uncannily attuned to how difficult it is know what the truth really is.
Ludwig Wittgenstein was a famous philosopher who once said,
“The truth can be spoken only by someone who is already at home in it, not by someone who still lives in untruthfulness, & does no more than reach out towards it from within untruthfulness.
Speaking the truth is not just about not saying the sky is green, when it’s really blue, it’s about living in such a way that witnesses to the reality that you follow the one who called himself “The Truth.” Paul says, “Be imitators of God. Imitate the one who created you. Imitate the Truth.” It’s about being at home in truth. Living in it. Dwelling in it. Truth is a way of life.
When Paul says, “Don’t lie,” the word he uses in Greek is the word pseudos. Sometimes we convince ourselves the things we say aren’t lies, they’re just pseudo-truth. Part true, half true. Pseudo-truths can be very helpful to us. They get us out of difficult situations, they get other people off our back, they can even keep relationships going. Pseudo-truths are tempting, but eventually they lead to lies and falsehood. A wife finds out her husband is cheating on her, but he confesses and says that he still loves his wife and she goes along because it’s just easier, but eventually the lies unravel. The truth can be hard to hear, “I don’t love you anymore.”
Politics today is full of pseudo-truth. Really it should be called “pseudo-lies” because they can use any and every statistic to prove that they’re right.
Although things are very different for us than they were for the early Christians, we can never forget that when the first Christians, including Stephen the first Christian martyr, were given the option of renouncing their faith in Jesus, essentially lying about who the Lord of the Universe is, they chose to speak the truth and suffer the consequences.
Imitators of God
Paul’s admonition to us not to lie is not because we’re people who go around intentionally spreading lies all the time. Most of the time, we’re not liars, we’re decent people who don’t want to hurt others so we don’t speak the whole truth, we restrain ourselves from saying what needs to be said. Can you imagine going to a doctor to hear the results from a test and although the doctor has found out something is seriously wrong they don’t want to upset you, they want to keep you as a patient, they don’t want others going around town telling other people, “Don’t go to that doctor, he will tell you you’re going to die,” so the doctor says, “Good news! Everything checks out, see you in 6 months.” No, when you go to the doctor to hear the results you say to him, “Give it to me straight. Tell me the truth.”
Tell me the truth. That’s what we have to do as the church. We tell ourselves and others that we were created by a God who loves us and came to be with us. We tell the world we are sinners, broken and in need of God’s grace. We tell the world the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life has given himself to us that we might know the truth of God’s love.
Let us use the words God has given us through the Holy Spirit to speak and to speak the truth. To tell ourselves death is not the final word. To tell others lies will not rule the world. To tell the principalities and powers that be that their power is temporary. To tell the world the truth.
The truth is, God loves you, and God wants you to imitate that truth.